As an engineer myself, I find it rather interesting that people automatically think that going to MIT will secure a certain type of position or opportunity. So not true for the field. There is such a need for developers that many of them don’t even have 4 year degrees to be viable in this field. Just getting a Certification in Oracle, Cisco and more will get you in the door to a ‘Help Desk’ or ‘Jr. Programming’ job without a degree and if you are good, your salary and the salary of your peers will be the same in about 5 to 10 years … all without a degree. Now if you want to become a Software Manager or Engineering Architect, the highest degree most have is a Masters—but it’s not necessary, what they want you to have is another ‘Certification’ a PMP which takes about a week to get. Really spend time talking to people in your child’s chosen career makes a big difference.
I started to respond to the comment, but as my response got longer and longer, I decided to turn it into a separate post.
While it is certainly possible to get a job in IT without a degree, I think my son would not be happy in a “Help Desk” or “Jr. Programming” job for very long (by which I mean more than a few weeks). He is patient with people who don’t know what he knows, and (I’m told) he’s been a good teaching assistant for the home-school Python class, but I think he’d get frustrated dealing with the rude behavior by stupid people that most help desk personnel have to put up with. A junior programming job would not be very rewarding either, as people in such positions are not trusted to make any decisions about the code, but just to implement what they are told or slap patches on badly written code that is already so patched by incompetents that it is nearly impossible to maintain. The most tedious and unrewarding parts of programming are given to junior programmers, with almost no opportunity given to show what one is really capable of.
His goal in going to college is not “to get a good-paying job”, but to learn cool stuff and to do cool stuff (which for him, at the moment, mainly means writing programs, though he’s gotten a bit interested in designing digital hardware as well). It is unfortunate that computer science has recently been oversold as a job ticket, because it means that in most colleges he’ll be surrounded by people who are just there for the money and have little love for the learning. Computer programming suffers from even wilder boom-and-bust swings than other engineering fields, and I suspect that a lot of the current pushing of CS as a ticket to a good job is deliberate hype to keep labor costs low.
Part of what we’re looking for on our college tours is a place where many of the students are there for the learning, not the job ticket. Of course, since most parents and students have been taught to think of college as a job ticket, the information sessions and campus tour guides often spend a fair amount of time talking about how good the job prospects are for their graduates. Both Brown and Stanford made a big deal out of Google’s active recruitment of their students, though Stanford included Google only as one of the many examples of employers who pay big bucks to recruit Stanford students.
We’ve been trying to read between the lines to find the places where he’d get the learning he wants and where he’d be surrounded by other students with similar motivations. A high rate of students going on to grad school in CS and doing well is a good sign, for example, because it means that the students loved learning enough to forego high-paying jobs in order to learn more. For students primarily interested in getting one of those high-paying jobs, the number of people getting job offers immediately after graduation and the size of those job offers may be more important than the number going on to grad school. Google recruiting is a good sign for both groups of students—Google pays well, but they are also interested in finding people who can do new things, not people who’ve just gone through cram-and-forget training to get a piece of paper with BS on it. Having a large number of successful startups formed by students or recent alumni is also a good sign for both groups, at least if the startups are doing cool new things, and not just random tweaks to whatever the current fad is.
Getting paid well to do cool stuff would be nice, but my son is not primarily driven by money. His motivations might be different if we were rich and spent all our time comparing ourselves to still richer people, or if we were poor and spent all our time trying to make ends meet and pay off crushing debts. But our family is solidly middle-class, with a paid-up mortgage and just enough income to indulge our cheap tastes and save for retirement and college. Our biggest expenses are food and education.
My son’s future is undetermined: It’s possible that he’ll get rich from creating a startup that hits the big time. It’s possible that he’ll become a hot-shot programmer or engineer at a large company. It’s possible that he’ll end up as a professor or as a senior researcher in a national lab. It’s also possible that he’ll end up as an actor, doing various contract programming and web-design jobs as day jobs to pay the rent between acting gigs. He’s preparing himself for any of those possibilities (and probably others).
Right now, being a student is most attractive to him, and he is trying to optimize that experience. If learning continues to be his main passion, he’ll probably stay in school through a PhD. If something else beckons along the way, he might stop (or perhaps pause) with a BS and pursue the other opportunity.