October 22nd, 2005


On Being a College Dropout

Approximately 18 months ago, I was a student at University of Illinois. I was studying Computer Science, living at Allen Hall. I was in a long distance relationship with Jessica Allan, and was working for the most part on LiveJournal related code, having just started getting interested in the Semantic Web. I was broke as a joke, living at home when I wasn't at school, and had no expectations of my future or future employment status. I had relatively limited social standing, and was doing my best to tread water.

Today, I am gainfully employed by a seemingly well-funded internet startup, doing work I enjoy. I have a great family, and despite all the problems I may have had in my personal life recently, I'm happy. I'm paying down the debts I have, and have been receiving contacts for further work spawning from my current employment. I've created and redesigned my website to act as a marketing piece for my skills, successfully, and have established myself in a lifestyle that I enjoy in the middle of a great city, with great people. I'm parenting two kids (relatively successfully, even) and maintaining a household with the help of the family and friends around me.

What changed?

I dropped out of school. I was no longer bounding my creativity by the work that was assigned to me in order to get me to "learn" -- I was now generating output that was fueled by my interests, rather than by the interests of an educational system which in large part was trying to output me to fit into the assembly line model they had. I was doing what I wanted, and my creativity and output were increased greatly as a result.

First I was doing PHP development for wedü, which taught me so much about the language that I wouldn't have otherwise learned. I got valuable experience there that I would recommend for anyone: doing a relatively menial task for your first year out of school, so long as it's in your chosen field, can be an extremely helpful thing in creating a broad set of base skills... or deciding you really don't like it. In the process, I also learned business skills that I consider very valuable. It taught me a lot about management, and as with all jobs, it occasionally taught me some things about mis-management, both on my part and on the part of my coworkers. I learned how to interact with clients in a business setting (which is very different from a retail setting, which is where I had been before). It also taught me that I never have any plans to work in full-scale marketing long term: it's not a place where I want to be if I can avoid it.

Then, I did freelance work for a couple months. Creating your own rates and hours is extremely hard work, especially when you have no experience with it. I learned some about contracting, about finding clients, and about the powerful marketing tools that you can create by simply doing nifty things and letting people find them. I learned that you can't expect money when people say you're going to get it, and you need to ensure that you save for the future when you're doing contracting, because there will be times when you don't have the income that you need.

Now, I'm working on contract to Ning. I have an absolutely amazing boss, a great job, and I've got good people to work with. I'm working with the best and the brightest in the PHP business, and I'm doing something that's fun. I'm making money, I'm having the time of my life, and my boss is sending me to dinner at Craigie Street Bistrot tonight. I have contacts looking for more work outside of my contract (in my oh-so-copius free time) and I'm encouraged to come up with new features for existing applications on Ning and build them. Bugs in code are fixed in a matter of hours, I get daily recaps of what's going on and the oppourtunity to make clear what I need as a developer to make my life easier, and all in all, everything just works out great.

The reason that I got this job is entirely because of my website and my weblog, the latter something I've started only since I left school and was able to spend the time I wanted on my own projects. Dropping out of school was the right decision for me to make at the time, because otherwise I was not doing what I wanted.

I believe that rather than just assuming that everyone should go to school, parents and students alike should take a look at things: Do you have a strong desire to expand upon and learn more about what you're doing in school? Is it your interest, to the point that you throw your whole self into it out of enjoyment, rather than neccessity? If you don't, I think you're doing the wrong thing. If you can not make yourself participate to the fullest extent of your abilities in whatever you're doing, then you should look into finding a way to change what you're doing until you can.

I did, and it got me where I am today, where I couldn't be happier.

Think about it.

Marx in SOHO

I'm strongly considering going to Marx in SOHO early next week.

The first thing that caught my eye was "Q & A with Zinn" -- From People's History, I've always loved Zinn, and to even just be able to say I'd met him would be really cool to me.

Ashley! Erin! If you were to sit down with Zinn, or meet him, what would be the first thing you would ask? Should I just stare in awe? :)

I love living in Boston.