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October 13, 2000

Adult Education

© 2000, Douglas E. Welch

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When most people think of adult education they think of graduate degree programs like an MBA, technical certification programs like MCSE or CNE, or community college extension programs. In reality, some of the best adult education you can find might be sitting next to you in your own office or on the Internet. Too often we ignore the experience of our co-workers and the availability of information on the Internet when we think about upgrading or changing our careers.

Flattery can get you far

The truth is most anyone likes to be asked about their job and career. It is very flattering when someone comes to you for advice. While there might be a few curmudgeons out there who don't want to be bothered, most people will wax poetic on whatever information you seek.

If you are looking to move into a high-tech career there is no better source of information than those people who are currently working in your company. If you want to become a programmer, take a programmer out to lunch. Let them know of your plans and seek their advice. What languages should you learn? What is the work like? Will they look at some of your code and offer you advice? If you are thinking of becoming a network technician, track down the person who performs these tasks for your company. Pay attention to the work they are doing when they are working in your department. Volunteer to be the contact between your department and the network group.

Even if you don't have these type of people working in your company you can still reach them. Surely you have friends, friends of friends or relatives who work in high-tech. There are also writers, radio talk show hosts and television personalities who deal with high-tech career issues. I am constantly having "friends of friends" referred to me so that I can answer questions about their computer systems and working in high-tech careers. Yet I am still amazed I don't receive more questions than I do. You should avail yourself of these resources. They cost you little more than your time.

An online degree

No, I am not talking about any of the current online college degree programs that are available today via the Internet. I am talking about designing your own "degree" using information freely available from both individuals and manufacturers via the Internet.

Reader's often ask me to comment on their plans to return to school to obtain a technology degree or training to further their move into a high-tech career. Perhaps it is just the fact that I came into high-tech when there was no training available, but, as long as you have a high school diploma or equivalent, I think most people are better off spending their money on gaining experience instead of taking classes. I still believe that the high-tech world is a meritocracy; you are what you know. If you can demonstrate hands-on experience with particular computer hardware or software you can find a job nearly anywhere. If your skills are advanced enough you can even get most companies to waive requirements for certifications such as MSCE. In some cases, they might even help you get those certifications.

The simple fact is that technical programs are expensive. For what you would pay to get a technical degree you could purchase a variety of training manuals, software and computer hardware so that you get some hands-on learning immediately. Furthermore, you can start using your knowledge immediately by working for friends and relatives. This means money coming in instead of money going out. Everyone is different. Some of us need the structured environment of classroom learning, but if money is preventing you from pursuing a high-tech career then it is time to take matters into your own hands.

The final piece of this "do-it-yourself" degree program is the Internet. Every major manufacturer of computer hardware and software provides a knowledge base of information about their products. If you want to develop your Windows skills take a look at the resources at <>. Apple <> provides a Tech Info Library to assist in troubleshooting their projects. There are also a wide variety of 3rd party sites that provide discussion groups and real-world reviews of current products in almost every area.

These Internet resources can become your daily classroom. I can guarantee that if you use these resources on a regular basis you will be well on your way to establishing the knowledge and training you need to build your own high-tech career.

High-tech careers need not be beyond your grasp simply due to financial or time constraints. There are people, in your office, in your family and on the Internet who are more than willing to help you make your way into a new or better high-tech career. You only have to reach out and let them help you.

about this column.

Previous Career-Op Columns

October 8, 1999 Knowing your limitations

October, 1998 Troubleshooting

October 10, 1997 On your own: Part 2

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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