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Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Unecessary College Degree

     I've been having reoccurring daydreams lately. Daydreams about what I wished college was like. I'm basically venting my anger about why college degrees are worthless for some career choices, but are still required. When Google is the greatest learning tool on Earth, and it's available for free, why is college still mandatory? I can only speak for the gaming industry on this but I'm sure it applies in similar fields. People can easily and very effectively teach each other. Practice, internships, and apprenticeships are quite a bit more useful than standardized tests.

     I can see the day were the collaborative effort of teaching through the internet makes formal schooling for some fields obsolete and it can't get here soon enough. It's awful that degrees are this multi-thousand dollar piece of paper that serves as a required check-mark on resumes for jobs that should be performed by people with the most ability. Who cares where you learned to do a job as long you can do it right?

     Talking with other students and people in the gaming industry lead to me hearing the same gripes. School won't teach you much and it's what you do outside of class that will make you better. Employers care more about portfolios than GPAs. You're being hired to do something, not have it's theory memorized. I can learn more on Google in one day than I can in a week at school. YouTube has been the best teacher for me in terms of learning game development and I know I'm not alone on this.

    I know I've ranted about school before, but the feeling is only getting more intense by the day. All the time I think about how everything in college (except classes) is making me a better person. I've met great people, heard from inspirational speakers, matured, explored my identity, explored my capability, built friendships, learned from mistakes, and have taken personal responsibility. I wouldn't be who I am if it weren't for all the self discovery I went through during my years here. The only problem is the constant draining experience that is the course requirements.

     Classwork has always felt like busywork. Something shoved down your throat when you could easily learn the important parts on your own when you need to. Not everyone is self-motivated, but for those of us that are, these things are unbearable. I learn more about making games on my own than during class. If I was going by the book none of my released apps would exist because don't learn how t make mobile games until junior year at my school. I took the initiative to spend a week learning how it's done on YouTube than put what I learned into practice. All for free.

      In school only one of my 10 courses that year even covered the basics of game design principles. Only 40 of the 125 credits in the Penn College Gaming & Simulation program are directly related to game programming which is what it promises to teach. People often say it takes a while before you get into the major specific courses, but why is the most important part the minority? You should hit the ground running and learn about the obstacles as they come in a safe environment. The way teaching yourself works.

     Making games teaches you how to make games, vague classwork satisfies vague tests. We're two years in and most students don't know how to start and finish a game without finding an online source to learn from. If we need to learn on our own to learn, why are we wasting thousands of dollars on credit hours?

     Over the next year and a half after my first game design course I produced three more apps using a professional engine (Unity3D) that I figured out through YouTube tutorials and practice. In class, we are only just now learning how to do basic things with the engine while making our first game with it. If the incredibly slow pace isn't enough, students are drowning in unrelated classwork. I've heard the argument of "You'll need it eventually" but I know I could also learn it eventually. You can literally learn anything you need to by searching Google when you need the information. Google is basically the entirety of human knowledge at your fingertips. I'd rather learn what I need to get started now, and learn what "may come in handy" when it comes in handy.

     I took one weekend to learn how to make a specific kind of website for my games and started and have been adding to it to suit my needs over the course of about 5 months now. There is a course I'll be taking next year that teaches us how to make websites and according to my friends who are in it, I've basically covered the course on my own. Any missing details could be easily googled, but I'm going to have to spend a thousand dollars and hours of my life on a course on it anyway.

     The only reason I haven't dropped out is because of my parents wanting me to have job security. I want to start an indie studio when I graduate and if my business fails, they want me to have a stable job to fall onto. The degree will keep my resume from being tossed instantly at most places I could apply to. I'm wishing that wasn't necessary because I know I would be a much better developer if I could focus on practicing and learning rather than spending countless hours doing busywork I end up forgetting about in a year anyway.

     It's endlessly infuriating and the solution feels so simple. Some careers just don't need a college education, but rather basic to intermediate experience for starting positions. I'd rather spend 4 years figuring things out on my own than having my parents empty out their life savings on a piece of paper I probably won't need.

     Just think about who would have more to offer: someone who got straight A's in a computer science program and no projects to show for it, or someone with only a high school diploma who's been coding in a garage for years with multiple examples of innovative work and the ability to adapt to emerging technologies?

     It's good that there are some places that put degrees as optional on job advertisements, preferring portfolio examples and project experience. I just wish it was unanimous. I'm willing to risk my neck for what I believe in but those who care about me won't allow it. My parents want to be certain that I can work anywhere I want if I fail to reach my dream of working for myself.

     Things like Hamburger University should be more common. Real experience. We've had enough classrooms by the end of high school. It's time to get good at the roles in society we've chosen. For those who are still unsure of their role, give them time or a place to discover themselves.

     I'm attending college for my parents' sake, but I'm far from happy about it. It's for a document serving as a safety net over a pit I'm sure I won't fall into. I keep up the grades, and I get a place to live while I try to squeeze in time to actually practicing game development.

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