NOTE: This article is based on me being a developer in the digital space of the world. If you're an engineer, a doctor, or something that isn't a developer, do not for one second think i'm saying education isn't relevant across every role. This article is about other avenues to get a job in an industry you love, but primary, development and digital.
I, alongside many other teenagers with aspirations of being the next 'big thing', all started out in education. We flirted with girls, bunked maths, and stole the gyms footballs (or in my case, doughnuts from the cafeteria), and at the end of this magical and perilous journey we had mostly decided our place in life. Some of us chose to be downhill riders, some chose hairdressing, and a select few chose to be a Developer.
Learning to pass a test, is different to learning a career
Learning what this role encompassed required some research, and with some digging you would quickly learn about the lengthy, and hugely expensive educational courses available to us that would take us through College, into University, ending with a degree and a guaranteed job in the industry, right?
Many have learnt the hard way that a shining piece of paper telling the world what you are capable off isn't quite as shining as we was let on to believe without the personal, or commercial proof to back it up, making the burden of thousands of dollars worth of debt a burden even worse to wear.
Catch 22, how do you get experience, without a job to get experience?
Commercial experience is always the catch 22, because all jobs that will get you that commercial experience, require commercial experience to get in. An issue which employers must address within themselves and an apprenticeship recruitment drive is certainly a very positive step forward, but can't always be relied upon as the door way in, so an alternative is something we are forced to pursue for those with the willpower to soldier on past the hundreds of "Thanks for application, but on this occasion..." emails.
Education isn't the only path to enlightenment, the alternative is something known as 'experience' a rare and sought after commodity. Friends, books or tutorials can teach you how to loop through a multi-dimensional array, do a lookbehind zero-width assertions or a simple logic gate, but nothing on this planet can teach you passion, the passion to move mountains. The moment you glance across at the clock to see 1am gleaming bright after solving a problem you've managed to create with only your imagination, you will have stumbled across a key ingredient that will land you almost any job you go for, passion.
Creating your friends band's website, designing your mums gift shops beautiful website user interface, or a simple customized blog for your hobby will not only prove what you are capable of, but enforce the fact that you are there to work for the right reasons; because let's face it, your mum isn't going to fire you. You've instead chosen to embark on that project and get it done to the best of your natural and acquired ability purely based on the passion in your belly, the fire in your gut that's going to get you to where you want to be.
How i broke the cycle of education
I went through education, i've been to 2 colleges, and i've been there the first year that a course was 100% designed to teach web development was launched all the way back in 2007, and nothing has ever prepared me to work in the industry more than the personal experience i gained by working in the evenings on my own projects, grabbing clients of a hobby forum i was on by simple standing up, hand frantically waving proclaiming, "i could do that". I'm not going to tell you that education is worthless and to drop out now and become the next Mark Zuckerberg, but at half way through my 18th year of life, i had a job, albeit a small one on less than average wage, but i had my foot in the door of an industry i was wholly passionate about, and i can without any hesitation say that nothing i have ever been taught throughout my educational life in website development has helped me to get where i am. 11 months later i had progressed into a rapidly expanding, leading web agency with offices across England, Scotland and Wales, and as i was to discover my own two feet, an Australian presence. I'm now 28, have over 9 years digital agency experience across 3 varying sizes of agency, and not once have i ever been asked for my qualifications or been required to go onto a course before being allowed to be employed.
To put that into perspective, at 24 i had 5 years agency experience, at a point in life where a lot of my friends were only just graduating. I had worked my way from Junior Front End developer to be almost Senior which in reality is slower then your average career progression. I'm however the type of learner that has to get involved in everything, which meant in my chosen role i progressed slower because i actively chose to take in my surrounding roles and get abreast of situations around me, not just ones i was placed in.
I too often give a second opinion on CV's that have spent the same amount of time in education that i have in the industry that simply get thrown out because they believe a piece of paper will gain them access to the world. It helps, but without the experience, passion and self acquired knowledge learnt by fixing problems not created for you by a tutorial, you will not be getting your foot out of bed, let alone into any industry doors.
Find your passion,
If it's one thing i hope for, it's for the next generation of developers and digital advocates to develop the passion and focus required within the industry to not only improve their own life, but for the clients they end up working for. Take what you discover through personal progression and self learning, and not just the words from the page of a text book to create something that will make an employer step back and ensure you are absorbed into the business, regardless if a position currently exists to fit you into, and rather, fit you into the business - because you're awesome. You can be awesome, and you will be awesome, don't let anyone tell you otherwise!