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.