05-28-2012 02:14 PM - last edited on 05-30-2012 01:41 PM by JordanG
I don't have a collage degree but have decided to peruse one. This means that I will not have nearly as much time for this forum but I will stop by as much as I can.
When I was about 14 years old (in 1978) I discovered the magic that happens when you cut a lamp cord, strip the wires, plug it in and touch the wires together. It became my favorite toy. I would tightly twist one conductor together and separate one strand at a time from the other. I found that this was the best way to get the electric firecracker effect without blowing a fuse. The single strand acts as the fuse.
I was always taking things apart to find out how they worked and I had to know what made the wire spark! I saved the money from mowing lawns and bought a DC electronics course from Radio Shack that came on cassette tapes. It started out with what electricity is and proceeded through Ohms Law with some crazy complex resistor network problems. I would spend hours studying it after school to the point that it was interfering with my homework. I had a pretty thorough understanding of how the electric firecracker worked.
After completing that course I bought the AC electronics course. It started out with how inductors and capacitors worked. I completely uderstood what made a capacitor hold a charge and had to have one! I got two coffee can lids and some duct tape. I had it in my head that I would charge it up and light a flashlight bulb with it. After making sure that the plates were not shorted I connected it to my lamp cord and plugged it in. Pow! I was confused because I made absolutely sure it was not shorted. I kept reading and it made complete sense that a capacitor would pass AC. I continued studying AC electronics and all the advanced math that goes with it. I was really getting good with math and was way ahead of anyone I knew in school.
Something happened in high school that quickly made me loose interest in completing the AC electronics course. I bought an Apple II computer. All of my energy was focused on finding out what made that work. I would go to the library and study all of the computer books that I could find. The Apple came with schematics but I needed to know what was in the chips. Initially I avoided the digital electronics subjects because I thought that was about calculators and clock radios because of their digital displays. Eventually I stumbled accross what digital electronics really is and spent hours studying Boolean Algebra. I had a solderless breadboard with a bunch of TTL gates, flip-flops, etc. I got very good at designing circuits by using Boolean Algebra and simplifying them then building them.
Then my high school had a course in digital electronics. We had a bunch of solderless breadboards and modules with TTL chips that had the symbols and pinouts silkscreened on them. There were debounced button modules, switch modules, LED modules and seven segment display modules. It was much like like a hardware version of LabVIEW with the modules being subVIs. I remember designing a circuit that would let me enter a two digit number on one breadboard and transmit that to a display on a second breadboard accross the room using one wire for clock and one wire for data.
All of this interfered with the rest of the stuff you are supposed to study in high school like reading, writing, civics, history. Those things were in my way but I did graduate - a year late.
Immediately after graduating high school in 1984 I joined the Army. My specialty was in radio communications. The Army has excellent schools and I did very well because I had a good head start on much of the electronics theory. I did radio calibration and repair to the component level. I did one four year term.
After I got out of the Army I didn't go to collage. I have worked full time since then. My first job was at a small radio service company that paid minimum wage. It was perfect because I was installing, calibrating and repairing much more modern radios. We did lots of things including repairing cellphones. Back when they costed $3,500 and the service was $.50 per minute, people would pay $50 per hour to have them repaird. We had contracts with various taxi companies, trucking companies, a couple of armored car companies, ambulance companies and the city. We would install equipment in new fire trucks, police cars and garbage trucks. Those stunk. We would do all the calibration and repairs. Oh yea and I would be on call for emergencies like when the 911 dispatch center radio went down. Talk about a high pressure minimum wage job - I was 911's 911! There were more than a few times that I would get a call at 1:00 in the morning and end up driving through the snow up some mountain to fix a blown transmitter on a repeater. I never complained about the pay. I looked at it more as getting paid to go to school. I learned more at that job than I ever did in the army. I don't mean just about electronics but also things like working under pressure. It was much more pressure than the Army (there were no wars when I was in). Imagine having the fire department commander yelling at you when you are trying to get the dispatch center back in communications with his stations while there are calls coming in about a forest fire. True story.
After about five years there I quit to take a technician job that payed about five times more at a pretty big electronics company that designed pagers. For six years I was board out of my mind. There was absolutely no challenge.
After cheaper cell phones caused that company to close down I took about six months off then went back to work as a technician for a huge company where I still work today. I have been there for over eleven years and have no plans on leaving. Although it is nowhere near as challenging as my first job I am fine with the better pay and no midnight calls telling me that I need to get the police departments trunked repeater working again so they can communicate with dispatch. It is where I learned LabVIEW and I get to spend a lot of time with it.
Wow. I have written a lot more than I planned on and kudos if you are still reading.
After reading the link to the job opening at SpaceX for a LabVIEW programmer position I became very disturbed about something. One of the requirements is a BS degree. The only collage credits that I have are thirty credits in Russian at a community collage back in 1998. I have no plans of ever leaving my current job. I like it but it kind of sucks that I don't have the option of getting that particular job at SpaceX if I wanted to. Also I am a technician and wish to become an engineer with my current employer.
Which brings me to...
I have decided to pursue a collage degree. It is going to be tough working full time and doing this but I am going to do it. I have forgotten much of the advanced math that I learned while I was supposed to be studying in high school but I am sure it will come back. I have not decided if I want to get an EE degree or a computer science degree.
I am thinking that I want to do as much as possible online but I could do some night/weekend classes at the community collage here. I almost enrolled in the University of Phoenix but backed away for now. My company will pay the full tuition and I need to make sure UOP is qualified. I have since heard that Devry is one of the few places where you can get an EE degree completely online.
Did any of you get a degree while working full time or well after high school? Are those online degrees valid? I mean if you were hiring someone would you keep looking if you saw a degree from Devry or University Of Phoenix? Does anyone without a degree mind confessing? It is pretty embarrasing for me to admit that I do not have one but writing all of this just solidifies my desire. I am very lucky to have a boss that is totally behind this and a company that will pay for it. I only wish that I would have started years ago.
05-28-2012 04:51 PM
Good job, Steve. Your CV imposes a higher qualification degree than the one you just have.
As far as I can say you do not need to care about the class (Devry or University Of Phoenix) you will take:
You have practiced on your job for so many years that your qualification will not get in doubt. However, when applying to another company there might come up the question why you did it that late. (A copy of your post should fully answer this question.)
According to german rules, you should have sent your application to that job. Your application would have been rejected if someone insists in the BS - so there was nothing to lose.
My CV is quite boaring because I did one step after another. A couple of my friends started late getting additional qualifications for their job - and they did not face any disadvantages.
05-28-2012 05:37 PM
Steve Chandler wrote:[...]Did any of you get a degree while working full time or well after high school? Are those online degrees valid? I mean if you were hiring someone would you keep looking if you saw a degree from Devry or University Of Phoenix? Does anyone without a degree mind confessing? It is pretty embarrasing for me to admit that I do not have one but writing all of this just solidifies my desire. I am very lucky to have a boss that is totally behind this and a company that will pay for it. I only wish that I would have started years ago.
Yes, I got my BSME 17 years after graduating high school (I was working full-time and taking five courses per year). The degrees are certainly valid in that I've found that employers are looking for a degree almost as an afterthought once they decide that you're qualified. My current employer called me, after my interview, to tell me that my resume didn't list any college and ask if I had a degree. I got the impression that they just needed to check a box.
I give you Kudos for making the effort, but it seems that you could put all that time and effort into something more meaningful than fulfilling a requirement made by people less capable than you are. Write a book or start a business or develop that invention you've had in mind (you know you have at least one).
05-28-2012 06:49 PM
I know a few guys who took paths similar to yours (although with slightly less explosive inclinations!). Thanks for writing. The whole picture you created with that post tells a lot about who you are. Keep a copy. It might make a good resume substitute for sme jobs. Some thoughts in random order:
- The degree is more important for the doors it opens than for what it takes to get it. If you wait until the door behind you has closed, it may be a long time before that next one opens.
- Engineering can be a wonderful career. Some engineering jobs are as bad as the worst jobs you have had while others may make you excited to go to work every day.
- A good technician with the "I gotta know how it works" attitude will probably make a good engineer, although some employers will hate to lose a good technician.
- I have never seen a technician get a degree and then succeed as an engineer at the same company. See the employer comment above.
- An engineer who was a technician first usually has a much better appreciation for the practical things about the profession. Like designs which can be manufactured and maintained.
- One of the hidden advantages of going through a formal degree program is that all those courses you did not care about or want to take ("like reading, writing, civics, history") actually have value in filling in little gaps. I still find occasionally that something to which I was exposed 40+ years ago is enriching my life.
- A degree from a bricks and mortar college may be somewhat better at opening doors than online wallpaper. This may be changing, but remember that unless you will be working for the next Facebook, most of the hiring managers got degrees at conventional schools. They may tend to look down on Devry and U of Phoenix. You do not need the lab experience (they should probably have you teach it), but lack of hands on opportunities is one of the things that hurts those places' reputations.
- Talk to any schools within commuting distance of where you live to see which one(s) might consider your background to be valuable. With your ability to self motivate and learn on your own you will want to find some place where you fit comfortably.
- Plan on taking about 10 years to get a degree while working full time. Even though you already know a lot, there will be just enough gaps in your background that you will likely need to take almost all of the courses. Definitely ask if you can test out of low level courses. Then spend some time with the book to see what you do not know before taking the tests.
- Discuss the demands on your time with family or significant other before committing.
- Learn to proofread: "I don't have a collage degree but have decided to peruse one." Spell checker will not flag these kinds of errors. There are lots of engineers out there who cannot write and some professors who do not care, but an opening line like that on a cover letter would move your application to the bottom of my list. If I bothered to read the rest of the letter, you would probably be a favored candidate based on experience and ability. Communication may be as important as technical skills. A technician builds, tests, or repairs things. An engineer produces documents - the design from which the technician or factory builds things. If the document is not accurate, the engieer's product has no value.
I hope you continue with your pursuit of an education. You are the kind of student I liked to have in my classes, the kind of technician I liked to have working for me, and could be the kind of engineer I would like working with me.
05-28-2012 06:51 PM - edited 05-28-2012 06:55 PM
Lynn provided excellent advice.. Not here's a different set of advice.. Twisted, maybe? But intended to be positive.
Appreciate what you are.
Although they are desirable and often a requirement, Degrees do not get you jobs. The right skillset and attitude does. Had you not shared your story, there was no way for any of us to know what your educational background was. And how I "see" you has not changed; although I do admire your curiosity..
I know many people with PhD's in Engineering who are either unemployed or gave up with engineering. It is sad, but a reality. I will have a side story at the bottom.
That being said... If you want to get a degree, then I recommend you do so. But do it for you. Not for any other expectation.
A degree may not get you in Space-X. That job is tempting, but I probably do not qualify because I live a bit too far north..
If you do want to get a degree, you should look at your personality and what speaks to you. And what "speaks to you" will change. Take courses that will fulfill your curiosity or challenge you to push the enveloppe. There has to be a fun factor, otherwise, if you study for the sake of a degree and get bored, you might become dissappointed.
I do believe in education. Life has taught me that the level of education is not directly proportional with revenue. Many "dropouts" make w-a-y more $$ than people with degrees. And that's ok.. It's all relative. And there should not be judgement against that. THe other thing I believe in is honesty. To quote Billy Joel: "honesty is such a lonely word..."
Just be yourself. Your life experience is worth something. If you want to go to Space-X, give it a try. Tell them to check your abilities on this forum. Just be ready to move if you do not live in California.. Let life surprise you. Appreciate what you are... You are a very good programmer (in LabVIEW). You should be proud of that. I'm sure you are good / excellent at many things. You probably know more than many people who have (or claim to have) degrees.
--- side story ---
We're adding a patio to the back of our house. I needed to know how deep we could go before hitting bedrock. So I asked a neighbor who has a bigger Kubota with a backhoe to dig a hole for me. The neighbor's dad (who owns the tractor) came over. I discovered that he was a retired RF Engineer who worked at Nortel and a few other hitech companies. He told me that everyone thinks he only worked on heavy equipment throughout his life. He loves heavy equipment. After Nortel and a couple of other startups with local hitech gurus, he decided to drive a city bus. People thought he was a bus driver all his life. The man has many interesting stories.. But the best one is that he says that he doesn't care what people think. He enjoys doing whatever he happens to be doing. I have to agree with him.. I do not know what I will be doing in the next 5 years. But I do know that I will be having fun. Life is not limited to software. Heck.. I might take cooking lessons and become a chef. I love fine foods and cook without the use of salt. I am sharing this because what I am trying to say is that our educational background does not dictate what we are (or who we are). They are tools in our toolbox of life.
Live long and prosper - Spock
05-28-2012 08:38 PM
Thanks everyone. Yes I do need to work on the spelling and spell checkers only make it worse
My intention is not so I can work at SpaceX. There are probably lot's of jobs that I could not get because I lack a degree. I may be qualified but overlooked.. It would be nice to know that I could get some of these cool jobs if I wanted to even though I would not apply if that makes any sense. I like what I do and where I work. I am an engineering technician who writes lots of LabVIEW code. I think it is possible that I could continue in my current position but with the title of validation engineer if I get a degree. Writing LabVIEW is only part of what I do and the other part is in the lab. It's a great mix that I could continue even with an engineering title.
The SpaceX LabVIEW job is simply what got me started in thinking about this. I have seriously been considering it and the real reason is mostly for me. Plus the fact that my employer will pay for it as long as I maintain good grades is a real plus.
05-29-2012 04:29 AM
I have a University degree, but all of my academic qualifications - up to and includng my degree - aren't fantastic. Average grades and a saturation of young people holding degrees in the country make it difficult to stand out.
Engineering, however, is one of the few disciplines where experience trumps academia right from the word 'go'. I have always had my foot in the door of an engineering career from an early age, practicing experience in summer vacation jobs and documenting home projects. That's not to say that the process of formal teaching is wasted, but there is a critical perception of knowledge and applied knowledge in the engineering field.
When a recruiter or employer is given a stack of 2 page CVs/resumes, checking the qualifications and removing those without higher education is a quick way to cut the pile. By putting my work experienece first I force them to take a note of what I can do rather than what I may have been taught to do. My academic record is right down the bottom of my CV, before the references section. Recruiters like to rearrange (and sometimes add to) CVs, and I always send mine as a PDF to make it harder to change, and then insist they are forwarded as-is. This format has always worked for me and I have always received interview calls based on my work experience and further interests.
You mention the validation of a degree to progress to being an engineer. In the UK, applying to be a Chartered Engineer is taken purely on merit. Having a degree does certainly make it easier, as there is an assumed level of knowledge. I have the 'wrong' type of degree though - A Bachelors rather than a Masters. Whether the candidate holds a degree or not, they are required to present themselves to be peer reviewed in order to be assessed on depth of knowledge in their field. If they make the cut, they receive their reccommendation.
All that being said; a part time college course will certainly teach new stuff, and remind you of what you have forgotten. You seem to have made you mind up about pursuing a degree, but if your big wodge of text up the top were condensed and concise, then I can see no good reason that 30 years of experience would be overlooked due to a lack of a degree. Don't let it get you down.
05-29-2012 05:32 AM
This post was really worth the read!
If you are willing to do something, just do it!
I met an engineer, he has worked in the farming industry for some time (he was a technician) then he decided to be an automation engineer. He worked his hands to the bone (every single night having two kids) and he's a project manager now. God knows that a degree makes a difference in France, but my opinion is that his dedication are more valuable than every degree from another University.
05-29-2012 08:13 AM
"Young man take a look at my life,..."
I earned my degrre 23 years* after graduating from high school.
my mother would never let me use anything that plugged into the wall but I played the same game with out of date lantern batteries.
I learned my basic electronics from the manual my dad had from the Air Force.
Worked as a technician and eventually worked my way up to District Support Engineer at DEC. When I got layed-off (along with 20K others) I found myself only qualified for technician jobs since I lacked a degree. After taking Algebra I at night to see if I could handle the work, I quit my job and went to school full-time and earned my degree.
My wife and I agree it was of the best investments we ever made.
"Everything I neede to know in life I learned in kindergarten" comes to mind because all of the importnat skills I use regularly I learned as technician. College lets me "talk to anyone" on any subject.
So the degree did open doors for me. But degrees are a lot like cerifications for LV. They may not prove you know everything but they do show you have been through a lot. Your work experience is also proof that you have been through a lot.
Combine your experieince with a degree and you will be a kick-butt engineer.
Go fo it!
* I had to wait for spell-checkers to be invented.