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Autodidacts and computers

© February 2006 Anthony Lawrence

The computer field is full of high school and college drop-outs. Or at least it was: Wikipedia feels the need to distinguish between noteworthy college dropouts and their high school brethren but doesn't begin to cover the subject (simply because most of the computer folks aren't famous). However, a Google search for "autodidact programmer" or "dropout programmer" turns up a lot of evidence that many programmers disliked traditional educational systems.

In most generations, there have been areas where dropouts could compete and excel. Computers are just the latest, but I wonder if that is as easy today as it was twenty years ago? I'm a high school and college drop-out (dropped out of high school, went back to graduate, tried college briefly and dropped out for good), and fell into computers almost by accident. Could you still do that today? I don't know.

To some extent, programmers and other tech people have little choice other than being self taught even if they did originally go through traditional channels. Our technology changes so quickly that most things we learned five or ten years ago have little value today, so we have to keep learning new things. The "newest" things are almost never "taught" anywhere, so we teach ourselves. But given the current maturity of the field, and all of the basics that need to be learned first, is it still possible for someone to enter the field without formal training of some sort? I don't know.

Mark Twain said "The self taught man seldom knows anything accurately, and he does not know a tenth as much as he could have known if he had worked under teachers, and besides, he brags, and is the means of fooling other thoughtless people into going and doing as he himself has done." However, he also said ""I never let schooling get in the way of my education."

A recent study in Scotland found that the average small business owner:

.. is more likely to be the youngest child of the family and 
leave school at 16, according to a new study by RBS.

The survey found Scotland's tycoons began earning money while as
young as 13.

The research also showed lack of education was no barrier to success
- nearly one in five of those polled did not have any qualifications.

Maybe Sam was wrong?

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-> Autodidacts and computers


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Tue Feb 21 15:20:35 2006: 1684   BigDumbDinosaur

But given the current maturity of the field, and all of the basics that need to be learned first, is it still possible for someone to enter the field without formal training of some sort?

I'd have to say not likely.

I think what would be the prime impediment would be time. When you and I started in this field (late 1960's), things were not nearly as complicated as they are now and there was a lot less to learn. Back then, it was possible to keep up with what was going on and absorb knowledge that would be useful on the job.

Today, I doubt that anyone wanting to get into computers would be able to learn enough in a reasonably short period of time to land a decent job, let alone become a successful independent consultant, without the benefit of formal education. There's just too much that has to be known to be effective in this field and only an exceptionally perceptive individual would be able to "connect the dots" when presented with seemingly unrelated pieces of information. The rest would be better served by attending a technical school that caters to the development of computer professionals and teaches what is relevant to today's computing landscape.

Note that I said technical school, not college or university. Colleges tend to teach a lot of theory and relatively little practicality. Most college graduates are knowledge-rich and skill-poor, which initially makes them less desirable as employees than graduates of a good technical school, where a large helping of hands-on training is given along with the theory. Given a choice of hiring two otherwise equal grads to work in my business, I'd take the technical school alumnus over the college grad. S/he would be much more likely to have the skills I would need to handle the type of work I usually perform. I wouldn't hire someone with no formal training and no demonstrable experience in the field -- no matter how smart s/he might be, simply because s/he would not know enough to be of value.

Like Tony, I'm largely self-taught -- I have only attended two computer-related courses in the nearly 40 years that I've messed with this stuff -- but have acquired a lot of experience that cannot be gotten in any school. Nevertheless, I seriously doubt that if I were starting out today I would be able to get anywhere without some formal training. There's just too much to be learned!

Wed Mar 13 06:26:34 2013: 11956   anonymous


Looks like the future is here folks.


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