For as long as I can recall, there seems to be an argument about which is more important, education or experience. Being that I see the importance in both, I decided that I would address it as much as I can in this article.
In short, I will start by saying, simply, that each is incredibly important by itself, but together they are invaluable. Both are important in both your professional and personal life, and both go a long way to making you a success or failure.
I have been an on-again-off-again college student for some time. I know what I want to do, and I know the degree that I would like to, someday, get. The problem for me is that I cannot afford to take the time off work to attend school as much as I need to get my degree in a timely manner. I know that there are those of you out there that will say, “That is no excuse.” But trust me… it is.
I do not have a degree. I have several cerifications and I have several years of training and experience in computers, network design and network infrastructure. I was lucky enough to have gotten into computers and computer repair in a day when companies offered apprenticeships in such fields. Alas, you can find almost none of these types of training programs these days, unless you are a plumber or welder. I see this a unfortunate, but I will talk about that later in the article.
For the most part, my lack of a degree had not really been a problem until 1999, when there was this sudden push for everyone to have a certification or degree in whatever field they worked. In my case, it hit like a brick wall. Suddenly I was getting turned away from job interviews immediately when they asked that all important question, “are you certified?”
I was able to go and get my MCSE with little or no problem, and was back in the work force. But there was a new problem that I ran into. With the push for people to get their certifications, there was also a sudden influx of people that anyone who has been in the industry, for any length of time, refers to as “Paper MCSEs” or “Paper Engineers.” These are people that go to schools like New Horizons, and have the answers to the questions pumped into their heads, get a brief explanation of the facts, very little lab time, and then get pumped out into the world, and are not always ready for the stuff they find. Places like this are fine if you already have the experience and knowledge, but need a refresh, but they are dangerous for the rest of us when people who are just getting into the field go there, and pass the tests, then get out here and realize that life is not a lab.
The fact that I had been working with the network side of things as long as I had, was a major factor that lead me to go to New Horizons. I knew that the assembly line structure that they used would be fine for me to get the tests out of the way as quickly as I could. So, three months later, I was done, and back in the work force. So I have learned, first hand, the value of experience and how it works in conjunction with education.
There are also examples of the opposite of what I have just explained. There have been many times that I have run into people, who are just out of school, and their heads are filled with facts and numbers, but when you ask them what positions they have held, or if they did any “co-op” work while in school, very often they say that they have not held a job in that field, or they did no co-op work at all. For those that might not know, “co-op” programs are where a business will take a person that is in school (college) and give them a job in a field related to what they are studying, on a part time, temporary basis. This works well for the student, who gains experience, and for the company, who gets a “discount rated” technician, since they will usually only pay the person about minimum wage.
I think that all schools should adopt mandatory “co-op” programs for certain fields. I think that giving a person the education, and a degree, with little or no real-life experience, is unfair and unrealistic.
Education is important… there is no way that you can put a value on the benefits of a good education. Statisically a graduate will make a lot more over his or her lifetime than will a non college graduate. There is no disputing that. But education without experience is almost pointless. Why do you think that medical students need to spend almost four years of their studies actually working in hospital.
If you have the option of going to school and furthering your education, then by all means, DO! I cannot express enough how important it is to have that piece of paper. But do not knock experience, there is an equal amount I can say good about getting out there, getting your hands dirty and learning by doing. Nothing teaches you to do a job, and do it right, more than going out and busting your butt. And if you have the chance to combine the two, then not only will others respect you more, but you will respect you more.
Both a good education and good experience are hard work and both are filled with ups and downs. You may not always be a success at both, but every time you fail or make a mistake, just remember that it is all part of learning. It has happened to many before you, and it will happen to many after you.
Lastly, I would like to revisit the comment I made in the first part of this article. Apprenticeships. These are something that should be taken more seriously by employers. The Department of Labor has a very good web site dedicated to Apprenticeships and On the job training, but you still do not see many companies that use this service.
In reality, I would like to see the schools, namely at a High School level, implement a program to select people that look like they are not bound for college. People that are not scoring high enough or that just are not interested in attending college. Take those students and put them in High School apprenticeship programs where they will learn two or three trades. They will still be required to get their basic education out of the way, but they will be prepared for a job once they leave High School. Because it would be an apprenticeship, they will probably even get hired by the company that they apprenticed for in school, or could be referred by them. This would give some kids, especially in poorer areas, a chance to do more with themselves than they might have been able to do before.
Apprenticeships are not gone, but I think they are under-utilized. If a company or school really wants to make a difference, then they should look into offering this option to potential employees or students.