3 Things I Learned from Being a College Dropoutby Noah
Social situations can often be awkward.
When you're a college dropout, in the age of social networks where most everyone has completed (at least) four years college, first encounters are exceptionally tricky.
I've attended three different colleges since completing high school — and never completed more than two semesters at a time at any of them.
Needless to say, the one question that everyone invariably asks upon first meeting anyone, at least at this age — "so, where did you go to school?" — is never an easy one for me to answer. Sometimes I just want to say, "College? Yeah, I skipped that shit"... just to see how they'd respond.
Needless to say, being in the workforce for a few years, as a college dropout, has taught me a ton, including:
Nobody Actually Cares About Where You Went to School
Having worked at several different agencies throughout the years, I've never once been asked where/how/why I went to school, what I majored in, etc. Maybe it's partially because, at least in the developer community, the notion of being a self-taught, misanthropic web-rogue who has a penchant for explosive fits of rage is totally cool.
But I think it's mostly just because it's totally irrelevant. Sure, for your first computer-science gig, having graduated Summa Cum Laude from Stanford's lauded computer science program is certainly going to help get your foot in the door, but it might also be your undoing if your code isn't worth its weight in binaries.
There's Incredible Value in Figuring Shit Out Yourself
There are plenty of articles that discuss the questionable value of college in great depth, so I won't wax poetic on that.
College is great because an adept hand is almost always guiding you. A teacher, mentor or job-placement expert is there to help you push through that wall you just ran into at 100 mph. But that's a crutch too, and here's why: those people are already experts at their particular subject matter, and they're showing you how to improve based on their perspective. Most of the time, there are many solutions to a problem, not just their solution. Banging your head against the wall is more often than not a sign that you're working on something actually worthwhile, and you'll often have significantly more stake in the solution when you figure it out yourself.
The beauty of school is that it stretches your theoretical mindset to an incredible point — that socialist, Marxist, Tea-Party-endorsed political system sounds like it WOULD BE SO PERFECT.
In actuality, things that require creation and problem solving (i.e. development), more often than not, can be excruciating and often frustrating. In theory, everything should work perfectly. In actuality, sometimes everything sucks. That tool you're using to develop won't work. That email you sent won't get a response in time. Your project manager hates your guts. Your brain breaks.
But pushing through that frustration — think about it like finding better, less painful ways to punch yourself in the face — will often yield that aha! moment. And, nobody will slap a 'could use a little more tact on that' on it. They'll actually read it, implement it or use it; often, if you really worked hard to make it happen, they'll appreciate it.
The Power of a No
A letter-grade can often act as a corrective force. Get a D or a C and, if you care, you use it as a means to improve on the next assignment.
A hard no stops you dead in your tracks. When a boss says no, you find another route. When a client says no, you go back to the drawing board.
In school, you never truly learn the importance of no because their goal is to teach you how to do better, even if what you're doing is wrong.
A no can often bring about changes of incredible magnitude. I've seen projects go from okay to 'holy crap, that was brilliant' because of a few course-shifting no's.
You learn to embrace the power of a no because once you get through about a half-a-dozen of them, you'll know you're onto something.
I'm a developer at Carrot, and though most of my co-workers are holding four-year degrees, we're also an eclectic bunch; we have obscure hobbies and strange political views.
Because of that, I'm excited to work here. All of us are a little awkward here, too, which makes that degree part more badge of honor and less a Scarlet Letter.