[Beowulf] Degree

Lux, Jim (337C) james.p.lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Wed Oct 24 08:49:19 PDT 2012

Oh man.. you all are opening a BIG can of worms here..

Testing for certifications has been fairly well discredited because it's too easy to set up "certificate mills" and because the certifications tend to be single manufacturer specific (e.g. Cisco Network Engineer, Microsoft Certified Professional, Novell, etc. etc.etc).  You'll note that employment ads these days don't ask for certifications as much any more..  (although ones like PMP, which are more generalized, although specific to the certifying organization, you'll see)

The requirement for a degree has very little to do with the material you may have studied in the pursuit of that degree, particularly in the software field.  30 years ago, there were very few degrees in software fields (e.g. at UCLA, it was Math/CS; at Cal it was EE/CS).  My wife (erstwhile software developer, now IT manager) has a degree in Poli Sci (one could argue that this is actually a pretty useful field of study when it comes to being in management).

Part of the "value" of a degree is that for new entrants to the workforce (with no previous paid work experience), it indicates that you have the ability to stick with something for 4 years, even though there may be "scut work" kind of requirements.   A degree from an accredited institution also means that you've had some moderate breadth of exposure to various topics beyond some narrow specialization (e.g. you probably had to write something at some point):  the "well-rounded worker".  This is predicated on the assumption that as a professional, you'll inevitably have to do things outside what you've done before, and the 4 year degree (in theory) indicates that you're not going to be hopeless when that occurs.

Ultimately, it is a "signal" for traits deemed desirable by employers.

An alternate path is professional licensure.  In some places, getting a professional license does not require a 4 year degree, but does require 6 years of experience, with detailed references from engineers who supervised you, etc.  (in fact, some number of years of a degree can count for some of the experience years, providing it's from a ABET accredited curriculum, etc.)

Jim Lux

-----Original Message-----
From: beowulf-bounces at beowulf.org [mailto:beowulf-bounces at beowulf.org] On Behalf Of Ellis H. Wilson III
Sent: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 6:32 AM
To: beowulf at beowulf.org
Subject: Re: [Beowulf] Degree

On 10/24/12 09:19, Hearns, John wrote:
> Thing is, I need some kind of degree in this stuff to do the kind of 
> work I really want to do. Especially in Germany, organisations 
> involved in HPC usually strictly require an advanced degree if you 
> want to be paid.
> In the UK it is quite normal for people who want to gain qualifications
> whilst working to go through the Open University   http://www.open.ac.uk/
> http://www8.open.ac.uk/europe/in-your-country/germany

This is actually a really interesting problem to me personally, as, despite having followed the traditional degree path, I would have MUCH rathered not have paid or attended any classes.  I am 100% a book-learner and put zero stock in old-school style lecture formats.  I actually set up a number of agreements in undergrad where the teacher knew I wouldn't be there except for exams, and achieved some of my highest grades for those courses.  This form of learning is far more efficient in nearly every way, and allows one to learn at his or her own pace.

Does anyone know of any efforts to just establish tests that one could take in order to be accredited as having one skill-set or another?  I haven't yet bumped into any establishments like that, but I feel like they have to be out there.

Such a system would put degrees on the order of a few thousand of dollars/euros instead of the current standard (at least here in the US), where you're leaving undergrad with tens of thousands in debt and graduate degrees generally (masters/etc other than PhDs) leave you with hundreds of thousands in debt.

There is no reason for this -- I don't need majestic stone buildings, overworked professors, and well-kept greenery to learn.  This is an artifact of an older age and in my personal opinion, it's got to go.


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