Tag Archives: career

Why I Chose an Online Education

Color photograph of guest blogger Jason James, a 2012 graduate of the UO AIM Program.Today’s post is written by Jason James, 2012 graduate of the AIM Program. We asked Jason to share his thoughts on his experience with online education.

In 1996, I was a junior at Auburn University majoring in management information systems. Like many college students, I couldn’t afford to go to school full-time and cover all of my living expenses. Bar tabs, video games, and framed pop art can really eat into a student’s budget. I was working over 30 hours a week at a value added reseller (VAR) upgrading, repairing, and selling personal computers and peripherals while balancing a full course load. That same year, I was presented the opportunity of buying the company I was working for. After much deliberation, I took the opportunity. I quickly realized that being an entrepreneur means working 80 hours a week for yourself so you don’t have to work 40 hours a week for someone else. The workload was overwhelming and I decided to drop out of school to focus on my career. Besides, that worked for Bill Gates and Michael Dell, right?

Fast forward to 2002, and I was director of IT for a growing global software company in Atlanta, GA. While my career was on solid ground and growing, I felt that something was missing. Keep in mind, not having a degree never impacted my work nor kept me from promotions. Even though I had years of hands-on technical and management skills, I felt I needed to have a degree in order to remain competitive.

Going back to school to finish my degree would prove challenging. After all, working in technology often requires long hours with plenty of unforeseen issues. It’s difficult to make it to a 6:30 p.m. class when a server in your data center goes offline at 6:00 p.m. While more colleges were embracing non-traditional students, class schedules were fairly rigid. In 2002, more colleges were offering online studies, but only a few had online degree programs. Out of hundreds of schools I researched, only about 10 or so had fully online degree programs that did not have at least some on-campus requirement.

In 2002 I started my online education. After years of sleep deprivation, I finished an associate’s degree from the University of Wisconsin Colleges, a bachelor of science from Oregon State University, and in 2012 I finished my master of science in Applied Information Management (AIM) from the University of Oregon, all entirely online and without ever stepping foot on campus. Don’t tell anyone, but the only time I have ever been to Oregon was to attend the commencement ceremony when I completed my bachelor’s. I should probably visit Oregon soon.

Online education has given me a competitive advantage. In the last decade or so I have been able to grow my career without sacrificing my education. The flexibility of online courses allowed me take classes while working in India, China, Japan, Germany, France, and the UK. Mark Twain is often quoted as saying, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Well, choosing an online education never let schooling interfere with my career.

The Dilemma of the Capable

shutterstock_11794999I read an article recently by Greg McKeown—The #1 Career Mistake Capable People Make—about our inability to prioritize our work in order to maximize our contribution. His premise is that when capable people shine, they are noticed and sought after and put on a LOT of different projects but then their effort gets diluted, because they are capable, and they fail to realize their highest point of contribution.

It made me think of my own life and career and I wonder if I fall into the same trap? I shared an object lesson around time priorities at a recent graduation. If you consider your time as an empty jar, you can fill that time with family, friends, career, school, faith, personal fitness, etc., as represented by large rocks filling the jar. Now, it may appear as if the jar is full, but in truth there are still some pockets that could be filled by smaller rocks representing less important things in our lives such as hobbies, leisure activities, volunteer activities, etc. Again, it appears that the jar now is full but there is room still for some even less important activities such as games, reading, shopping, etc., represented by sand, or even water.

It seems that no matter how much we fill our lives and our time, there seems to be room for more, but should we really take on that seemingly unimportant task, just because we are capable? Or should we instead focus on our “big rocks” and strengthen our career and our personal life. On any given evening or weekend, my “small rocks” seem to conflict with each other. This may be a sign that I am trying to fit too much in my jar and not focusing on the few important things that can help keep me moving forward. I have heard it said that you can go broad or you can go deep but not both. You have to choose.

Do you ever feel you are not reaching your highest contribution, just because you are that capable person that everyone wants on their team, on their project, on their committee or board? How do you focus on those important things that can make you stand out and make your life and career fulfilling?

What is important in your jar? What is it that makes you stand out? What strategies have you found to help you focus on those things? Share your thoughts.


About Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.