Graduating — and what now?

December 10th, 2009

I guess I’ve never been one to do things a certain way just because that’s how they’re normally done. I took my first college class pretty young, back in 1995, just after my freshman year in high school. By the time of my junior year in high school, I was well on my way through the computer science curriculum at Wichita State, and would probably have graduated from WSU at about age 20 had I not moved to Dallas, and then Indianapolis, for jobs.

I did so because I (correctly) thought that in my line of work, experience was more important than a degree. However, playing into that was the incorrect notion that an education was useful primarily as a means to a career — a notion that colleges and universities unfortunately have been promoting themselves.

After moving back to Kansas, I started work to finish my degree — I had effectively one year left had I been a full-time student. But it was difficult doing so, living almost an hour from Wichita, having a full-time job, and then when Jacob was on the way, I stopped classes entirely. Having online classes available to help me finish out the degree has been great.

A year ago, I re-thought the value of education to me, concluding that there is a lot of value in education for its own sake. Looking at education as little more than a means to a career is the wrong way to approach it. Since I have had that re-evaluation, I’ve adjusted my path even at this late point, and have enjoyed my classes more than I ever had before because of it.


So anyhow, here I am, graduating in a few days, 14 years after I started. I’ve had some good news this semester, too: I’ll pass the requirements to be a graduate of the WSU honors program, and also to graduate magna cum laude. So it may have taken me 14 years to do finish college, but at least I’ve done it well….

It feels weird to be about to be done with college, after so many years of being “almost done, except for…” And a question I’ve been thinking about a lot is:

What next?

Obviously I’ll start by taking a break from college stuff. I want to be able to spend more time with Terah, Oliver, and Jacob, and there are things around the house that need attention. But after that? I figure I have a few options:

No more college, but some reading. I do enjoy reading, and especially reading older works that are nicely out of copyright and thus free. I’ve read few of the classics, but I enjoy reading them, and want to be better informed about them too. That could be fun. But sometimes it’s hard to know how to place things in context. For instance, I don’t think I could have gotten as much out of reading some famous philosophers as I did by doing so in a class that put them all in context and discussed criticisms of different positions. I also wouldn’t necessarily have the ability to discuss and debate ideas with my classmates.

Take the occasional undergraduate class in a topic that interests me. I’m especially interested in history and literature, and haven’t had much exposure at the college level in either. Various online courses are available from universities in Kansas on those topics. I could take a course or two each year and become a better-informed, more well-rounded person, and study an interesting topic at the same time. Maybe this would eventually lead to a degree, and maybe not. It would be fine either way.

Graduate studies. It’s a lot of work, and I’m not sure it would be all that interesting to me. I’ve looked some at curricula. I don’t think that I’m interested in computer science as a graduate program; I enjoy coding more than theorizing and analysis. But I also don’t think that a graduate MIS or some such degree is for me; most of them appear to either focus on Windows or cover things that I’ve already known how to do for years, and thus I wonder just what the point of them is (in addition to questioning how rigorous the curriculum is). I could also, down the road, pursue a graduate degree in something like English, philosophy, or history, but it seems a natural path to that would be to take more undergraduate classes in those topics first.

So for now, I’ll sit tight. I’ll see how I feel by summer, how pressed for time I feel at home, and if I still feel the desire to take more classes. If so, I suspect I’ll try to take some undergraduate classes in whatever sounds interesting to me at the time. In a way, that is quite freeing — take a class on whatever topic I like, without a defined degree in mind. I’ve never been free to do that before, and I like the idea of it.

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  1. Forest of the Plains » Blog Archive » Kindermusik

    […] need to accept that Jacob, much like his father, will probably never do exactly what the other kids are […]

  2. jldugger

    I went back to KSU for the CS masters program after being unsatisfied with 2004 job prospects. The CS dept. is a fairly Linux friendly place; not so sure about MIS. The semester after I took it virtual PC machines became freely available and even open source.

    I don’t think it’s right to say there’s no coding in our program. It’s more like coding and analysis. The MINIX class involves reading MINIX code, digging so deep the professor brings in more code the author thought wasn’t important enough to print. I wrote a quasi-java to C translator complete with garbage collection, benchmark programs (mainly we just used shootout examples) and unit tests. There are pure anaysis classes like algorithm analysis, but in some ways it’s like the most interesting part of coding: here’s a problem, how can you answer it quickly? After writing mundane PHP-SQL for a while, that can be a fun mental challenge. It gets less fun on a deadline =(

    Eventually I ran out of steam; don’t do what I did and pursue graduate studies without a clear research mission and curriculum plan. These days I mostly satisfy my curiosity by RSS feeds of Google tech talks, SIGGRAPH papers and visiting to the local community college library.


  3. John Goerzen

    Thanks for the info and tips. I didn’t mean to imply that MS in CS programs have no coding, just that there’s probably more analysis than I care for right at the moment.

    Unfortunately it’s probably too far away from home for me right now.


  4. Yawar

    You can probably get your fill of history, literature and the classics in the form of online lectures in iTunes U. But obviously, you need iTunes. The topics covered are diverse and very interesting–from the history of world religions to building your own business, to writing iPhone apps. Worth a try I think.


  5. Barnaby

    Thanks for sharing. The value of education for its own sake and to create more rounded personalities has been largely forgotten in the past 20 years and as you pointed out it now seems all focused on preparing for the job market. I think as a society we are already paying a price for that in Western countries.
    University education was once supposed to enable to pursue your interests without pressure from funding, max. allowed semesters etc., as in the humanistic education ideal of the 1800’s.
    The university education system needs to find a better compromise between the two.


  6. Pj

    Congrats John!!! enjoy and appreciate the extra time you now have to spend with family!! you will look back on these days and cherish the time you have / had.


  7. Bryan

    Hey John, congrats on graduating! Earning an Honours CS degree is no easy task!


  8. Nana

    Or, maybe your wife is ready to pursue her Master’s?


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