The Value of an Education, New Brunswick Style

UPDATE: To make this farce even better, it appears that for this year’s calculation rules have re-classified my two adult sons as dependents (including one who has not lived at home for 3 years). Neat how the government can on the one hand call them dependents for student loans, but not dependents on my taxes. Welcome to the era of DoubleThink!

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about The Value of an Education talking about the debate that is going on as to whether post secondary education is worth the cost, especially given the debt load student loans put on new graduates.

Well, as I learned last week (I should have known it earlier, but was not paying attention when it happened), our new provincial government here in New Brunswick, led by Premier David Alward, has taken the decision out of our hands. It seems my children no longer have the choice as to whether or not student loans are a good investment in their future, since the province has already decided they are not.

I could explain the new rules that have me so annoyed, but I will link to someone else who explains them well.

I will likely be able to adapt to this change, for my youngest anyway. Unfortunately, there will be many who cannot.

Mr. Alward, this is not the way to build an educated workforce in this province.

Advertisements

The value of an education

The School of Athens (detail). Fresco, Stanza ...

Image via Wikipedia

I see a great deal of debate recently about the value of higher education, and whether the high cost of university is worth it from a job market/earning power perspective. I have this debate myself recently, seeing the challenges my own children are facing, coming out of college and trying to enter the workforce.

I have a few thoughts on the topic that I would like to share.

The debate scares the hell out of me

We already live in a society that does not particularly respect or reward intelligence, certainly not the way it should. People are very rarely rewarded or recognized for academic success, except insofar as it might help them be financially successful.

Most parents would much more proudly proclaim their child’s talents as an athlete or entrepreneur than as a scientist or researcher.

In addition, we see a strong social trend towards active disrespect of scientific or research disciplines because the results might challenge religious dogma and political rhetoric.

I see the arguments against higher education as threatening the very future of our society. We already have far too few young people entering engineering or scientific disciplines.

You get what you pay for

Ok – so I am not referring specifically to what your higher education costs, in dollars. What I really mean is that you get out of a higher education pretty much what you put into it.

If you are studying something for which you have a passion, if you throw yourself into your studies heart and soul, if you embrace and enjoy the entire experience, then I have no doubt at all that you will see great value from your education both economically and personally.

If on the other hand, you are only there because your parents said you should be and they are paying for it, if you pick your program based on least difficulty or avoiding early morning classes, and if you only apply yourself to least extent necessary to get by, then you will probably get out of education exactly what you put – diddly squat.

So, like many things, what value you get out of higher education depends very much on what value you are looing for.

A good education is more valuable than a mediocre education

A few generations ago, higher education was available to a small enough segment of the population that getting a university degree, no matter in what field or from what school, gave you a significant competitive advantage when it came to the working world.

More recently, say in my generation or the one before it, higher education had become significantly more accessible, but it was still typically sufficient to have a good degree from a good school (and have had reasonably good marks) to have a high probability of long term success.

Now, however, having a degree is not in and of itself a strong differentiator when it comes to the job market. It is now more important that ever to invest in an education that matches your goals. If your goal is to be highly employable and make lots of money, you better be very careful to choose a discipline and a school that matches that goal. Otherwise, you will be one of those who sees your education as a waste.

Education does not guarantee success

This should be obvious, but an education does not in and of itself guarantee success. Actually, nothing guarantees success. All you can hope for is to follow a path and takes actions which improve the probability of success.

People often point examples of very successful individuals who did not finish university, and say “that proves that you do not need higher education to be successful”. That is very true, but remember that such cases statistical outliers, and are so rare as to be meaningless in planning you future. Others often use these examples to support statements like “higher education is a waste”.

Again, what is critical is to have some idea where you are going, and then choose a type and level of education which is appropriate to those goals.

But please, do not discount higher education completely based upon questionable, anecdotal evidence.

Danger! Do not implement SharePoint in your Organization! REDUX

This is a re-post of a column I wrote over on Legal IT Professionals a couple of years ago. Just posting it here so that I have a local version.

This column I want to deliver a warning to all of you out there – do not implement SharePoint in your organization! If you ignore this warning, and implement SharePoint anyway, beware. You run the risk of any number of problems, including:

  • User dissatisfaction
  • Maintainability and support issues
  • Data silos, making information hard to find, hard to share, and hard to maintain
  • Lots of rework
  • General chaos
  • Projects that take 10 times longer than you had planned, if they finish at all.

I do a lot of work helping organizations build solutions using SharePoint – is that all a lie?

Not at all. The problem here is the way you think about your projects. If you are consistently talking about “implementing SharePoint” you are going in the wrong direction. If you are talking about implementing any platform, you are setting up for failure. Many of the problems we run into with SharePoint and other platforms arise from focusing on the technologies.

SharePoint is a technology. It is a platform. It is a pretty good platform, in my opinion. Not without its problems, but a pretty good platform.

So what should you be focused on? The answer is obvious, isn’t it? The focus should be on implementing solutions to real business problems, bringing real business value. That was obvious to everyone, wasn’t it? If this is obvious, then why do I still have conversations with potential clients who come to me saying “Help us implement SharePoint”, when they cannot clearly articulate why they want to implement it? Sure, they can spout a lot of vague statements about documents, collaboration, communication, workflow, etc. but where are the clear statements about how this is all going to help their firm?

I think there are a number of reasons this happens. Firstly, maybe I am just talking to the wrong people (too many techies!). However, I have these discussions with many business people as well. Microsoft’s marketing is also a problem (though it is not Microsoft’s fault). People see Microsoft’s SharePoint marketing information, but they typically only pay very superficial attention. They see all these demos of interesting solutions that seem like they must be useful in their world. Then they go to their IT department (or decision makers) and say “Hey we need to implement SharePoint!”

Even worse, they go rogue and implement SharePoint on a small scale within their groups or departments. Then the IT group has to manage all of these emergent SharePoint deployments, so there is a decision to “implement SharePoint” firm wide.

Finally, there are those firms (hopefully very few these days) who really do not understand that they should not be thinking in terms of the technology.

So when is SharePoint not dangerous? Well, that is driven by how you got to “SharePoint” in the first place. I am not going to go into much detail here, because most of this should be pretty well engrained process (if not, call me – I can help ), but here are the big steps:

  • Identify clear business objectives/problems to be solved
  • Is SharePoint the right technology choice to solve them?
  • Don’t try to do everything at once – build a foundation and grow from there
  • Pick initial projects with high impact/visibility
  • Determine specific ROI goals, success metrics, etc. so that you know if you are meeting your goals
  • Make sure to consider the “human” side of things – introducing a platform that touches business processes and how people work requires detailed planning as to how to introduce it.
  • Get help! Hire it, rent it, grow it – whatever you have to do, get help. SharePoint is a big platform that does a lot of things, and if you do not know the platform well, you will end up building things that already exist. Also, as with most platforms, there are 6 different ways to do almost anything – some of them are better than others.

The first step, though – change your thinking and your terminology – and stop talking about “implementing SharePoint”!