We have a tendency to paint all college programs with a broad brush. This is
ignoring what major courses of study are being perused. Even as the OP has
written that "literally everyone has a BA or MA, then the degrees become
pretty useless." is not entirely right. There must be an underlying
consideration when the student is selecting a major of who will want to buy
my services when I have graduated.
A holder of BA in math or statistics or the like has something to sell.
Maybe, not so is the well read but unsalable owner of a degree in, let us
say, modern art or French literature. This student has something to sell,
but no customers.
It is not necessarily the kid's fault for having spent four years getting
into this position. When they started out their life experiences are limited
in scope. What is missing is competent adult guidance. Sometimes it is the
parents' failing because they have not had the opportunity to get into the
college scene and do not have a good enough understanding of the system to
provide good guidance.
Then there is the guidance counselers in the education system.
I am considerd to be a heretic by a neighbor who is a retired dean of
students at a major midwestern university when I take the position that a
good degree is should be the equivalent of a union card.
If your diploma does not open a door or two, you have likely pissed away
four years and lots of money. Maybe an apprentice program would have been a
better choice than finding the best party school.
My college years were spent in the hard sciences. They have paid off.
Yes, one can always love/read philosophy, and art, and literature and
dance, etc. without having to pay an aging over-opinionated hippie
$5000 a quarter. Do the hard work in college of getting a degree that
is in demand, because getting a worthless degree will be infinitely
harder in the long run. I work in industrial embedded systems, and I
have the luxury of truly enjoying the arts all I want, any time I
want, and I do to a great degree. If one obtains a degree in lets say
womens studies, the only paying market for that is to regurgitate
womens studies again as a teacher of womens studies. Womens studies
may be fulfilling, and interesting, but whoever allows their kids to
go down that road is either putting their kid into massive debt, the
family into massive debt, and making life infinitely more difficult
for everyone. You can follow your heart in ways that will still let
you be a more-in-demand member of society, with more value to offer to
people who will pay for it, simply because society values it more and
intuitively NEEDS it more, like the engineer who designs a motor that
uses 50% less power. Who really contributed more to the good of
society, her or the woman who teaches womens studies?
I agree with what you say but I also think it is part of the problem. Time
was, universities were there to create educated people...people who could
think...people who could derive solutions for many kinds of life problems.
Now, they are much more narrowly focused and are churning out people skilled
in a narrow discipline; many of them don't have the common sense needed to
get out of a paper bag.
I am not saying that universities should not educate people for the
professions, just that I think they should place more emphasis on general
education. Maybe three years for a basic degree followed by two years of
intensive professional training? I also think they should be more
discerning on admissions; not all HS graduates have the mental capacity
and/or ability for college.
The most frustrating thing to a student who knows what they want to
study, is when a college makes them take meandering, amorphous, "core
curriculum" classes. If a studend wants to take all Information
Technology classes, they are usually forced to take sociology, a
language, ecology, english lit, etc and really dont get to take IT
classes until later. That is a lot of wasted time IMHO. A well
rounded, problem-solving, IT engineer is one who has taken IT classes
for four solid years, and wrote computer code till 2AM evry night for
4 years, the "myth" of how taking meandering liberal arts classes
"rounds out" a studen is a myth propagated by colleges who have a
higher profit margin on those classes. It costs millions to set up an
IT or engineering program in equipment, it costs nothing to set up
some classrooms for English lit. English lit students pay same
tuition as an engineering student, the markup for teaching literature
is a much better return because it has no overhead in floor space and
I tink it is a good ting to be abble to right two, doens't you tink dat?????
Actually from working my way up and having folks report to me a well
rounded person is a much better asset than someone who only knows say
how to code well. The most talented coder is of minimal value if they
don't understand say accounting principles or business practices or
lacks good language skills (both written and spoken English) etc.
I'll take the guy on my team who eats sleeps and drinks computer code
and is continuously excited by creating new things with it and making
it perfect, any day.
I've had "wanna be" programmers who took up computer programming as a
fall back when their plans to be a performance artist or philosopher
fell through. They rarely work out and their ideas often fail the
giggle test or the thats obvious test when you put them in a room with
some real industrial, electronic and embedded systems engineers. You
cant be good in a technology without gaining language and reading
skills beyond that of an English major, the material is just
different. A person with soft skills can maybe do good at a field
like accounting with some business basic math skill, but real
engineering no way.
When I became a systems analyst, some of the most helpful courses I took
turned out to be sociology and psychology. Doing requirements analysis
requires understanding how people interact. Creating a successful system
means learning how to listen to people, understanding what bothers them, how
they go about doing their jobs, etc. My undergraduate degree in journalism
was also very helpful in figuring out what questions to ask and in writing
When I left the newspaper business and went back to college I started out as
a programmer but quickly moved up because systems analysis requires a lot of
soft people skills that too many coders just don't have. Something I heard
constantly from clients was "you make this stuff understandable." Most
coders that did nothing but code just couldn't communicate with the people
they were building systems for and they tended to build systems and add
features that pleased THEM and not the clients and end users. When I got
the chance to visit Borland way back when, Phillipe Kahn said much the same
thing. He looked for programmers that were not characters like you see on
the "Big Bang" but that had a well-rounded intelligence.
From my experience, probably not a lot different. These are the
people who would have thought that Prozac (or antipsychotics) took away
the best of them and would have been very non-compliant. You might have
a lost a painting or two, but probably not all that much.
People thought cybersex was a safe alternative,
until patients started presenting with sexually
I agree. In almost every endeavor, you'll have to interact with someone who
a) Is your boss (one way or another) and b) Has no idea what you're talking
You have to explain it to them in terms they can grasp.
That's where a liberal education comes in. If you both have that as a common
ground, it makes the illustration easier.
For example, many's the time I've started an explanation with "Consider the
Battle of Agincourt and Henry's problem caused by bad clams..."
Garbage in, diarrhea out. (-:
That's not an exampke I would have used but it my very brief teaching career
I was able to explain concepts like multi-dimensional arrays to students by
telling them they were already quite familiar with the concept. They
refused to believe me (because the notation was unfamilar to them) until I
pointed out that looking up anything in the TV guide was one such example of
data arrayed in multiple dimensions. In this case by date, time and
One client, with a master's degree in library science, insisted that instead
of using "too many" separate fields for all the data, it should be designed
with one big field for all the data that represented a book. She was
familiar with one of the commercial personal database software packages of
the time (can't recall its name) that did just that. She just didn't get
that such a system would not work for a library with tens of thousands of
technical reference books and periodicals that had return record sets that
matched multiple conditions. Lots of people were just thrown a computer
back then and left to fend for themselves or were taught a few courses by
people that weren't very far ahead of them, knowledge-wise.
Systems design often included a lot of client education - or re-education in
many cases because everything they thought they knew was wrong. Much of
that mis-education consisted of using spreadsheets to process data that was
far better manipulated with database programs. IMHO, it was easier to
convert paper systems to a database program than it was to convert
spreadsheets with hundreds of embedded macros.
On Wed, 19 Oct 2011 21:41:26 -0400, "Robert Green"
I was a systems analyst when I retired. Insurance.
Always preferred support and enhancement.
Didn't like new development hours and deadlines.
But I had to do some of it.
I'll only make a few observations from my experience.
Mainly that generalizations often don't hold much water.
Liberal arts and being a gearhead aren't mutually exclusive.
A gearhead with absolutely no arts background can get along and
communicate well with users. (Users are now called "clients.)
There are remedies to shelter all when that's not true.
Speaking of DB's, I was mightily impressed by Deja News, now Google.
Being a veteran of VSAM, then IMS, then DB2, both batch and real time,
when I went to Deja News and got an instant return, over miles of
wire, from what must be hundreds of millions ok keys, I was jealous.
Never did find out the platform of their DB, but man, it's slick.
Wish I could say I was visionary in seeing the potential of the
internet, but I was all bound up in different processing.
I pooh-poohed Windows and MS too, as a fad.
So don't pay any attention to what I say.
I'm just the reverse. I got the biggest kick out of creating something from
I hope I made it clear that in my case, having a psych minor background with
lots of sociology helped me greatly in getting the requirements analysis
done but it's not a mandatory requirement. There was often great
disagreement about what the final system should look like which required
mediation skills to solve. Lots of good analysts have these qualities even
without formal training. Coming from a large family teaches people a lot
about group dynamics. (-:
I was kind of miffed when my bosses decided all the analysts had to take an
interviewing course when I had four years of journalism classes under my
belt and had interviewed perhaps thousands of people. They wanted me to
take the course during a critical implementation phase of a huge new system.
I earned the wrath of more than one exec when I said: "If what they're
teaching is has merit for me, they should be able to test my skills,
determine that I wasn't going to learn anything new and excused me." The
idea, it seemed, was to push everyone through the same damn courses
regardless of whether they added value or not.
Taking me away from a system that was just being rolled out to rehash old
news was just stupid. They finally said "if we let you skip out, then
everyone's going to be asking to do the same." My reply that "if they can
pass a demonstrating that they already knew the stuff, the SHOULD be
excused. It's inefficient to waste people's time like that." The could not
have cared less.
Back then there was a push to call them "customers" which I always thought
made us sound like McDonald's instead of professional consulting
I recall designing a system for a consortium of law firms involved in a chip
dumping case brought by TI in 1985 against all the major PacRim RAM makers.
I used four AT clones and four XT's to search a forty thousand document
database. Searches in dBaseII often had to run overnight. (-: When I see
Google say 2,034,049 records found after a three second search, I am still
I helped sysop a 5,000 member BBS system running on an ATT 6300 and a bunch
of Alloy slave cards. The guy who ran it was the head of computing for NIH.
I learned an enormous amount just watching him work - he was very meticulous
but was one of those super shy guys who couldn't look at people when talking
to them. We even set up relays so that other user groups could access our
message base without incurring long distance phone calls. Our user group at
one time had three $100K CD's we were so wealthy. That much money turned
out to be a curse. We moved the BBS out of NIH where they had been
providing free phone lines, electricity and space and rented a big space
that eventually sucked out every dime of that $300K and then some. Reminds
me of the what just happened with the real estate boom!
After you hoodwinked me with your "a day in the life of a paranoid gun nut"
I *always* read your posts with a little more suspicion. (-:
I was always partial to DOS because no-nothing programmers couldn't fake
their way around the way the could with a GUI. We called them pluggers
because they would copy blocks of code from somewhere and "plug" them into
their own programs as their own work - sometimes forgetting to delete the
comments that identified where they stole the code from!
In those days, I had my pick of jobs because so many companies where
desperate to automate paper systems. There's nothing to compare to learning
a new area of expertise by building a system. The most interesting thing I
did back then was to automate a system for a company that provided plants to
office buildings. Far more complex than you might imagine and it was
designed so that people with very little training could use it. I was able
to offer them features and enhancements they never even dreamed of once I
understood the finer points of the business.
Did a few specialized restaurant systems that used hygrometers and various
other checks to make sure the bartenders weren't watering down the liquor or
giving away free drinks. Ironically, when the owners fired a bartender that
was giving away the odd freebie here and there, their bar profits dropped
substantially. Those freebies apparently made customers feel special
(psychology here again - the power of intermittent reinforcement) and as a
result they came in more often and spent more money.
I really liked building systems because unlike a lot of other jobs where I
was rated at the whim of some boss who didn't really know what he was doing,
a program that worked well spoke for itself. Journalism was interesting but
building systems gave me a much greater sense of achievement. It also drew
on almost every skill I had.
I could spent sixteen hours at a clip when I was on a roll sitting in front
of a monitor fine-tuning the system and refining the look and feel or
running down a bug. That's where the human factors engineering course I
took played a significant role. I am amazed at programs (and websites) that
create complete sensory overload by having so damn many choices on the
screen that no one could possibly keep track of them. Those were the days.
In one system I added what turned out to be a very popular "Happy Birthday"
login message when employees logged in on their birthdays. Little things
like that had a big payoff in limiting gripes about system bugs. (-:
On Thu, 20 Oct 2011 00:58:12 -0400, "Robert Green"
Right. And I got a kick out redesigning systems after they were in
the real world for a while, or when new needs arose.
Somewhat the same work, but I could always manage it and set the
Never took psych that I recall. Double Lit and Info Systems major.
Needed a 4 hour PL/I course to graduate, and never went back for it
after I started working my first IT job. Never regretted that either.
Numerous times I told body shops to take "degree" off the resume they
worked up for me, because it wasn't true.
They did, and I never lacked for work.
Different world today.
I dealt with recalcitrant customers/clients by accusing them
of going Raskolnikov on me.
If they were indecisive I'd invoke Hamlet.
Then I'd explain the tech facts.
I look pretty rough, and they probably thought I was crazy.
Worked with managers too.
Of course I can be charming when that's called for.
One company I worked for required IT staff to take a full-day course
called "Put It in Writing."
I had the same feeling as you, that it was a waste of time.
But despite my prejudice, what with me being an "A+" essay writer all
through school, and being offered sponsorship to the writer's workshop
at Iowa in Ames, it turned out very useful.
Kept my customers and managers from going nuts reading War and Peace
memos form me, and simplified my writing in general.
That's somewhat related to what somebody said here about interviewing
people and getting to the "real" gearheads.
And why I mentioned that generalizations are dangerous.
I worked my first IT job in a Roscoe shop. All command line.
My first interview after that job was by a team of 2 gearheads.
I know that because I knew them later as a contractor and employee of
Because of comments one of them made about Roscoe being simpler than
ISPF - I could tell he had never used it - I strongly suspect the
reason I didn't get that job was because I hadn't been exposed to
ISPF, a much easier to use menu-driven interface.
Anyway, a case of gearheads interviewing a gearhead and getting it all
wrong due to plain ignorance.
I interviewed many people later, and the tech part is the easiest
piece. Detecting the odd mass murderer is the difficult part.
I have a different take on that.
Got plenty of work satisfaction keeping everybody happy by eliminating
bugs and system abends.
The operators loved me because when I came aboard, their efforts on
the phone and at restarting jobs decreased to almost nothing except
Customers' love for me was transitory on that score, but passionate
enough for the enhancements I regularly delivered.
But I never felt very satisfied after the initial 10 years or so.
Most IT systems are short-lived. I saw the demise of almost every
system I ever worked on.
I was a grunt at the steel mills 43 years ago. Much of that steel
About 40 years ago I heat treated, torch cut, formed and sheared
thousands of tons of steel making bulldozers at IH.
Enough of them are still in use. Wish I had worked at Cat (-:
Same when I was wrenching or running packaging machines.
Pallets of stock out the door, for sale.
Every day then when I finished work I was physically tired but still
strong. Mentally, I wasn't tired at all. And always happy.
I knew I had produced tangible goods each and every day.
I talked about this with an senior IT guy many years ago.
He agreed with me, and talked about what he saw when ever he visited
his home town in Ohio.
Many buildings his dad had laid brick to build.
He had nothing like that resulting from of his career.
Now I'm not saying I should have been a bricklayer.
Don't want to get too metaphysical about work "legacy."
But it exists for sure. Or it doesn't exist.
I reveled in jobs that others ran screaming from. Probably came from
overconfidence after learning how to write pseudo-code and to break down
seeminging impossibly complex systems into smaller modules. Fortunately, I
was doing that at a time when processing power and storage kept increasing
dramatically so I had a lot of hardware help taming projects with enormous
data/processing requirements. That experience led to one of the longest
employment periods of my life at a DoD think tank because they were
converting mainframe systems to PC based ones and were pushing the limits of
what PC's could do at the time. My experience with large data sets on
itty-bitty PC's intrigued them.
FWIW, I was interviewed by five different people for the job, ranging from
the ultimate gearhead to the forceably retired sub commander (the go-go
dancers on the fantail guy) who was drinking lots of red wine during the
interview (he had just had another heart attack and the MD's said it was
good for him). (-: Fortunately, I could talk bits and bytes to the
gearhead and philosophy to the humanists. I only found out ten years latter
one of the humanists really pushed hard NOT to hire me, for reasons only she
knows. I think it was because she thought I was gaming them because I had
interviewed elsewhere and the other company kept matching and raising the
offers I was getting from the think tank. Those were the days when you
could not only get the first job you interviewed for, but every other job as
well. It's certainly not like that today, so I know how much I have to be
thankful for, being at the right place at the right time.
Our think tank had a strict rule about not hiring anyone without a degree as
a research fellow. Even my boss couldn't get them to override it to bring
someone in who he knew quite well from his old organization. That kid might
have done very well but his head-hunter sabotaged him by sending in a resume
riddled with errors. It wasn't until a few years later that I saw the kid's
actual resume and it was error-free. Never figured out how that happened or
why . . .
Back then, having a verifiable resume that proved you could actually do the
work was worth WAY more than having a degree that said "trained up but not
proven" in essence. Especially to a company that hired a kid right out of
school who just couldn't hack life in the real world.
Feydor would be proud.
Will, too. Or was it Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford? We'll never know.
Having a broad knowledgebase means that you can interact with a wide range
of people and those interactions sometimes make the difference in getting a
People skills. Lots of folks develop them without any need for education in
I can't recall taking anything away from the interviewing course. I, too,
was rammed through a writing course. This time my inclusion was explained
by telling me that we have some foreign-born analysts who would feel bad
about being singled out for writing courses. That one was OK because I
wasn't under time pressure for a deliverable. I got to know a co-worker PhD
from the U. of Bologna in math who cracked me up because she confused the
words "asshole" and "hassle" with pretty seriously comedic results.
Lots of my work was classified and is either sitting in a safe somewhere or
has long ago been shredded and erased. I know what you're saying. I think
if I had been born 30 years later, I might have been an architect but my
initial experience with Rapidograph pens and vellum at Brooklyn Tech was not
good. CAD/CAM would have suited me better.
Rolling out one system required the inclusion of a daily "Your Momma" joke
generator to overcome the persistent niggling of one of the end users. She
was the Goldilocks type, except no chair was the right size for her. Making
the system seem even a little bit human turned out to reduce the griping
substantially. Apparently Apple believes so, too, because they've done
quite a bit to make their new Siri voice-recognition software humorous.
<<With Siri, you can ask a question like "Who's your daddy?" and it will
respond with "You are." Or quote the greatest AI movie ever, 2001, and ask
your phone to "Open the pod bay doors," and you'll be replied with "I'm
afraid I can't do that," HAL 9000 style.>>
Back in the day, my university didn't even offer a BS degree.
However well intentioned, the result was that we all took FLUFF arts
classes that provided the least diversion from our intended engineering
path. I don't think that French classes and history classes added
anything useful that I didn't already know from high school French and
Or maybe it was my first lesson in determining minimum requirements
and setting priorities ;-)
I had to take 18 semester hours of Social Science and Humanities, including
one sequence of each. I found a the sequence of "History of Engineering" and
"Engineering in Contemporary Society" that fit the Social Sciences
requirement. At least it was taught by a full professor of Engineering,
rather than a hippy TA who got the short straw. It paid to study the course
I wanted to and did major in geology. I never used it, never made a dime
with it. I never used "History of Northern Renaissance Art" either nor did
it ever make me any money; nevertheless, it has enriched my life.
I must disagree. Doing as you say above may well turn out someone able to
code well but it also restricts his problem solving *to* code. It does
nothing to enable him to relate that code to real life because he is so
narrowly focused that what may seem obvious to him is not to the code
*user*. As an example, more than 30 years ago I was writing a program for
my business; my brother was visiting so I sat him down and told him "do what
the computer tells you". In this case, the computer told him to enter a
last name; naturally, he entered numbers. Whoops, back to coding.
Then there is the matter of being so narrowly educated that someone cannot
play nicely with his peers; someone who can not expound - let alone write -
an idea in intelligible sentences.
Technicians are a dime a dozen; thinking generalists are scarce as hen's
I'm interviewing right now about 12 people a week for 4 more weeks.
So far only two of them (after 16 interviews so far have any hope of
cutting it). And they are the ones who eat, sleep and drink code. If
they cant crank it out, they are not getting the job. If they cant
sit in the interview and explain in great detail their though process
on design, code and device architecture and also show that they are
truly excited and love it, and can handle the math, and can do some
assembler (machine language code) they simply are not getting the
job. "Generalist" Liberl Arts major computer programmers are a dime a
dozen and do not have the capability to create state of the art
embeded devices. They belong in the accounting department writing
spreadsheets and being "well rounded" with their cube mate.
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