“The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.” -Albert Einstein
If you follow politics, you’ll notice an alarming trend: too many folks talk about getting a tuition-free education, but way too few focus on the idea of a quality education. A “free” education means nothing if what you learned was worthless and you still can’t find a job after college. How should we define quality? First, let’s look at some trends where the world is going:
- Increasing prevalence of automation: If you live in the heart of the Silicon Valley, you see automation everywhere – like from consumer-focused services such as Google’s (aka Alphabet) self-driving car, Roomba vacuum cleaning robots, to enterprise-focused services like Marketo automated marketing, Spot Trender automated ad-testing, and so on. Even fast-food is being automated by startup like Eatsa, which provides an “automated fast-food experience”. In fact, according to an Oxford study, close to 50% of existing jobs in America is “at risk of automation”.
- Increasing foreign competition: With tremendous improvements in communication technologies and English language adaptation, Americans have to compete with cheaper workers outside of the United States. Many foreign workers can work from their virtual office and do the same job as Americans for much lower wage.
- Accelerated technical advancements: The world is changing at tremendous pace. Specific engineering skills can become obsolete in 2 years, sometimes even much shorter.
Based on these trends, let’s think about what would make one a valuable and productive member in society. The key is adaptability. What kind of college education would make one highly adaptable? I was fortunate enough that when I went to college, UC Berkeley allows student to design their own majors (Interdisciplinary Science Field – ISF). This is what I did:
Historical: Winston Churchill famously said “the farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” Having a fundamental in History allows you to compare and contrast what happened to today’s society, to see and predict trends. That’s why so many investment bankers are History majors. Classes I took at Cal: Roman History, Modern Chinese History.
Scientific: Science trains the mind to reason. Scientific thinking allows you to look at facts instead of relying on your gut and biases before acting. For my own scientific education, I took Molecular Cell Biology, Physics, Calculus, and Probability Statistic for Engineers (one of the hardest math class I’ve taken – those Cal engineering students are wickedly smart!). To quote Prof. Richard Muller from Cal: “The key to learning math is recognizing that you are learning approaches, not facts, and think of those approaches as tools towards addressing new ideas. The skill to ‘problem solve’ is one of the most highly valued skills in all careers.”
Also, stop making excuses and learn how to code! I joined a Coding Dojo – a coding boot camp, and learned to code before starting my tech company. One of the best time investments in my life.
Physical : Pick a sport and work out 3-5 days a week. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. Study by University of British Columbia showed that regular aerobic exercises significantly improved left, right and total hippocampal volumes (p≤0.03). Exercise makes you smarter and being healthy allows you to work harder. I currently do Krav Maga (martial art) 3 times a week as well as a combination of weigh-lifting and cross-fit exercises.
Philosophy/moral: First, the point of moral education and philosophy is not having someone tell you – in black and white term, what’s “right” and what’s “wrong”. It’s for you to be able to think for yourself and determine what’s right or wrong. We’re facing an ever evolving world such that things that were perfectly OK ten years ago now frown upon. Even more, if you plan to be an innovator, you’ll have to deal with ethical issues, such as “why self-driving cars must be programmed to kill.” Second, Philosophical education is the best defense against stupidity. After learning how to reason, you’ll notice way too many people post bogus, outright stupid arguments on Facebook or social media about important issues. Inoculate yourself against stupidity and ignorance!
Leadership: The best way to learn leadership is to lead. Join a group and start leading. At Cal, I was in Army Reserve Officer Training Corp (yes, I got to take a bunch of advanced military science classes and loved it!), President of a social fraternity, and President of a Toastmasters club.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on education. Let’s connect via Twitter: @GetRickNow