Do you need a degree in Computer Science?
I get asked this question all the time. Usually it’s because someone finds out I’m a web developer and they figure that most of my knowledge of current technologies are self-taught – which they are. Web development, and everything else related to Computing, is a learning field; I’m always learning and intend to continue learning for the rest of my life.
That’s not to say that my years in college were pointless. In fact, going to college was probably the greatest thing I’ve every done and will never regret. My two degrees are the biggest accomplishments of my life, followed by the fact I’ve been able to keep my cat alive this long. I still haven’t figured out which of those things were the hardest – being that Jefrey right now is trying to tear a new portal into my couch.
A degree should be more than a piece of paper that says you studied a major. It should be evidence of an experience you had that just happens to be concentrated in a specific subject. The career path you take is a test of whether you really earned that piece of paper by taking the skills that your instructors taught you, no matter how theoretical or practical they may or may not be, and using them to solve problems in the real world.
I think that one of the most important things I got from going to college was confidence in my work/craft. My childhood, to put it bluntly, sucked. College was my escape from the harsh reality of a broken home and a past that I wanted to pretend never happened. I had been working up to college my entire life. My high school teachers told me I could be independent and do whatever I wanted to do. I think a lot of kids take this for granted, but that support and encouragement literally saved my life.
When I came to Montclair State, it was a new world with new people, and I had a blank slate to start from. There is no feeling in the world quite like that. I met great open-minded people, but also encountered those that I wholeheartedly disagreed with on everything. It was refreshing to not be afraid to have an opinion, which was something I was not entitled to until I was kicked out two days shy of my 18th birthday. I had done a lot of growing up in those 6 months between moving on my own and going to college, and I knew that I needed to make the most of this experience or else I’d end up like someone I never wanted to be.
When you feel confident in yourself, you have an ambition that drives you to get to a certain goal, and you just know that you’re going to reach it so long as you keep working towards it. Explosive swearing and crying are totally acceptable and, of course, inevitable*. I always joke with my dad that no matter how mundane a task I want to complete is, something or someone always tries to get in my way. You can’t let those obstacles get you down, though. If I did, well, I don’t even want to think of where I would have ended up. Probably somewhere gross and filled with spiders.
Where I work, who I work with, and what I love to do sits upon the foundations built from my college career. It also should be noted that my main job is in the department that I earned both of my degrees in and, since I am happy with my life at this point, it’s obvious that I made the right choice in going to college. I stuck around and, now, have the opportunity to be a part of that same support system for current and future CS/IT students.
So, yes, I think you should get a degree in Computer Science if you want to follow my path, which maybe (probably) won’t be the case for you. If you depend solely on the strong opinions of non-degree-holders who tell you it’s pointless to go to school, or biased professors that say you will end up on the streets if you don’t go to college, then you’re going to explode from the stress of making such a decision. I say try college out for a year. If you hate it, drop it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re a loser for it, because only losers call other people losers, and you shouldn’t listen to losers. Because they’re losers.
Just do you, babes.
* I cried for a minute last night over an SVN command that wasn’t working for me. I have no shame shedding a tear or two over version control. I believe it’s made me a better human.