Saturday, September 8, 2007

Higher Education In The Software Industry

After finishing graduate school I felt quite eager and prepared to enter the work force. For the most part I was very far beyond many of my classmates in many academic disciplines except when it came to real world experience. At the time, I never gave much thought as to where a graduate-level degree would take me. Having been out of school for some time, I believe the purpose of a college level education is a combination of items in the list below:

To provide a way for individuals at a novice skill level to break into the software industry.

Software is a relatively new discipline that under most circumstances does not require any special certification to practice. Unlike in civil engineering where by law formal certification must be obtained before signing off on the design of a new structure.

A self-motivated person may educate themselves at a local bookstore and has the potential to be just as successful as the college graduate. However, for a true software novice who may not know where to begin or what to focus on, time may be better spent in a program designed to start at the beginning.

Reference: check out SWEBOK for a collection of disciplines a software engineer can be proficient in.

To make yourself a more attractive hire by reducing the risk a future employer takes when it is not ideal for them to pay more for an experienced candidate.

My former boss and chair of the computer science department once said to me that getting a Ph.D. is a lot like graduate school, except it shows that you can survive. Although many graduates leave school with little work experience, by earning a degree you have proof that there exists various qualities within you to:

  1. Personal responsibility
  2. The will to finish things
  3. An interest in a given discipline
  4. Forward thinking
This gives an employer a bargain opportunity when hiring. While a person with five years professional experience would almost certainly be more proficient than a recent graduate, the employer would also need to pay for that proficiency with a higher salary. By hiring a recent graduate the employer can offer a lower salary at the cost of taking on some risk. This is why a high GPA is crucial, it is an indicator that you represent a reduced risk and are therefore a more attractive hire.

To produce better research.

This is especially true at the graduate level. I was not training to develop great software systems, I was training to produce research on topics related to software. I concede that not everyone studying computer science wants to be a software developer. There are those who want to be on the cutting edge of some of esoteric technologies. Higher education trains you to do produce research.

To pursue a professional career in academia.

The next time you visit a college make note of faculty who have earned their Ph.D. If they look like they are in their late twenties to early thirties, chances are their primary chosen professions is a career academic. Obviously higher education is a requirement for a career academic.

I was close to choosing a career in academia. Almost immediately after graduation I was teaching many of the courses that I had to take only a few short years ago. For financial reasons I decided not to pursue the academic path at this time in my life. For better or worse there is a gap between academia and the business world. I was mostly ignorant to this fact and wore a wet blanket for a few months after graduation. Unpleasant as it was at the time, I now appreciate the fact that I have insights into both worlds.

To participate in education for its own sake.

I never quite understood this one but nevertheless I saw individuals accumulating degrees without any apparent reason.

To have a social experience.

I believe this is a symptom of either immaturity or short-sightedness. Regardless, there are those that decide to participate in higher education because of the social opportunities associated.

1 comment:

rarabecca said...

Hey Matt I think going for a social experience is fine as long as that is not your only reason for going. I know that is why I went to school away from home so I could expand my horizons. If I just wanted an education I could have gone to a school closer to my parents house.