High-Tech Workers

At the heart of the higher-education debate lies the question: Do high-tech workers miss out on

some crucial educational event if they skip college? There’s no denying that high-tech offers

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something few other disciplines do — the ability to enter and move up in an industry based on

applicable skills and experience, instead of requiring a degree to even enter the arena. But having

a degree doesn’t prevent high-tech workers from picking up experience elsewhere. The

learning skills one uses to pick up programming languages and systems operations are highly

individual, and can be acquired from disciplines as diverse as music or biology. They can also be picked up through a combination of time spent on a computer and a curiosity to learn more:

Kuner, Monberg and Scott all honed their technical chops through self-teaching.


What can’t be picked up through hard programming experience is the discipline-specific

experience that any college graduate possesses. To a biology major like me, object-oriented

programming didn’t make much sense when it was explained in terms of classes and

constructors. But when I could map the general ideas to familiar ground — the immune system’s

different types of cells and the chemical signals they send to each other are similar to classes of

code objects and the embedded functional signals they each have — I picked up the programming

concept, and expanded on it in ways my computer-engineering co-workers hadn’t pondered yet.


As more graduates combine their intellectual experience with practical technical skills, observers

may recast the higher-education question. Instead of wondering whether college

is relevant, we may ask what kind of degrees will allow high-tech workers and companies to stay


and taste our undisputed quality.