October 19, 2011

If you’re learning a lot in class, you’re doing it wrong.

I recently spoke with a student majoring in Computer Science who was interested in working for my company. When I asked if he understood a particular concept, he told me he hadn’t taken that class yet.

I understand learning about English composition in a class on that subject, or even picking up some physics in Physics 101. But learning about the subject you’re majoring in, and the field in which you hope to make a living, in a classroom? There is a better way.

You only get a few hours a week in the classroom. Don’t waste them trying to understand something new. You have the textbook, the syllabus, the library, and the Internet. Read ahead! Use the precious little time with a professor to have something explained a second way and to ask the questions that remain after you’ve already absorbed the basics. Understand the big picture, be familiar with the vocabulary, and impress your instructor with your advanced comprehension and thirst for knowledge.

Better yet, skip the first batch of classes in your major. The first few classes are designed for people who know nothing about the subject. They’re easy to test out of, and a waste of your tuition dollars to take. Every slot you free up at the front end is a more advanced class or elective you can take on the back end, increasing the value of your tuition and distinguishing your otherwise predictable transcript.

“Everything in software changes every three years,” the student told me in the course of our conversation.

True. So why would I hire someone whose primary education was in a classroom? Three years out of school they’ll be out of date. I want to hire people who have demonstrated that they can learn and grow on their own, who used their classroom time not to be introduced to new subjects, but to consult an expert and to supplement their self-education.

Comments

  1. Mark :

    Im glad to see that there are industry leaders who see things this way. I went to community college and read ahead, read other books, watched videos and learned what interested me. In the classes I loved my professors encouraged me to lead discussions because I made myself an expert on them.
    Eventually I discovered that I was spending my money to learn things my teachers didn’t even know. So I quit. I started learning more of what interested me, the Internet came along and I was no longer bound to Brittanica and Encarta. I surrounded myself with people who knew what I wanted to know and read everything I could so I could ask better questions.
    That was the key, educating myself so I could ask better questions, the best questions.
    We need more lessons on being a learner and less ingest and regurgitation courses. We need people with power and influence to change the way our children learn.

  2. In the mid 70′s I wanted to be a programmer. Before my first class I bought the book and did every exercise in the book, took a box of printouts/keypunch cards, and turned it in the first day ( I was a computer operator on a mainframe that had the appropriate compilers ) – the instructor was a fresh graduate and did not know the language… I became his assistant and helped others through the class, and through the next 2 languages the same way. (RPG, COBOL, FORTRAN)… My career took me through 37 more languages … All without taking another class… Don’t wait on th class to give you the skill!

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