Tech apprenticeship is the new CS degree

The digital economy has the potential to open up opportunities for millions. This reality has become possible only in the last few years.

When I entered the IT industry in the 1990’s, the market was much different than today. The world-wide-web existed but companies really had not adopted it yet. Enterprise software and corporate IT were surrounded by high walls. You needed CS  degrees, expensive certifications and software licenses just to “learn”.  This put individuals in a catch 22:  you needed employer sponsorship to support the learning;  you needed the learning to support getting a job with the employer.  

Walls started to crumble

I distinctly remember the first big crack in the wall came with the Y2K crisis.  At that time, every company needed an army of COBOL and RGB programmers. They also needed people to replace the networking equipment and servers that their companies were buying while the tax benefits were good. DeVry and Chubb jumped in and offered affordable apprentice-style IT training programs for people who would have been locked out of the new economy.  This provided the ability to get a decent paying tech job. I have many friends who went through those programs. They are still thriving in well paying IT jobs today.

The crack became a bigger hole with expansion of the world wide web and the availability of more open source programming languages and numerous online training sites.  Within 10 years, it broke wide open: general purpose web collaboration tools like Youtube and Github and made it free to learn any technology you wished. Getting matched to opportunities that knew you could apply the skills was still the rub though.

I have been blessed with a prosperous career in I/T, tech, digital (call it what you wish).  I’ve met countless folks whose Computer Science degrees offered zero preparation for the development of business applications and websites that awaited them.  When asked, they typically give a common set of answers about what would have helped them:

  • Real problems to solve
  • An opportunity to learn directly from other people
  • Ability to learn on the job
  • Subsidy of their education so they should put more time into their jobs instead of worrying about tuition bills

New opportunities for everyday people

I’m encouraged by a new generation of firms that facilitate apprenticeship, particularly in geographies not necessarily blessed with a large number of firms to drive mass employment. It will be exciting to watch how firms like Techtonic and Catalyte can build talent pools of hard working Americans in locations were you can afford to live well at a fraction of coastal housing prices.  




Who pays the bill for eliminating net neutrality? You and me.

When I started my career, I was not certain that I wanted to be a technologist. I took a job with a higher education publisher because I thought that books and education were cool. My experience there excited me about software development and I took on a voracious appetite to learn how to build software.
Complicated Computer Code
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
What was interesting about this time was that you couldn’t just decide you wanted to learn how to program as an adult, at least not easily. This was because most of the software programming languages actually cost a significant amount of money to buy, as did the books and courses to learn how, even if you could get access.  There were several enormous barriers to entry in the way of prospective developers including: money, status, and corporate sponsorship, all before hard work.  Then there was bandwidth: even if you could get the other parts to line up, you still had to go home to a dial-up internet service provider and try to pull down whatever content you were lucky enough to find over a small pipe.
This all changed when the world wide web started to roll out in full force.  Soon people were publishing courses on how to program different languages. Not long after that, we started to see more powerful software like programming languages and operating systems get open sourced.  This was the beginning of a new kind of free culture that was put on hyper-speed once broadband internet made its way into homes and schools.
Along with these developments came the ability for any average person to get an idea and learn how to implement and distribute it freely and quickly.  Sure, you still needed access to computers and networks, but the price of these had been driven down so much that it was virtually free to innovate with little up front investment.
The specter of the repeal of net neutrality runs the risk of taking us back to a different time.  This would be one where access could be throttled for those who cannot afford the same fee structure.  I’ve forgotten what it was exactly like to try and pull down file archives from a dial-up bulletin board, but I remember it being awful. 
Net neutrality was the concept that all content should be treated equally by internet providers based on consumer choice.  This implied that delivery and content should be separate in order to keep organizations from favoring their own content.   
The Master Switch by Tim Wu is the authoritative text on the subject. It was eye opening when it was published 7 years ago, and slightly more terrifying now. We’ve been watching convergence of bandwidth, content and copyright happen at a speed that we have never seen before, and now, the lobbying pressure has been put on full blast for the FCC to eliminate Net Neutrality provisions. 
I don’t want to go back to a world where information is expensive. Where its hard to create new things because you simply cannot afford the tools. I hope you don’t either.
Do what’s in your power to get educated on net neutrality and the battle for the open web. Talk to your friends, relatives and congressional representatives.  The cable companies and wireless firms are utilities that provide a public service and should be treated as such.  Putting velvet ropes around the best parts of the web will not accomplish anything other than slow our productivity and stifle innovation.