Mark Werwath brings us this article on the potential pitfalls of quick and cheap development education compared to the long-term investment of an MEM degree.
On Tuesday, I watched the Dan Rather Report cover a story on a new kind of education that is popping up. He used Dev Bootcamp as the example of what this new form of education represents. Their claim to fame is that for a mere $12,000 they will take people off the street and turn them into (Ruby on Rails) programmers in just a few months. They are very employable at this point and hence they (the school) can claim success. The statement made was that this is (becoming) a viable alternative to a college education. My concern is that this doesn’t address the realities of creating and nurturing a long-term career. If one wants to write Ruby on Rails code the rest of their lives, then this is a good solution, but sooner or later people need to make serious investments in themselves and their careers—an investment that will transcend the current programming fad of the day.
Lotus Notes from the 1980s offers a comparable programming fad. Back in the day, programmers who knew Lotus 123 or Lotus Notes had a distinct advantage over those that didn’t, but that didn’t necessarily insure long-term career success. Some people with Lotus Notes training had long employment relationships of five to ten years, but then the demand for Lotus Notes dried up, and the employees who didn’t invest in themselves were stuck. Conversely, those who knew Lotus 123 were in perpetual demand as the software morphed into MS Excel and the skills needed became commonplace and almost mandatory in every corporate and financial setting.
I agree that having practical programming skills is a great thing, but only when combined with long-term educational investments that are more strategic in nature. I myself took training, during my MEM years right here at Northwestern, in the application of Lotus 123. Ruby on Rails training might last for several years as a useful skill, but the career market and technological developments are unpredictable. Schools like Northwestern train people to run serious businesses, commercialize a variety of technologies, and lead teams of people. MEM is about teaching students how to teach themselves in the pursuit of life-long learning. Alumni know how to stay up to date so they can predict market changes before they occur and successfully adapt to unexpected shifts rather than risk getting stuck in one track that might fizzle out in less than a decade. Ruby on Rails training might seem cost-effective at the time, but the difference between an MEM graduate and a Bootcamp graduate five years down the road could be a completely different story.