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Listener Question: Kevin asks About College

Published 10/5/2016

In today's episode listener Kevin asks about whether he should return to college or not.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell in today's episode. I answer a question from listener Kevin about going back to college. Today's episode is going to be one for the books. It's one of the most important episodes I think in all of Developer Teahistory because we're going to try to answer this question, this constantly asked question by people in the industry as well as people who are wanting to enter the industry about whether or not they should go to college. Kevin's situation is pretty specific. We're going to go ahead and read Kevin's email to me. He says, hi Jonathan. I love Developer Tea and listen to it while I work. I have a few questions. I've listened to a couple of episodes, but I haven't listened to them all yet. I did listen to the one where you had your colleagues on that went to school for design. You asked them if it was worth going to school to learn what they learned. I've always wanted to be a developer, but I've had trouble grasping some things while I was in college for computer science, so I ended up dropping out. I've learned a lot since then, and I'm wondering if I should go back to school to become a developer or take my time learning a language and start freelancing. I'm not sure if you can make a good living freelancing, and I'm not sure if you're always going to be able to find work as a freelancer. The last question I have is I listened to your episode about selling your brand as a developer and wanted to know how can you tell when you're good enough to sell what you do to anybody. First, Kevin, let me address one thing that you mention in your email. You said that you're not sure about freelance if it's possible to make a good living in the freelance world. It absolutely is possible to make a great living freelancing. Now, it's not guaranteed. It's not going to be easy, and it may be a bit more chaotic than a salary job would be. But if you are a diligent worker and you can handle the fluctuations in income, being a freelance developer is definitely a possible route to a great career. And in some ways, you may even have more earning power than if you go with a salary job. It just depends on your certain situation. But the idea of having a freelancer come in, the reason you can make a little bit more as a freelancer than you may be able to make a salary job in the best case scenario is because you're taking out some of the profit that the company is otherwise making with your time. So in other words, the company that you work for, they have to keep the lights on, and they have to pay for expenses when you go on trips. And they have to pay for the gaps when the company is making a little bit less money. So ultimately, what they have to do in order to pay for those things is have some level of markup on your services. This is a very rough estimation of how this system works. But if you're a freelancer, you don't really have that safety net that a company would provide. You don't have, for example, a 401k match. You don't have health insurance plans. You don't have someone else taking care of an office for you. You don't have a sales team that's generating the work for you. You're doing all of those things on your own. So you are assuming some of the risk. And ultimately, when you assume risk, there are usually possibilities for more reward as long as you assume that right kinds of risk. So that's the idea behind freelancing. And you're concerned about there not being enough work. That is a valid concern at something that you have to decide if you are willing to go through those times where maybe the work is a little bit thinner. So to answer that question, as many people who are listening to today's episode can attest to, you absolutely can make plenty of money as a freelancer or as a contract developer. So don't let that deter you as long as you're willing to jump into that pool with a little bit more risk. Now, you have two bigger questions in the email. And I'm only going to have time to address the first one in today's episode, the one about going back to college. And hopefully we'll get to the next one in another episode in the future. But this first question that Kevin is asking is about whether or not it makes sense for him to return to college after having dropped out when he was younger, when he didn't have as much knowledge as he does now about the subjects. Now, this is a hugely important episode because I'm going to outline kind of a decision making framework. And you may want to write this down if you're listening to today's episode and you're grappling with this question for yourself or you see in the in the future potentially thinking about this topic of going to college as a developer in today's world. This is 2016. So the landscape may change in the future. For example, if new policies are passed by the government or if the sphere of online education changes, some of these things may adapt a little bit with with those changes in the landscape. But I want to go ahead and give you some actionable way of thinking about this. This is how I would look at going to college in today's world. If you can go to school without incurring debt, in other words, if you can get a scholarship or some other way of paying for your tuition, 100%. If you can do that and you're either on the fence or you absolutely know that you want to go, I recommend going to college at this point. And I have some reasons why we'll talk about them later on in today's episode. The second thing, if you have to go into debt to go to school, it will depend on how much debt you have to go into and how much you expect to make afterwards in addition to your current earning power. In other words, how much value does school add to your career? Now, a lot of what I'm saying probably applies mostly to people who live in the United States. And it may certainly apply to other countries. I don't have the expertise on that. So you need to do your own research in those areas. But the reality of college debt, of student loan debt, is overwhelming. And it's easy to just take on another loan and take on another loan because it feels like money is being handed to you. It feels like it's free money. And the reality is that it's not free money. You absolutely will have to pay that money back into the future. And on top of that, you're going to incur interest. So these are things that you already should know if you are looking at loans for your education. Debt is crippling. Debt is crippling. You need to know that when you're looking at this investment, understand that if you carry a large debt on your shoulders, it's going to effectively reduce your income every month by a certain amount. Debt is crippling. And if you come out of school with debt that far outweighs your earning power, it's going to be much harder to get the job that you prefer anyway. In other words, when you come out of school with debt, you have a lot of pressure to get a job that pays well. You have a lot of pressure to get a job as soon as possible. So all of this pressure that is added onto your plate by this crippling debt, if you can avoid it in any way, if you can avoid this debt, it's going to help your career in more ways than one. Not only is it going to help your bank account each and every month that you don't have a debt payment, it will also help your psychological state because you're much freer to move between jobs and to move up or move parallel to your current position without having to worry so much about how much you're going to be paid in that position. In other words, you can take a $10,000 pay cut if you're going to a job that you know you're going to love. And that's a little bit easier of a pill to swallow than if that is going to make all of your bills impossible to pay. Now, here's a slight kind of late disclaimer. I am not a financial expert. I highly recommend that you listen to orthogonal. This is a show on the SPEC network and they talk all about freelance and personal finances. This is something that absolutely every developer needs to learn more about how to handle your money and your money as it relates to your college loan debt is important to recognize the moment you decide to go to school and you need to start thinking about it well in advance as well. So if you do have to go into debt to go to school and if you're on the fence, if you had to go into a large amount of debt and you're on the fence about whether or not you want to go or you don't want to go, then I recommend you don't go to college. Now, if you could reasonably pay back all of your college loan debt in about four in a maximum six years, if you know that you want to go to school, I still recommend that you go. But you have to remain vigilant to pay back those loans, otherwise your career is always going to be stressed by that debt. In all cases, for people who decide that they do want to go to college, and this is ultimately your decision, just take this advice for what it is. If you decide that you want to go to college, whether it's following my advice or not, I recommend the following to you as well. If you do not have a scholarship, I recommend you do everything you can for at least a year, hopefully more if you're in high school, but spend at least a year, do everything you can for at least a year to pursue as many scholarship opportunities and save as much money as possible before going to school. While you are at school during those four years, I recommend that you freelance as much as possible during those four years of school, while still maintaining passing grades and good standing with your teachers and peers. In other words, if you have straight D's, then your teachers probably don't appreciate you. You're probably going to have a hard time networking and getting recommendations from those teachers. So freelance as much as possible while still being a good student is the point there. Remain vigilantly creative when it comes to your financial habits. For example, if you can find a way to get free or cheap housing on campus, I recommend that you take that opportunity. And finally, if you decide to go to college, do so in such a way that you can finish your degree in four years. Now again, you're hearing a lot of today's episode themed around the financial aspect of college. And here's why for the average person who goes to college, the experiences and the relationships that you can get by going to college are basically unparalleled anywhere else. Now this may not necessarily be true if you have a large network already available to you, particularly people who live in the San Francisco Bay area. You probably have a little bit more room to not go to college because you have a lot of people in that area who are also interested in development. And you can make connections with these people one-on-one connections. And they can introduce you to people who will help your career along. You have meetups that you can go to. All of these things are available to you in your actual geographic area. That's technically true online as well. You can do online meetups. You can connect with people online, but it's going to be much harder for you to actually move forward in your career than it would be for somebody in say the Bay area. So again, for the average person who is listening to this podcast, for the average person who wants to get a job in development, the relationships and the learning that you will gain by going to college is unparalleled in most other situations in your life. So the remaining things to determine this decision based on is going to be finances and time. And finances and time are ultimately connected. Four years, if you can't finish in four years, then your tuition is going to be another years worth of tuition, for example. So finances and time are very important to consider when you are trying to decide if you're going to go to school. Now, I want to take a quick sponsor break, and then we're going to come back and talk about Kevin's specific situation and then unpack some other things that I said, some of my recommendations, and hopefully give you some reasons as to why they are my recommendations right after our quick sponsor break to talk about a very familiar sponsor to the show, Linode. If you are a developer, you need access to some kind of cloud machine. This means a server in a cloud, right? And Linode has fantastic servers. They have SSD servers in the Linode cloud. They have eight data centers and they're playing star at just $10 a month, but in just a second, I'm going to tell you how you can get a good deal from Linode. You can get a server running in less than a minute on Linode. They have hourly billing and a monthly cap on all of their plans, all of their add-on services. You can run a private get server. You can run VMs for full control, pretty much anything that you want to do with a Linode server you can do. As of July 1st of this year, Linode started offering two gigabytes of RAM for their lowest tier. In other words, all of their servers have at least two gigabytes of RAM on them. It's an incredible deal. SSD storage, a 40 gigabit internal network, and they run on Intel E5 processors. So the performance is fantastic on Linode servers. Go and check it out. Linode is also offering you $20 of credit, $20 of credit, just for going to Linode.com slash Developer Tea. That's Linode.com slash Developer Tea. Use the code Developer Tea 20, check out to get your $20 of credit at Linode. Go and check it out Linode.com slash Developer Tea. Thank you again to Linode for sponsoring today's episode and so many episodes of Developer Tea. This year. Thank you again to Linode. Kevin, your situation is slightly different from, let's say, a student coming out of high school. Because I assume you're a few years in your career, you're a little bit older than a high school student would be. You actually have spent some time in school. Your situation is slightly different in that you decided to leave school because you were having trouble grasping the material. Now you're wondering if you should go back. For you specifically, I think the guidelines also should include that you sit down with an instructor or an advisor in the program that you want to go back to and have them evaluate your current skill set to determine if your skills are more suited to the program now that you've had a little bit more experience. Because the last thing that you want to do is go back and have the same problem that you had previously. Secondly, you have to 100% eliminate dropping out as an option. That's no longer an option if you decide to go back. Finishing college makes the investment in a single class significantly more valuable. And the reason for that is because it takes every single class, it takes all of your hours to add up to a degree. You don't get a degree, you don't unlock a degree with half of your hours. And you also don't get half of the benefits. You don't get half of a degree for half of the hours. Lastly, there's a bit of a paradox with your situation. Not only do you not get half of a degree, but your short period at school and your subsequent dropping out of college can actually work against you in an interview. As frustrating as it may be for you, Kevin, the perception of someone who has left school without finishing is very different from someone who followed through and finished the program for better or for worse. So here's the reality. The statistics still show that people who have degrees can get jobs a little bit easier. I'm currently working on a survey and I've had some people fill it out already, but the statistics on the survey are also showing that a large percentage of developers who are currently working, at least those that have taken the survey, a large percentage of them have degrees, at least a bachelor's degree or an associate's degree, and many of them also have an advanced degree beyond a bachelor's degree. Now, in the episode that Kevin mentioned, the one where I talked to Nick and Cody, my co-workers about design school, we go into some of the detail about why a degree is important. The relationships that you develop during your degree program are incredibly valuable to you. In fact, the reason I'm working at Whiteboard is because of the relationships that I developed during my experience in college. Kevin, my recommendation for you specifically is, as I've already said, try your best to go back to college with zero debt. Particularly for you, Kevin, if you can go back to college with zero debt, that's going to be incredibly valuable because you don't have to spend for more years to get your degree. You only have to spend whatever remaining time is necessary to finish up school. Kevin, I hope this has been helpful. I hope it has clarified some of your question about whether or not you should go back to college. The short answer is yes, and the longer answer is, understand your financial situation, understand the long game for your income. Take some time to run the numbers, take some time understanding the implications of this degree. Does it unlock potential for you? Most likely it does. In most cases, statistically, degrees do unlock potential. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Kevin. Thank you again for sending in your questions, and hopefully we'll get to your other question about your brand and when you know when your services are able to be sold, the quality of your services are able to be sold. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you again to today's sponsor, Linode. Remember you can get $20 of credit on Linode by going to Linode.com slash Developer Tea. Make sure you use the code Developer Tea 20. You can also go to spec.fm slash Linode. That's another link that will take you to the Linode platform. Thank you so much for listening to Developer Tea. If you're enjoying this episode, subscribe and whatever podcasting app you use. Thanks again and until next time, enjoy your tea.