Make Your Own Grad School

Make Your Own Grad School

I think I’ve had enough of formal schooling, but I have to admit I miss burning the midnight oil with fellow grad students. I miss talking to nutty people who have the fire inside, making the best use of available resources on borrowed funds and time. I’ve thought that becoming a professor could provide some of that missing energy, but I’m pretty sure that organizations and myself do not mix—especially bureaucratic ones. Because of this, I’ve been slowly learning to build my own institutions…going freelance, forming small creative groups, blogging…

And then I thought: why not apply the same thing to teaching, and build my own design school? It would be a combination of hands-on learning with hands-on insight, borrowing some of the methodology from the apprenticeship system, but capturing best practices as we built up a body of expertise. A “working school”, if you will. The foundation would be the person-to-person network of expertise, with all voluntarily contributing to the Program, and by extension the development of our professional practice. “Accreditation” would be by virtue of association with the program; its public reputation would rise or fall based on the quality of what we did and put out there for the world to see rather than some committee!

Apparently this idea is so last-month, as Joel Spolsky is already doing it with the “Fog Creek Software Management Training Program”.

Spolsky has written before about being inspired by Philip Greenspun and arsDigita, back when that company was still cool…remember they had their own Computer Science program? ArsDigita (through Greenspun) was the first company I became aware of that put a human voice on what they did. By human, I mean something like heart backed by technological idealism. Alas, it didn’t last. When the bubble burst in 2001, we all learned that heart alone wasn’t enough to create a sustainable business. Now we have Web 2.0, and people like Joel Spolsky building the human infrastructure that will help get everyone there:

The idea of this program is to develop a new generation of leaders for Fog Creek, but we think that it will be great preparation for a career leading, running, or starting any kind of high-tech company or team. If the program is successful we expect, in the long run, to churn out about twice as many graduates as we need for our own purposes, so many will tend to head off to start their own companies, take a high-level position elsewhere in the industry, or go back to graduate school. Either way we think it’s a fantastic opportunity for ambitious, smart geeks who don’t see themselves as programmers.

This is incredibly cool…be sure to read the philosophy behind it too. The announcement starts off with a great story about working in a bakery as a teen, learning the ropes from the ground up. Apprenticeship! Mentoring! And great writing!

I’ll be very curious to see how it all works out. Best of luck, guys! Rock on!


  1. someone 15 years ago

    website input box says it all.

    “I’m pretty sure that organizations and myself do not mix”

    I feel that way all the time.


  2. Dave 15 years ago

    Heh, I should clarify that! I don’t like being part of another organization…it’s very odd. It chafes. I don’t even like having brand labels on my clothes, for that matter…wearing a company shirt I am pretty sure would kill me :-)

    I don’t mind organizations themselves, especially if they are doing good things. Empowering individuals within an organization is also very satisfying. I guess I just like being able to speak for myself, and to be clear about it. This doesn’t go over well with organizations that expect automatic deferrence to their senior, or equate grovelling with loyalty. There is such a thing as putting in one’s dues, which I respect, but I would rather put my own dues in to something I care about, instead of for the possibility of doing something based on the assessment of some manager who looks at my work maybe once a year, if at all. That’s a crap deal.

    Of course, this puts the burden on me to live up to expectations. I haven’t always been able to do this, but at least I know I’m trying. I’ve wondered under what conditions that I could work in a large organization…it probably would come down to people and autonomy of the department I was in, but I’m not sure.

  3. DeAnna 14 years ago

    How’s this for a series of coincidences:

    I’m at work, supposed to be doing research on blogs that are related to our business (craft stuff, etching metal and glass, making rubber stamps). You’re blog comes up in Google under a search for “metal etching blog” and sends me to the page where you talk about the Etch-O-Matic. Huh, as it happens, the company that I work for is Martronics.

    So, I think that’s pretty cool, and I start browsing around your site a bit more, realize that you were at SXSW, which is the topic that has made it nigh unto impossible for me to complete this little research project today, because like every blogger in the universe was apparently there, and they apparently all saw Heather Armstrong (and in fact, most of them have pictures of her drunken dancing), who is one of my heroes.

    And to top it all off, you have hit upon, in this old post, one of my current obsessions, something I know as “unschooling”, which has been fairly popular among homeschool kids, but which a surprisingly small number of people are doing for secondary education. Except another one of my heroes, Heather Martin, who talks about unschooling college here

    The internet once again proves itself to be a small small world.

  4. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    WOW! That’s amazing, DeAnna! This reminds me of one of my personal quirks: if I notice something three times, I have to find out more about it :-) I’m happy to be the “it” in this case! :-) Thanks for the heads-up on the “unschooling” concept. I got to see Heather! I sat in the second row of one of her panels! I think I was sitting behind JON! OMG!

  5. psg 14 years ago

    dave, i missed this post the first time around. thank you!

    did you read gibson’s pattern recognition (or Scarlett Thomas’ PopCo?)? i “claim” not to like labels on my clothing and self, but i am very vocal about brands (inc schooling) that i like/don’t like. i hope that doesn’t make me a hypocrite. hmm.