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To degree or no to degree


A bit of context
Near the end of my junior year of high school a friend and I were approached by the Chief Innovations Officer (CIO) of a local university. They were generous enough to offer us both a full ride scholarship as long as we helped to re-define what education was at the university. It was an offer that gave us both the flexibility to turn a regular CS degree into something more individualized and more meaningful. I should mention that at this time I was miserable during high school. It wasn’t that it was too hard though it was actually the opposite. High school for me was something too easy that I couldn’t see the point of and that was reflected by my looking very average on paper. My friend and I accepted offer and graduated a month later.
We worked throughout the summer with the CIO on a plethora of things then we began our classes in late August. It was nothing special to be quite honest and it was around mid October that my depression really hit home. I’ve struggled with depression since I was ten years old. At the time I wasn’t being treated in any way and I had to medically withdraw. Shortly after this I started taking medication and going to therapy and I felt okay. I still didn’t feel great and was still a little weary, but I decided to return for the next semester. It didn’t go much better and ended in the same result as the first time. After that I changed medications to something that actually helped quite a bit and returned to therapy. My friend transferred to another university at the end of this semester as well.
After a while I continued my work with the CIO as an individual instead of student. It was my hope that we could establish a computer science education degree at the university. However, around the end of August 2018 the university laid off the CIO and moved their school of educations department chair elsewhere. Prior to this there was resource issues and the two things were the final straw.

Present Day
Now that I’m 19 and no longer working on anything I’ve asked myself what should I do? When I was in high school I really didn’t value a college degree. I saw it as something you needed to get a job. But having learned a lot about education while working my value for degrees is non-existent. So my question is what should I do? Do I suck it up and attempt to get a degree that I won’t value and I’m not sure I’ll succeed in? Or should I do something else? All I want to do is teach CS. Sorry for the long post, but any feedback is greatly appreciated.


Don’t know about where you are.

But here in Illinois, if you want to be a teacher for middle and elementary aged kids all you need is a bachelors degree in teaching. If you want to teach high schools you need a bachelors in the area of study and you need a teaching license. If you want to teach college aged kids you need a masters in your field and a teaching license.

Lots of middle/ high schools now are having programming ( which is part of cs) or computer science as part of their core curriculum or as an elective that the student can choose.

So it depends at what grade level you want to teach.


Start a YouTube channel. Make it professional, useful, relevant, and entertaining.

If you want to do this in a formal classroom setting then I suggest you get at least a Masters degree and pick an area to specialize in, like networks or operating system, but even those are very broad allowing specialization.


If you want to teach CS you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to teach up through high school. Bachelors with experience for a technical/community college. Masters for a uni or other 4-year institution. All of those especially if you want to teach sooner rather than later.

Whatever route you end up taking you’ll most likely need at least some form of degree in what you’re teaching. If you don’t think college is your thing then maybe you could try getting a job and going to school part time? I have a friend who does that and loves it, she works full time, takes a few classes a semester, and will tutor every now and again when she has time. It’ll obviously take longer to get a degree, but you’ll also be getting real world experience at the same time. Many employers also like seeing the drive when getting a degree is mentioned.

Also don’t be afraid to change plans if you find something you like more. Yeah it sucks paying however much money and then changing your mind, but that’s better than spending more money and hating the outcome. If I can work it into my budget I’ll probably be going back to school again myself for something different.


I can identify with both the depression and the hating high school issue. I HATED high school, and as much as I hate academic red tape I can’t think of leaving the academia anymore. But that did not happen till grad school, and even then I have encountered people who make scream “this is the cesspool of humanity”!

My point is… those two co-exist for me… a love for epistemology of computation, and a rabbid hatred for academic hierarchy and the kind of chickenshit condescending SOBs who usually crowd universities . I struggled with it for a while… but I have come to realize something… it’s up to the individual to make a difference. And also that no one individual changes everything. If I leave, universities won’t shut down! Somebody else will just take my place. And I don’t know that they won’t repeat the same shit. So I try to do my job, and make it easier for the people I have to teach/supervise, give them someone to talk to, point them to places where they might find inspiration etc.

Why am I telling you all these? To point out that if you are passionate about something, and I think you are because you want to teach CS (as Carl Sagan said, "Not explaining Science seems crazy to me! When you are in love, you want to tell the world!), then you will find others who are. If you can, read some research papers and find out which one excites you the most! Look up the author, and talk to them. You will find there are people who will help you, be a mentor and when that happens, your love for CS will grow. When things are down, everything looks bleak… trust me I know from experience. Bad teachers can make it worse, but when you find a good colleague, things will get better fast. The connection itself will be worth it. As the computational neurobiologist Sam Epstein once told me, "I used to think I was crazy, I used to think it’s just me. But now I know, it’s you AND me.

I can recommend Robert Berwick at MIT. He is into all kinds of stuff… leads the A.I. lab still, I think. He usually looks at the kinds of computation that are feasible… on silicon, in the brain, in the universe etc. But he also does syntax and other stuff, and some learning algorithms too! Don’t let your worries about how you will do stop you now. Rather think about how passionate you are about something.

TO TEACH: It depends on what you mean by CS. It’s not a monolithic entity. Do you mean Computer Science, Computational Science etc. What aspect of it? Do you want to teach programming , or go deeper and look at what computation means and what constrains it, and that kind of stuff? Those will determine what you should do. If you are thinking at a university level, you will need to go to Grad School. The job market is ultra-competitive, funds are low, and without a PhD you are severely strapped. I don’t recommend adjunct faculty positions at all. You can get those with a Masters, but you will be living hand to mouth.

You can PM me if you want to talk in private. If there’s something I can do to help, all you have to do is ask.


Depends on where you are, but I’d probably start with an associates degree. See if you can work while you get it to graduate with no debt. Most community colleges/jr colleges have tuition assistance, or such low prices it’s possible to graduate without debt. It’ll also give you a taste for whether or not you want to pursue a bachelor’s degree, and is cheap enough that it’s very low risk if it doesn’t work out. The experience at a 4-year university is a little fancier, granted, but it’s a significant investment, and one that I wouldn’t make again. I wish I had gone to community college because then I’d have had a much better idea of what I like.

In the meantime, you could keep cultivating your hobbies and interests, try to find a practical application for them. You could lay out an outline for how to get them involved in a serious aspect of your life, establish goals for it, and just see how far it gets you. Whatever you do, though, don’t let the depression beat you (easy to say, I know). Make sure if you don’t go to school, it’s a logical decision, not an emotional one.


If you have the option of a scholarship to cover the cost of your education you should take it.
Nobody ever said they regretted earning a diploma.

And you’re still a kid. You won’t be the same person in 2 to 5 years guaranteed.

I had no option of assistance and could not justify the debt. You have an awesome opportunity sitting before you. The people you meet in school are more valuable than any accolade. If you are like me and generally avoid people its especially important to develop these relationships. And it helps in a setting where you are around people within your field of interest.

But you gotta make up your own mind, I’m just a guy on the internet


Firstly, thank you to everyone who replied, it means a lot. After reading your responses and taking some time to think I think I’m going to attempt to get my degree. While I may not value it as much as I should it will allow me to do what I love and will still teach me a lot that I don’t know. A university not to far from me has a very unique program that would allow to double major in STEM education and computer science. They also teach with a focus on competencies via inquiry based learning (IBL).
It sounds very promising, but I wanted to thank @biolinguist individually. Your post is probably one of the best responses that I’ve read on this site and is better than any I have received in person. Thank you for your words of wisdom and your kindness.


I have merely paid it forward, my friend! I had to drop out of Grad School… twice… because perverted idiots were stealing my data and publishing them (in one case) and harassing my partner (in the second case). At this point I was in love with the ideas of Minsky, Chomsky, Marr and Turing. But I also had a family, and my own stomach, to think of. Do I try again, or do I find a job, even a menial one? If I try, my partner has to suffer. If I get a job… well… you know how they say “Once you have seen the pattern, you can’t un-see it?”

I know how you feel… I can relate to how desperate it feels to be trapped in a real-life Sophie’s Choice situation. That’s all…

When I had to make a choice, I found a few people… all at the very top of the food chain… were very unexpectedly kind to me. I would have lost my mind without their help. The magnanimity of these giant sharks stood out especially in comparison to much smaller sharks who always treated me like shit. There were a few big ones who did too… but as I said on the post about Paul Allen’s death (who was one of the people who helped me out)… there are Big Names, and then there are Legends! The difference, I have found, is in how they see the world, and treat people.

Now, I am happy to see you chose education. But be warned… the academia is a shark-tank. Not unlike the corporate world. They just do it “undercover”. Be prepared to meet a lot of light-weight minds who think they are heavy-weights. They will get you down at times… but if you persevere, and reach out to the Md. Ali types… you will find help. Don’t let anyone convince you that you are not “big enough” or not “good enough” to contact/work with Prof. X! It will hold you back amidst mediocre people who survive by keeping others below them. Always reach for the people who inspire you, and don’t let individual behavior turn you off. If Prof. X treats you like shit, forget him and write to Y, Z. Sooner or later, you will find someone like Paul Allen, or Jerry Fodor. And don’t let idiots and scavengers convince you of your self-worth, or the lack of it. Anyone who tells you “you can’t” is merely afraid that you “can”, and that will increase the competition for them!

Robert Trivers, arguably the greatest Evolutionary Biologist since Darwin, and also a former Black Panther, said about Huey Newton and how Harvard treated him, “Huey was a heavyweight mind! Not like the lightweight minds you see around Harvard and Yale!”

Good luck! Feel free to write to me anytime you want.


You’re going to be working for a living for a long time. Things happen. You change. Few of us spend our lives doing what we were convinced we wanted to do at 19.

The educational requirements to sustain a safe, comfortable lifestyle always trend up, and will trend up during your lifetime.

What happened with other people you know or read about has no bearing on your own situation.

If you sent me a degree-less resume for an IT position, I’d trash it. You’d never get a chance to tell me why I should hire you despite the missing education.

Get the degree.


+1 on degree.

You’ll open up so many more doors and your income will be significanly higher.

It sucks and it’s expensive, but just do it and get it done, you wont regret it.


dealing with depression is a lot more difficult than many people think (who have not experienced crippling depression they have absolutely no idea how bad it can get)
I know and I wont discuss my depression because i know what it can do to poeple who start thinking about it!
I do not medicate for it because i have a strong will power. so i understand what you are going through!

anyhow you do not necessarily need a degree to impart knowledge but if you are going to teach in an academic standard and institution you need to have the degrees as proof of your qualifications
I know accredited colleges can give very good degrees but you have to put up with having to take many prerequisite courses that have nothing to do with your choice of field.

while it may not be that big a deal for a young person for an old fart like me I cant see wasting 4 or more years of my life studying political sciences and performing arts just to get a degree in cs.

if you have the opportunity to get the degree take my advice Get the degree!
your life will be much easier for it.


Definitely get a degree. University give you some things that’s hard to simply learn on your own. I personally hate the fact I dropped after three years in university, and even though it didn’t in any way shape or form prevent me from getting good jobs it still bugs me every time when I start at a new company when they ask for a copy of my diploma and I’m like… well I don’t have one. So I’m actually completing my degree right now, graduating next year (possibly). I’m telling you when you’re in your high-mid 30s it’s a bit less easy to balance your proffesional life personal life and education. So better go for it dude ;).