Does Formal Training Really Make A Difference?

Photo by David Michael Morris

I was once told I am not qualified to do what I do for a living. You see, I program computers, and my university degree is in electrical and computer engineering. I specialized in learning how to design chips, and that means I have no formal degree in what I do.

However, in pursuit of that degree, I took quite a few programming courses. I learned the basics of the languages, and how to compile. But still no formal training.

I don’t really think it matters. After all, computers and their languages change radically and frequently. One of the funniest things I run across on resumes is when someone claims to have 10 years experience in a technology that has only been around for 2. People who know what they are doing in programming have learned from experience.

One of the best, brightest and most innovative programmers I know doesn’t have a degree in computers either. In fact, I believe his background is in music performance and physics. But he’s the best I know because he never stops learning, or trying new approaches and methods.

Would I want a doctor without a degree, or have my bridges designed by someone who hadn’t been trained? No. But that is because their degrees come with hands-on experience. I certainly would want a degrees doctor who had never seen a patient to operate on me!

To me, the value of a degree is to show that you have the gumption and drive to complete an extended learning course. but most things are based in experience.

And it goes the other way. I was talking with someone who was bragging that he had a master’s degree in electrical engineering…but he had never wired a circuit, or actually built anything that required electricity. His learning was all on paper.

So my feeling is that a degree is nice, but I would rather see what you can actually DO.

Photo by David Michael Morris


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