An Unqualified Response to @YesManWatches’s “Is College Dead?”

And by “unqualified” I mean, “I am not qualified.” I haven’t stepped into a college classroom since maybe 1994.

However, I am a college dropout, and an entrepreneur.

Clearly (and I don’t mean this snidely) as a 20-something you’re already far more successful in a commercial sense than I am, but still, I’m co-founder of a tech startup, have run worldwide remote teams for years, and done my share of marketing as well (to varying degrees of success, I’ll admit), so I feel there’s some common ground. I wrote a comment in the sidebar but I’ve got an itch I want to scratch so here we go.

Mainly, I’d argue that you’re treating University as a Voc-Tech school, and that’s a mistake. You don’t know what you’ll be doing in 20 or 30 years, so why bury yourself in debt getting outdated specifics, or theories, whatever, from people who probably aren’t even in your industry anymore? This is not what college is best designed for, IMO. Especially since it sounds like you’re more advanced in Marketing than most of your peers.

You’re not me, but here’s a bit about me:

I never knew what I wanted to do. So I took some of everything. Art, Sociology, Mainframe programming (there wasn’t any other kind then), Religion, Musicology (I’m not a musician), Anthropology, African American Literature, Philosophy, Logic, Renaissance History, Creative Writing, Education, Molecular Biology. I thought I’d be a teacher like my parents and grandparents so I triple majored (yes) in Education, Sociology and Anthropology. I had some profound experiences (well, profoundly bad) after my sophomore year, quit school, and spent the next 10 or so years as a cook, caterer, chef. Years later I returned, to another school, for film.

Now I’m a developer, and I’ve been one for 20 years.

Do I wish I’d studied more programming in school? No and yes. Though I picked up some basics (cough Basic cough COBOL cough) and principles, I was bored as hell (in retrospect, because the Web didn’t exist yet and I didn’t see the value). Sometimes I wish I had the theoretical background some of my peers had. Then again if I’d realized then how interested in film I was and studied it then, maybe I’d be working with my classmates Joss Whedon, Michael Bay, Adam Leff, Zak Penn etc. They had an AMAZING film program at that school but I never even considered taking film classes. Or electrical engineering for that matter. Why? They just weren’t on my radar at that point in my life.

Maybe you will be a marketer for the next 20 years. Maybe you will always be an entrepreneur. But don’t limit yourself to doing only that now. If you feel the marketing courses are outdated, boring and lame, take other classes. Major in Psych, or Statistics, or Chinese, or Ethics. Whatever you choose it will inform your perspective as a marketer and entrepreneur. You don’t have to Mickey Mouse it and study Marketing because that’s your career path right now.

Think about pro athletes. How many of those who skip college and go right to the big leagues have anything to show for it afterwards? How many become more successful after their athletic careers? And the internets love the story of Natalie Portman — she’s an A-list actress but she’s got more going on that that.

As somebody who’s spent most of my life learning by doing — in the kitchen, on the film set, building for the Web — I was always super annoyed by people who thought an education made them experienced at something. All of us battle-hardened line cooks hated it when some kid fresh out of cooking school showed up. Invariably they thought they knew more than we did, and maybe they did, but when 20, 30, 40 orders came in at a time they’d be in the weeds before they knew what happened. And we’d have to pick up after them. I didn’t learn a Roux from a textbook, Charlie taught me because I needed to know or I couldn’t make the sauce. And if the sauce broke I needed to know why, and how to fix it. There’s no substitute for having that experience in the line of fire over and over again.

Does that mean I regret going to school? No. You don’t learn film history on a set. Not to mention the amazing people I met, both students and faculty. And when it came time to open a restaurant, I didn’t know so many big picture things I needed to know, and would have learned about in a cooking school. Which brings me to another question: Are you at the right school? Because if you are, you should be meeting people in marketing who amaze you.

I’m like a broken record on this topic. Go to the best school you can (or transfer to it). It really does make a difference. The film school I attended had a great film program, but most of their other courses, and faculty, sucked (sorry faculty). I had a good perspective on this because the first Uni I attended did not suck in any way. I was actually surprised to see what a chasm there was between the quality of the first school, and the second. It’s real. And it’s obvious if you think about it. Would you rather study with Nobel Prize winners, Oscar winners, etc, or somebody who maybe worked in the industry for a while? Big difference.

Sure, the classrooms don’t look like Beats HQ. Maybe they ought to. But a Liberal Arts education is not supposed to be about Corbusier couches, or how many $/hour you could be earning doing something else. It should be about becoming a whole person and learning from some people who have been there, done that, and have something to contribute to you.

Whether the current USA post-secondary education system is up to that task nowadays I can’t say.