As the NCAA basketball tournament and March Madness is upon us. It got me thinking as to why this has become such a popular event. Sure some of it has to do with the great basketball you can watch. And some has to do with the fact that 64 (or 68 now I guess) fanbases get to watch their teams take a shot at the national championship. However, I think the biggest reason it’s so popular is that so many people fill out a bracket(whether for gambling purposes or just for fun).
Just the simple act of filling out a bracket gives you an excuse to care and therefore an excuse to watch. Otherwise why would you care to watch Wichita St. vs Virginia Commonwealth? You wouldn’t, except you want to make sure you get a better score than the loudmouth that sits next to you in the office or you don’t want to be embarrassed by your mom again in your family pool. This is a prime example of how gamification works and why it can be so powerful. Throw fantasy football into this discussion as well. The NFL has been popular for a long time, but it quickly became the most popular sport in the country with the popularization of fantasy football.
There are plenty other successful examples of gamification. The key to the strategy working is making sure your user base has that group of people that want to compete with. This is why the gamification in Foursquare and other similar services work so well in some groups, but not in others. Keep this in mind when looking for ways to build or expand your brand. Gamification can work, but don’t over apply it and make sure that your particular situation can benefit from it.
I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about Google products and their connections with each other so I’ll probably have several posts in the near future specifically on Google products. I’m going to start with a discussion specifically on some ideas for Google+. As a disclaimer, Google+ is somewhat close to my heart because I worked on a startup a few years back that had some similar ideas and it was somewhat satisfying to see a lot of them (circles specifically) implemented in a product.
For the basis of this discussion, I’m going to leave out how Google may or may not be able to convince people to spend more time in the service. I think that is something they are deeply concerned about right now, but at some level I’m not sure it matters. The more services they tie it into (and they will) the more people will be using the service whether they are aware of it or not. And as long as the usage in some way drives additional advertising revenue, I’m not sure it’s all that important that people spend X number of hours actually on the Google+ site. To get the discussion started, I’m going to review what I think Google+ excels at because I think that will help the enhancement ideas make more sense.
What Google+ excels at
First and foremost the thing I’ve seen on Google+ that other social networks can’t match is the level of interaction among users. This could simply be the result of early adopters currently being the main users and that crowd tends to be more likely to interact with each other. Even if that is the case, I think the design and focus of Google+ lends itself more to people having conversations with people they may not already know. Twitter is very good about letting users express their ideas to anyone that wants to listen, and Facebook is very good at allowing users to have conversations with people you know, but I think Google+ really gives the opportunity to have conversations with people that you share interests with.
I believe the concept of allowing you to put people you want to interact with in groups is also a huge benefit. This is a feature I’ve been wanting in Twitter for a long time. Some times I want to mute the comedians I follow or pay special attention to the tech crowd I follow. I can do that using circles in Google+, but have no real mechanism to do so in Twitter. What it comes down to is allowing the user to minimize the noise of their social network at any given time. While there are numerous additional specific features I like in Google+(hangouts are pretty cool), these are the ones that I think could really provide a competitive advantage with some additional focus.
Bring other Google services into the Google+ feed
The most obvious (and I would assume easiest to implement) thing to do would be for Google to allow you to put YouTube subscriptions and Google Reader feeds right into Google+ circles. This would allow a user to use Google+ as an information portal and make it easier to start conversations around these items. The next potential step would be to use Google+ as the engine for comments on the actual article, much like they talked about implementing with Google Wave. This would allow the users to see what the overall conversation around an item is as well as have a personal conversation that is limited to their circles.
Implement a “Read me Later” button
Many times while checking Google+ when time is limited, I may not have time to actually read all of the articles I find interesting. So it would be useful to have a “Read me Later” button so I could easily come back to either that article or maybe check up on the user comments that have gone through since I last checked. I’ve seen some users hack together a solution by simply having a private “Read me Later” circle that they will share things to. While this would work, I think this is a feature that enough people would use that it would be worthwhile to make it more prominent in the UI. This would also allow less technical users to enjoy the same functionality.
Bring other Networks into Google+ Feeds
This one is probably impossible given the relationships among Google, Facebook, and Twitter. So maybe it would be best to just classify this as a pipe dream. Imagine having one location where you could go and check all of your social network feeds and have the level of interaction with your friends/followers that currently exists on Google+. I’d love it, and I imagine I’m not alone. Maybe at some point in the future we can get some “neutral” 3rd party to step in the game and provide this, but the way things look now I’m not going to hold my breath.
Inc.com recently posted an article on The 5 Qualities of Remarkable Bosses. So, since it’s Friday and why not, lets have some fun and talk about the 5 Qualities of Unremarkable Bosses.
1. Always Expect People to Know What You are Thinking
You know what, you are the boss and your employees know how things work. There’s no need to discuss what expectations are for that project. They just know, and if they don’t it’s ok just lecture them after the fact that they didn’t meet your expectations. They’ll learn next time. The important thing to remember is it’s not your fault if priorities aren’t met. You are a master communicator. I mean, otherwise why would you be the boss?
2. Encourage People to Express Their Opinions, then Ignore Every One
You are a modern manager, you want to hear your employees’ opinions. The problem is it takes so much effort to actually listen and process them. So they won’t notice if you just blow them off. And really, you are smarter than them anyway so does it really matter if you listen to them. If your ideas weren’t better, why would you be the boss?
3. Build Projects Based on Nothing but your Gut Instinct
You need dates and deliverables so you can explain how awesome of a manager you are. So just put together a project schedule that makes your boss happy. Those developers don’t have a life anyway, they’re just nerds. If they need to work a couple weekends to make the dates they won’t mind. I mean, they love to write code anyway, so creating this aggressive schedule is just doing them a favor. They’ll thank you later anyway, so you don’t need to ask them if your estimate is reasonable.
4. Make Sure to Change Attitude and Demeanor Depending on Who is in the Room
You have to look good for your boss. So make sure you always ask the best questions when he is in the room. It doesn’t matter if that question really has anything to do with the discussion at hand or if my employee is prepared for it. This is their project, so they should know the answer regardless. And honestly if they can’t answer it, it’s their fault for not being prepared. You should also make sure your boss knows you can control a room. So do your best to control any discussion taking place when they are in the room. It doesn’t matter if you bully or interrupt in the process, you are doing your employees a favor by making sure your boss knows you own the project. Otherwise the boss may want to get involved, and nobody wants that…right.
5. Finally, Make Sure you take Credit for All Successes in your Area
Why not? Right? I mean, you enable your people to do awesome things whether you are involved or not. So take the credit, they won’t mind. And you control their compensation, so as long as you know who does what it doesn’t matter how people outside of your organization view your group. These people couldn’t accomplish anything without your leadership anyway, so you deserve the credit.
I know each of you out there has seen some of these behaviors before so feel free to share some war stories on this evening. Have a good weekend and remember you are your own boss so make sure you enjoy some of the spoils of your successes!
It seems there is little doubt the future (and present in a lot of ways) of computing is mobile. In this space Apple and Google are dominant forces, while Microsoft is trying to make up ground in a big way. I’ve honestly never used a Windows 8 mobile device and likely won’t, but any reviews I read are very positive.
So what? Three companies have their own mobile OS, nothing special there. Where I think this is going to get interesting and where I think many future purchasing decisions (both personal and corporate) are going to be made is how interactions between devices are managed. As mobile devices get more powerful, it only makes more sense that people will want to be able to complete more tasks from them. The next step would be the same individual being able to pick that task up when they get to more of a traditional workstation or laptop and continue where they left off(to use Tim Cook’s term “A Post PC World”). While there are some similarities in how the three companies are trying to solve this problem, the method or central focus each of these companies are using is pretty vastly different.
One thing is for certain in the Post PC world. ”The Cloud” is going to play a large part. I don’t particularly like using “The Cloud”as a technical term. So, for the purposes off this discussion, we will use it as a generic term for some set of services served over the Internet as opposed to on the hardware device being used. Cloud-based technologies made a lot of sense to tie to mobile devices due to the typical limitations of the hardware. Given their transient nature, they also serve as a natural solution to multiple device software solutions.
Each company also relies on their proprietary app stores and proprietary languages to build software for their devices. I won’t get into a debate about if this is a good or a bad thing right now, but it will play a part in how the market moves forward. It’s very possible that one company or another may have better hardware or even certain pieces of software, but none of that will matter if they can’t convince developers to build applications for their proprietary system.
The Microsoft Path: One OS to Rule them All
Microsoft, in genuine Microsoft fashion is trying to solve the multiple device issue by simply providing one ubiquitous Operation System to run on all of their devices. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that the Operating System has been their cash cow for so many years. From all indications Windows 8 on mobile devices works great. However, the interaction on the desktop version is wonky(and yes that is a technical UX term). You can’t expect a person to work with a screen they can’t touch in the same way they do a touch screen.
However, if I’m Microsoft I may write off these concerns by saying a developer can continue to just develop software for the Windows operating system like they have for 20 years now. This should at the very least provide a fair number of applications that can work on the Windows devices(even if the UX would be terrible to port a PC application right to a mobile device with a small screen). They may also make the argument that within a few years PC and laptop devices will have touch screens so they are just thinking ahead by using the same OS.
This means Microsoft’s way of dealing with multiple devices is the same as they’ve had since Windows 3.1. Make sure a file opened on one machine can be opened on any that has the same operating system. To me, this is lacking vision and an understanding for how people use technology. The interactions must feel natural on a device for people to like and use them, and using a single OS to serve these very disparate devices will make that difficult at best.
Google: The Browser is Best
Much the same way that it’s not surprising for Microsoft to choose the OS to focus on handling multiple devices, it shouldn’t be surprising that Google has chosen to focus on browser-based solutions. Google’s forte has always been web-based services and you can’t really ignore anything they put out on the web. What are you going to do, switch to Bing for your web searches? Good luck with that.
Yesterday Google announced it was replacing it’s Android marketplace (Movies, Music, Books, etc) with Google Play and relatively recently you’ve seen the rise of Google+. While we could have a discussion on the positive and negative aspects of Google+ in comparison to Twitter and Facebook, that is for another post. What you can’t argue is that Google putting the effort into tying their vast collection of applications and services into Play and + (and I’d imagine interactions between the 2 aren’t far behind) should tell us something.
What it tells me is this. Google wants to provide one single web interface where you can get to all of your music, documents, social interactions, really anything you want to do on your mobile device. So no matter what kind of device you are on, you should be able to open a browser and pull up the same document(or movie, music etc) and interact with it in the same manner. The obvious limitation to this is what do you do when you aren’t connected to the internet. Another risk of this methodology is it doesn’t lock users into your platform. It’s easy enough to use most of Google’s services on a Windows or Apple device. Howevever from Google’s perspective this may be a positive since so much of their revenue comes from advertising, they don’t care much what device you are on to consume from their suite of products.
Apple: The User is King
So if Microsoft has taken and OS-centric approach to solving our problem and Google has taken a Browser-centric approach to solving the problem, what has Apple focused on? The user of course. This is an area that Apple has excelled in, at least since the introduction of iPod(possibly earlier). They’ve had a distinct ability to know not necessarily how people use things today, but how want to use them or how they could use them given new technologies.
They continue this model with their solution to handling multiple devices. It seems to me that they assume the user doesn’t care about what OS they are running or if they are connected to the internet or not, they just want things to work. So you can see they are blending their native applications with iCloud in a way that makes it so people don’t need to understand the technology to use it.
The arguments to Apple’s solutions continue to be price and the fact that they maintain a very controlled and semi-closed environment.
Who comes out on top?
I think all 3 companies will have part of their vision survive into the future. Microsoft will continue to have some success in corporate environments and as the low-cost solution. Google will have success because they are available on any internet-connected device and they will continue to have an abundance of eyes on their website. Apple will have success by providing the best user experience. If I’m choosing which vision for the future I’d like to see win, it’s Apple’s. The more software is designed and built with the user as the focal point, the less time people have to waste trying to make their technical devices work and the more time they can spend using them to accomplish whatever the goal at hand is. To me the end goal should be to make the software essentially invisible and Apple’s approach best accomplishes that.
Often I’ll find myself thinking of or talking to others about ways to improve certain products on the market. So I thought I’d start sharing some of them in a series called “Brainstorming Sessions”. I think it’s important to look at these as brainstorming sessions because the people that work at these companies are typically smart people and quite possibly have had similar ideas but couldn’t implement them for one reason or another. So hopefully some of these will inspire conversations and maybe we’ll be lucky enough to find a person that works for the company that can provide some insight as to why some of the ideas haven’t been implemented.
I like many others out there try to keep my LinkedIn profile updated. Right now it’s a good place to keep professional contacts and an online resume, but is anyone really getting much more than that out of it. Yes, you can connect a blog and/or a twitter account to it. But honestly, I can put that on a static resume. I can get recommendations, but I’ve long questioned the value of a recommendation. Of course you are only going to ask people to give you recommendations that you think will give you a good one. All of that being said, there is some value to each feature I’ve mentioned. I think there is also some value to the job board associated with it, although it’s nothing groundbreaking. Overall, LinkedIn adds some value to my online experience, or I wouldn’t keep it up to date and I suspect many others feel the same.
So now I want to look beyond what LinkedIn is and to what I think it could be. I’ll look at 3 steps they could take from most-likely, easiest to implement to most difficult and least likely.
Add Verified Certification Information
How useful would it be if LinkedIn had some kind of agreement with an online company like codeacademy or MIT open courseware to show what courses a user has taken. I understand there would be a risk that people could be dishonest and have someone else complete a course for them. But I think the risk of that for a company evaluating talent would be minimal. I would hope you’d be able to tell rather quickly whether or not a person actually completed the course they said they did.
A step beyond that would be to partner with a firm like Kaplan so you could list scores of standardized-type tests to your account. Then a third step in this area would be to partner with actual universities and get verified transcript information to store right in a user’s LinkedIn account. There would have to be security around this so the owner of the profile could control what is public and what can be shared with a company they are trying to get a job with, but I think that is a solvable problem.
Provide a mechanism to share multimedia within profile
How many job seekers could benefit from sharing a portfolio within their profile? Why not provide them with an easy way to do so? I think if the interaction was done nicely, this could be a way to bring resume’s into the 21st century. Imagine if not just designers did portfolios, but project managers and accountants as well. Focus the portfolio around projects and make it easy for people to input the information. I think as a hiring manager, looking at specific projects a lot of times (depending on the individuals level of contribution) can be more telling than what job titles they have held.
To take this a step further, why not provide a mechanism for a person to upload a video explaining some projects they’ve worked on? How about letting them create a video cover letter? I don’t know about you, but I never know what to write in those stupid things. I honestly just want to have a conversation with someone about why I’d be good at a job and why I’d like to work at that company. I think this would be more natural in a video as opposed to a letter.
One thing to note about these first two concepts is that they would both work in a way that would add more value to companies that post jobs to LinkedIn. LinkedIn could pretty easily say to get some of this information you have to post the job on the LinkedIn job board and maybe even make them use the apply with your LinkedIn profile option. This, in turn, would provide more reason for existing users to check and update their profiles more often as well as potentially convince more people to use the service. I think they could be big wins for LinkedIn overall, not to mention the users of the network. The third idea is much more radical, but could be interesting nonetheless.
Become a full-service SaaS HR firm
With all of the data LinkedIn has, why not take all that data and hire some people to be professional talent evaluators. Then companies looking to hire could pay for the LinkedIn service to at least help them narrow down a candidate field to a manageable number. Along with that, LinkedIn could essentially become a headhunter firm to identify the best of the best and help companies try to land them. This would be very valuable, especially in the IT field where there is a deficiency in talent right now.
They could also leverage this information and expertise to become a contracting firm like a TEK systems or CSC. It could be as simple as a checkbox on an individual’s profile that says “allow LinkedIn to contact me with job opportunities” and then that person has opted in to the consulting function.
As I mentioned at the beginning there may be valid reasons to not go after some of these features. For instance, there is a risk of alienating firms that may otherwise post to the jobs board if LinkedIn becomes a direct competitor. Either way, I think these are interesting concepts that would at the very least make LinkedIn more valuable to me and I don’t think I’d be alone. Please let me know what you think in the comments, I’d love to hear other perspectives on this.
Having young children, I am constantly reading them books and many times I will find business lessons out of these books that may or may not be the intended message of the author. Periodically I think I’m going try to share some of those thoughts(unless I get back enough feedback that this is just silly). So in celebration of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, I’ll start with some analysis of The Lorax.
I’ve been thinking about this lesson for some time now. When I was considering pursuing my PhD, it is one that I thought I’d use when teaching a business strategy class.
For those that aren’t familiar with the book, it’s the story of the Once-ler, who has just found a forest of Truffula trees. These trees provide a source of material for the Once-ler to create a product called a Thneed. Once he proves that this Thneed business can be profitable, he calls in his family to mass produce them despite the concerns of the Lorax who is a steward for the forest and all of the creatures that live in it. Basically the Once-ler is so focused on growth that he quickly uses all the resources in the forest and destroys the habitat. His family leaves him since there isn’t any more work to do, leaving the Once-ler there alone to live in the essentially uninhabitable land his business has created. If you haven’t read it, find a copy of the book and read it. It’s a good story and will take 10 minutes to read.
The book is very obviously intended to get across the message that we need to be good stewards of our environment and we need to be careful of the choices we make. I’m going to ignore this message simply to focus discussion on a more subtle point that I think any growing business needs to consider.
Let’s analyze each major decision the Once-ler made and see how it could relate to real-world entrepreneurship.
1. He immediately started building a product as soon as he had the flash of brilliance, regardless of other people telling him he shouldn’t do it.
This was his one good decision. You have that flash, go build at least a prototype and get it in front of people. How many people doubted whether Apple could truly build a mobile phone. I think that one has turned out all right.
2. Once the product was successful, he went right into a rapid growth mode.
Obviously it was important to grow the business when he proved it could work. However, to completely focus on growth can blind you to other factors. Many companies have gone down this path to entirely focus on growth without ever taking a step back to look at the market they are creating. I think a current example of this could be GroupOn. They had the daily deals market cornered and went into rapid growth. What they didn’t realize is they had (and have) a product that was easily replicable and quickly became commoditized spawning countless copycats which will eventually drive down price dramatically. They are still earning money right now, but check back in a couple years and we’ll see how they are doing.
3. He ignored advice from others around him when the environment started to be destroyed.
In the real world I’d equate this to ignoring the market evidence. Are you ruining business relationships with your actions? Is the market changing to prefer a different product or service while you are still so focused on providing what you’ve always provided? Look at the collapse of the banking industry for this one. I think you could argue that someone should have looked at the overall environment and seen indicators that problems were on the horizon. People don’t want to look for bad things in the environment when things are going well, much like the Once-ler in the story.
Overall, I think the book is a very good illustration of why we need to force ourselves to take a step back from what we are doing every once in a while to make sure that the path we are on is still the path we want to be on. Without considering the entire environment and looking towards the future it is very likely that we will put ourselves in a situation that we may not want to be in.
Why write about Yahoo? Have they done anything relevant in the last 5 years? Is there a coherent vision for what Yahoo does? Before completely writing them off consider a few things:
- According to alexa.com Yahoo is still the 4th most visited website in the U.S. and the world.
- According to compete.com Yahoo had over 150 million unique visitors in November.
- In October Yahoo accounted for more U.S. search traffic to bing than bing.com did.
Morgan Spurlock gives a pretty interesting TED talk on some of his experiences trying to get companies to fund his new movie, “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” 100% with product placement. But the kicker is the movie is about product placement and they don’t have any say how the movie will end up portraying them.
Aside from the points Morgan brings up at the end about companies allowing their employees to take more risks, I think there are a couple of interesting observations that can be made from the interactions he shows.
First, companies are still deathly afraid to give up the control of their brand image. On the surface this makes sense, it’s scary to think you don’t or can’t influence the way your company is portrayed to your customers. This is Marketing 101 for these people. However, the reality of the situation is that nobody has real control of their own brand now. Between 24 hour news networks and the social power of the internet, one slip up and your brand image is now in control of the masses. This isn’t going to change any time soon so I think the best way for companies to combat this is simply to provide a quality product and listen to their customers. If this is done the marketing takes care of itself.
Part of the reason this is so important is because the Internet has lowered the cost of reaching customers as well as reducing the switching costs for these customers to try a new product. It’s also made it easy for people to comment on the quality of these products. These reviews make many consumers more comfortable with purchasing products that have less familir brand names. With the mulititude of quality products that are generally on the market today and how easy it is for people to find them, I think the brand name is going to become less influential in purchasing decisions. Look at how Visio was able to capture a big portion for the flat panel TV market against companies like Sony and Panasonic that have been in business for a long time.
So that’s the scary part of it, there is a flip side. The beauty of the new world is if you provide this quality product and listen to your customers, they will do a lot of your marketing for you. This is true in a large number of industries, anything from cars to cloths to professional services. This marketing can end up in the form of positive product reviews or if you are very good you’ll have a rabid community of fans (see Apple). Once you are able to build this community, not only will they recommend your products but they will also defend you when things don’t go so well(assuming this is an anomaly).
I know this may sound a little simplistic, but it’s the reality of the new world we live in and the companies that embrace this will be the ones that thrive in the future.
The other point he brings up, which is mostly related to the previous but worth mentioning anyway is transparency. Part of the film will be to show how the whole process of procut placement works. Let the viewers see how certain products end up in the television and movies that they watch. This again comes illustrates the hunger for control, but people are going to have to realize that in the near future (if we aren’t already there), there will be very minimal secrets. Everyone has a camera on their phone if not a camcorder. Documents and conversations will be fair game. Look at wikileaks and what information it was able to provide in a short period of time. If you think that sort of thing is going away, you are crazy.
The downside is obviously company secrets being leaked can hurt a company’s value. The potential positive side-effect would be that others can innovate off of previously private information. I won’t get into the debate on if this is overall a good thing or bad thing because strong arguments could be made for each side. Again, this is simply going to be a reality that people will have to deal with so you may as well embrace it and figure out the best way to build value in this type of environment before it is too late.
Have I been taking crazy pills? I know this is old news, but it’s been bothering me for a long time. Google offers Groupon 6 billion dollars and they turn it down?!?
Here is why Groupon should have taken the money and ran. Even though they currently have roughly $1billion in yearly revenue and $200million or so in yearly profit, it’s not realistic to think this is sustainable. Why isn’t it sustainable? First off, the business model is very easily replicated. Anyone that has local contacts can copy the concept in that local market. Why is that important? Many people that aren’t as technologically savvy aren’t going to trust a site they don’t know (ala groupon), so who might they trust for local deals? Maybe local newspapers? or local radio stations? Both of which are pushing their own brands of hyper-local deals.
The reason the competition is so important is that companies can still make a lot of money off of this concept while undercutting groupon’s rates. Whenever you buy a groupon, half of that money goes directly to groupon….HALF! So you buy a $100 massage for $50, the massage parlor only gets $25. How hard would it be for the local newspaper to come in and say give us the same deal and we’ll let you keep $40. And it’s not like the newspaper would need a lot more sales staff to make these phone calls. You take the sales staff that can’t make sales for physical papers anymore and put them on finding local deals as well as the physical ad sales. Overall, I just think this is a business model that is easily replicated and it’s entirely built on having local contacts. There isn’t really a lot of economies of scale as long as you already have contacts in the local community (for example a newspaper or radio station).
So the next obvious question(to me anyway) is if this is such an easily replicated business model, why would Google offer $6 billion for it. I think it was simply for the local sales contacts. I don’t think they were overly interested in the actual local deals, even if it would have provided an extra short-term profit. Long term it gets them personal contacts into local markets. This is important for a couple reasons. First, so much of Google’s profits come from advertisements that the next logical step is to try to get into local advertisements. On top of that, I think the next big growth area is going to be localized, personalized messages. So if I’m close to a pizza joint I can get a message on my phone telling me about some special or new place that has opened. All of this is why I think Google was interested in overpaying(in my opinion) for Groupon, much like they did for YouTube.
Only time will tell if Groupon loses market-share like I’m predicting, but you can already see the new competition that is erupting. Just in Omaha, there is now also livingsocial, the Omaha World Herald, and I’m sure others available as well. It’s only a matter until profits start to erode and companies have to get more lean. Once that happens, I think Groupon will start to regret their decision to not sell to Google. Maybe they should think about having their IPO now, before profits start to erode and people notice that their business model may not be a very solid long-term investment.
The more I think about this potential higher education bubble it makes me think more about the potential ramifications for my future career if this is correct. Maybe it should worry me, but it really doesn’t.
At risk of sounding cliche, I think this could be a giant opportunity for higher education to take a good look at itself and see if there are things that can be improved. I can’t say what those improvements are, but it’s exciting to think I could be a part of the reshaping of an industry. The fact that many individuals think college graduates are ill-prepared for certain careers in itself is a reason to evaluate the current methods.
On the other hand, I don’t want to come across as saying education needs to be completely career driven. There are certain jobs that people can go to trade schools for that will teach students a specific trade. However, when I’m hiring someone for a technical position I’m not necessarily looking for someone that already knows a particular technology. I want to find someone that can problem solve. You give me a smart person that can problem solve and understands technical theory and I can teach them the technology. Also I think there is something to be said about taking a diverse set of classes. You may not think a history class helps much if you are going to be a programmer, but just the fact that you are forced to think about something in a different way than you are used to will give additional perspective when trying to solve a problem.
So overall, I think different people learn better in different ways. For some people a structured higher education is the only way they’ll be able to learn a skill and some people can be quite successful without it. You should always keep that in mind while you are evaluating talent, and I think it’s valuable to have people on your team from both backgrounds as they are likely to look at problems from different perspectives, which can greatly help in developing creative and effective solutions.