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Considering dropping out of college... again

Jimmy KingJimmy King Registered User regular
edited May 2011 in Help / Advice Forum
UPDATED A FEW POSTS DOWN!

Alright, I'll try to keep this reasonable (I failed), but it's likely to get sort of long as I get my rant on so there will be a tldr at the bottom.

Now, just so everyone knows where I stand before starting to read this, I'm Director of IT at a small international corporation (although it's a shitty one that is swirling the drain, I don't actually direct anyone, etc. anywhere else I'd be software engineer/sr. developer). I've been working in IT jobs since about 1998 and have worked my way from desktop support to software developer to my current director/sr developer/software engineer role. I have had nothing but praise for my skills and aptitude from any manager I have ever had. I feel like I'm pretty smart and pretty good at what I do.

Now that that's out of the way, I initially went to school for Comp Sci. back in 98/99 at a proper 4 year state university. I dropped out that year because I absolutely hated it. I have never gotten along well with school. Finally in 2004 my career, while moving along, was not moving as quickly as I wanted and with "be able to plug in cat5" no longer the standard for a guaranteed $60k-$100k/yr job for several years I decided it was time to go back to school.

As my career was moving along and I really wasn't sure how I'd do I decided I'd start slow. I looked at the nearest and most well known community college. They had a Career Studies Certificate program, which was basically 9 classes, all technical. Sounded like a good place to start. I could do that taking 1 course per semester and working full time (again, I was never good in school, didn't want to go crazy with classes plus there was usually only one class I needed available in the evening when I could attend anyway). I'd be done in 1.5 years taking courses during the summer, too. 2 years if one class wasn't available when I needed it.

Summer 2010 I'm still taking these classes (with a 3.9x GPA! My best since like 4th grade!). I've gone from mid-level support to Director of IT in less time than it has taken to get a community college certificate now. There have been classes that have never been available and eventually dropped. There have been classes that I took and then were removed from the program, wasting a semester and several hundred dollars. There have been multiple semesters with no classes I need to take available. So I call up my adviser at the school who says I should talk to the Chair of the IT department to try to get something together to get me out of there. He informs me that I'm not even in the fucking program so he can't help me. The program requires "a satisfactory result on the math placement test". There are no math classes, so when I initially signed up, they told me I did not have to take the test.

So I take the test and get it dealt with. Oh, hey, he's still not helpful. I've got 2 classes left to take plus an internship. One is only ever available during the day, during the week, when I'm at work. He informs me that I'll just have to take it then, that it conflicts with having a real job is not his problem (not in those exact words, of course, but it's what he meant).

So I deal with that shit and work things out with work for me to take the class. This semester is internship time. Obviously, an entry level internship with my level of experience is fucking stupid. I knew there was a possibility I would not be able to get out of it, though, so I started trying to work with the department chair (he leads the internship project) in October. He ignores my multiple e-mails, except for one time asking me to e-mail him from my school address rather than my work address.

Finally, this week, the week the "class" starts I get an e-mail stating the actual requirements. 75 hours over the next 8 weeks, I have to find the internship myself, I cannot use my real job, I cannot get it waived due to having been doing this for years. I ask if there's any room for discussion on this and who I should talk to if the chair is not in a position to make any changes. I get a one line "This is required and you have to take it." response.

I've e-mailed back asking in what ways they are willing to work with people who are employed full time since it's not necessarily reasonable to miss 1 or 2 days of work every week for the next 8 weeks, and that's assuming I were to get one that I can start this week. I personally cannot. I am the only person left managing a small cluster of servers, doing all development, all bug fixes, a large amount of customer support for companies who have integrations with our API, 24x7 on call, etc.

So now I'm looking at a different community college. It seems to have far more reasonable requirements. Fewer classes for the certificates and no bs internship. I see no point in starting over on a certificate like that, though. My experience far outweighs a certificate like that. I'm only attempting to finish this one up because I've already put so much time and money into it.

So I decide to look at going right to the associates degree. Man, I still don't want to do this shit. History classes, English classes, "health and wellness" classes (gym?), etc. I'm busy. I'm 31 years old and successful in my career. I know what subjects interest me and what subjects I need to be knowledgeable in to be successful. US History 101 isn't it. English more it, but if you've read this far you may have noticed that I'm not half bad with the English. The list goes on. In short, I'm busy, I know what I need to know, and hate the idea of spending thousands more dollars and several more years on being graded on how well I learn stuff that I don't need and don't find interesting. I also don't expect a 2 year degree to do much to get me further in interviews and such than my experience does.

Another option is just take proper, higher level technical classes at a real school. Classes that will teach me stuff I may not have learned on my own which I know there is plenty of. That stuff will at least make me a better developer.

tldr; Sucessful software developer with no degree but several years of experience. Tried going back to school and have gotten fucked in all sorts of ways. Considering dropping out seeing as how I don't see a degree or certificate from a 2 year school getting me any further in future job opportunities than my real world experience.

What are your thoughts, H&A? Suck it up and get the 2 year degree? Just take useful classes and continue on with no degree?

Jimmy King on

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    IrohIroh Registered User regular
    edited January 2011
    Jimmy King wrote: »
    Suck it up and get the 2 year degree?
    This is pretty much it; I don't have much else to say because you know the value of the degree.

    I didn't like (most of) the non-engineering classes I had to take to get my BSEE, but I dealt with it. So does everyone else and so can you.

    Iroh on
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
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    SixSix Caches Tweets in the mainframe cyberhex Registered User regular
    edited January 2011
    Suck it up. At this point the piece of paper is worth more to you than anything you're likely to get out of the classes, but that doesn't mean the classes will be worthless.

    Think of it as a job. You're a pro. This is something you need to do, so be a pro and find a way to make it interesting enough to get through.

    If there's any way you can go straight to a BS/BA and get that over with, that would be my advice. It's what I did a few years ago after dropping out of school. The program I found basically let me pick whatever the Hell I wanted, so I was able to mostly take things I found somewhat interesting, chug through the stuff I didn't, and finish my BA. I also decided to do as much as possible, so I did 12-15 credits per semester at night. It was a shitton of work, but I'm glad I did it.

    Six on
    can you feel the struggle within?
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    Jimmy KingJimmy King Registered User regular
    edited January 2011
    Yeah, I question the value of a 2 year degree even at this point. I could be wrong, but I think most places that would look favorably on a 2 year degree would look equally favorably at my experience.

    Perhaps I will look more closely at the real colleges around here. If they offer more classes in the evening than the CC, it may be doable. Half the trouble there is only one class/semester that I needed was even available in the evening. Part of my fear with a 4 year degree is that if it goes similarly, I'll be ready to retire before I'm done with it.

    The main reason for doing a 2 year at this point is that the community college system works very closely with VCU and has paths that are guaranteed for all credits to transfer, so I can take more of the gen ed and basic technical classes that are review of stuff I've known for years in the easier CC environment.

    My biggest fear with either the 2 year or 4 year route is starting over yet again. With the 2 year degree all technical classes have to be taken within 5 years of graduation. Due to the terrible scheduling, and some of my own fault for not trying to do something about it sooner, I'm already beyond that and so even for the 2 year degree I would likely have to retake the classes that were a waste of my time and money the first time around.

    So yeah, I don't know. Obviously I'm not expecting anyone in favor of "suck it up" to read this second post and change their mind. I'm not trying to be one of those annoying fuckers who just argues when they don't get the advice they wanted. I just need to tell this stuff to someone new, my friends and wife have all heard most of it a million times already.

    Jimmy King on
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    L Ron HowardL Ron Howard The duck MinnesotaRegistered User regular
    edited January 2011
    This is almost like looking in a mirror. I hate school, never did too well as it bored the crap out of me and taught me things that I have never used and will never use (calculus, I'm looking at you, you bastard). So here's my sagely advice :P
    I finished my degree this Spring with a local state university that, for lack of a better term, specializes in education for working adults. I think I was one of the youngest ones in class, and I'm your age. A lot of people were returning because of the economy. Fuck, one guy who went through almost all the same classes as I did was well into his late 40's or early 50's, had even more experience, but couldn't get a job because of that stupid piece of paper.
    I'd say see if any of your classes can transfer, then suck it up and do all the English and History bullshit, and just get it out of the way.
    Everyone has to do that stuff, so you may as well make the best of it. You know those courses where you're expected to do research and write papers? Find the best topic you can that will make the most people uncomfortable. It's really interesting to watch the teacher who's supposed to be teaching tolerance and everything squirm. I shall say no more, but you can basically troll IRL and get away with it too.

    The school where I completed my degree has tons of night classes, so all the kids can go to school during the day and the working adults at night. And normal night class rules applied, meeting once a week, losing your weekends to homework and drinking to forget about the pain of losing your weekends to homework, etc.
    So I don't know where you're located, but I'd suggest look around for something like that.

    L Ron Howard on
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    SixSix Caches Tweets in the mainframe cyberhex Registered User regular
    edited January 2011
    You really need to weigh what value a degree has to you.

    Are you interested in roles (middle to upper management) where not having one is likely to present a significant stumbling block for you? Yes, there are people who have gotten and will get those jobs without a degree, but it makes it a lot harder.

    Are you interested in post-graduate education? It sounds like no, but it's worth thinking about. In that case, you'll need a BS/BA most likely.

    If yes, then you need to decide that you want it, then go get it. At our age, getting something like a degree isn't "just the next step," it's something you deicde you want and then you act like a pro and you go do. If it's not something you want, then the time and money you'll need to invest may be better spent in other ways. If you want to develop, set up a plan to devote your time to other projects that will further your technical knowledge and experience. If you want to be a code monkey, figure out ways to make you a better monkey. Honestly, no matter what higher education path you choose, if real, in-the-trenches development is what you're after, you're better off learning on your own than in a classroom. This requires discipline, but it's going to be the same kind of discipline required to get a degree, and may be a better use of your time and money. To get a benefit out of it (and I know you know this), you'll need to produce, though. Completed projects using the technology you're trying to demonstrate. It's hard, but so is getting a degree.

    If you think that you want to eventually move into roles that require a broader base of experience, though, then you'll need to figure out how to get a degree. I agree with you that the 2-year degree may not have a whole lot of value if you're not going to use it as a stepping stone to something else.

    Six on
    can you feel the struggle within?
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    Jimmy KingJimmy King Registered User regular
    edited January 2011
    Honestly, it's not something I want. I see no use for it for me beyond some employers won't even talk to me without it and a slightly bigger group of employers will talk to me but will give preference to someone with a degree even if all other signs suggest that I'm the better candidate for a job. Of course when you're unemployed and trying to make ends meet, that tends to matter a whole lot more.

    That's a lot of the problem. I really don't see the value in it beyond knowing that other people do and those other people can have a direct impact on my ability to pay the bills. I question that it will increase my earning potential enough to offset the cost of getting it in the first place, especially a four year degree from a real college, since those are ridiculously expensive.

    I have little to no interest in true management roles beyond some sort of team lead. I don't like the politics, I have no desire to fire someone, I hate dealing with other management types. I've done enough butting heads with VPs and CxO's in my current job that I know I don't want to deal with it somewhere that they have more to gain and I'm easier to get rid of if I don't fall into line. I enjoy software development and writing code and I'm good at it.

    As to alternate ways of learning, I always have a few software dev projects I'm working on that go beyond what I do for work. That self study and projects that I can show end results of is how I've gotten every job I've had since my first computer repair job at Best Buy 12 years ago. I also am completely open to taking courses that will further my knowledge and abilities, such as the various math and comp sci related classes that I have missed out on and almost certainly have missed teaching myself some of the material from although again I am wary of the cost.

    I will do some looking to see if there are any of these adult oriented schools around. Even some empathy and understanding that an adult with 10+ years of real, professional experience, who may currently be trying to work full time is different from an 18-20 year old, fresh out of high school, student and some respect for that would go a long way towards making it doable and the things I feel are ridiculous a little more tolerable.

    Jimmy King on
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    Jimmy KingJimmy King Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Hey guys, I just want to say thanks to everyone who posted in this thread before. I was able to work out the internship doing some work for my current job that I was going to have to do anyway, just on my own time and completed that back in March. I have finally gotten confirmation from the IT department chair at the school that my final report on the internship has been accepted (turned it in back in early April) and I got 100% on it. That should mean that I'm officially graduated with this certificate (for whatever little it's worth) as of May 15.

    I've also been working with another local community college which has a proper Comp. Sci A.S. program with a special agreement with VCU to transfer over to their Comp. Sci program as a Junior. I was able to transfer in some old English credits from U of I to knock out one English class that I don't want to take and should have no issues CLEP testing out of another.

    I'm sure there will be another frustrated, ready to give up post from me again in the next couple of years when I'm waste deep in humanities bs. but for now things are going well.

    Jimmy King on
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    RhinoRhino TheRhinLOL Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Stick with it man. I'm in the same boat as you, working full time in IT while going to school. It's stressful and takes a lot of time, but keep cranking away at it. Even if it's only 1 course a semester.

    Rhino on
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    DeebaserDeebaser on my way to work in a suit and a tie Ahhhh...come on fucking guyRegistered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Stick with it holmes. Your resume looks a hell of a lot better with a BA/BS on it. God forbid your company ever goes tits up, you'll be much more likely to land another Director of IT role a hell of a lot easier than if you rely on your skillz to pay the bills.

    Deebaser on
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    GanluanGanluan Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    As a side note, "Director of IT" is a terrible title that really doesn't help you. If you were to put that title on your resume when applying for a development job elsewhere, I'm not even sure what they would think. You're not directing people, and seeing "IT" generally means you work with hardware or support, not develoment (at least with HR where I work).

    Ganluan on
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    Jimmy KingJimmy King Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Ganluan wrote: »
    As a side note, "Director of IT" is a terrible title that really doesn't help you. If you were to put that title on your resume when applying for a development job elsewhere, I'm not even sure what they would think. You're not directing people, and seeing "IT" generally means you work with hardware or support, not develoment (at least with HR where I work).
    Yeah, I tend to use Sr. Software Developer or Sr. Software Engineer on my resume.

    The title is technically fitting from some aspects as I do oversee everything - hardware purchases and configuration, server software configurations, managing our 3rd party hardware support, etc. It's not in line with what I actually want to be doing, though, and I don't have any employees that I'm managing so as you pointed out, it's also a bit misleading in that respect.

    Jimmy King on
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    Jimmy KingJimmy King Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Rhino wrote: »
    Stick with it man. I'm in the same boat as you, working full time in IT while going to school. It's stressful and takes a lot of time, but keep cranking away at it. Even if it's only 1 course a semester.
    Deebaser wrote:
    Stick with it holmes. Your resume looks a hell of a lot better with a BA/BS on it. God forbid your company ever goes tits up, you'll be much more likely to land another Director of IT role a hell of a lot easier than if you rely on your skillz to pay the bills.

    Thanks guys. I expect this round of schooling to go more smoothly. At this stage it's looking like I should be able to take 2-3 classes per semester since the classes I need to take aren't as limited as with the certificate. As long as I feel like I'm making progress, I think everything will be ok.

    This certificate just took way the hell longer than it should have and then when the teacher leading the internship program was being a totally unhelpful, silly goose it was just one pain in my ass too much. Once we met in person instead of just via e-mail he was much more reasonable and helpful, though.

    Jimmy King on
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    DeebaserDeebaser on my way to work in a suit and a tie Ahhhh...come on fucking guyRegistered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Also, pro resume tip: You don't have to put the year you received your degree on your resume. So next time you set yourself to looking, no one even knows you went back as a mature student.

    Deebaser on
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    bowenbowen How you doin'? Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    In my professional opinion, expertise is farrrrrrrr more valuable than schooling. I'd rather hire someone with 8 years of experience than 12 years of schooling.

    Change your title, confirm it with HR, explain what your real duties and responsibilities are and tell them you'd like to align them to a realistic job title. IT director is one thing, but Sr. Software Engineer is way more valuable.

    I don't know, I don't think I'd risk my job for an internship, fuck that noise. Complain up the chain of command at the school. Did they explain in detail how the internship worked before hand? I don't want to advocate lawsuits but fuck schools that act like that, threaten them with a lawsuit. I know you made assumptions about you'd probably have to do this and that, but if they didn't say you couldn't do XYZ then fuck them, they should've told you.

    I guess what I'm saying is, when the world gives you a used asshole, piss in it and give it right back.

    bowen on
    not a doctor, not a lawyer, examples I use may not be fully researched so don't take out of context plz, don't @ me
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    Jimmy KingJimmy King Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    bowen wrote: »
    In my professional opinion, expertise is farrrrrrrr more valuable than schooling. I'd rather hire someone with 8 years of experience than 12 years of schooling.
    Yeah, as would I. If you've done much looking in the last few years though, you'll find there are a lot more hiring managers making that claim than there are ones who'll actually back it up (or possibly are allowed to back it up by their managers). It drives me nuts, but it is how it is. At least now that I'm in the proper CS program I'll get something out of it. Mostly theoretical stuff that doesn't apply to 90% of corporate software dev, but it'll put me in a position to get into more interesting roles more easily. I could learn to do those same jobs without the schooling if given the chance, but too few places are willing to give that chance, otherwise I wouldn't be spending my time and money on this frustrating ass nonsense.
    I don't know, I don't think I'd risk my job for an internship, fuck that noise. Complain up the chain of command at the school. Did they explain in detail how the internship worked before hand? I don't want to advocate lawsuits but fuck schools that act like that, threaten them with a lawsuit. I know you made assumptions about you'd probably have to do this and that, but if they didn't say you couldn't do XYZ then fuck them, they should've told you.

    I guess what I'm saying is, when the world gives you a used asshole, piss in it and give it right back.
    That was exactly my problem with it. What I'm getting for completing this program is completely useless to me at this point (It's a windows sys admin focused certificate, I'm Linux/Unix based developer) and I was absolutely furious that when I tried to work with the school to make sure it wouldn't cause issues with my job all I was getting back where one line e-mails saying "You have to do this".

    Once the class started up and the teacher met with me face to face he was willing to work with me and bend the rules slightly, but he could have saved me a whole lot of frustration by just saying that up front when I started asking about it months in advance. He was still a bit of an ass about it even then, but he at least made sure it was doable. He made it clear to me that he did not have the authority to do any more than he had, which is fine, I understand. But when I asked who does have the authority, he flat out would not tell me who to talk to. But whatever, that whole ordeal is done. I've got the certificate and am switching to an entirely different school, so no use worrying about it.

    Jimmy King on
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    JohnnyCacheJohnnyCache Starting Defense Place at the tableRegistered User regular
    edited May 2011
    It's slightly off topic but I am in a similar position and I was wondering what your opinion is of the various certifications you can get in the IT world - A+, MCSE, that type of thing

    JohnnyCache on
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    Jimmy KingJimmy King Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    It's slightly off topic but I am in a similar position and I was wondering what your opinion is of the various certifications you can get in the IT world - A+, MCSE, that type of thing
    In the majority of cases they're no replacement for a degree as far as getting your foot in the door or impressing the interviewer. Aside from the very high level stuff, they're mostly a tie breaker between you and someone who's equally qualified but doesn't have the cert or can push you over the edge from "we'll probably hire this guy" to "we'll definitely hire this guy" in some cases.

    The above is especially true for the entry level stuff like A+ and Network+. In the jobs I had where those were somewhat relevant more of the staff there did not have them than did. Not having them definitely wasn't keeping anyone from getting a job. The higher level Cisco stuff on the other hand can be rather impressive, the same for Red Hat certification, but their highest level certs are extremely difficult to get.

    The other downside with certs is that they're fairly specific and are viewed as such. Based on what others have told me and job descriptions where they requested degrees, frequently any degree is ok as long as you have one and at worst they want something just somehow related. Certs on the other hand, not so much. If I list my A+ or Network+ or MCP (no longer valid, I'm sure) while applying for a Perl or Python dev job in a Linux shop, at best they'll not care and ignore it and they may decide I'm an idiot because it's just not relevant for the most part.

    As long as they are relevant to the job they certainly won't hurt and can help, but very few of them are a golden ticket to your dream job.

    There's some good discussion about the certs going on in this thread currently and some guys have been checking it that can probably give more info on the higher level certifications.

    Jimmy King on
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    L Ron HowardL Ron Howard The duck MinnesotaRegistered User regular
    edited May 2011
    As more (anecdotal) evidence, a friend of mine is in his later 40's, maybe real early 50's. He has a billion years of experience doing IT stuff, is a lead, knows his technical stuff, and can skate around with the best of the double-talking management/hr/ad people.
    He can code, assemble hardware, setup servers, troubleshoot weird problem with the network, etc.
    But he can't get hired anywhere because he doesn't have his stupid bachelor's. Now that's a fucking joke, I tells ya.

    L Ron Howard on
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    JasconiusJasconius sword criminal mad onlineRegistered User regular
    edited May 2011
    The value of a degree depends entirely on who you are trying to get jobs with, and no so much the nature of the degree or your experience.

    What you should take advantage of while you are in school, no matter what use comes of it, is the opportunity to meet new people who do what you do, and get networked.

    My current employer, which happens to be my best employer to date, is someone I met while in school.

    The kind of corporate IT/internal sysadmin you seem to be in can be a Bermuda Triangle for career advancement because you're writing niche software in an old language for people who barely understand what you do. You should take every opportunity you can to put out feelers for other types of work that might interest you... and school is as good a place as any to do it.

    Jasconius on
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    saggiosaggio Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    A degree won't limit you in any way.

    You may also find it fulfilling for its own ends. If you *are* interested in purely instrumental arguments, though, an undergraduate degree is required to get the mother of all instrumental qualifications, the MBA.

    saggio on
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