There is nothing a perspective employer looks at more now than education when it comes to tech jobs. For those like myself, who want to expand the breadth of where they can even be considered, returning to college often seems like the only option. That is often an expensive proposition, both in terms of time and money.
Many colleges and universities now offer online classes, and I’ve taken advantage of those in the past. They’re less costly and don’t require an absurd amount of commuting. After all, when you work full time, time is hard to come by. But the cost to either complete a degree or supplement one you’ve already earned can be steep.
Then I came across this story from 2012. A blogger by the name of Scott Young discovered for himself that virtually all of MIT’s courses could be found on the web via their “MIT OpenCourseWare” site. Now this site was hardly new. It had been around since 2002, and as of 2017 offers materials from over 2300 courses. Recorded lectures, notes, syllabuses, past exams, homework assignments, and all manner of course relevant materials could be found on the site. The site’s objective is stated best by the a professor at MIT.
The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.”
Dick K.P. Yue, Professor, MIT School of Engineering
Scott’s object? Complete a four year degree in Computer Science in one year. It wasn’t without caveats; He would focus only on exams and projects, avoid the general education requirements, grade his own material, and rely solely on the material provided on the OpenCourseWare website. For a cost of about two thousand dollars, mostly in textbooks, (and given the current cost of college text books I’m guessing that came out to about 3-4 books in total), he completed his challenge in just under 12 months. Afterwards he held a TEDx talk about his experience.
MIT isn’t the only pillar of academia to make their materials available online for free. Coursera.org offers material from dozens of different colleges and Universities. The same for Edx.org and iTunes U; An enormous amount of material is readily available for virtually no cost.
I see all of that and think, “Why the hell not?”.
It’s 2017, and I need a serious change. I feel as though if I don’t make that change, then I’ll still be at the same job in ten to twenty years, having missed out on opportunities both professionally and personally. I want to work where I can apply my technical skills in an environment where I don’t spend more time unjamming printers or resetting login passwords. I want to be in better shape, because the shape I’m in right now is round. I want to be able to say I’m fluent in another language, and have the ability to use it in my daily life. I want to finish my degree, more than anything, and feel like when I go back to do that, I’m not grossly under-prepared after having been out of academia for almost a decade.
A great deal of this feels like it’s nothing more than wishful thinking or New Years resolution planning that’ll be cast aside the next time a World of Warcraft patch comes out. However, I know that if I do nothing, nothing changes. Putting the proverbial pen to the equally proverbial paper has an effect that, for me at least, solidifies things. I’m more apt to do something if I’ve written it down. Normally this relates to nothing more than grocery shopping lists, vacation planning, or virtual gaming objectives. This feels like something more concrete.
So what’s the plan? Use as many online resources as possible over the course of a year, to learn all that is needed for a Computer Science degree from a major college or university. Similar to Scott Young’s MIT Challenge, but using the resources of multiple academic institutions instead of just the one. How to do that? Lets break down what’s would be needed;
- Develop a course plan that would mimic a major college or university’s Computer Science program.
- Include all the required courses for both the core program and the general education requirements.
- Follow that plan, meeting each prerequisite course requirement before continuing onto the subsequent courses.
- Do all listed homework, quizzes, projects, and exams.
- Document the entire process on a blog, posting all completed materials and tracking the entire process.
- On any subject possible, complete an exam where the answer key is not provided afterwards. This would include CLEP exams, Language Proficiency exams, and exams taken via Edx.org or Coursera.org.
Why am I including the language and gen. ed. requirements? College was never solely about learning a single subject, and neither is a degree. It is about expanding your horizons, learning to think differently, establishing connections you’ll keep for a lifetime, and finding a sense of purpose. It also means learning as much as you can regarding a subject you care deeply about. So much so, in fact, that you can contribute to that field after your degree is in hand. I believe that the contributions those general education classes make to that goal is greatly understated. I believe that the core curriculum classes can teach you an enormous amount of knowledge, but those gen. eds. can teach you how to think.
Why do the homework assignments, quizzes, and the outside testing? Verification. Not just to prove to others that I have a strong grasp of the subject matter, but to prove it to myself.
Any other goals? Sticking to my Ketogenic Diet, getting down to the 210 -200 lb range, and continuing with the gym would be nice. Taking that exposition writing course or the course on cyber security at Harvard that I’ve had my eye on would also be beneficial I believe. Beyond that I haven’t a clue. With any luck the process itself will make it so returning to school will be easier, and I can finally hold in my hand the degree I put aside getting almost a decade ago.
So here’s to 2017! To New Years resolutions; May they be resolute. May they be just a memory of things accomplished come 2018. May the goals you set today be the history someone else teaches tomorrow. May your programs compile on the first try and soufflés never fail to rise.
Because its time to try something new.