Thursday, January 13, 2011

Could Apprenticeship Become the New Career Path into Software Engineering??

Recently, my oldest son embarked on the path to become a software engineer just like dear old dad. Mind you, he has his goals set for the Game Design industry but which of my peers has not dreamed that dream at some point in their college career? I wish him luck in that very competitive industry.

What really struck me, however, was just how much more expensive it is to get a degree now a days in engineering and computer science. I think I payed about $60,000 dollars for my degree in the 80's but my son is going to end up paying something like $175,000 to $200,000 by the time he graduates. That is more than three times as much as I paid. Is he getting three times the education and just how long will it take for him to pay off his student loans? Will he still be paying off the equivalent of a house when he goes to buy his first house?

What of those kids who have the talent for computer science but can't raise the money or don't want to go into a single family home's worth of debt to get a degree just realize their dreams of being a career coder?

What about apprenticeship? I have worked with many undergraduates over the years as interns and many of them are extremely talented. Often times they pick up more career focused skills working in industry than they ever do in college. Some even stayed with the company well past their internships and had successful careers within software engineering without degrees. Could this talent be harnessed into a successful business model and provide a successful career path for these students?

Imagine if there was a startup company based on a core of experienced engineers that took on consulting work but staffed their teams with willing but inexperienced high school graduates? Built into this program was dedicated daily training for the staff as well as engagement in an active software development projects. It might even be possible to engage a local community collage for some of the training required. If a rigorous selection process were used to choose candidates you would get the energy, ideas and motivation of youth and the cost of their salary and training could be integrated into your consulting contract's cost for less than the cost of an experienced professional. Your business partner would get the assurance of the experienced staff member on the team and also the knowledge that choosing your company was almost the equivalent of providing a scholarship at the same time as meeting his or her business needs.

This approach would be both beneficial to the company and incredibly useful to jumpstart the apprentice's career. With about two years this person could use their education to enter the workspace with a resume significant enough to work in the field or use the credits the program gave them to pursue a degree if they felt that was their next step.

Admittedly, this is almost the mirror image of modern COOPerative education but if the education has been priced well beyond it's career building market value, perhaps this could be the future or even a winning business model able to educate young people and let them earn money and learn as they go while also being a profitable business.

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