Recently, I’ve had lots of friends graduate college and complain. Complain about how they can’t seem to find good jobs in the creative world or how they don’t understand newer languages like CSS3 or HTML5. All of this really got me thinking why? Is a college degree really that necessary to succeed in the creative world?
Before I give my 2 cents on the question at hand, you should really check out this Wikipedia article that has the ‘List of college dropout billionaires’. On that list, you will find names like Steve Jobs (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), and Bill Gates (Microsoft). And for kicks, I will also throw out a name of my personal favorites not on that list, Tom Hanks (famous actor). haha
Now my argument isn’t necessarily only going to be “Hey, look at that list, should I even say more?” No, I will tell you a bit about my personal history, then base my case mainly on that. However, I do like to throw those names out there mainly to show that just like my story, there are many others out there that have had tremendous success (far beyond me) without ever getting a college degree….
DISCLAIMER: This is my 2 cents based on my experience, take it or leave it.
To answer the question shortly, no, it doesn’t matter and it isn’t necessary.
I started my own LLC when I was about 16 and still attending high school in Indiana. I was only a sophomore in high school when I started to build out the brand of Blue Tide. From there, I built up a solid portfolio by doing fake mock-ups to pitch to the client and pro-bono projects for people I could convince to give me a shot at their design work. Anyone from friends of my family, to small and up-coming local bands in my area. From there, I took any opportunity I could to show off my graphic/web design skills.
While I was in my senior year in high school, I got accepted into IUPUI and also spent half of my school day at a paid internship through a program I had got accepted into at our high school. The company I was an intern for was called eGov Strategies LLC. I mainly did web design but also a bit of graphic design for different types of municipal governments. I also lucked out and had the opportunity to work for some really amazing leaders at eGov. I like to think that is where I really got the foundation I needed to keep succeeding. I learned more about the creative world with eGov than I had for the past 3ish years on my own. They set a very high standard that kept me pushing my knowledge in the field.
In fall of 2008, I started my first year at IUPUI (said to be one of the best state colleges in Indiana). After starting college, I began to notice the methods I was being taught were already slightly outdated and things I had learned back in high school. I was blown away by the lack of teaching in more upcoming things like CSS3, HTML5, etc. It felt like a waste of money for my family and mainly, a waste of time for me. From there, I let my freshman year in college fizzle out while I worked hourly for eGov to make some living money.
Toward the end of my freshman year at IUPUI, I was working on a mock interview project in one of my classes. Part of that project was to have a mock interview with local creative businesses in the Indianapolis area and they were to give you feedback on your current portfolio and interviewing skills. Not to toot my own horn but I’m a very personable/charming guy (haha). I can adapt to others’ personalities very well and it’s hard for me to find someone that I can’t get along with. I was interviewing with a company called Firebelly Marketing. Unlike other students in my class, I was pro-active and looked up everything I could about Firebelly. While doing my research on them, I found many browser errors on their company site. I decided to recreate their site and fix those browser bugs. During my interview, in a non-rude way, I showed them those errors and how I went about fixing them. They were blown away by my extra effort and by my general portfolio. They were so blown away that they offered me a full-time job, on the spot. I killed the mock interview, to say the least.
After being at Firebelly for a bit, I was doing well enough to go back to Blue Tide and go 100% freelance. I had always wanted to take Blue Tide full-time and I finally had the opportunity, so I took it. I had many people supporting me on this decision (especially my family) so I hit the ground running.
After being a successful freelancer with my own company Blue Tide for a year, I was offered a “dream position” with ChaCha.com. Millionaire and inventor of voicemail, Scott A. Jones, is the CEO of ChaCha. I had previously worked with ChaCha’s current creative director, Adam Yale, at Firebelly. He knew my skill set and wanted to bring me on full-time at ChaCha. It was an amazing job offer and an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up. I decided to put Blue Tide on hold and go full-time with ChaCha.
I currently work at ChaCha full-time. I’m only 22 (turning 23 this year). I dropped out of college at the end of my freshman year. I’m one of the youngest, if not the youngest, full-time employees that ChaCha has. And with all of that being said, I have never once been asked why I left college nor has it affected my job opportunities.
The crazy thing is that my friends that stayed in college can’t find a full-time job now because they spent 4 years learning methods they can’t use now. They now have to go back and relearn many techniques just to get up-to-date on coding and design. They don’t have any “real” experience in the creative field, which is what everyone wants. They are also probably in some debt from having to pay for college. Hmmm, seems like a whole different picture.
To sum this all up, everyone has a different story. I’m not saying you won’t necessary succeed with a college degree but I am saying you will not necessary fail without one. From my experience in the creative world, things like hard work, going the extra mile, your portfolio, real world experience, passion, references, networking, and past-clients will always speak louder than having just a college degree.
**Update: I now (June 2012) currently work full-time for Angie’s List in Indianapolis as a UX/UI designer! ;)