I have some things to re(consider) and I need some job/education/life related advice from as many visitors as possible to help me make up my mind. Please read more below and add your thoughts in the comments.
What follows is basically just a collection of thoughts I managed to record this afternoon. Not everything is necessarily in a coherent order, but I'm sure you will be able to see the big picture behind my dilemma.
As many of you might now, I dropped out of my country's equivalent of highschool and have been working for almost a year now. According to my boss, my first pay rise is imminent and there's a 50/50 probability that I can move up to be a programmer (mostly PowerBuilder for the time being) instead of a customer service / help desk person.
My dilemma is that while this might look good for the next few years or so, as soon as I change jobs I will have a hard time to convince any potential employer that I am worth as much as other people who might have completed highschool and gone on to university. Right now, I have more work experience than somebody fresh off university, but that point will be moot in a few years. 5 years uni plus 5 years work experience are without a doubt to be considered higher than 10 years work experience at lesser jobs.
I have to admit that I would be tempted to go to university to study "applied computer science", but to be able to do that, I would first have to repeat my final year at highschool.
Since I want to stay in the IT field, I consider it to be important to have a wide background as well as relevant knowledge of the fundamentals. I know a bit of Perl, some HTML, can administrate an NT machine and am generally a fast learner as far as software usage and the underlying concepts are concerned. But I don't have much of a knowledge as far as the basic concepts of computing are concerned: programming basics, (object-oriented) development, software analysis, there are too many things to mention all of them. These are the things that make up what I consider an IT professional, somebody who has a true understanding of computing, and I'm afraid that in a few years, with the massive influx of computer science graduates, everybody and their dog will have a more thorough knowledge than I do right now. Making me less employable and less worthy at the end of the month (paytime).
I'm not much of an independent learner, so I don't think I could learn all this on my own while still working throughout the day. Especially since I feel that with 40 hours a week and the necessary commute, lunch break and everything, I wouldn't even have the time. Besides, having school pressurize me to learn would probably be more effective than sitting at home and having no possibility to compare or get a second opinion on any reading I would be doing in books selected by me, rather than imposed by somebody with more knowledge or a deeper insight on why book x is better than book y.
To sum it up, if I want to aquire more theoretic and basic knowledge, if I want to understand the fundamentals rather than just learning to use the new buzzword tool, I have to return back to school.
But another question that crossed my mind: is it worth it? Will a 2-year university education make me more employable, give me a more rewarding job, or make me more money? Or would I need to go the full 9 semesters, and therefore adding 5 additional years to that highschool year I'd have to take now?
If I were to go to university for five years, I'd get out in 2006, with a debt of at least 30.000€, but of course I'd also have to factor in the money I'm not making during that time, which would amount to much more. Would I be able to recover that "lost money" in the years after 2006, or is university education just a waste of money?
Another point to consider would be that school and university would allow me to have some time for side-projects, or at least to manage my time in different ways. Highschool is only 30 hours a week, university less, with less commuting, so even if I consider study time, I'd still have more flexibility.
Another relevant aspect would be the social environment. At work, I'm pretty much in a dead end street. We're only a few people at my work place, and there's no real contact to the rest of the world. In school, you are constantly surrounded with up to thousands of people, and many more people in a class alone than here at work. Besides, here at work, I'm considerably younger than my coworkers and pretty much the only one not to have my own family (SO and/or children). So returning back to school would mean I get to know more people in my age range and possibly find my future wife, who knows. :) This isn't really an education/job aspect, but still very much important.
I need to decide fast. There aren't many highschools in Luxembourg, and school begins Monday next week. One school already confirmed that they do not have any free seats, I'll try and phone another one tomorrow morning. If I don't get a positive answer anywhere, I'm out of luck. Evening courses aren't an option either, in my opinion, because of the reason mentioned above (I would probably not have the energy to work fulltime, plus go to school in the evenings).
So the basic question really is: is the opportunity to grow at my current job, and possibly any new job after that, important enough to make a highschool and university degree redundant? ie. in ten years from now, will my job life be better if I chose one or the other? Would university, or in more generic terms, a return to school, have a positive impact on my life besides
I never used to be a very good student, I often was too lazy to learn enough and subsequently failed not because of a lack of intelligence, but rather just because I failed to make good use of it. So another question that I have to ask myself is whether I would be able to finish highschool successfully and then go on and finish university successfully.
I know that none of my questions is easy to answer. But I'd appreciate any kind of advice or comment somebody could offer. If you went to college and work in the IT industry now, was it worth it? If you got into the IT industry without doing relevant studies, do you think you had it easier/harder and has it offered you more or less opportunities (both project- and money-wise)? I'm not trying to be indiscrete, I just want to hear opinions, to be able to have a broader range of points to consider when I'm making a final decision, probably tomorrow.
Thanks for your time.