You Don't Need a College Degree: New Edition

graduateThe argument that a college degree is or isn't the path to a job surfaces regularly. Many studies show that having a degree ultimately leads to greater earnings in a lifetime, and colleges love to see that research out there. But in the past few decades, you find more stories in the news about people succeeding in the workplace without degrees.

This year, I am seeing two trends: more vocational training in high schools, and companies not requiring degrees for some jobs that once did require a degree.

An article on wsj.com discusses the direct ties between some big companies and local high schools to prepare students for jobs. Volkswagen is working with schools in Tennessee to modernize their engineering programs. Tesla is partnering with Nevada schools on an advanced manufacturing curriculum. Fisheries in Louisiana have created courses for students to train for jobs in “sustainability.”

There have long been high school career education programs, and the U.S.. has had specialized vocational schools for a century, but this is a shift. The idea that not all students need a degree (and especially not a liberal-arts degree) in order to get a good job is gaining strength through relationships and changes with employers.

The outlier examples of the billionaires like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg who never finished college are anomalies. Students - and parents - were not convinced that skipping college was the right path. When I was an undergrad back in the 1970s, we all knew that with good grades from a decent college in almost anything you could get some kind of job. I had art history friends who ended up in banking, education majors who went into publishing etc. It was an early enough time in computers that you could get in on the ground floor of that area without a degree. I knew people who got training in network administration at post-secondary vocational schools and did very well.

But there was also a time a bit later when if you wanted a job at Google you had better have a degree, and really a doctorate from Stanford. That is less true today.

The job-search site Glassdoor compiledlist of 15 top employers that have said they no longer require applicants to have a college degree that includes companies like Google, Apple and IBM. 

These companies are not saying they don't want any college graduates and this doesn't apply to all their positions, but it does apply to many more than before. Passing on college degree requirements for some positions is probably a reaction in part to the tight labor market and mounting concerns surrounding student debt.

For example, Apple is considering and hiring people without degrees for positions such as Genius (in their stores), Design Verification Engineer, Engineering Project Manager, iPhone Buyer, Apple Technical Specialist, AppleCare at Home Team Manager, Apple TV Product Design Internship, Business Traveler Specialist, and Part Time Reseller Specialist.

Google lists these positions as open to non-graduates: Product Manager, Recruiter, Software Engineer, Product Marketing Manager, Research Scientist, Mechanical Engineer, Developer Relations Intern, UX Engineer, SAP Cloud Consultant, Administrative Business Partner.

Do these companies penalize someone with a computer science or marketing degree who applies? That would be foolish. But they do seriously consider people without degrees who would not have made the first round of interviews ten years ago.

Threats to the college degree in the past 30 years have been many: tuition costs, online learning, MOOCs, and OER have all been viewed as things that would take down the traditional degree and perhaps the traditional college itself. We would have Education 2.0 as we had Web 2.0. Still, students still apply, take courses, study, party, attend sporting events and graduate. But do they get jobs in their field of study? Sometimes. Do they discover when they get a job that much of those 120 credits seem to play no constructive role in their work? Sometimes.

New Jobs in an AI Machine Learning World

You can argue about the good and bad of AI, but there is no argument that artifical intelligence is here and it is affecting jobs. Elon Musk says he fears where AI will ultimately lead, but he uses AI in his Tesla vehicles. 

I keep hearing that AI will free humans of boring drudgery jobs and give us more free time. Then, we can do human work rather than machine work. I also hear that for all the jobs lost to AI there will be at least half as many new ones created.

bookThe book Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI, examines organizations that deploy AI systems — from machine learning to computer vision to deep learning. The authors found that AI systems are augmenting human capabilities and enabling people and machines to work collaboratively, changing the very nature of work and transforming businesses.  

A symbiosis between man and machine is not here now, but it is already being called the third wave of business transformation and it concerns using adaptive processes. (The first wave was standardized processes, and the second was automated processes.)

Even when AI has advanced and humans and machines are symbiotic partners, humans will be needed. In this book, they identify three broad types of new jobs in the "missing middle" of the third wave. 

Trainers will be needed to teach AI systems how they should perform, helping natural-language processors and language translators make fewer errors and teaching AI algorithms how to mimic human behaviors.

Explainers will be needed to bridge the gap between technologists and business leaders, explaining the inner workings of complex algorithms to nontechnical professionals. 

The third category of jobs will involve sustainers who will ensure that AI systems are operating as designed. They might be in roles such as context designers, AI safety engineers and ethics compliance managers. For example, a safety engineer will try to anticipate and address the unintended consequences of an AI system, and a ethics complaince manager acts as ombudsmen for upholding generally accepted human values and morals.

And for education? These jobs will require new skills. The skills the authors describe all sound unfamiliar, as I suppose they should. Arewe ready to teach Rehumanizing Time, Responsible Normalizing, Judgment Integration, Intelligent Interrogation, Bot-Based Empowerment, Holistic Melding, Reciprocal Apprenticing, and Relentless Reimagining.

Their labels may be unfamiliar, but the skills can also be seen as extensions or advancements of more familiar ones in a new contect. 

For example, "Judgment Integration" is needed when a machine is uncertain about what to do or lacks necessary business or ethical context in its reasoning model. A human ready to be smart about sensing where, how and when to step in means that human judgment will still be needed even in a reimagined process. 

Imagine that autonomus vehicle approaching at high speed a deer and a child in the road ahead. It needs to swerve, but it will also need to hit one of them in its avoidance maneuver. Which would it choose? The decision will not be based on how we feel about a child versus a wild animal - unless a human has been involved in the process earlier.


Read more in the book and in "What Are The New Jobs In A Human + Machine World?" by Paul R. Daugherty and H. James Wilson on forbes.com

Technical Writing

Technical Writers are often the link between engineers, marketing associates, developers and external users of a product or service.

When I have taught undergraduate classes in technical writing, something I have to address with students right away is their definition of technical writing. In many people's minds, writing that is "technical" is complicated, full of jargon and difficult to read. But in fact, the goal of the technical writer is exactly the opposite. It is usually to make technical subject matter less complicated and easier to understand and use.

In my undergraduate technical writing classes (which are considered advanced writing courses) we combines current theory with actual practice to prepare students as technical writers. They analyze complex communication situations and then design appropriate responses through tasks that involve problem solving, rhetorical theory, document design, oral presentations, writing teams, audience awareness, ethical considerations and ethical issues.

When I teach at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), my students are engineers, computer scientists, architects and scientists who often dislike writing and are used to only academic writing. Unfortunately, much academic writing is students demonstrating their learning to a professor who already knows the subject. In most real technical communication, the writer is the expert and the readers are the learners. In professional life, you may be writing for supervisors, colleagues or customers. You might be explaining a problem, a product, an experiment, or a project, and the format may be a proposal, abstract, report, email or manual.

When I teach technical writing at a more comprehensive university, such as Montclair State University, the students are more comfortable with writing, but less comfortable with the technical part.  That is because they don't think of technical writing as being a part of every field. For education, biology, art, music, and other science and liberal arts students, they need to rethink the technical aspects of their studies. For example, I have had art history majors who wrote technical documentation on art restoration.

My graduate students in professional technical communication are often dealing with social media, documentation, video presentations and a variety of real world tasks. NJIT offers a Technical Communications Certificate that attracts primarily professionals who intend to learn/expand their careers as technical writers, editors, trainers, website designers, and documentation specialists.

I don't know that being a technical writer at Google is typical of that job, but this video gives you a little taste of technical writing and life at Google.


Civilized Debate on Social Media?

Do you think of social media sites, such as Twitter, as a place for debate? Yes, I know that people argue about things on Twitter and Facebook, but is that what you would consider to be "debate?"

There is a fairly new start-up that has been around for about a year and wants to offer you a place for more civilized debate or discussion than the current angry "discussion" on social media.

The site is Kialo (Esperanto for “reason”) and hopes to prohibit the shouting, rudeness or irrationality that is currently part of the Trumpian Twitterverse that has evolved.

kialoSome have called Kialo an "Internet Unicorn" and "The Utopian Fantasy of Rational Debate On the Web."

You can just read the discussions on topics of the day, and you can take part as a debater.  You may even be designated as a moderator. It is not for commenting on others posts.

It's a nice idea, but I don't see it becoming a huge site on the scale of Facebook or Twitter. I don't think people who are on social media really want debate. They want to say how they feel and they want others to agree with them (as in getting a "Like" for what they have said). And there is a smaller percentage of those people who actually want to argue with strangers. 

And argument is not exactly debate - and many arguments are not a civil "set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong." They are the other kind of argument - when people have opposite views and express it in a a heated or angry way. Did we learn nothing from Monty Python?

I have read that some teachers and professors are using private areas of Kialo for class discussions and exercises in critical thinking and reasoning.

For everyday debaters and for schools and universities, access is free. The site does not carry ads. They say they do not sell data.

Kialo uses the term “claim” rather than "argument" and contributors sometimes not only make a claim but also post counterpoints to their own claim. Of course, a good debater does need to know both sides in order to debate well.

Tech Design for Seniors

In my previous post, I wrote about andragogy, the theories behind adult learning. Today, I'm writing about what might seem like an extension of andragogy, especially when dealing with technology.

Many (too many) people assume that learning about and using technology is very different for older adults. I am a "Baby Boomer," one of a large group born between 1946 and 1964. I consider myself to be very well versed in technology, but fter all, I have been using and teaching with and about technology for 40 years. But many of my peers are not so comfortable with technology and often come to me for recommendations and help.

Some companies have realized that generally companies and probably educational institutions are underinvesting in, and underserving, older adults. On the educational side, this is a great disservice to this large group of people. But on the marketing side, companies (and colleges?) have discovered a large market and opportunity with the growing over-65 population.

There are approximately 46 million people aged 65 and over living in the United States, and that number is projected to more than double to 98 million by 2060.

This group grew up with 20th century technology that has radically changed in their lifetime. Think of the present-day automobile or phone. They adapted to banking via an ATM and cooking with a microwave — though they may still prefer a teller and a gas oven.

Looking back on those andragogical principles and moving the adult number up 44 years, some seem particularly relevant. For example, when the content and processes have a meaningful relationship to their past experience.

Designers and technology entrepreneurs are most often in their 20s, 30s or 40s. They are not thinking about older generations. But they should.