School of Visual Communication
The debate about whether a software engineer should go to college seems to come up from time to time. Some of the best developers I know didn’t graduate from college as well as some of the worst. To me its really just a personal choice. But if you have the means and the drive to get the most out of a college experience, my advice would be to take it. You’ll be surrounded by thousands of people who are all there to teach and learn. That can produce some pretty unique opportunities that can have a major impact on your career later on.
At Ohio University I had one of those opportunities. Being a fulltime student while finding meaningful work that can kick start your career can be a challenge. With that in mind, the university setup a program where students could apply for on-campus internships. You had to interview in order to get hired for any position, so you would have a few real world interviews under your belt. If you found a good job you could pick up some great professional experience while also broadening your skills and talents.
My senior year (1999-2000) I applied and got a job building and maintaining the website for the School of Visual Communication. I spent most of my days in the Mathematics and Engineering buildings working on Sun/Unix workstations writing code. This job meant that I got to spend a least a couple hours a day in a school that (straight from their current website):
“…offers an interdisciplinary visual communication degree with four specialized sequences: informational graphics and publication design, interactive design; documentary photojournalism for newspapers, magazines and the Internet; and commercial photography.”
After a few months I had become friends with the administrators and professors. They liked me enough that they allowed me to audit any class I wanted. I took them up and sat through an entire quarter learning how to use Photoshop and other tools to design and create web sites. It was fantastic to learn along side people who were creating the layouts, color schemes and graphics that I would then put together with my code to build cool webpages (as cool as webpages could be in 2000).
I look back on that experience as the time I discovered the importance of design in technology. Its also the first time I realized that as much as I love Photoshop, I suck at it compared to professional designers.
I’m thankful I had that opportunity. I wouldn’t have had it if I hadn’t gone to college, and I don’t think I would be the software engineer I am today without it.