When I went back to college, 4 years ago, most of my peers thought the decision was commendable but kind of crazy – I had already been working for 11 years in the interface development field, and people who hired me couldn’t care less if I had a degree or not; not that it wouldn’t be a good thing to have, but that my experience with the technologies used more than made up for it. When I told people I was going to college, their response wasn’t “Nice!” or “Congratulations!”, but “Why?”.
At this point it may sound like I’m going to say “they thought wrong!”. Not really. They were right, it was a bit crazy to do it.
Still, going to college and successfully getting a degree was something I’ve always wanted to do, and I guess that desire was heightened by the fact that I never had the resources – both money and time – to do it, and when I finally managed to save enough money and make a flexible schedule possible for me, I embraced it and went to get a bachelor in Digital Interface Design.
I started without a lot of expectations; maybe gathering some theoretical knowledge, getting a diploma at the end, and having the confidence that I could stand something for a long time if I focused myself on it (I had started college before, but stopped halfway through it).
What I ended up with was so much more, however.
What was interesting, I guess, is having different lines of thought, or different situations, to put yourself into. My work is highly technical, and I like to believe I do my work well, but once I was in college, I had to put myself into tasks that weren’t really the tasks I was used to, like research and analysis of knowledge not directly related to my work. I went there sort of expecting to know it all, but was taken aback by the amount of interesting new stuff I had to deal with – even if they weren’t exactly new.
That also included technologies that aren’t, again, directly related to my work – if I hadn’t gone to college, I probably wouldn’t have yet learned of Max/MSP/Jitter and vvvv, and wouldn’t be hypnotized by the easiness with which their visual programming approach allows anyone to create rich interactive graphics. It’s no surprise I was so inspired by those programs that I even built a similar environment for my thesis project, and that alone would be reason enough to say that going to college was worth it.
And in the sense of doing different stuff, going to college also gave me the chance to go and teach some classes (Flash, Flash Lite, and Processing), something I was quite sure I would never do in my life. As all the rest, it was an amazing learning experience and something I’ll hopefully repeat in the feature.
And there were the people.
Now, I don’t consider myself a recluse in any way. I like to believe I work well with groups of people, both in the workplace or otherwise. But going back to college was a kind of a surreal experience. My colleagues were on average 10 years younger than me, something that may not sound like a lot but that makes a huge difference when you’re talking about people still on their teenage years, so we had some differences to work with; I had to refrain myself from not saying “in my time…” too often, as some of the differences were enormous – no Internet when I was a kid! Phone lines were a lot more expensive! No cellphones or digital cameras! – but still, dealing with them, and watching them grow as people, was nothing short of extraordinary. I’ve seen people complaining that young people nowadays have everything at their feet but still are lazy as fuck, and I’ve done my share of bitching, but in all honesty, comparing some of my fellow students with the mindset I had when I was their age, they’re far ahead and bound for a bright future. Working with them was nothing short of a lesson about people and even about myself; I believe I’m a much person now than I was 4 years ago. I miss them already.
Truth is, going back to college so late for me was a bless in disguise. Going there with a lot of practical knowledge, even if with a lot more still left to learn, gave me the ability to understand so much better what teachers had to say. It was often that I would leave class with the perception that I had realized something extremely important about the world, or something that I had to read a lot more about; and yet, not all of my colleagues shared the same feeling. Not because they were stupid in any way, but because many times they lacked the contextual knowledge needed to properly understand what was being said.
I’ve always been of the opinion that going to college isn’t something of ultimate importance (that’s a sort of a big discussion around here) and, in some ways, I’m still like that; you can learn a lot, specially gather a lot more practical skills, doing real work instead of sitting somewhere with someone babbling over your ears, and I certainly would never have a problem hiring someone without a college degree. However, going to college at some point in time is something I now see as extremely positive, and something I strongly recommend to anyone – but only if you allow yourself to bask in its mind-shifting soup. It’s too easy to just go there and get a grade that’s good enough to carry you on to the next semester, I suppose, but then you’ll be going there just for a diploma.
With that stage bittersweetly out of the way, I can finally move on. That’s not to say I’ll be allowed to slack so soon – as I mentioned earlier, I’m working for Firstborn, and now that college obligations are over, I’ll be moving to NY to work with them. This means I have to spend holidays writing documents for the visa process – which is cool, though, as they’ve always been specially patient with me, and I’m really glad of the work I’ve done for them for the past year or so. So, thanks Francis, Dan, Michael, Luba, Avery, Wes, Will, Izaías, Joon, Jennifer, Maria, Ryan, Eric, Lauren, Takahashi, and Max, and everybody else, Firstborners and former Firstborners; it’s over now, and I’ll hopefully see you guys soon.
Also, while I’m at it, many thanks to the fine people at Grafikonstruct and Gringo, as this college plan wouldn’t have been possible (or would have been a lot more difficult) without their partnership and support.