Blogging about our lives online.


Studying Outside The Classroom

After 12 years of working in the construction industry and being a closet geek, I have resolved to work towards aligning my career with my passion. My passion being electronic systems and their theoretical and practical applications. But now that I've made that resolution, I have hit a roadblock in terms of what that looks like in reality.
The most sensible starting point would, of course, be a university degree. I wholeheartedly believe in the value of formal and structured education, but at this point I've run a successful business; dealing with clients and contractors and I've always been committed to having a well rounded knowledge of history, literature and arts in addition to my hobbies of computer programming, music and mechanical design. So, with this experience behind me, I'm having a hard time justifying spending four years and a considerable amount of money on something that may simply get me past an HR department one day.
Of course, it could always be the case that I am deluding myself: believing that my experience is far beyond what it actually is. In researching the value of degrees in technology, I have read many comments that a degree, while not a guarantee of specific practical capabilities, ensures commitment to a goal, team skills and a well rounded educational base to build on. Other comments stated that programmers without degrees are often "lone-wolf" type characters who, though intelligent and capable, are not suited to working well with people and produce unmaintainable code and/or undocumented code. I get this. But it is these types of comments that once again make me realize the value of my prior experience. I have dealt with employees, business partners and contractors where the very same issue is a prime concern though it looks different in another context.
That being said, I do not consider the issue of structured education to be closed at all. The ancient greek aphorism "Know Thyself", is of vital importance in how you navigate life and one of the best ways to explore your capabilities is through unbiased and objective assessments of your skill level in many domains. At age 21, I took a Level 3 First Aid course and I failed miserably. I had always relied on my intuitive intellectual capabilities to reason through any problem I was faced with. This course tested for the ability to memorize time-sensitive and very specific sequences and perform them instinctively in a high pressure situation. And in analyzing the wreckage that was my exam, I found that I was simply not capable of this skill. It was the first time that I have come up against a task that showed the depth of my inadequacy in a certain area and I caught a glimpse of what the greeks meant by "Know Thyself": everyone has shortcomings in some areas and if you don't know what yours are, you are living a fantasy.
And this is where certification courses come into the picture. Although I've heard mixed reviews of the value of these courses as well, I think that they would be a valuable tool in judging my competency and fluency in technical topics. I certainly won't use them as the absolute yardstick of my education, but more as a tool to gauge the effectiveness of my self-education.
Course Materials
The second goal of my studies is to gain a wide knowledge of subjects which may only be tangentially related to my primary goal. This is where the broad and intensive MIT Open Courseware curriculum comes into play. The courses that i have already begun in mathematics and logic have inspired me to continue on this path. Although they do not grant any kind of recognition of courses completed, I think that the practical benefits of broad knowledge base are their own rewards.
Research Goals
In addition to certification and general course studies, I plan to do research projects and papers, publishing my results to this blog. If this sounds like I'm just imitating schooling and pretending to be a grad student, you're right but I would suggest that it's the other way around. The way grad school is structured is to mimic the way "real" intellectual advancement and research is done. You don't have a specific list of requirements to check off or attendance schedules, but you will be judged on if it is and original and substantial contribution to the field.

No comments:

Post a Comment