Monday, June 16, 2008

Get Thee To A College, Son!

Figured I'd start by picking apart VA's posts and then maybe I'll generate some ideas of my own. Before I get my ass sued for blog-stalking or something, let me say I'm doing it for LilProgrammer's benefit. He has read all of VA and she is apparently his new hero, which I think is pretty cool for a 15-year-old. I've read most of the site; there are some posts I actively agree with; then, there are others that I just as actively disagree with. Like I said, I've seen most of the site and V's background is impressive. The woman has been through a lot. Heck, I thought I'd been through a lot, but I'm not even close. The only person in our family that comes anywhere close is my Mom. My Mom was four years old when WWII came to her town, she was evacuated on the same day with her daycare class, and lived in an orphanage with her sister for a year before their mother found them. And they lived through three more years of war after that. And her father never came back from that war. And there is more to that story, but she'll probably kill me if I share it on an open blog. Compared to that, I've lived a sheltered life. But, given long enough time, even the most sheltered person will experience enough shit. I am no exception. I won't say more as my family members are involved. But you'll find some stuff if you browse through my archives.

Basically, this is my attempt to turn to LilProgrammer and say, Yes, this is what V says, but this is how I see it. In my forty-one years in two countries, this is how I've seen it work, so, from my experience, I disagree. Because, as we all know, teenagers love reading their parents' blogs.

Anyway, LilProgrammer and I have had an ongoing argument for the last three-ish or so years. LilProgrammer wants to be, as you may guess, a programmer. He has the brain for it. He has the work ethics. He has the programming skills. All of the above are better than mine. I have the attention span of a five-year-old on a sugar high. He works hard in school and gets good grades. Hold on a minute till I re-read this last sentence because it's like balm on my wounds. All my hard work and dedication and faith in my children, finally paying off. Ahhhh. Okay, I'm back. Here's the problem, though.

LilProgrammer firmly believes he doesn't need to go to college.

I’m ashamed to admit I'm hoping and praying for peer pressure. I figure, when all his friends start sending out applications, he will see the light. But then I remind myself, when did LilProgrammer ever want to emulate his peers?

Anyway, in this post on VA LilProgrammer's POV is validated. Sort of. The problem with all sweeping generalizations is, they do not apply to all of us. It might have done V a world of good not to start college right out of high school. Our situation is different. I have two main points to prove it.

1. Our family sucks at selling.

Notice the beginning of V's post where she talks about her entrepreneurial experience, starting at age nine. Here's where our family is different. We cannot sell. We could not sell ice cream in the desert to save our lives. I know, because we've tried, and we've tried hard.

Back in Russia, after the birth of LilProgrammer, I promptly lost my job. The correct term was, I was told to remain on unpaid maternity leave indefinitely, but that's splitting hairs really. Before that, I used to bring home more than Mr. Goldie. I was good at my work, I still had the energy, and I could learn a new programming language in a weekend. I was given all sorts of raises and perks and attractive new projects with loads of potential. Then I got my ass pregnant and that was the end of my amazing programming career in the 90's Russia.

I found myself a thankless part-time job as a secretary. That was the best I could do in our small town, where jobs were scarce, with a toddler on my hands that had not started daycare yet. In addition to that, I tried selling some of the stuff we had accumulated over the past few years.

It was a royal disaster.

I remember one winter day when I sat in the town marketplace from morning till dark, surrounded by sewing machines, pots and pans and LPs and books and who knows what else, trying to sell that shit. I sat there all freakin day, froze miserably, and did not sell a single item. Towards the end of the day, a cop approached me. Turned out there was some kind of fee I had to pay for using the marketplace for the day. The cop looked at my unsold possessions, asked how my sales were doing, chuckled and left without charging me anything. I ended up unloading all the stuff at various second-hand stores. They paid me small amounts. That was the best I could do.

Our next sales stint took place when we were packing to leave for America. This time, I tried a different approach. I made a list of what we needed to sell, mostly furniture. Then right under that, I added another list of things that we were giving away for free, mostly toys and books and, I'm guessing, LPs. I then posted the full list on every billboard and telephone pole in town. My genius idea went something like this - people would come in for the free stuff, see our amazing furniture, and, not being able to resist, they'd buy it. This was the 90's Russia, in a small town, where every other adult was unemployed and most of the general population had problems putting food on the table. But hey, to my inner entrepreneur, it seemed worth a try.

The next morning, two preteen boys knocked on our door, asking:

"Is this where the free stuff is?"

This was the first float of the Great Parade of Freeloaders. We spent all day answering the door. People were coming in droves, taking the free items, and complaing about their size, color, and general wear and tear as they carried our things out the door. Not one person bought anything. Eventually we sold most of our furniture to our neighbor next door. We had been keeping it a secret from her that we were leaving. She found out by accident. Her son had just gotten married and needed furniture for his new family nest. We had no idea. If this does not tell you how badly we suck at selling stuff, then I don't know how to convince you.

We do not sell. We do not have the skills. We could have the best furniture, LPs, sewing machines, ideas, books, programs, what have you, and we won’t be able to sell them for any amount because we can't. We suck as entrepreneurs and our children have both inherited that massive suckage. I defy LilProgrammer to prove me wrong by showing me anything he has ever sold for any amount. We are doomed to be 9-to-5 workers. As sucky as it sounds to an ambitious teenager, there are worse things in life, such as being unemployed and broke. I've been both and I'll take 9-to-5 over it any day. As such, college is the right place for us.

2. We make our living by learning new things. College teaches you to learn new things.

Granted, I do not have an American college education. Both Mr. Goldie and I did, however, get a math degree from one of the top schools in the former Soviet Union. Luckily for us, our education was free. I'm just throwing it in here to explain the "top school" part to a local reader, otherwise he'll be left wondering how in heck we could afford it. We learned a lot of random stuff in our five years of schooling, including but not limited to functional analysis, differential equations, mathematical physics, Algol-68 programming, and hardware and operational system of an IBM mainframe. I couldn't remember any of this stuff today if you paid me. In my on-and-off-almost-twenty-year career, I never used any of them and I never needed to. Sometime around our fourth year of school, we the students finally backed one of our professors up against a wall and asked the question - why on earth are we studying all this if we're never going to need it in real life? Wouldn't we be better served learning C (not C++, it didn't exist yet) and personal computers instead? Shouldn't we spend our time learning the latest technology? This was the year when the height of the latest technology was Pac-man.

The professor calmly replied that the school's goal was not to stuff us with a certain amount of knowledge, facts and skills necessary to do our job. That part was up to us. The goal of the school, on the other hand, was to teach us how to learn. Looking back, it is indeed a more useful skill than knowing how to program a Pac-man game.

Remember when I said I used to be able to pick up a new programming language in a weekend?

That's what college teaches you. And in our profession, that's a life-or-death skill. Either you have it, or you lose your job to a kid in India that does. If LilProgrammer wants to code for a living, he needs to understand that and follow through by applying to a nice state university his parents can actually afford.

As a bonus fact, Mr. Goldie and I met in college and have been more or less happily married for over sixteen years. You can count it as an argument for or against college education. It's really up to you.

The Goldie has spoken at 5:48 PM

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