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Help choosing education path

  1. Mar 23, 2015 #1
    First post, but have seen some great information while lurking. Here is the situation.

    I am 35. I dropped out of high school and entered the IT world at age 17. I went back and got my GED at 25 (got tired of lying on applications!). I have always had gainful employment.

    I work in telecom these days. I had an interesting path getting there.

    Tech support --> Prov system support --> application prod support --> application tester --> lead tester --> application design engineer/analyst --> finally sitting at high level tech engineer/architect.

    I have been with my company for over 8 years. I have cultivated good relationships. I earn over 84k a year which is really good for my area and education level.

    Here is the bad stuff. For the first time ever in my career and life I am overwhelmed. I have tribal knowledge and a very large breadth of our companies systems due to my varied background. I know i contribute in a meaningful way. I am constantly furthering myself with training in relevant areas. I have unique skills in being able to examine issues keeping the entire enterprise and customer in mind. However i want to do more. I am also afraid of having to move on outside of my company as my only worth would be in my experience and personal skills.

    I have three kids and my job is pretty hectic. So here is the actual ask:

    Do i grab some paltry degree to say i have one and work on independent telecom training programs? Do i just say forget it and steer my career path toward management to bump my salary and end there (could totally be part of leadership and management soon with a direct path towards directorship in a decade and end up with retirement of lots of plus 100k years).

    My true love for learning, curiosity and science makes me want to suck it up and go become a true engineer. However i am worried that the toll on my family and debt may not be worth it. It sounds good in theory to go become an engineer, but that is years and years of hard work and sacrifice by me and my family. I do have help in that my company will help pay for my schooling to a certain extent. Really at a crossroads here and not sure. I hope there is someone that has some insight or maybe even someone that has experienced my circumstances that can advise.

    Thank you so much.

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 23, 2015 #2
    My story is similar although details are very different.
    I suggest you do what interests you the most and ask your wife to accept that is what you are doing.
  4. Mar 24, 2015 #3


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    I worked my entire career as a programmer and never had a college degree. Nobody cared in a way that I noticed. Great jobs. High pay. In this business I found that people cared about what you had done and what you could do. I never lied on an application or elsewhere. And I'm now retired so I don't anticipate needing a college degree any time soon.

    My older son decided to not bother with college and go straight into the workforce as an IT guy. Four years later he has a high paying job in IT (well over $100K/yr) and his prospects seem limitless. He's still working at the company where he started as an intern, so it will be interesting to see how his job search goes when this one ends. My guess is that former co-workers, who have spread out to a variety of companies over the past four years, will be after him with numerous job offers. This will be good because he has no people skills and has no idea how to look for a job. I seriously doubt that lack of a degree will matter, but it's certainly possible depending on what he decides he wants to do next.

    My advice is to think about what "more" it is that you want to do and then make a plan to be in a position to do that. If it's a job that requires a college degree (for real, not just in job ads which ask for a degree for any job at all), then it might make sense to think about getting one. As for your only worth being in experience and personal skills, that's pretty much the only worth that matters. Technical knowledge goes stale fast. By now, anything you would have learned getting a college degree would be completely outdated in anything related to IT and telecom. The stuff you learned on the job is the only stuff that would matter.
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