Apprenticeship Over College

I interviewed a bright young woman today who is graduating from high school this spring among the top of her class. Despite having several generous scholarships at her disposal, she is considering an 8th Light apprenticeship.

"You can't tell her not to go to college!" people would scold me. So I began thinking... and concluded that college is not all it's cracked up to be these days.

1. College is not affordable. It was expensive when I was in school 15 years ago. Today it costs about three times as much. How do students afford that? Student Loans of course. But how discouraging! The majority of young adults get to start their adult lives with a mountain of debt.

TechPaladin - Sourced from NCES

2. A college degree doesn't differentiate you. The good news is that the U.S. is more educated than ever before. The bad news is that your college degree is one in a million. Sure, fifty years ago a 4-year degree made you stand out big-time, Mr. Smarty Pants. Today though, a 4 year degree just makes you an average Jane.

A college degree is not so special these days.

3. A College education doesn't guarantee a good job. Most of us grew up hearing the mantra: "Work Hard. Go to School. And you'll get a good job." Well, this was one of the hot topic of the recent Occupy Movement. People were protesting because they did work hard, they did go to school, and well, they didn't have a good job!

4. College doesn't prepare you for a career in software. This may be true for other industries, but I speak from experience with regard to the software industry. After earning a 4 year degree in Math and Computer Science, I got a job as a software engineer, and the sad truth was I had no clue how to develop the first project assigned to me. Fortunately I had great mentors to help me along.

12 years later I have interviewed countless college grads. Some amaze me with their experience and ability, but the majority are as clueless as I was.

What's a high school grad to do?

The social pressure to go to college is immense. I asked people, "Knowing what you know today, would you still have gone to college? And they told me "Yes! Because my parents would not have allowed otherwise." Even my brother, who dropped out of school to work with me, eventually quit and went back to school because of the pressure our mother put on him.

Yet, this high school grad must consider that although 4 years in college does earn her that conventional degree, it also means a huge debt, no guarantee of a job, and no real-world preparation for the work place.

8th Light Apprenticeship

The "Go to School" mindset is instilled in me to the point where I cannot in good conscience tell people NOT to go to college. Yet I can happily state the advantages of 8th Light's Apprenticeship program and, without any guilt, hire a young apprentice who decides not to go to college. That is, if they get accepted into the program.

What are the advantages?

  • No debt
  • We pay you
  • You gain real-world experience
  • You will be more skilled and more marketable in the software industry than your college faring peers
  • Full salary Craftsman position in a year or two
  • A network of contacts in the software industry

While pondering this whole issue, I came across one of our apprentices blog entry that included an RSA Animate video on education. It's a good video; watch it. In summary it says that our modern education system is broken and that we need a change. 8th Light's Apprenticeship may not be the answer, but it seems to be filling a niche.

Micah Martin, Co-founder and Software Craftsman

Micah Martin is co-founder of 8th Light and is known for his open source work such as FitNesse, Limelight, Joodo, and Speclj.