What should I do in college?

Take science to discover something you're good at.

Take humanities to discover something you may love.

Take at least one art or music class.

Take at least one advanced math class.

Join a fraternity.

Learn how to play bridge (and play all night sometime).

Learn how to play foosball.

Get drunk.

Learn how to play foosball while drunk.

Play an intramural team sport.

Get a part time job.

Eat something you never tried before at least once/month.

Do original research.

Take a class you think you'll hate pass/fail.

Do 5 minutes at a comedy club on open mike night.

Hang out with a professor you like.

Do a web start-up on the side.

Make a few friends for life.

Go to at least one party each week.

Pick a major you love whether it makes career sense or not.

Get someone who has written one of your text books to sign it.

Blog about your college experience.

Go to Europe with nothing but a backpack for a month or two.

Enter a college talent show.

Meet as many interesting (and boring) people as you can.

Read good books.

Go without shoes for a week just for the hell of it.

Get laid.


If you don’t go to college, exactly when do you expect to do all of this?

Why should an MBA learn programming?

“You will NOT become an engineer, programmer, or web developer, but you will be able to put a prototype of your idea together and maybe get one or two beta users for feedback…”

You will also be able to have an intelligent conversation with a developer.

I get sad whenever I encounter a business person with no technical BS filter. Not because I’m judging them, but because if I can BS them, any other developer can. Which probably means there’s a problem somewhere that will hurt all of us.

I’ll make a point to have a cursory understanding of financial statements, market segmentation, and project management if you do the same for the basic building blocks of software applications. Then the two of us will be able to talk about almost anything. OK?

What did you learn in school?

You can find plenty of important life skills to be learned in school if you only look hard enough:

kindergarden - learn how to play nicely together

first grade - learn how to read and write

second grade - learn how to add, subtract, multiply, & divide

third grade - learn how to spell

fourth grade - learn how to play a musical instrument

fifth grade - learn how to appreciate great literature

sixth grade - learn how we got where we are

seventh grade - learn a foreign language

eighth grade - learn how to type and use a computer

ninth grade - learn how the world is put together

tenth grade - learn about other people in the world

eleventh grade - learn how to balance a job and school

twelveth grade - learn how to plan for and dream about the future

freshman year - learn how many other kinds of people are out there

sophomore year - learn how to chug a beer, fill a bong, and get laid

junior year - learn how to stand upon the shoulders of giants

senior year - learn how to find your place in the world

graduate school - learn how to play nicely together, all over again

“Would my money be better spent on a MBA or MSCS?”

1. Find someone who needs something.

2. Start building it.

3. Trust that when you need to learn something, you will.

The education you will receive this way will be way better than any formal education for multiple reasons.

First, you will automatically triage your lessons; you will learn what you need, not what someone else (who probably doesn’t know) thinks you need. Second, almost all the “data” you will need in this education is easily available and free. Third, for the education you need from other people, you will begin building a network you’ll need anyway. And finally, this is exactly what you’ll have to do “whether or not you get any more formal education”, so just skip the unnecessary step and get on with on. From your own self description, you already have way more formal education than you need.

This may not seem intuitive, but believe me, this is the way things get done in the real world of software development. At this point, the cream rises to the challenge regardless of education. Save your money for living expenses and start-up expenses. You’ll probably need it. Best wishes!

What do you best remember from your MBA?

I understand OP’s sentiment. I place very high value on my MBA from the University of Pittsburgh, but for reasons one wouldn’t expect.

I remember almost nothing from the course material itself. You can get that from almost any book. The time value of money, how to read financial statements, the 4 P’s of marketing (or was it the 4 B’s?), different management theories, etc., etc., etc.

What I remember vividly are the interactions with other people, professors and other students, some of whom already had many years of experience. I’m not sure how else I could have had this experience. Some of my most vivid memories:

“A degree in business is a degree in nothing.” - management professor

“What is the correct answer to the question ‘How much money did you make?’ It’s always, ‘Who wants to know’?” - managerial accounting professor

A professor of Organizational Behavior told us that a survey of Yale MBA’s 25 years after graduation said that Organizational Behavior was their most important course. I couldn’t believe it. Years later, I believe it.

A case study had our team pick the next CEO from 4 managers. We were wrong. The actual result: They went outside, for reasons well explained.

Our group made a recommendation to a local business to restructure, letting a key person go. We got an “F” on the project, with the opportunity to go back and redo it without letting anyone go. We got the message.

A marketing professor was picking on stupid products, like Heinz gravy, when a student in the back offered, “I was the product manager for gravy at Heinz. It made us $60 million last quarter. If you’d like to use it for a case study some day, I’d be glad to help you with it.”

I don’t remember many specifics from class, but I know that I “think differently” because of that experience. Along with a technical background, this has been a great combination.

What happens at Toastmasters?

1. Everyone who comes speaks to the entire group for 1 or 2 minutes. This was called “Table Topics”. A different member is assigned each week to administer the Table Topics. I remember one time the Table Topics person handed each one of us a paper bag that we had to open, remove the object inside, and give an interesting talk. My object was a clothes pin.

2. Everyone gets a mentor when they join to help them through the education.

3. Everyone cycles through the program at their own pace giving longer and longer prepared talks. 5:00, 10:00, 15:00, etc. You give one of these every month or so.

4. Every single talk is publicly critiqued by at least one judge. They are usually ruthless and very, very helpful. It took me months to stop playing with my hands when I talked. They finally got me to stop.

5. I remembered speaking about my business in all my prepared talks. I can’t imagine having a better place to practice than Toastmasters.

How important is a degree in business?

“Instead of students studying Literature, Art, History, and Science they would be going through the motions of a scholar while occupying their minds with things that formerly had been learned at a desk as an apprentice in a dreary Victorian counting house.”

That may be the best description of the concerns of the MBA I’ve ever read.

I have my MBA and, to this day, I still don’t know how I feel about it. Sure, it covered a lot of valuable theory and it’s opened doors, but then again I often wonder if the time would have been better spent in industry, honing my skills in the trenches.

How important is my degree?

As smart people who deal a lot with binaryness (there “is” a right answer), we place high regard for education, as we should. But please understand that business and academia are 2 different animals with only a little overlap. I have lots of education and lots of practical work experience, and I have to be careful “when” to apply my formal education, which isn’t often.

Classic example (I’m sure many of you have many more):

I graduated Allegheny College with the founders of ijet.com. At an alumni event, they presented their business case and web site. It was very interesting. At the end, a business professor summed things up. Not a single thing he said made any sense or had anything to do with the presentation. I wondered if he had even watched it. That’s when I decided to stop feeling bad about sleeping through all that Cost/Value Curve bullshit so many years ago.

Get your degree. Get your education. But please understand they aren’t necessarily the same thing.

Why don’t you think an MBA is important?

“all the things that you would need to learn in a full-time 2 year MBA program”

I can’t think of a single thing that would be on that list. Business School is not like Law School or Medical School where you must remember the “things” you learned. Employers use the MBA to differentiate candidates. It’s unlikely that you’ll use all that much from the curriculum on your first job. You even say so yourself, “firms hire MBAs on their abilities to learn and not what they’ve already learned”.

“I just don’t see how that is remotely possible.”

How could you if you’ve never done it? Every large project I’ve ever worked on had issues with interpersonal communication, project management, logistics, deployment, revenue generation, and profitability (you know, all the important stuff), in a manner that business school can’t even imagine covering.

“the problem is the quality not the quantity”

Exactly. That’s my whole point. The quality of a hands on business education blows away anything academic. I imagine most business people (with MBAs or not) would heartily concur. The only thing I remember from business school was, “A degree in business is a degree in nothing.”

“in-depth case analysis”

Case studies are notoriously poor for learning about business. What good is it to study business decisions after the fact, when you already know what they didn’t? If you don’t want to listen to me, perhaps he’s a little more convincing. (Whether you agree with me about anything or not, I strongly suggest this video. A lot to learn from someone with real battle scars.)

“with your professor and the other students”

who pale in comparison to people your encounter every day on the job. Why do you think the most important class in any business school is the internship?

Should a programmer get an MBA?

I honestly can’t think of any good reason today why someone who could hack would want an MBA.

If you’re concerned about learning, you will learn more about business in one good hands on project than 2 years of formal education.

If you’re concerned about having a mentor, you will meet much more business saavy people in business than you ever will in school.
If you’re concerned about money, 2 years of earning will put you hundreds of thousands of dollars ahead of 2 years of spending.

If you’re concerned about what others think of your credentials, you’re focusing on the wrong thing.

If you’re concerned about climbing the corporate ladder more quickly, then fine. Get an MBA.
And, most of all…

If you’re concerned about making yourself the best you could be, then hack, hack, hack. You already excel at the weakest link in the business chain. You will get better by continuing to “do” in your specialty. More school will add little, cost you time, cost you money, but most of all, cost you experience doing what you already love and what the world needs most right now.