“Mom, your degree was exercise physiology. You spent your first five years out of college as a glorified aerobic instructor. Then you taught yourself programming, took a few night classes at UCLA, and made a huge career switch into computers, and found you loved it. You have your own computer book series. Yet you told me you had just a single computer class in college, and you hated it. So… tell me again why college was so great for you? … I have no idea if I’ll ever open a restaurant or develop this into a professional career, but whatever investment I make in this will serve me and make me happy for the rest of my life. I’ll be using what I learn here in my personal life, almost every day, regardless of my career. How many people can say that about 90% of what they learned in college?”
The mother (Kathy Sierra) gives a reply. In short, she’s calling on more “working classes,” more distance learning and online forums (hear, hear!).
This is becoming an even more interesting question as college lectures become more easily available on audio. (Currently I am now listening to John Fisher’s Great Writers: Their Lives and Works–Teaching Company productions). Yes, professors can intrigue and inspire and motivate, but they are lectures are often not interactive; in other words, if you are properly motivated, you can probably derive the same benefit by reading a good essay or book. It’s the exercises and class projects that matter, not to mention the feedback. It’s the teacher who tells you where to start, provides a sequence of learning steps to follow and leads a discussion towards fruitful topics. Unfortunately, you need real people around to provide this interaction and feedback; going to local SIGs can help, but the learning sequence is more random and less structured.
See also Paul Graham’s What You Wish You had known.
He wrote an interesting though somewhat silly piece about undergraduate education:
In principle, grad school is professional training in research, and you shouldn’t go unless you want to do research as a career. And yet half the people who get PhDs in CS don’t go into research. I didn’t go to grad school to become a professor. I went because I wanted to learn more.
So if you’re mainly interested in hacking and you go to grad school, you’ll find a lot of other people who are similarly out of their element. And if half the people around you are out of their element in the same way you are, are you really out of your element?
Holy cow: a 1 million dollar trailer home?
Roger Sperling reviews cross platform ebook formats. It all sounds slightly maddening.