What are Universities for?


I found out a few weeks ago that my university would like me to represent alumni of my department during the yearly spring alumni celebration (that's a lot of alumni in that sentence).

My first reaction was something along the lines of "did you dial the right number?" As it turns out, professors that I've kept in touch with are intrigued by my career and think it would be interesting to have me give a short talk on how I got where I am, and sit on a panel with alumni from other departments.

It turns out that many of the departments at my school have declining enrollments because students think that degrees like business administration are the only thing that will get them a job after they graduate. The humanities especially are hit hard by this - what the heck would you do with an english degree - or worse yet, a music degree.

Of course, that's where I come in. A little known (yet far from secret) fact about me is that I have a degree in music composition. Hold that - I have two degrees in music composition - a B.A. in music theory and composition, and a M.M. in composition and orchestration. Once upon a time, I even wrote an entire symphony.

About 15 years ago, I began my career in the software industry. Early in that journey, I began repeating an observation that I think way too many people are blind to - A university is not a vocational school. Sure, I learned the practical ranges of dozens of instruments, and can tell you more about chord structures, polyrythms, danger music and time signatures than you would ever want to know, but what I really learned was how to solve problems, how to find answers, and how to use my brain. (note - writing music and writing code are hauntingly similar)

Unfortunately, most people want to go to university to learn how to do a specific kind of job. Two of my favorite blog authors even think that universities need to change the way they teach computer science so that graduates can be better prepared for careers in programming.

Undergraduate programming - Joel on Software

Coding Horror: How Should We Teach Computer Science?

I don't understand. If you just want to go to school to prepare for a job...isn't that what a vocational school is for? In the big scheme of things, programming is easy. The hard part is finding answers and solving problems. Knowing when you are stuck and knowing what to do when you're stuck are what the good testers and developers I work with know how to do. Those are the skills I learned in school, and those are the skills I think you need to succeed in any career.

Or maybe I'm just lucky...


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