HACKING MY EDUCATION

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So, we got news that congress, yet again, failed American students and allowed the interest rates on federally subsidized loans to double to a ridiculous 6.8 percent. As a former student who took on a federally subsidized student loan, I can attest to how much that loan helped me out in college. I’m not from a rich family and while I was able to partially pay for my college with various scholarships, we just didn’t have a several thousand dollars a year laying about for me to toss around while I was deciding what I wanted to do with my life. I’m one of three children and each of us has graduated or is in college now, an INCREDIBLE achievement for our family! We’re decedents of Irish and Dutch immigrants who came over to America to give their children a better life and seeing their children toss those graduation caps was an incredible highlight in the lives of my parents.

 

I’m so thankful that I was able to get the full-blown university experience, I can’t even describe the ways it has shaped the woman I am today, the least of which being that I have been given the ability to think critically about each and every decision that I need to make. That’s what makes college great, isn’t it? What we each take away from it? I was forced to grow up REAL fast, like, the second my parents pulled away after moving me into the dorms fast. I was responsible for feeding myself, doing my homework, keeping myself presentable and putting myself to bed at a reasonable hour (I was mostly successful at this, I can say I didn’t do the wear-jammies-to-class thing, I’ve always overdressed for the occasion, class wasn’t an exception). I learned how to be a grown up, to value myself and, really important: how to really think for myself. Something sadly lacking as I look around at my fellow humans these days.

 

I had a great time in college, really, I’d not change it for anything in the world. However. It was MASSIVELY expensive. There was tuition, room and board as well as anything needed to have a decent social life. Some of that could be taken care of with scholarships and work-study, both of which I did. However, sadly, a lot of it had to be taken care of with loans. I took my first year in college off of work to get into the groove of getting myself together and getting the hang of being on my own, that first summer though? Work. Every year after that? Work. I worked a weekend job for my second year and worked several jobs at the paper and at the university my last three years to keep up with rent, food and life. It was a lot, a lot, A LOT of work. It was hard to find a balance. I managed to keep a great active social life and honestly LOVED my work with our university paper (I was a Production Manager and Designer) and met some of my best friends through that work. It was a lot though. Good work, but a lot of work all the same.

 

As we keep hearing about the rising cost of tuition and horror stories about students graduating with six-figure student loan debt and no job prospects, the notion that university education as a necessary step in the path to successful adulthood is becoming more and more of a antiquated idea. Reading through Salons topic list on student loans makes my stomach turn. While I’ve not dug myself too deep in terms of student loan debt, I do have it. Reading about students who have made the difficult decision of taking on incredible amounts of debt so that they can have a reasonable job later in life is just ridiculous. As we read more and more headlines like this, we’ve got to get on with the task of innovating our learning.

 

I first learned about Hack Your Education through my incredibly smart friend Dan. I picked it up at work one day and read it straight through in one sitting on my day off. I can’t quite tell you how fantastic it is, really, the ideas presented within are straightforward and unabashedly  bold in their implications. The premiss of the book is that the modern higher educational system is broken beyond repair and the cost of attending a broken system are not balanced by the returns on investment after graduation. No arguing there, I’ve been REALLY lucky in that I’ve been able to get work in my own studied field, but it’s mostly been in freelancing, not in a formal job setting. What the book does a great job at is set up a mindset of gathering your education in mostly traditional, but not very modern standard ways. There’s gaining a mentor, studying with someone or at something in an apprentice style arrangement, there’s volunteering and learning in a group setting, and, my favorite, there’s the good ole’ hitting the books method. Hitting the books is delving into your desired field and learning the Edwardian way: read about it and its tangent skills and get on with it.

 

This has brought me to where I am these days, diving full force into online learning. I’ve been tinkering with the idea of really pulling up my trousers and making a full go at it for awhile now, so I dipped my toes in the water with the ‘Web Fundamentals’ course over at Codecademy. Now, granted, this is information I already knew by heart, but I wanted to get a feel for the courses and UI, and I have to say, I’m SO IMPRESSED! The course was structured really beautifully, starting at the ground with basic HTML and moving into more advanced CSS building. The lessons were broken up into several pieces where you learned a few concepts and on the second screen you had an emulator that allowed you to enter the code your learning and see it actively edit your page. It was beautiful, really. It was easy to follow and as someone who uses CSS and HTML every.single.day. I noticed that I was learning more efficient ways to write my code and bits that I missed when I teaching myself those languages. SO lovely. I’ve since moved on to working on their API courses and I’m excited to dig into the JavaScript courses that they have as well. I’ve loved web design for a long time, I’m glad I’m finally taking on the challenge of building my coding languages. I’ll share more about my experiences as I get into the courses more and I’ve only just been turned on to Treehouse, I’ll be sure to review that experience as well.

 

So, where do we stand now? I think this is an excellent way to hack my education. I’ve got a BA in Journalism and PR with minors in Design and Philosophy, not anywhere in the range of programming. Yet I’ve got an incredible fascination with programming and the STEM field in general. I’ve considered packing it in and heading back to school for a Masters in Computer Science, and that’s still on the board, but for the time being, while I’m in my prime careering years without kids, I’d like to get my hands dirty in the programming world by learning in any way I can. So far I’ve loved it, I really enjoy the UI in the code learning web programs I’ve been perusing and I’ve been gaining the skills needed to break into the STEM fields I’ve got my eye on. As far as I’m concerned, I’m willing to take the time to pay attention and learn with these great programs and the few I’ve learned of that do have fee associated with them are really affordable for the quality I’ve seen. So, cheers to hacking our education and doing the new age hitting of the books on the internets and gaining new skills to spiff up our Linkedin profiles and enjoying gainful employment in these great and booming career fields!