College Wasn’t for Me: Apprenticeships Should Be Seen as a Legitimate Alternative to College
I dropped out of high school in late 2013, and college in early 2020. As a first-generation American, son of Bangladeshi immigrants, these were surprising decisions for my parents who, like a lot of parents, believe the best pathway in America is a college degree followed by a successful career. But this path didn’t appeal to me. My best learning has been done organically and through self-teaching.
I knew I wanted to get into computer programming but a computer science degree came with math requirements that didn’t make sense to me or my interests. So I joined a coding fellowship at The Knowledge House in late 2020, where I participated in my first ever hackathon for a major US bank. The judges at the hackathon proposed three challenge prompts to choose from. My team and I chose the hardest one: validating bank checks through machine learning. In 48 hours, we were to complete this project and present it. Since it was during the height of the pandemic, I took the initiative to create a Discord server for my team, so that we could keep each other updated on our progress, help each other when we got stuck, and decompress with memes. Many of the participants were college students attending prestigious universities, which was intimidating at first as the imposter syndrome kicked in, but my team and I knew that if we worked hard together and communicated well, we had the foundation to be a competitive force in the hackathon. My team eventually won first place against nearly 200 participants.
I clearly had the foundational skills but I still didn’t have a clear pathway to a job. Most entry-level roles asked for a bachelor’s degree — and maybe even work experience on top of that. Applying to plenty of jobs and not getting answers, I wondered when I actually was going to get to apply what I’d learned in a workplace. The whole point was to get a job, after all.
Apprenticeship Met My Needs for Experiential Learning
That’s where an apprenticeship came in. In late 2021, I was hired as a software engineering apprentice at a leading consumer tech company through Multiverse. I was fortunate to hear about Multiverse while their team was still in the early stages in the US. But it shouldn’t be left to chance that young adults can easily access different ways of working and learning outside of college. Alternative pathways, such as apprenticeships, should become more mainstream routes to tech and corporate careers for young adults. Apprenticeships can equip employees with tailored skills to tackle projects important to the company, foster a more diverse and inclusive environment, which can ultimately lead to greater innovation, and better introduce soft skills to young adults early on.
Apprenticeships are defined by the Department of Labor as a combination of paid on-the-job training with classroom instruction to prepare workers for highly-skilled careers. For me, an apprenticeship provided a space to learn new things as an engineer, apply what I learned in real time, make mistakes, and shadow people way better than me at my craft (while getting paid in the process). In an apprenticeship, I can learn a new coding language or programming strategy and then immediately apply it for a project like fixing a bug or working on a new feature, without waiting a year to graduate or begin a new job. I recall learning mainstream technologies ― like React and Redux ― at my bootcamp, which I then found to be extremely useful at my job. My first task at ClassPass was to use these tools to change how a user interacts with a button. Finishing it made me realize that once you grasp the foundations, you then have the ability to do more challenging tasks. I find this model of applied-learning more engaging and organic, and it has better prepared me to solve problems. We all have mental capacities for learning beyond a classroom environment and you don’t always need a degree to solve problems that companies face.
Apprenticeships Boost Diversity
I’ve learned firsthand that anyone can contribute positively to a company regardless of experience or credentials. But making certain jobs available only to those with degrees often means not everyone is given a fair chance at jobs at top companies. Diversity in the workplace is something all companies should strive for. I strongly believe hiring people from all walks of life can provide more creative approaches to solving problems, and pave the way towards answering many systemic injustices in our society today.
When I think back to my first hackathon, what proved important was the desire to keep learning and the ability to work in a team. That holds true at work too. As a software engineering apprentice, I’m constantly learning new things, participating in meetings, and working alongside colleagues. It’s challenging, but also fun and rewarding. Managing time, communication, and effective goal-setting are undeniably critical to success as an employee. The good thing is you don’t need to go to college for it. With my apprenticeship, I got a head start to hone these skills everyday, with added support from my Multiverse coaches. The path of any career in tech is not about destinations since technology is always changing.
While my college friends have enjoyed the social aspects of school and choosing from a variety of courses, I believe that experience may not be for everyone. I encourage those who decide traditional schooling is not for them to take the leap to become an apprentice. I hope that as apprenticeships grow in the US, more companies accept this paradigm shift towards an alternative pathway, inclusive of all young adults despite the lack of school credentials.