Seemed like an innocent enough question when I asked it. A bunch of us developers from the consulting firm I worked with were at lunch talking tech. Then the conversation turned to college football and we were getting into friendly banter about our alma maters teams.
I noticed one of the guys who was all over the tech conversation was all of a sudden very quiet.
So I figured the nice thing to do was to bring him back into the discussion and asked that question. With more than a hint of a defensive tone, he said that he didnt go to college.
Cue awkward silence.
Since he didnt elaborate and I was the curious type, I dug deeper.
Really? So where did you learn to write code?
Well call my counterpart in this conversation Joe. Well, Joe squirmed in his seat as he responded, I went to a two year technical institute.
The topic of where he received his post high school education was obviously uncomfortable for him. And I obviously needed to know more.
Interesting. What kind of courses did you have to take?, I inquired.
Joe glared back at me as he swallowed a bite of his sandwich.
Probably more technical courses than any college requires for a computer science degree. You see, I didnt want to waste my time having to learn about philosophy and political science. I just cared about writing code. Period. All that other stuff would have been worthless in my humble opinion.
As I was starting to process what Joe was saying, our button-downed coworker Stan chimed in.
Joe, Im sure you learned a great deal about software development, but I happen to think that those so-called worthless courses make a more well-rounded developer who as a result might be able to relate better to clients and projects. Its not just about writing code. You have to be able to deal with people, processes, business rules and even office politics.
I jumped back in, earnestly trying to help Joe out. So you couldnt afford to go to college? (I cringe that I actually said that.)
Joe was starting to show some crimson colors, feeling a bit cornered by his coworkers. He took a deep breath and proceeded to explain his position.
Just because I chose to take a different path that led me to the same position as you, doesnt mean that I was forced to. I actually started off at a top engineering university. I hated it. So I chose to quit after the first year and go for a two year degree so I could focus on what interested me and not what others thought I should do.
I actually was thinking that was an admirable position to take and took some gumption to leave such a good school. I mean, many successful techies left college. Bill Gates left Harvard, right?
Thats when Stan piped back in.
Oh, so you were flunking out of college?
Joe grimaced. I had a perfect GPA in my computer science classes, thank you very much! It was the other courses like Interpersonal Communications and Rhetoric in a Free Society that I found a complete waste of time.
I said, Hey, I took similar classes and thought they were great!
Thats when our other buddy Dean (who always got under my skin) added his two cents.
Yeah Eric, thats why you are such a great communicator. Dean said with total sarcasm.
You majored in Information Science, right? I bet our friend Joe took way more technical courses than you. I actually wish I would have had the guts to do what Joe did. I mean, what does learning about rhetoric have to do with writing software?
Whatever, Dean, I said. Im not saying that he took a bad path, I just think Stan and I are saying there are benefits to getting a college degree that go beyond what you major in.
Stan agreed: Whether it is fair or not, if you are in consulting like us then your resume can be harshly judged by prospective clients. Not only can a college degree get a higher rate for our services, but well be able to more easily justify higher salary than you, Joe.
(You know, now that Im in management, I miss these frank conversations.)
The heat in the room kept rising. Are you so sure your salary is higher than mine Stan? Joe said. And even if it is, do you feel its justified because you took a bunch of courses that did nothing to help you write better code? Come on!
Stan tried to keep things cool awkwardly. Im just saying you might be looked at more like a blue collar developer than a white collar developer who brings more to the table. And that could impact your marketability.