Skip navigation

I’ve had about 5 years of experience as a professional network analyst and systems developer, but without the academic background of a college degree.  I was afforded the opportunity to learn my “trade” through directed hands-on training; sometimes it was in a classroom setting, sometimes it was on-the-job.

I’ve just completed my first week of full-time college after these 5 years, and i’m finding my initial reaction to be much less loathsome than I expected.  I’ve been thinking about whether or not tunnel-vision vendor training is actually worthwhile in the face of an extremely technical field, and I’m really starting to see the two accomplish different feats.

Vendor training: a directed, tutorial based approach designed to pass on a defined set of skills.

College training: an intellectually challenging approach to passing on the skill of learning how to learn about whatever it is you choose to learn about… also some directed, tutorial based approaches designed to pass on a defined set of skills.

Seems really dumb, but in reality, the difference between the two: time

It seems to me, at first glance, that the amount of time between topics in college is at once both short and long.  On any given class, on any given week, you may cover three distinct topics. Density may vary, but this can be fairly challenging, even though the amount of time between topics is sufficiently distanced (24-72 hours between topics).

In vendor training, I’ve had what one might consider a years worth of masters level education in 3 months, 8am-5pm, monday through friday.  Yes, it is as painful as it sounds.  However, the focus required to successfully pass and apply the skills being learned is nothing to scoff at.  It’s something a student accustomed to college life would likely have trouble with.

I would submit that while the two approaches are similarly effective for learning a base of knowledge and mastering a set of techniques, the two approaches produces very dissimilar people (as a general rule, not a definitive one).

The college approach to teaching these topics is enrichment based, which means a wide variety of topics are being introduced simultaneously (4 classes + 3 topics per week per class = 12 topics per week), allowing free-flowing thought to connect (or not connect) them on an individual basis.  Application of said skills may or may not be a priority, as long as they are able to prove they can comprehend the underlying concepts.  This is why you have some computer science undergrads who obtain their degree, but never learn to apply their knowledge effectively (otherwise known as “program their way out of a paper bag”).

The vendor training approach to teaching these topics will produce a person who can competently reproduce the results of a skill they learned, and MAYBE expand the application of these skills beyond the realms of what they were taught.   This means we can enjoy effective analysis of a pre-defined set of data, but if we introduce new data or a restructured version of the same data, we’ll have to retrain the analyst (to some extent) to perform essentially the same task.

Now that said, I don’t believe it is valid to surmise a college graduate will be more valuable that the vendor trained professional in the long run.  A person with years of on-the-job experience gained during the time a student spends in college will be immediately, and sometimes profoundly, influential when pointed at solving problems they have become adept in.

On the flip side, it would also be invalid to suggest a vendor trained professional is a replacement for the average college student.  While there is a number of work-habit factors to consider, and a potential for natural pre-disposition to develop said work habits regardless of background, it is clearly truthful to say the average college graduate will research a problem more effectively and more reliably than the average vendor trained individual. (I’m speaking of legitimately earned degrees, not fraudulent degrees earned through cheating or other dishonest methods.)

While it is possible for a vendor trained individual to obtain similar research skills, the path to reach it is clearly… well… unclear.  They are likely being taught by people who have developed or learned this skill, but they are not often being taught the same process of critical thinking.  The culminates in vendor trained analysts believing their jobs are easy, and that they could be replaced by monkeys.

For those of you who identify with this last statement, I can assure you that your job is neither easy, nor replicable my monkeys.  For one thing, monkeys don’t bitch about how much they hate their jobs.

We’ll continue this dialogue later…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *