Proving Yourself

In my April 13 column, I discussed the benefits of a traditional college education in a technology field. Basically, no one who had earned a college degree and replied to my original question felt that obtaining the degree was a waste of time or resources. Some of you felt that the specific information you learned wasn't directly useful on the job, but you said that part of what you learned in college was HOW to learn. When you did start work, your college experiences helped you figure out how to figure out what you needed to do.

I received another comment, outside of the formal feedback channel, that said the benefit of a college education was the emphasis on research. The writer claimed that many of the non-college educated people he worked with had no idea how to figure out the solution to a problem they hadn't encountered before. When I thought about his comment, I realized that a research gap does seem to exist. For example, people have taken the time to compose a personal email to ask me for technical help with a SQL Server problem when they could have figured out the answer on their own in less time than it took to write to me. Some people seem to believe that a body of knowledge exists out there, and you either know a fact or you don't. You can determine many facts—and the answers to many questions—by running a few tests, but this approach doesn't occur to some people. They must ask an expert for the answer.

I don't know that this blind spot results from a lack of higher education, and I'm not so closed-minded to think the only way to acquire research skills is to attend a college or university. You can acquire true learning, as well as the skill of learning how to learn, in many ways.

But even if you accept that you can acquire an education outside of a classroom, how can you demonstrate your education to a prospective employer? Some of you complained that prospective employers aren't interested in you unless you have a college degree, and others complained that even when you have a college degree, employers want to see your certification credentials.

Let's face it: Employers make the rules about job qualifications. Good employers recognize other equivalent credentials or provide assessment tests as part of the interview process, but some employers want to see the letters after your name. If you have the degree, but not the certifications, you might think that it doesn't matter, but if you can't get a job because you don't have the certifications, then it DOES matter. So take a few tests, and PROVE that you know what you know.

If you have the certifications, and a prospective employer wants the degree, the situation is a bit tougher. Have you thought about night school at a local junior college? As the guest editor said in this column last week, maintaining your certification is an ongoing process for as long as you want to keep your certification. I can say the same for education in general. You have to keep proving yourself, over and over again.

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