What importance do you place on formal education in your team? In today’s information age, it seems that about any kind of knowledge is only a few keystrokes away, and anything one might want to learn about is freely available and can be mastered given the drive and, of course, trial and error to develop the skill. Naturally, this especially applies to web technologies (more so than, say, neural surgery). What kind of educational background does your team harbor, be it for business or technology, what practical advantage does it lend, and what do you think about the crowds of talented, self-taught “amateurs” which the web has made possible?
We don’t put much value in formal education when deciding who to hire. In fact, I believe only three of the eight people at 37signals have a formal higher education degree. Some spent a little time at college and decided it wasn’t for them. Some didn’t go at all. We couldn’t care less.
What we care about is intelligence, curiosity, passion, character, motivation, taste, intuition, writing skills, and the ability to make smart value judgements. A few of these qualities may benefit from exposure to higher education, but we feel most of them are better learned through practical experience. Further, we don’t believe taste can be taught—you either got it or you don’t. We believe taste is one of the most important qualities in anyone we hire.
Of course we don’t hold a formal education against anyone, we just don’t pay much attention to it. We’re more interested in someone’s experience, real work, and point of view than we are with their diploma, degree, or GPA. Formal education is probably last on our list of qualities we feel make someone qualified to work at 37signals.
Thanks for the questions!
So far we’ve received nearly 100 questions since posting the Ask 37signals announcement. We’d love to answer yours. Please send it along to svn [at] 37signals dot com. Title the email “Ask 37signals”. Thanks again!
Damien Huzeon 13 Nov 07
I agree with the importance of curiosity, passion, taste and intuition, all of which aren’t acquired though higher education.
One thing you mentioned at SEED Jason, is that the individuals should be able to self-manage. This is good advice, do you think formal education is correlated with that attribute?
Mikeon 13 Nov 07
I think in general, formal education is overblown. In some cases, it is needed – like if you are entering a profession requiring formal certification of some sort like being a doctor, attorney, or certain types of accountants, etc.
But I also think going to college is a great way to meet like minded people; so if you are entrepreneurial, you may be able to find a partner there.
Benon 13 Nov 07
A follow-up to Chris’s question:
I’ve heard ‘taste’ as a criteria for evaluating a potential teammember more than once. It’s a fairly nebulous concept, so I’m curious how 37signals uses this in making decisions. Is it all gut or something else?
Thomason 13 Nov 07
A high GPA can be a way of signalling to an employer that you’re capable of carrying through what you commit yourself to.
I once met up with a JP Morgan representative in London who said that in hiring people straight out of college, they did not place much importance on the subjects studied – instead they took the GPA as an indicator of the applicant’s ability to complete the assignments given in a satisfactory way.
Personally, I plan on having a lot of practical experience from a few select companies in the field I want to work in when I graduate (with what I hope to be an above average GPA but not more than that I’m afraid).
E.T.Cookon 13 Nov 07
Although I agree with many of your points, I think your overall sentiment might be a bit misguided. To me, in this day and age, an undergrad degree is absolutely accessible to everyone, and has such a broad appeal, I fail to see why anyone would choose decide not to pursue in the endeavor.
One thing an undergrad degree does is prove that the individual had the dedication, discipline, and wherewithal to plan, fund, and complete a long term endeavor…something that many of our generation just don’t seem to be able to do anymore. Our generation is rife with short-sightedness.
In the creative field, certainly you have a bit more leeway, but on the business side of things, I really think it is an simple litmus test that can speak to someone’s character very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t perfect, but when you have a desk full of applications, and you need to weed it down somehow, it is not unreasonable to consider that formal education, and use it as a determining factor.
A lot of people talk about what you learn in College, and that isn’t what the goal is at all. It is about learning how to APPLY your knowledge, and work with others to achieve certain goals etc. It also teaches you a WAY to think, rather than what to think…at least good Universities do. Although it may be a bit unreasonable to automatically judge someone by their unwillingness to pursue a “formal education”, it would be far more unreasonable to discount it as you do.
Joe Fuscoon 13 Nov 07
The ability to learn, and a deep, sustained passion for mastery, will outperform credentials-only every single time.
Chrison 13 Nov 07
I think a formal education is important to an extent – especially when as an indicator as to wether a candidate can effectively complete assignments as Thomas points out.
In the programming profession, I also tend to think it serves as a good distinguisher between candidates – although you get many bedroom programmers who are extraordinarily talented, many are lacking an understanding of the formal aspects of computer science and software development, which certainly is a must when working in larger organizations on larger projects.
By looking for candidates with say a Computer Science degree, you have a bit more assurance that they understand the mathematical concepts, algorithms, design patterns and the like.
Having done a CS degree myself, I have to say I probably didn’t appreciate the value of some of the topics at the time, but now as I am developing major software products I am coming to appreciate them, with the occasional epiphany “Wow, this is what we were taught at uni!”.
That said, I think a formal education should only be used as part of the assessment when evaluating a candidate or perhaps deciding who to invite to an interview. Practical experience can often outweigh academic experience, and a degree is no indicator of the soft-skills which will make a talented developer an even greater asset to an organization.
Matt Brownon 13 Nov 07
Jason hit the nail on the head with this: “What we care about is intelligence, curiosity, passion, character, motivation, taste, intuition, writing skills, and the ability to make smart value judgements.”
I think motivation and curiosity are byproducts of passion.
And let me say, writing skills are so underrated. You can tell a lot about someone just by the way they write.
Stacyon 13 Nov 07
The practical purpose of formal education is to teach you how to teach yourself.
Some folks need more and some less formal education. But the practical value of being in school diminishes once you learn how to learn, and further education does not improve your ability to learn.
That said, some employers look at degrees as a proxy for what you know, especially with little or no work experience. And of course degrees are required in some fields, eg, doctors, etc.
JDon 13 Nov 07
Whatever, I bet you’d never hire a lawyer without a law degree.
Johnon 13 Nov 07
Kudos to 37signals for having the courage to hire people without formal degrees. Some of the most talented people I know tried college and decided it wasn’t for them - myself included - and I know many more people who are quite successful in areas entirely unrelated to their field of study.
JDon 13 Nov 07
And I bet you do hire lawyers.
Alexanderon 13 Nov 07
One of the potential benefits of going to college is the chance to form a good relationship with a master in your field. The student-teacher relationship, when it works well, means the student progresses enormously in a relatively short space of time. Whereas on one’s own, its unusual to make a similar level of progress.
Sure, going to college doesn’t mean someone really mentored under a great teacher. But I’d rather someone who did, than someone who has a high opinion of their own self-taught skills. The latter is likely to be pretty one sided.
Jon 13 Nov 07
...not to mention all of the keg parties and sexy coeds.
smon 13 Nov 07
I was having a conversation with someone the other day about exactly this topic, specifically as it applies to the internet.
First, we seem to only be talking about an undergrad degree. Many Computer Science grad school degrees are incubators of innovation that has shaped the very internet by which most of us find ourselves employed.
I tend to think that the best of the best are not yet “online” in an invested sense. Some of the major players in the world wide web today have only been hacking away at this for less than ten years. The truth is that the majority of the web is still at a version 1 and no amount of ajax is about to suddenly change that.
I can’t help but wonder if once the hard core programmers that have been focusing on bigger older things make the titanic shift of their collective focus to the web, the current best on the web will quickly find themselves walking amongst giants. The giants will “move to town” and most of those folks are both highly educated and have experience that makes people with only the last ten years under their belts look like “users.”
This is in no way an insult to the self-educated (which, I hope, we all are.) Just maybe a thought to provoke a little perspective about the last thirty years of computing. (Think about it… the first twenty years wasn’t that long ago and were bigger jumps forward than 1000 lines of code APIs.)
mikealon 13 Nov 07
I love listening to people defend institutional education for almost no other reason than that they went there.
First off, a degree does not mean that you are capable and committed to finishing something to the extent required for high technology. Not in the least. It isn’t hard to graduate college, you just go through the motions. There is a very straight forward path to finishing laid out by many people before you. In the real world, when you’re given a programming task nobody is going to tell you if you get it right, or point in the direction of completion—you’ve gotta figure it all out on your own. The most important skill that experience gives you is how to “figure things out”, a skill you do not learn in institutional education.
The only good hires I’ve seen out of college are people who were motivated enough to supplement their education with real work experience. And I’ll hire anyone from Waterloo, it’s the only practical program in North America and seriously stresses good internships.
If you believe that a degree has bearing in real world tasks and work load then you’re seriously out of tune with what has become of american computer science programs. Every year it is less practical and more theoretical. It completely misses that being a good programmer is most like being an artist than a mathematician.
In addition, an undergraduate degree takes 4 YEARS. That’s like 2 decades in web years. Anyone who spent that time in the industry is a much better candidate than one that went to college—you can’t seriously equate 4 years industry experience to a bachelors degree.
bradon 13 Nov 07
I feel like I’m constantly questioning you guys, but doesn’t the fact that someone was able to complete a degree say something about that person? [I’m sure, looking at it from the other side, this looks like snobbery, but try to see from the point of view who put a lot of time and effort into completing a degree]. Doesn’t graduating from a difficult program at a difficult University show that a person has drive and discipline, not to mention the capacity to articulate him or herself, at least with the written word?
Now, you mentioned taste is your main criteria, and that’s fair enough. I can see how having a good eye for aesthetics and simplicity would be important when developing your products. But to say someone does or doesn’t have it, and it cannot be learned, seems very elitist and limiting to me, and not in a good way. I think my musical preferences, and even my aesthetic and design preferences in general, have changed significantly for the better over just the last year. I have met new people, and become interested in new streams of media which I was dimly aware of a year ago.
[Please Note : I’m actually a really big 37 signals fan, but you have just written a few posts recently that have grated a little bit :) ]
Gregory Smithon 13 Nov 07
While the importance of a formal education has been ingrained in my head ever since I was 3, I tend to agree that it is not a representation of a person’s capabilities. I have been enrolled at colleges and universities since I was 15 and at age 27 I am still without an undergraduate degree. I also happen to have spent the last 7 years at Fortune 500 companies both supporting and designing mission critical systems.
My formal education history would say I that I couldn’t complete tasks or follow a plan but in reality I have had trouble finding an undergraduate program that would actually teach me anything.
From my experience, formal education in a technical/computer based field does not yield results until graduate school. This is a result of a severely lacking undergraduate environment.
DHHon 13 Nov 07
Just because you revel in O(1) optimization theory doesn’t mean you’ll do a great job working on a information system that somebody would actually enjoy to use. It takes different skillsets. There are room for different people.
I’m glad that Google is snapping up Ph.d’s to come up with the next natural language translation engine. But at the same time, I’m glad that there are craftsman out there who can work on more earthly tasks, such as helping people use simple tools to collaborate and get more done.
JFon 13 Nov 07
But to say someone does or doesn’t have it, and it cannot be learned, seems very elitist and limiting to me, and not in a good way. I think my musical preferences, and even my aesthetic and design preferences in general, have changed significantly for the better over just the last year. I have met new people, and become interested in new streams of media which I was dimly aware of a year ago.
Changing musical preferences and a morphing design aesthetic have nothing to do with taste. You are describing change, not taste.
Taste is a subjective thing. It has to do with paying attention to certain details. It means being able to detect if something “feels right” or “is off” and why. It’s a gut reaction that comes from observation at different levels.
Everyone has their own lens through which they see the world. We happen to think some lenses result in a better understanding of what makes something great.
So when we hire people we look for people who share our tastes in design, programming, business, writing, utility, value, etc. If you don’t share our tastes then you probably wouldn’t be a good fit at 37signals. And that’s fine—I wouldn’t fit in many places either. Different strokes for different folks.
But I don’t believe someone can be taught a specific level of taste. It’s something you have. You can learn about things that are good/bad, but understanding why at a glance is what taste is all about. And I just believe that comes from somewhere I can’t explain and education can’t touch.
I could certainly be wrong. Maybe taste can be taught. I’ve just never seen it genuinely happen.
bradon 13 Nov 07
OK lads, I get the point. But it seems like you’re building up a little bit of a straw man here. I’m not an academic. I’m not trying to diminish achievements outside of school. But shouldn’t a degree count for something? I have a undergraduate degree in Computer Science from a University known in our little country to be quite difficult. I was definitely not a star student. It was more grit that saw me through to the end (if I’m gonna pay to be here, then I’m gonna force them to give me a degree!). However, despite the fact that I even went through co-op, I could not get a job after graduating.
In fact, I was about to give up in the field entirely until a small little social services agency gave me a chance, where I learned Ruby [and Rails], as well as got more acquainted with Linux, and have now got a career ahead of me.
My point here is that, because did not have any real world experience, having a University Degree was almost a draw back. No one looked at what I could potentially become (which getting the Degree demonstrates at least a little bit I think). It was “here’s the snob from University who thinks he knows it all and wants to get a job, so let’s stick it to him”. That’s why this attitude of reverse-snobbery kind of pisses me off. I’m not expecting anything, but just give me a chance.
The fact that I have degree, like I said, shows at least a litle bit of drive and discipline, not to mention the capacity to articulate myself with the written word (although perhaps not exquisitely).
I’m not a combinatorics & optimization junky, pure mathematics are still a mystery to me, and calculus is even somewhat obscure. But I still got my degree. And there were several people like me graduating from my class, many of whom would have made great developers.
Geoff Bon 13 Nov 07
I’m glad that I completed my undegrad and master’s degrees (math&english undergrad, operations research grad). However, I think that we’re seeing alternative paths emerging, and this is a good thing.
You don’t actually have to go to a university to learn compiler design, or calculus for that matter. I think that your odds of learning these things do increase if you attend a university – for instance, I only learned abstract algebra because I had a study group. On my own, I really doubt I would have figured it out.
But the coursework is out there on the web (including webcasts from prominent universities), along with a tremendous amount of support material. It’s hard to do on your own, but in the last decade, I think we’ve watched this go from impossible to very difficult. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we go from very difficult to merely challenging, and from challenging to commonplace over the next generation or two.
A few people have mentioned Law as an example of where this wouldn’t work. Keep in mind that self-study was a very common way to prepare for the bar in the past – an ABA accredited degree was not a requirement for taking this exam (Abe Lincoln is a famous example of a self-educated lawyer). I’d expect severe resistance from the bar (as well as other licencing groups) to web-based study, but eventually it may be accepted as well.
As usual, innovation will start in technology, and gradually make its way out to more conservative fields. So it’s no surprise that startups in the technology world are among the first to recognize that there is no longer one single path toward becoming educated.
We’re in the very early stages, but I think this idea has traction.
Matthew Sanderson 13 Nov 07
I being someone who didn’t pursue a formal education beyond high school feel as though I’m doing pretty well without. I’m 20 years old and I’m the lead Web Designer for a large company.
Many people that I’ve worked with that are graduates in what I’ve taught to myself aren’t qualified enough to do anything more than basic web development. Design isn’t something you can teach and I’m pretty sure that what He meant was strictly based upon this field. Not doctors, etc.
I can see it both ways but I look back on the history of technology and have to say that most of the greats didn’t go to college or dropped out one.
Interesting article and a great read. Thanks!
bradon 13 Nov 07
Geeze, both the big guns come out to comment!
Like I said in the first comment, I love what you guys do. And I certainly think that whatever your hiring process is, it’s definitely working for you. I’m just looking at this from the other side of the fence, from the perspective of someone who thought he had potential but got passed by. Maybe I was delusional. And, in fact, I’m very happy where I am now, so it was probably for the best. But there was a LONG stretch without any job opportunities which was not very pleasant for me. So that’s where I’m coming from.
Tom G.on 13 Nov 07
“What we care about is intelligence, curiosity, passion, character, motivation, taste, intuition, writing skills, and the ability to make smart value judgements.”
As a devil’s advocate, I’d argue that most of these attributes are improved by higher education.
“you can’t seriously equate 4 years industry experience to a bachelors degree”
Nor can you equate apples & oranges… Industry average salaries speak eloquently about the marketplace’s opinion of value.
I’ve been writing software for 27 years, 12 of it web based software and I do not have a degree. I own a successful and respected custom software development company and whether or not it was a handicap it has not stopped me from being successful.
I however respect and have seen the value of a college education. I’m proud of the fact that both my children are college educated. I understand that a degree may not be needed or valued at 37 Signals an that’s perfectly OK. To argue that a college education in general isn’t important for most careers, especially internet technology is silly an irresponsible.
JFon 13 Nov 07
But it seems like you’re building up a little bit of a straw man here.
No straw man here.
The question was do we think formal education matters when we hire people. I said no and explained why.
No points off for having a formal higher education. I just said they don’t matter to us at 37signals. That’s not saying they don’t matter to you or to another company. They just don’t really matter to us at 37signals when deciding who to hire.
JFon 13 Nov 07
To argue that a college education in general isn’t important for most careers, especially internet technology is silly an irresponsible.
That wasn’t my argument.
AkitaOnRailson 13 Nov 07
Jason is completely right. He is not saying that one shouldn’t graduate or people that never got to college are better. It is just that it doesn’t matter. You can find highly talented programmers/designers, both graduated and not graduated.
Having a diploma is good ‘but’ it is not the decisive factor. I hired many people over the years and I never found a correlation between good professionals and a diploma. This is pretty ad hoc and you have to have an eye to pick and choose. If you chose the wrong person, fire him and try again. There’s no recipe for that.
I don’t have a degree, I dropped half way because I started to work so hard early on. Fortunately I’ve built a reputation for myself and I was never treated differently because of the lack of a diploma. Actually twice I found managers that complained about it, so I just dropped them and found another job.
It’s not the diploma, it is what you can learn by yourself. And I am pretty sure I know the same or better than many people that actually graduated. I would pursue a bachelor degree if I would be able to work in a research facility, but my country lacks research careers (almost non-existent) so there’s no point for me.
John S. Rhodeson 13 Nov 07
Here’s the first part of entire question again: “What importance do you place on formal education in your team?”
This is a pretty direct question. It’s for the 37 Signals team to answer an their opinion shines through. Whether you agree or not is a footnote. We have the answer: formal education has limited value in their overall assessment. I respect that.
I have several degrees and I’m still not offended. Look, who have to look at the requirements. To succeed on the web you don’t need a degree. That’s plain and simple.
Education should be about satisfying your own needs first. You should try to line up your education with your passion, and that should drive your career.
That’s just my $0.02 opinion.
John S. Rhodeson 13 Nov 07
Education be damned. Look at my previous posting. Typos all over the place. Dreadful.
Geoff Bon 13 Nov 07
Another thing to keep in mind is that 37signals uses a very different hiring process than most other organizations. I’m guessing here – but I doubt that anyone is going to get hired at 37signals through the usual resume/phone screening/3 hour interview process. Instead, I suspect that 37Signals hires people that they’ve come to know through other projects.
A CS degree from a top school is probably correlates pretty well with programming ability. However, it surely doesn’t correlate as well as programming ability correlates with, well, programming ability. I’m not trying to be obtuse here – if you hire people you’ve worked with before (on open source projects, for instance), you already have the best indicator you could possibility ask for. There’s no need to find a related metric with a strong correlation (in this case the top university degree).
Max Ivoryon 13 Nov 07
Interesting thread. I think there is a danger of becoming too politically correct about formal education, or trying to develop a blindness to it. Of course its admirable to have an open minded hiring policy in this respect – but in reality 9 times out of 10 graduate candidates are probably going to have the edge. Why? Because it demand a certain level of tenacity, patience and intelligence to complete a degree, regardless of the subject it is in.
That said, there will be noble exceptions and of course geniuses for whom it was demeaning to attend university. Perhaps computing, as its a relatively new area, is one such subject where being self taught is de rigeur.
Personally I graduated in Spanish and taught myself design and now run my own agency. I always enjoy telling my clients this (perhaps peversely), partly to guage their reaction, and partly to explain that in fact its not such an incongruous starting point for a design career; like Spanish, design is a language that you learn how to speak, and ultimately the goal is to communicate your message to your audience. The discipline of grammatical training lends itself well to developing skills in programming languages, and so on…
So in summary, my view is that people should keep an open mind when hiring, but not lose sight of the fact that education is the best known discipline for furthering the potential of individuals.
John S. Rhodeson 13 Nov 07
Geoff, great word: obtuse
I agree 100%—I’m sure that education doesn’t matter. Results matter. Of course, getting results depends on all the things that they think drive that success:
”...intelligence, curiosity, passion, character, motivation, taste, intuition, writing skills, and the ability to make smart value judgements”
And, I also agree with the comment about networking and the experiences they’ve had with people. They aren’t going to job fairs, I bet. ;-)
bradon 13 Nov 07
attn : mikeal
Just noticed your post above. I graduated from Waterloo, and as you can see from my previous posts, I still have problems.
Tom G.on 13 Nov 07
JF – Sorry if I implied it was your argument about a degree not being of value.
I was more directing my opinion to other posters and wanted to weigh in on the side of an employer who does see some value in a degree for certain types of work.
A. Mingoiaon 13 Nov 07
More important than formal education is a responsibility or drive for self-education.
Formal education is over-emphasized. Yes, it counts for something. Yes, it is an indicator of may things. No, it is not necessarily better or more valuable than self-education.
What I see in a formal degree is that you learned to follow directions, complete your commitments, and learned along the way.
I see that and more in someone who is self-educated. I see initiative, I see personal responsibility, I see someone committed to furthering themselves.
Mikeon 14 Nov 07
College is supposed to teach you how to learn. Some people don’t need that, or have taught themselves the proper techniques to thrive at a job environment.
I left college after a year and a half in 1999 to pursue dotcom dreams, and even with the collapse I still came out ahead because when my former classmates graduated, they had no practical experience whereas I had 2 years under my belt, working from entry-level up.
As far as I’m concerned, a college degree is a line-item on your resume. If a potential employer doesn’t consider you on that basis alone without bringing you in for an interview, they weren’t worth working for in the first place.
It’s at the interview stage where your abilities and potential come into play. If you have a degree, but can’t demonstrate that you have the required aptitude, then that degree is worthless to you.
Claudeon 14 Nov 07
If anyone with a good brain can succeed in this field now, it is because the foundations (i.e. the tools, the literature, etc.) out there have solidified considerably in the last decade. If we can fill jobs with so many people with no degrees, it is because the technology is totally accessible.
The software industry has gone mainstream and turned into business over science. But there is still more to be done in this field than business.
Universities must go beyond training people on building web applications. I hope I will live to see the next true technology revolution (i.e. not just business 3.0, or Web 3.0), which I suspect will once again come from a University research lab.
Elia Schitoon 14 Nov 07
Well, too late in the night to read the full discussion (except for the 37s boxes)...
But I have to say something:
People can be educated to beauty, and beauty education has something to do with taste.
When you’re educated to such things you gradually start to enjoy and get pleasure from things that are good (and get more suffering from bad things) this applies to design, music, food, etc. It has to do with sensitiveness.
Not ‘self-teaching’. Education. It comes from outside, we can’t decide for it (mostly) and it works better when we are children.
It can also be bad, this is a kind of “perversion” as in some wonderfully made horror films: bad things beautifully presented (this is only an example btw, you got it?).
Many (real) musicians cry listening good music from the genre they’re educated to (e.g. jazz against classic musicians). When Jason says “You are describing change, not taste” he’s right, unless the change goes towards a deeper sensitiveness.
what follows is consciously OFF-TOPIC, but it’s so important:
The deep reason of the love for “a better user experience” (can’t think of $$ in this context) is in what Dostoevsky says about Beauty: it “would save the world”. When we meet beauty we can’t easily retain it for ourselves, we want “happier users” (got it?), we want to share with them the feel of being loved through beauty things.
Clark MacLeodon 14 Nov 07
People here seem to be in too big a rush to go out and create the next ‘great’ web app. or make money to afford yet another iPod. Yawn.
The chances I had to learn, theorize, experiment, and make mistakes in college could never be replicated on my own or on the job. It’s different. I think in many cases this makes for a richer life experience and a more interesting well rounded individual.
cookeron 14 Nov 07
I hire A LOT for a tech company outside of the USA. I’ve recruited in big companies and small ones.
The bottom line is this for me. If you view your degree as a ticket and really important to you, you’ll find plenty of corporates ready to open their doors to you.
But… If you see your degree as: - adding some value - teaching you some knowledge and skills, ...but you accept that approach, attitude & experience far out weigh that time at uni, then you’ll be welcomed at a different set of companies.
Employers have the right to discriminate on the attitude of the candidate.
Candidates have the right to discriminate on the attitude of the employer.
Summary: Choose companies that match your (considerably considered) value set and approach. It will save you blood, sweat, frustration & tears.
JDon 14 Nov 07
Ah Elia, didn’t Dostoevsky also say “beauty is a terrible and awful thing! It is terrible because it has not been fathomed, for God sets us nothing but riddles. Here the boundaries meet and all contradictions exist side by side”?
Couldn’t this explain 37signals’ approach of giving their users what they know the users would want in a world free of the agitpop propagated by other, larger software companies, without letting its users’ input guide the creative process? Perhaps, as you suggest, no beauty can truly be “retained”, and no user can ever be “happier.” It harkens back to Albert Camus, who remarked “you will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of.” Setting aside for a moment his grammatical privations, couldn’t 37signals’s approach be endlessly circular if they did, in fact, set out to make its users “happier”?
Markon 14 Nov 07
I don’t like the binary tone of the posts that are either “Formal education doesn’t matter” or “Formal education matters.” To answer the original question more effectively and relative to reality, the answer is that some kinds of formal education are much more useful in this industry than others, and those types of formal education should be the ones deemed important.
I propose that the right formal education is one that exposes the student to challenges and critiques, makes them aware of new sources of ideas that they might not have encountered on their own, makes them aware of the existing status quo and conventional wisdom (to be more prepared to react against it as needed), exposes students to situations of team achievement, and can also teach communications skills such as proper writing, speech, and visual language.
Generally, I’m talking about a liberal arts education, where the education is not about “what facts did you learn” or “were you able to corral your rote memory enough to ace the standardized tests.” It’s more about “Have you learned how to think, how to evaluate, how to synthesize, and how to communicate your ideas to others and work with them (not against them) to advance the cause of your ideas.” A formal education that provides tools, not buckets. Fishing skills instead of fish.
Some people may arrive at these qualities accidentally, through personality or genetics, but I suspect that you can raise the number of people that have these qualities more effectively if people go through that kind of formal training, instead of telling everybody that “formal education doesn’t matter” and then hope you get lucky when you publish your help wanted ads.
And if you do encounter someone without much formal education, that could be a green flag. If they have managed to acquire these most valuable skills without having to go through formal education, that would be a remarkable person indeed, and worthy of another round of interviews. But I don’t think you can expect that of most people.
Jose Espinalon 14 Nov 07
Come on people, it seems like everyone is going off-topic. It was just an answer on 37signals’s perspective on formal education. I think the topic is far explainable and the arguments given are reasonable. No need to offense or anything.
Very interesting comments though…
Anonymous Cowardon 14 Nov 07
Going into a university and arriving at the other end with a bachelors degree has no correlation to how successful or even the career path you will end up in 10 years later.
Still, when I interview folks, I can’t help but look at their college education and factor that into their image. One of the hardest things to do is talk to someone for 50 minutes and come away feeling like you want them to be a part of your team or not.
Some really brilliant and creative people are a bit quirky and intimidated by interviews and will leave a bad taste in your mouth. Yet, some really uninspired types who spout out text-book words can come off as perfect.
How do you distinguish between those you want and those you find would be a better fit elsewhere?
In the end it all comes down to your motivations. If you left college to pursue your dreams in the industry and felt school was holding you back, then you need the resume, the drive, the creativity,.... etc, to back it up. AND, You only have 50 min to sell that to me.
Does that mean your college education at MIT or CalTech is a free pass otherwise??? HELLZ NO! You are a smart person sure, but I want someone more than just smart.
Hope that adds to the discussion.
Jimon 14 Nov 07
The main thing that has been overlooked greatly in this debate which follows the classical “work experience over schooling” mindset is what work experience prepares you for. Work. At Work you’re taught to produce, not to think. At School you’re taught to think and to teach yourself. The workplace, from hip Web2.0 offices in Chicago to sweatshops in Malaysia is a production environment. It is not there for intellectual curiousity or pondering, or experimentation. The workplace, as anyone who’s ever worked in an office like every single person in this thread has, is the antithesis to the much bandied values of “intelligence, curiosity, passion, character”. Get real.
Blakeon 14 Nov 07
I’ve yet to encounter any good design firm that cares about higher education. Obviously, they don’t want somebody walking in with drool on their chin, but it all comes down to passion and drive. One art director told me she mentally blocks out anything related to “education” on a resume. LOL! Student loan payers will love that one.
Anonymous Cowardon 14 Nov 07
In your experience, can poor taste be overcome with proper seasoning?
Vickyon 14 Nov 07
I am in agreement with the others that there are other qualities definately more important than a formal education and I am enjoying reading the responses.
This may not be the correct venue for my question since it is more of a followup question, but how would 37 Signals or any of the other entrepreneurs that have commented so far find or be able to evaluate the levels of these qualities in individuals that they interview?
The criteria would be that you had never met any of the individuals before, you did not have any of the same friends or acquaintances to ask their opinions, nor have you had any written contact with them before they applied, and they did not have a website or blog.
Also, would specific certifications in a specific area (ie.. CNA – Novell, OCA-Oracle, MCSE-Microsoft) be considered and what weight would it carry, if any, if your company were on the specific platform that the individual was certified for?
Dave Ron 14 Nov 07
I agree, a formal college degree does not make a great web designer. Industry experience, for the most part, is more important. For anyone who is interested in this subject, check out Donald Schon. The Reflective Practitioner & Educating the Reflective Practitioner are both great reads.
Personally, I think formal education has value. Not in educating people to be web designers, but in creating knowledgeable and thoughtful citizens. These are 2 very different tasks (both of which are important). With that said, I think the structure and content of the U.S. higher education needs some work.
martialon 14 Nov 07
Of course taste can be taught. Taste is about attention to the details in the context of a coherent whole (and, I would suggest, about being able to articulate why a particular detail matters). A fair amount of formal education is dedicated to precisely this, though, sadly, most of my teachers seemed to have forgotten that and so failed to truly educate their students. Most obsession is also dedicated to the details and so informal education that follows our passions tends to (self)teach us taste as well. It should also be noted that it certainly isn’t the place of an employer to do the teaching.
The difference between “good” or “bad” taste, it seems to me, is whether we put the details together into wholes that make sense communally or only to ourselves. Or, to put that another way, when we build something does it “work”?
Tor Løvskogenon 14 Nov 07
You’ve hit the nail on the head with this one. I don’t see a college degree as a symbol of intelligence. Few programs are updated, atleast here in Norway. I’d say, that keeping yourself up to date within your profession is more intelligent, than spending 4 years writing and reading about outdated material and pratices.
My Netvibes account is worth more for me than the 9 220$ I spent for one year at college.
Chris Vincenton 14 Nov 07
Thanks for your excellent answer to my question! It’s good to know I’ve got a chance in the running for your recent Rails job posting. ;)
Amyon 15 Nov 07
I think the bottom line looks something like this:
For some people, a university education will expose them to things they never would have exposed themselves to, and they will learn and grow, integrate it into themselves, and be better for it.
For other people, a university education will be completely wasted because they aren’t going to learn, period, by themselves or even by being led to it. Or they learn the wrong things—now how to reason and live in reality. (Met lots of highly successful “academic types” like this.)
Yet others have the drive to self-educate and expose themselves to a variety of things, situations, and people, to analyze and dissect and understand, and seek mentors on their own. For these people, in many fields, a university education is quite likely superfluous.
A company like 37Signals is fine with the first and last category of people, but wants nothing to do with the middle category. But many people in the middle (the majority, at least in the US) are hired by other companies sheerly on the basis of where they’ve been and the effort they put into achieving good grades (which is a skill itself, not necessarily reflecting on understanding of the subject)... much to those companies’ detriments.
Many of the most interesting people I know are either entirely self-educated or self-educated in the sense that the things they are achieving have absolutely nothing to do with their original topic of education.
DHHon 15 Nov 07
Jim: “At Work you’re taught to produce, not to think”
That’s some depressing work places you must have been in. If you’re not thinking and learning at work, I’d advice quitting. Life is way, way too short to spend 8+ hours per day in drone mode.
Whitney Hoffmanon 15 Nov 07
I blogged about this issue recently over at the Parent’s Eye View Blog.
On Average, people with a higher education degree make more money over their lifetime than those that do not. There are always exceptions to the rule, or course, just like professional athletes are exceptions to the rule of the chance of your average high school athlete making it to the pros.
I agree that a college degree and any graduate degrees are convenient filters for employers, and show the ability to finish a long term project, piece by piece, among other things.
That said, many people run into problems in college. I am interviewing Ben Mitchell from Landmark College for my podcast tommorrow; Landmark is a college that specializes in teaching kids with ADHD and learning disabilities. Landmark also has a remarkable summer program and bridge semesters to give students the tricky executive functioning skills they need to be successful in college, and later on in a job.
I am always amazed at how many brilliant people I meet in the social media space, and how many of them likely have ADHD. This often means they are very creative and have many ideas coming off the fly wheel all the time; without working on their executive function skills, they have real difficulty taking those great ideas and shepard them towards completion of a finished product/project.
Formal education may not be everything, but it is something no one can ever take away from you, and you are more likely to be discriminated against for not having a degree, than being discriminated again because you do.
DHHon 15 Nov 07
The life-time earnings studies have probably not narrowed their scope to focus on areas such as programming and design in the particular, which are the focus for this crowd. It’s not very helpful to know that a licensed doctor or lawyer makes more than a handyman. Well, duh.
Jackon 16 Nov 07
Isn’t it funny how 100% of technologies are created by the people with degree?
just look at all the current Web Technlogy from the father of the web down to PHP, Python and Ruby are created by people with degree for people with no degree to use!
Priyaon 19 Nov 07
In my opinion it is important unless you have the capability to build your own business and earn forever. In industry is occupied by those who are there because of their costly education, they do not look at people without same and its a lobbly. eg. You got to be an MBA to take up a top managerial job today.
This discussion is closed.