Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

School Time

September 24, 2004

** NEW -- MP3 Audio for your iPod or other audio player -- NEW **

RSS Feed with enclosures | MP3 via Coral | MP3 (via FreeCache) | MP3 direct from

Starting this week, I am going to release each column in MP3 format so you can listen to column on your way to work, in the car or on your bike. You can use iPodderX (and other tools) to automatically download each weeks selection directly to iTunes and ready for import into your iPod. See for more info on PodCasting and more tools.

Look for a new posting each week and (hopefully) one from the Career-Op archives, as well. Subscribe to the RSS feed above to be notified automatically when new columns are available. --Douglas

Once I graduated from college, it was an easy decision to not return. Since I wasn’t programming-inclined, there wasn’t much to be gained from getting a Masters or Doctorate in Computer Science. Instead, I went off and joined the big world of business and have arrived at where I am today. This is not to say, though, that I have stopped learning. Instead I have spent my years learning about topics that interested me, developing my own personalized advanced degree. While it may not hold the cache of a MA or Ph.D, it certainly has helped to develop a decent career and an interesting life.

Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic

Thoughts of school have been in my mind lately, as my wife recently completed her Master’s program and has just started her Ph.D classes. Early in this process, she thought it might be interesting to get me enrolled for a Master’s so we could do it together. I, however, demurred. Over the years I have grown less tolerant of office and school politics and knew that I didn’t really have the correct mindset to become a student again. I have always felt more comfortable learning by reading or seeking out experts for one-on-one consultation.

The nature of my education struck me the other night, as I sat on the sofa diving into yet another stack of books from the library. As I sat reading, I was reminded of some of the best aspects of my college days. I loved reading interesting new material and adding large chunks of knowledge in one sitting. It was almost like I was back in the floor lounge of my undergraduate dorm again, so filled with knowledge I could almost feel it. While there is certainly a place for higher education in everyone’s life, this self-directed education could be the most important tool in building your career. If you haven’t thought out it lately, you would be wise to include some “school time” as part of every day.

Books, books, books…and the Internet

The way I go about expanding my education is a bit haphazard, but it exposes me to a wide variety of thought. First, whenever I come across a book that sounds interesting, I add it to my journal and request it from my local library. These books can be about anything. On the night discussed above, the books were about organization (Ready for Anything by David Allen, `) , the science of collective thinking (The Wisdom of Crowds, and the development and use of prototypes in business (Serious Play, Sometimes my tastes turn to architecture, interior design and gardening. At other times, the books in my stack are histories of Michelangelo (, Brunelleschi's Dome in Florence ( or an author relating his journey following the yearly migration of the striped bass from Maine to the Carolina coast (

My only rule is…if it interests me, pick it up. This has led to some big developments over the years. You can be surprised at the thoughts books can raise about your current life, business and career. Inspiration can be found in the oddest of places and by reading a variety of books, you can increase your chances of developing new directions in your life.

Secondly, I make great use of the Internet, not just for researching computer and technology-related ideas, but for anything that interests me. Another page in my journal is labeled “Research”. Here I note items that I want to look up on the Internet (and the library) when I have more time. Lately, this has included Baye’s Theorem and the Bayesian Filtering used to combat SPAM email (, shade plants for the garden, science fair projects for my son, design and architecture concepts like those in Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language ( and Sarah Susanka’s Not So Big House (

Keeping these lists of books and research items means that you will always have something to think about, something to research, something to generate new ideas. It insures that whenever you have the opportunity for some “school time” in your day, you will have a ready list of “classes” to attend. All you have to do it show up on a regular basis. I know, for me, this is infinitely easier than rising for that 8 AM Theater History Class way back when.

If you want to continue improving your career, it is important to remember that the world is your classroom. There are more interesting books, web sites, concepts and theories than you will ever have time to discover in your life, but seeking out those things that interest you – and applying what you have learned whenever you can – can be just as useful as an advanced degree. In some cases, especially when it comes to high-tech work, it can produce results far beyond those of a graduate degree because the education you gain is specialized and customized to you, your interests and your career.


RSS Feed with enclosures

Support the Career-Op Podcast

Get your copy today!

Now Available from