Ask any project manager and they'll say there's not enough talent from top-tier computer science departments. They may go so far as to say they would hire a new CS major from a top school without reading the résumé. But ask this same desperate project manager about a middle-aged programmer with a degree from the same school, and they'll hesitate and start mumbling about getting back to you later.
Indeed, it isn't unheard of to find major technology companies complaining to Congress that they can't find Americans capable of programming, all while defending themselves in age-discrimination lawsuits from older programmers with stellar résumés and degrees from top universities.
Some of this may suggest that education doesn't have the same value it used to hold. Older workers with degrees that used to be valuable are saying companies want only young, unfettered bodies that will work long hours. It leaves you to wonder whether it's the age and implied lower pay expectations, not the knowledge that makes fresh college graduates so desirable.
Others are simply moving beyond such questions, looking instead to exploit what they see as a market distortion caused by our infatuation with the four-year diploma. Venture capitalists are paying top talent to skip their undergraduate years. Others are actively recruiting people with odd degrees and pushing them through a boot camp that teaches them practical skills, not the theoretical analysis common in university courses.
The most prominent rejection of a traditional university education is the program run by PayPal founder Peter Thiel. He's recruiting top programmers who are just leaving high school and paying them to "stop out" of college. The kids get a job and he gets young, malleable talent.
Others are looking at the staggering rise in tuition and suggesting that shorter, more focused education makes economic sense. Paying off a degree from a top-flight university over a 40-year career can easily consume $1,500 per month ($250,000 at 6.8 percent). Online courses and training from the vendors themselves can be dramatically cheaper.
One article from Fast Company asked the question, "Why hire a PhD when a self-taught kid is just as good?" It then answers the question by describing internship programs that companies can use to hire people with real talent but no fancy degree.
Years ago, ACID ruled the database roost. The challenge was to build a bulletproof machine that always gave a correct and consistent answer when queried. Hurricanes, nuclear weapons, and errant janitors unplugging the rack could not scramble the database. The big customers were banks, hotels, and airlines, and they wanted to make sure bank accounts and reservations were consistent and correct.
Today, the industry is trying to find an easy way to store ephemera from our lives. From the places we visit to the toss-away comments between friends, the goal is to find a fast and efficient way to store endless tidbits from everyone on earth.
The smartest people approaching this problem quickly realized they could make their job dramatically easier by cutting corners and blithely ignoring any glitch. If some status update disappeared, who would notice? If somebody checked in to a service while at a coffee shop and failed to be crowned mayor of that coffee shop, it wasn't a big deal because they would probably return again tomorrow. After the new class of data caretakers recognized that they could save a fortune on compute cycles and infrastructure simply by loosening requirements, they started building NoSQL and other so-called data stores.
Now, saving time and money by trading away accuracy rules the Web. Try searching for an older email message with some of the Web-based tools. They're quietly leaving some of the older ones out of the index. This often reflects a slow erosion of standards for search. Google, for instance, quietly ended the ability to use true boolean searches with the plus sign. Expect to see more and more Web engineers subtly tossing aside the fanatical commitment to accuracy once common among database administrators.