Over the past nine months, I’ve had more than enough time to reflect on my choice to drop out of college. Living truly alone for the first time, and setting out to learn how to build products at Starter School has given me perspective on what is valuable about college - and what isn’t.
Taking the plunge
In June of 2013, I was eagerly waiting for acceptances to schools I applied to transfer to. I had just started a web developer internship at AllDayEveryDay, where I was encouraged to think about whether college was the only path to success.
The first week of July came with grim news, which I broke to my dad with this:
I didn’t get in. It seemed the clear choice was to leave school to go elsewhere, and improve my development skills.
For the next week or so, I applied to every development bootcamp under the sun. Amongst the potential choices, Starter School was the most unique. Nine months. Programming. Design. Product development. Entrepreneurship. Since I was dropping out of college, my parents and I decided that Starter School offered the most well rounded replacement.
This wasn’t a decision I took lightly. I was scared. I was leaving behind a traditional college education, great friends, and a career as an Army officer. There were many sleepless nights during that period, but my fears would soon be quieted.
I can’t possibly distill my entire Starter School experience in a blog post, but I’ll attempt to describe the most important things I took away from my experience.
Teaching a man to fish
When I came to Starter School, it was made clear from the beginning that I wouldn’t be taught the same way that my college professors taught me. Starter School’s main programming instructor, Jeff Cohen, explains his teaching philosophy like this:
Our school system has conditioned students to want to memorize facts, and it’s important for me not to feed that habit. Facts and trivia are easily retrieved from a Google search these days.
What I guide them toward is the learning process. It’s much better for students to grasp the thinking paradigms that are core to developing solid computational skills.
His teaching style encourages being resourceful and finding the path of least resistance toward solving the problem at hand.
Be a generalist
The point of Starter School is to give you a taste of the full spectrum of building a software product. Other bootcamps and software development schools do a great job of making you into a developer, but you don’t always see the bigger picture. Even if you do specialize in just one area, be it programming or design, it is so valuable to be able to speak the other person’s language, or even get your hands dirty with another area of the product.
Everyone knows what’s best for you
This is a broader life lesson, but it happened to be a huge component of Starter School by design. Starter School brings you the best people in their fields to teach, but the way each of them build products is very different. Over the past nine months, I’ve learned how to develop a lens through which I can look at conflicting advice objectively, and make a decision on what I think will best move my project forward.
We take the web for granted
I may not be able to legally drink yet, but I do remember a time when people were not constantly connected to the internet. That era is gone, and nobody can imagine life without being able to check Facebook on their walk to school or watch Netflix on the train home from work. We take for granted how incredible it is that we can do that, and how hard it is to make that happen.
With the rise of software schools, the barrier for entry for people to be a part of creating this connected culture is lowered, but it is still really hard. There are a ton of people behind the services and apps we use everyday, and Starter School has made me appreciate what they do a lot more.
Was it worth it?
If the above doesn’t make it clear: Yes. 100 percent yes. Not only was what I learned incredibly valuable for anyone looking to start a career in software, but learning them as a nineteen year old college dropout changed my life. I’m already building a portfolio of freelance work. I have no regrets about leaving college to go to Starter School. I’m just excited for the future.