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Rickert

How well do graduates from top universities perform and how does it feel compare to the rest of the world?

23 posts in this topic

I always have impressions to those who got admitted into top Universities like MIT, Standford... for studying Engineering (only those with modesity and nice, not being an arrogant jerk though). I don't actually know what they are doing in the University or what they will do, but I always feel they can perform higher level tasks with more complexities. I always think that they are good at create and applying mathematical model in real life and I tend to agree: If you can't apply math, it's your problems, not math.

I am a junior software engineer on embedded devices. I am learning more on Linux kernel and low level stuffs. Even so, my will is not strong enough to pursue technical path forever, with a final purpose is to create something significant on my own.

May I have a chance to get on their level if I keep learning through experience and self-study? In my opinion, Math is the must have requirement, since it seems that programs on those Universities are very Math oriented. Without very strong math skill, how can one perform good in science and researching beyond making regular business products?

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[quote name='Rickert' timestamp='1322476615' post='4888378']
I always have impressions to those who got admitted into top Universities like MIT, Standford... for studying Engineering (only those with modesity and nice, not being an arrogant jerk though). I don't actually know what they are doing in the University or what they will do, but I always feel they can perform higher level tasks with more complexities. I always think that they are good at create and applying mathematical model in real life and I tend to agree: If you can't apply math, it's your problems, not math.
[/quote]

I would say modestly that 75% of my learning happened outside University. Just using me non-scientifically as an average, lets say MIT was twice as productive at educating people as my school, that would put an MIT graduate at 125% of my knowledge. If, however, I am 33% more productive in educating myself outside school I make up the difference. Not to say MIT graduates aren't motivated to learn on their own, they could easily jump ahead just as well, but there is a point where the knowledge gained at MIT or a community college will be trivially different compared to the stuff you decide to learn in your own time.

I'd say this is especially true in any tech related industry where things change every year and if you fall behind your past knowledge will be outdated and near useless.
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My observation has been that top tier universities provide a better research experience than others, but education quality is pretty much the same. There are sometimes differences in emphasis in different fields, but the degree programs in one school will produce similar ability in a given student as a different school will for a similar student. For those who take advantage of the generally better facilities and more abundant funding, an elite school might provide better practical education or give their careers a boost. But those same students would probably shine at any other school as well.
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Echoing what people have been saying, I do think that the students themselves that make the differences. Top-tier schools' students are smart, not because the school made them smart, but because they are already smart to begin with.

There are differences in the environment among schools. Of course, though, if it's good or bad for students is up for debate. MIT students, I heard, are very competitive. They would cutthroat each other just to get better grades. Other schools are probably more relaxed, their students are more likely to support each other.
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Being admitted usually means you're good. Graduating from those University may be.
But by no means you can conclude that those who weren't admitted or didn't graduate from there aren't good enough. It's a falacy.
Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and John Carmack... none of them even completed their degree studies.

It's the person, not the school what makes the difference.
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[quote name='Matias Goldberg' timestamp='1322530684' post='4888648']
Being admitted usually means you're good. Graduating from those University may be.
But by no means you can conclude that those who weren't admitted or didn't graduate from there aren't good enough. It's a falacy.
Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and John Carmack... none of them even completed their degree studies.

It's the person, not the school what makes the difference.
[/quote]

Bill Gates finished his degree... 34 years after he started.
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[quote name='Rickert' timestamp='1322476615' post='4888378']
May I have a chance to get on their level if I keep learning through experience and self-study?[/quote]You're making a rookie mistake.


It's not the knowledge that's the killer feature of the university system. It's the social aspect. By being in a university, I got to meet the tip top people in their fields. That, and the ability to work on cutting edge research that you wouldn't really have thought about by yourself.

As far as large university vs. small, there's less competition in a smaller university, but then there's less opportunity. You might have to work on something that is absolutely not interesting, even if it's important.
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[quote name='Binomine' timestamp='1322568873' post='4888743']
As far as large university vs. small, there's less competition in a smaller university, but then there's less opportunity. You might have to work on something that is absolutely not interesting, even if it's important.[/quote]
Control theory in the stabilisation of peer-to-peer file sharing networks. *shudders*
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It's often all about the student and rarely about the institution, all a good school offers you are more [i]opportunities[/i]. It's still up to you to [i]take advantage [/i]of what's being offered and [i]learn[/i].

A nice school is a nice thing to have, but if all you want is an "easy way in" then forget it; no such thing exists.
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[quote name='Matias Goldberg' timestamp='1322530684' post='4888648']
Being admitted usually means you're good. Graduating from those University may be.
But by no means you can conclude that those who weren't admitted or didn't graduate from there aren't good enough. It's a falacy.
Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and John Carmack... none of them even completed their degree studies.

It's the person, not the school what makes the difference.
[/quote]Note that the first three are primarily successful and known due to success as businessmen, which is probably one of those skills that's less likely to require academic tuition (well, obviously Universities do teach business, but it's not as academic as say mathematics). John Carmack yes - but remember, rare isolated examples tell us little about general rules.

Dennis Ritchie graduated from Havard. But because he wasn't a businessman of a big multinational company, he's more likely to get ignored in lists, despite the massive contributions he made to computing technology. I would say, anecdotes don't tell us much :)
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Thanks for replying.

[quote name='Binomine' timestamp='1322568873' post='4888743']
You're making a rookie mistake.


It's not the knowledge that's the killer feature of the university system. It's the social aspect. By being in a university, I got to meet the tip top people in their fields. That, and the ability to work on cutting edge research that you wouldn't really have thought about by yourself.

As far as large university vs. small, there's less competition in a smaller university, but then there's less opportunity. You might have to work on something that is absolutely not interesting, even if it's important.
[/quote]
You are right. I missed the environment aspect, although I can feel how it affects my daily study at the University, and the big difference between self-study on your own and being in the community. However, both are supplementary to each other, and when we graduate, we have to rely more on self-study, although working environment is a nice place to interactively learning from people, but we have to rely on our own after all to improve ourselves and get the jobs done. At least that's my experience.

[quote name='alnite' timestamp='1322529080' post='4888642']
Echoing what people have been saying, I do think that the students themselves that make the differences. Top-tier schools' students are smart, not because the school made them smart, but because they are already smart to begin with.

There are differences in the environment among schools. Of course, though, if it's good or bad for students is up for debate. MIT students, I heard, are very competitive. They would cutthroat each other just to get better grades. Other schools are probably more relaxed, their students are more likely to support each other.
[/quote]
I agree. I used to think that it doesn't matter where we study, the knowledge is the same. 1+1=2 regardless where it is taught and everyone has the same competitive advantages when they acquire the same knowledge. Realistically, it's different. Even with the same knowledge being taught, students in environment like MIT, as I deduce from the qualification process, they definitely can do more with the same amount of knowledge obtain, since most of them would be smart plus the education environment.

I think most of us want to be something significant in the society, or, the world. That's why we thrive to work hard, study more. Even with those who innately interest in something, aren't the childhood idols a big factor? I used to love the stories of famous scientists around the world, who dedicated their lives to advance the world. Later, I play games, and I want to create it. That's why I learn programming/software engineering. However, in high school, I did not perform well, only an average student, and just love to play games but not serious on creating it. I was really lazy, and maybe not so smart at that time. Until I decided to be serious, it was a bit late. Your academic record cannot be undone. Due to being an average student, I was always having a fear of not able to complete subjects like engineering/science... any subjects which require high logical thinking. But since I really like computer and making games, I bet my life on it. Later I was amazed to myself how I can learn the "impossible" subjects and discovered that psychology plays a big factor in learning something. At the time of being serious in getting my degree, I thrown away every negative thought, and mentally focus on learning what I was supposed to learn. For example, many people compete and jealous to each other, which affects their learning mind and derails them from learning, pushing themselves to stressful situation. I simply didn't care who's better than me anymore, but I care how good I progress and I respect that. The better people, I viewed them as a measurement to improve me, not to make me sad. Yet lots of people cannot get pass this.

My formal education is in application programming. But now I am working on embedded telecom devices, with focusing on learning Linux stacks (from its kernel to its utilities). I am pretty satisfied with what I achieved. Even though, whenever thinking about graduates from the top universities, I think they even achieve more. Right now I am still struggling on reading "The art of computer programming" (Maybe I will comeback later when my reasoning skill improve to another level), while I am comfortable to read other technical books.

Maybe I care too much about how myself fits the society again? Maybe after all, not everyone is destined to be the greatest to do the greatest things which change the world. Maybe everyone follows what they are destined for, they would be happy, rather trying to change what is impossible to change. I really like Linux, open source and free software in general, since I can feel like I contribute, regardless trivial or significant, to the world as a whole, rather than a specific organization, or a country, or a race.

I really like to develop games and I like the free software philosophy. I am working on creating telecom software, but I consider part of my plan for maturing my skills to start developing serious games for Linux (note that serious games does not mean AAA title, it maybe at personal or indie level, but it's serious). I would like to create exclusive games for Linux, because making portable games for Windows is like telling the public how inferior the Linux compares to Windows, when in fact, it's not.
Dream is just dream, but I still follow it. There maybe people who dislike my post, but I'm ready for criticism :).
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[quote name='Rickert' timestamp='1322581419' post='4888789']
I agree. I used to think that it doesn't matter where we study, the knowledge is the same. 1+1=2 regardless where it is taught and everyone has the same competitive advantages when they acquire the same knowledge. Realistically, it's different. Even with the same knowledge being taught, students in environment like MIT, as I deduce from the qualification process, they definitely can do more with the same amount of knowledge obtain, since most of them would be smart plus the education environment.
[/quote]
Bullshit. You're deducing a complete fallacy: that a smart person will get 'smarter' out of going to MIT.

[quote name='Rickert' timestamp='1322581419' post='4888789']
I think most of us want to be something significant in the society, or, the world.
[/quote]
Sure, everyone wants to be something. What's that got to do with the thread at hand?[quote name='Rickert' timestamp='1322581419' post='4888789']
That's why we thrive to work hard, study more. Even with those who innately interest in something, aren't the childhood idols a big factor? I used to love the stories of famous scientists around the world, who dedicated their lives to advance the world. Later, I play games, and I want to create it. That's why I learn programming/software engineering.
[/quote]
Childhood idols and interests play a major role in what we strive towards and dream of. But again, why are you bringing it up [i]here?[/i][quote name='Rickert' timestamp='1322581419' post='4888789']
However, in high school, I did not perform well, only an average student, and just love to play games but not serious on creating it. I was really lazy, and maybe not so smart at that time. Until I decided to be serious, it was a bit late. Your academic record cannot be undone.
[/quote]
No, they can however be [i]improved[/i].[quote name='Rickert' timestamp='1322581419' post='4888789']
Due to being an average student, I was always having a fear of not able to complete subjects like engineering/science... any subjects which require high logical thinking. But since I really like computer and making games,[b] I bet my life on it.[/b]
[/quote]
You played russian roulette, ey? :)[quote name='Rickert' timestamp='1322581419' post='4888789']
Later I was amazed to myself how I can learn the "impossible" subjects and discovered that psychology plays a big factor in learning something. At the time of being serious in getting my degree, I thrown away every negative thought, and mentally focus on learning what I was supposed to learn. For example, many people compete and jealous to each other, which affects their learning mind and derails them from learning, pushing themselves to stressful situation. I simply didn't care who's better than me anymore, but I care how good I progress and I respect that. The better people, I viewed them as a measurement to improve me, not to make me sad. Yet lots of people cannot get pass this.
[/quote]
Stop using the word "better people". It pisses me off. There are no "better people" - no Über Menschen; there are prodigies and talented people, yes. That's different from what you are implying - that people are on a scale of 'good' to 'bad'. Also, stop using "people" - you don't speak for the vast majority.
[quote name='Rickert' timestamp='1322581419' post='4888789']
My formal education is in application programming. But now I am working on embedded telecom devices, with focusing on learning Linux stacks (from its kernel to its utilities). I am pretty satisfied with what I achieved. Even though, whenever thinking about graduates from the top universities, I think they even achieve more. Right now I am still struggling on reading "The art of computer programming" (Maybe I will comeback later when my reasoning skill improve to another level), while I am comfortable to read other technical books.
[/quote]
One MIT grad could go on to achieve no credible work in his entire life while a community college nobody goes on to be the next Steve Jobs - what's your point? That MIT grads and those who attend other high profile Ivy League schools are better than those who go to other, more 'regular', schools? That they generally 'achieve' more?
[quote name='Rickert' timestamp='1322581419' post='4888789']
Maybe I care too much about how myself fits the society again? Maybe after all, not everyone is destined to be the greatest to do the greatest things which change the world. Maybe everyone follows what they are destined for, they would be happy, rather trying to change what is impossible to change. I really like Linux, open source and free software in general, since I can feel like I contribute, regardless trivial or significant, to the world as a whole, rather than a specific organization, or a country, or a race.
[/quote]
You care [i]waaayy [/i]too much about something that should occupy perhaps one trillionth of a picosecond of your life, yes. "Destined"? How the hell would one know what destiny (if there is such a thing as a deterministic universe) one posses? Impossible to change? What is impossible to change? Life? I read defeatism between the lines here. [i]In spades[/i].
[quote name='Rickert' timestamp='1322581419' post='4888789']
I really like to develop games and I like the free software philosophy. I am working on creating telecom software, but I consider part of my plan for maturing my skills to start developing serious games for Linux (note that serious games does not mean AAA title, it maybe at personal or indie level, but it's serious). I would like to create exclusive games for Linux, because making portable games for Windows is like telling the public how inferior the Linux compares to Windows, when in fact, it's not.
[/quote]
Do what you [i]want[/i] to do - anything [i]else[/i] is just cheating yourself on happiness. No, really.
[quote name='Rickert' timestamp='1322581419' post='4888789']
Dream is just dream, but I still follow it. There maybe people who dislike my post, but I'm ready for criticism :).
[/quote]
A dream is only a dream if [i]you [/i]believe it to be unfeasible - change your mind and it becomes a [i]goal[/i].
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[quote name='Rickert' timestamp='1322581419' post='4888789']
My formal education is in application programming. But now I am working on embedded telecom devices, with focusing on learning Linux stacks (from its kernel to its utilities). I am pretty satisfied with what I achieved. Even though, whenever thinking about graduates from the top universities, I think they even achieve more. Right now I am still struggling on reading "The art of computer programming" (Maybe I will comeback later when my reasoning skill improve to another level), while I am comfortable to read other technical books. [/quote]
[quote]I really like to develop games and I like the free software philosophy.[/quote]
[quote]because making portable games for Windows is like telling the public how inferior the Linux compares to Windows, when in fact, it's not. [/quote]

You: "A graduate in Application Programming, currently employed as embedded telecom device programmer, Linux kernel programmer, advocate of Free Software". (Yawn...)

Them: "We connect people all around the world, round the clock, giving them ability to share their happiest moments as they occur" (Yay!)


When you understand the difference between the two, you will become the "better people".

[quote] but I consider part of my plan for maturing my skills to start developing serious games for Linux (note that serious games does not mean AAA title, it maybe at personal or indie level, but it's serious). I would like to create exclusive games for Linux[/quote]
This is not fun. It's not even a game.

CowClicker is a fun game.

Now focus on understanding why.
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[quote name='mdwh' timestamp='1322575669' post='4888776']
[quote name='Matias Goldberg' timestamp='1322530684' post='4888648']
Being admitted usually means you're good. Graduating from those University may be.
But by no means you can conclude that those who weren't admitted or didn't graduate from there aren't good enough. It's a falacy.
Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and John Carmack... none of them even completed their degree studies.

It's the person, not the school what makes the difference.
[/quote]John Carmack yes - but remember, rare isolated examples tell us little about general rules.
[/quote]
Rare isolated examples [i]do[/i] tell us something about general rules. Namely, that the proposed rule is not a general rule. Rarity and isolation don't matter in the least if the counterexample is valid. For example, in calculus the [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weierstrass_function"]Weierstrass function[/url] is continuous everywhere, but nowhere differentiable. This function is about the rarest and most isolated as they can get yet its existence is enough to shatter the general rule: [i]All continuous functions are differentiable. [/i]Counterexamples are important because you cannot usually verify a general rule, but you can certainly falsify it, cf. Karl Popper's [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability"]philosophy of science[/url].

So we cannot conclude anything certain about those who didn't attend college. And even those who did attend the most prestigious schools sometimes end up not that much better than the average person. For example, there is a bio-chemistry PhD graduate from Stanford who drives taxi cabs in Singapore: [url="http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/8/29/focus/4603596&sec=focus"]http://thestar.com.m...03596&sec=focus[/url] I highly doubt that this situation was brought about involuntarily, but that's why I agree that

[quote name='Matias Goldberg' timestamp='1322530684' post='4888648']
It's the person, not the school what makes the difference.
[/quote]
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[quote name='Jesse7' timestamp='1322640026' post='4889000']
[quote name='mdwh' timestamp='1322575669' post='4888776']
[quote name='Matias Goldberg' timestamp='1322530684' post='4888648']
Being admitted usually means you're good. Graduating from those University may be.
But by no means you can conclude that those who weren't admitted or didn't graduate from there aren't good enough. It's a falacy.
Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and John Carmack... none of them even completed their degree studies.

It's the person, not the school what makes the difference.
[/quote]John Carmack yes - but remember, rare isolated examples tell us little about general rules.
[/quote]
Rare isolated examples [i]do[/i] tell us something about general rules. Namely, that the proposed rule is not a general rule.[/quote]I didn't mean a rule in that sense. Of course, a single example is enough to discount an absolute statement.

I mean general in the sense of statistics on what happens to most people. The success (or not) of Universities/graduation should be measured by evidence, not a few hand picked anecdotes. This is what I mean.

Yes, if we want to get down to the philosophy of science, you can't prove something with 100% certainty. But we can and do make judgements based on probability, supported by evidence. If something was true for 99% of people in a set, that's quite a strong generalisation, whilst still allowing for large numbers of exceptions. If you wanted to prove to me that University isn't so good, you'd need to show me evidence, not the anecdotal exceptions.

[quote]For example, there is a bio-chemistry PhD graduate from Stanford who drives taxi cabs in Singapore: [url="http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/8/29/focus/4603596&sec=focus"]http://thestar.com.m...03596&sec=focus[/url] I highly doubt that this situation was brought about involuntarily, but that's why I agree that [/quote]I'm interested in evidence, not anecdotes.
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[quote name='DarklyDreaming' timestamp='1322592113' post='4888819']
Bullshit. You're deducing a complete fallacy: that a smart person will get 'smarter' out of going to MIT.[/quote]
Possibly. Why not? It may not be MIT but it maybe other Universities as well, since you have to think and reason a lot in university.

[quote name='DarklyDreaming' timestamp='1322592113' post='4888819']
Sure, everyone wants to be something. What's that got to do with the thread at hand?
[/quote]

[quote name='DarklyDreaming' timestamp='1322592113' post='4888819']
Childhood idols and interests play a major role in what we strive towards and dream of. But again, why are you bringing it up [i]here?
[/quote]
[/i]I just want to mention one of the very big motivation aside from passion for people improve themselves. With strong motivations, people perform better at what they do. Getting into MIT may give them a confident boost (aka belief) to be able to achieve significant thing.
[i]
[/i][quote name='DarklyDreaming' timestamp='1322592113' post='4888819']
No, they can however be [i]improved[/i].
[/quote]
How can you improve your past academic record? You can only improve by having extra performance to compensate and replace your written record which will persist your entire life. It's similar like the famous dropouts: either having outstanding achievement or nothing. But Bill Gates is an extreme case. What I meant is simpler and in smaller scope, like being extra productive compare to your co-workers with nice academic record

[quote name='DarklyDreaming' timestamp='1322592113' post='4888819']
You played russian roulette, ey? :)
[/quote]
Just like any investment: If you fail, you would lose everything or likely.

[quote name='DarklyDreaming' timestamp='1322592113' post='4888819']
Stop using the word "better people". It pisses me off. There are no "better people" - no Über Menschen; there are prodigies and talented people, yes. That's different from what you are implying - that people are on a scale of 'good' to 'bad'. Also, stop using "people" - you don't speak for the vast majority.
[/quote]
I always think every living creature in the world is equal in nature. Being different, like bigger or smaller, weaker or stronger, dumber or smarter, the purpose for every living thing is to live, experience its life and die. The purpose is unknown and maybe need not to. However, from our society point of view, definitely there are better and worse people. That's why we have social classes and ranks and it exists in everyday life. However, in this context, I don't mean better people as a whole, but rather is narrow in my study field. However, there are definitely better people than others in every aspects (again, remember it's based on society).

[quote name='DarklyDreaming' timestamp='1322592113' post='4888819']
One MIT grad could go on to achieve no credible work in his entire life while a community college nobody goes on to be the next Steve Jobs - what's your point? That MIT grads and those who attend other high profile Ivy League schools are better than those who go to other, more 'regular', schools? That they generally 'achieve' more?
[/quote]
I heard that big companies like Microsoft or Google favor graduates from big Universities (not just in America, but in the world generally). So, probably they will achieve more, at least in academia.

[quote name='DarklyDreaming' timestamp='1322592113' post='4888819']
You care [i]waaayy [/i]too much about something that should occupy perhaps one trillionth of a picosecond of your life, yes. "Destined"? How the hell would one know what destiny (if there is such a thing as a deterministic universe) one posses? Impossible to change? What is impossible to change? Life? I read defeatism between the lines here. [i]In spades[/i].
[/quote]
By follow destiny, what I really mean is to follow your true self. Often, we are easily affected by surrounding environment. For example, if you see a social guy and being favored, at that moment, you want to become him. It's probably a good thing, however, it may derail you into the wrong track. Peer pressure does exist, not only in high school, after all.

By being truly yourself, follow your true nature without worry or question about anything. Talk when you want to and if you are not the type to fit the social image, simply ignore it.

Each people have their own destiny. You cannot choose what you are when you were born. You have to play genetic lottery, and if you have a decent prize, you may potentially have a good life in the society. Since you were destined when you ware born, you are limited to a few choices to decide your life in that given context. You may have make your life better, but it is simply the result of your optimized choices. Your optimized choices maybe to live a cheerful life, never give up, positive thinking, independent, good nature... instead of the opposite.

[quote name='Antheus']
This is not fun. It's not even a game.

CowClicker is a fun game.

Now focus on understanding why.[/quote]
It might not be the best job I want to have, but it's still a good job. As a graduate, I cannot be picky, but rather concentrate on getting used to commercial setting and become a professional. The work is beneficial anyway, since it will put my knowledge into practice, making me understand more on Linux and computer overall. That's why I consider it to be my practicing environment.

In my free time after work, I still spend time studying other subjects related to game programming, and my goal is to be self-autonomy on game designing and implementing. But it's still a long way to go.
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[quote name='mdwh' timestamp='1322663116' post='4889067']
I mean general in the sense of statistics on what happens to most people. The success (or not) of Universities/graduation should be measured by evidence, not a few hand picked anecdotes. This is what I mean.

Yes, if we want to get down to the philosophy of science, you can't prove something with 100% certainty. But we can and do make judgements based on probability, supported by evidence. If something was true for 99% of people in a set, that's quite a strong generalisation, whilst still allowing for large numbers of exceptions. If you wanted to prove to me that University isn't so good, you'd need to show me evidence, not the anecdotal exceptions.
[/quote] I don't think anyone is saying that the university isn't good. But I do think it is a mistake to believe just because 95%, or however many, that go to Stanford succeed means that if I go to Stanford then I'll succeed as well. Whether someone succeeds or not depends entirely on the person and not their alma mater; though having those extra letters next to your name never hurts. :wink:
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[quote name='Jesse7' timestamp='1322762728' post='4889486']
I don't think anyone is saying that the university isn't good. But I do think it is a mistake to believe just because 95%, or however many, that go to Stanford succeed means that if I go to Stanford then I'll succeed as well. Whether someone succeeds or not depends entirely on the person and not their alma mater; though having those extra letters next to your name never hurts. :wink:
[/quote]

I would probably imagine that the % of people that go to stanford and succeed is also related to stanford being able to only accept students they think will succeed and still have enough students. For many state schools that just is not an option if they want to accept more than 20 students. You could probably reasonably guess that 95% of the students that end up going to stanford would be successful while they were freshmen in highschool, and they probably would end up successful if they went to any university.
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[quote name='way2lazy2care' timestamp='1322766526' post='4889528']
I would probably imagine that the % of people that go to stanford and succeed is also related to stanford being able to only accept students they think will succeed and still have enough students. For many state schools that just is not an option if they want to accept more than 20 students. You could probably reasonably guess that 95% of the students that end up going to stanford would be successful while they were freshmen in highschool, and they probably would end up successful if they went to any university.
[/quote]
Nicely put, but don't stop there.... and if they didn't go to [i]any[/i] university, it is quite likely that they'd still be successful even without a degree. :cool:
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A friend of mine says, the strongest indicator of future productivity is past productivity. People who do well continue to do well, and people who haven't done anything continue to do nothing. The admission process at universities is largely designed to filter down to people who have been productive throughout their earlier years, excelling beyond their peers in various respects. Whether the experience AT one of these universities has a positive effect on the students is a complicated topic. Like most things, it depends on the exact school, the exact person, and the exact environment they find themselves in. But there's a front-end selection system that heavily favors those who are already great.

(Nepotism and money notwithstanding.)

That's not to say that all talented people seek out or attend upper tier universities, or that there aren't people who show poor productivity in high school who go on to do great things later. But you have this front-end selection mechanism, reinforced by cultural biases, which tends to favor a certain sort of person. Those initial criteria are not perfect by any means, but a lot of the people out of those schools go on to do great things. As someone else pointed out, (potential) exposure to top tier research facilities and some of the best academics in the world doesn't hurt.

I don't think, however, that universities create successful or smart people. They are mere enablers and selectors. And they're not mandatory to success either.
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Having attended both a state school and a top private school as an undergraduate (albeit as a math major, not a CS major), I can tell you that, for me, there actually were huge differences between the schools. Not only did the top school offer more classes, but the teachers pushed you a lot harder, the homework was harder, the tests were harder, and I was surrounded by other students who were equally capable as me in the subject. At the state school, I took what was considered there a "senior level" class (abstract algebra) and did significantly better than the seniors even though I was a freshman at the time. At the school I transferred to, this would be considered completely normal. That was actually a pretty big deal for me personally.

All that said, math is a little different from CS. The study of math is more focused on classes and homework and teachers and peer students. I feel like the study of CS is a lot more autonomous and, like other have said, classes matter a lot less than what you do outside of class.

Certain top schools like Harvard tend to attract a truly remarkable critical mass of talented math students, and the environment is unlike anything else in the world. It cannot be replicated at state schools. At 99% of schools, for instance, Putnam Fellows are mythical super geniuses that exist in a faraway land. But at places like Harvard they're almost a dime a dozen.
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Steve Jobs truly inspires me while reading this question, he didn't really need an engineering degree in college in the end. Calligraphy class was more than enough
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