Alex MacCaw

Ruby/JavaScript developer & entrepreneur. O'Reilly writer and open source developer. Working for Stripe.


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I am now blogging at blog.alexmaccaw.com

On Education

January 01, 2011

A conversation with a few friends inspired me to write this short post on education. If you've any comments, please ping me with a tweet.


Everybody feels strongly about education, since it affects us all so much, me doubly so because of my background. I left school at 17 and am largely self taught. What was key for me, was that I'd found my passion - programming. If you love a subject, then it's easy to teach yourself. I just feel that the priorities in the education system are really misaligned with what's really important. In reality, the vast majority of what you're taught at school will be forgotten, especially if you have no interest in it. As it stands at the moment, if you correctly jump through all the hoops presented to you, you'll end up a university professor. In other words the system is geared towards a definition of success that applies to a tiny minority. There should be more scope for flexibility and less hoop jumping.

The crux of the problem though, is that the vast majority of people get to university and don't have a clue what they want to do - or indeed, what they like and dislike. There are no more hoops to jump through, and they panic - taking the first available career at hand. One that may be finically sensible but could leave them with a job they despise for the next thirty years. They settle, and get stuck. My message to them is that as you spend about 80% of your life working, life is too short for a job you don't love. Don't settle, keep searching, keep hungry.

As for the education system, well I feel that it should be designed to expose students to as many areas as possible, so they get a good indication of what they like and dislike. The system has a victorian factory feel, which needs to be changed. There are bells between shifts, and batches of students - it all feels so antiquated. The stigma attached with not attending higher education should also be removed. Universities aren't for everyone and you won't make society 'fairer' by sending everyone there - you'll just get crap degrees.

If you're interested, I highly recommend Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talks, who articulates the problem far better than I could.