John Appleby wrote a thought-provoking piece on university degree courses and how they relate to the IT industry in “When will graduates learn to monetize their education?“. I thought it was worth writing a few thoughts down to help re-balance the view.
To a large extent I agree with John’s sentiments, especially on the context of the cost of education, and perhaps the beginning of the end of “vocational” degrees. Competition in the graduate job market, cost of living, and tuition fees are all increasing at an alarming rate, and John is calling for universities to make their degree courses relevant to industry, in particular IT consulting, and for students to seriously consider career-orientated courses (rather than subjects they might otherwise wish to study).
The problem is that this drives us dangerously down the path of clone production. Often in my career have I come across graduates of computer-related degree courses, unable to think for themselves, unwilling to consider solutions that involve approaches beyond what they’ve already studied, and — while having a tremendously impressive pedigree in, say, compiler design or even XML processing — not able to translate their skills and knowledge into practical application thereof.
I graduated with a Classics degree, which was made up of Latin, Ancient Greek, Sanskrit and Philology. But beyond the questionable ability to translate Ovid into Ancient Greek, or understand how Phrygian influenced later language grammars, I graduated with the skills to think logically, work independently, think outside the box and, most importantly, to learn and assimilate new ideas and approaches and apply them to current problems. This particular set of skills is not specific to Classics by any means, but is a good illustration of soft skills that are wider and deeper than any particular vertical slice of IT.
Yes, I agree that students face serious problems in higher education, but let’s not move towards a solution that denies the richness that a traditional non-tech degree affords.