Re: Degrees vs. smarts

Robert J. Bradbury (
Mon, 4 Oct 1999 15:42:22 -0700 (PDT)

On Mon, 4 Oct 1999, Elizabeth Childs wrote:

> To many in Silicon Valley, "PhD" can have negative connotations. They
> think "missed the boat on the whole internet thing" or "can't deal with
> the real world". It's certainly not a universal attitude, and there
> are many people with ties to academic culture who value formal education.
> But there is a Wild West, "You may have book learning, but can you shoot?"
> attitude that I've seen before, even among the elite.

I believe that Elizabeth has hit the nail on the head.

Academics are trained to survive and prosper in one environment, corporate types in another. The corporate types are always questioning whether that information has value while the academic types are questioning whether the information has relevance. [maybe, I could easily see this statement reversed...]

One of my former managers had a PhD, IMO he was a turkey. After about 10 years elapsed, Fortune said essentially the same thing. In business it comes down to whether or not you can spend the investment and produce the desired result. If you can and you don't manage to do it you are crop dust. If you can't and accept a position claiming you can you get a similar fate. There is only one way out -- to see what is really possible and do it.

In a corporate environment a PhD does little or nothing in determining whether or not you can recruit & manage people so as to produce a bug-free and market successful product.

Much more important in any field is whether you can command the respect of your peers. In academics, this tends to be determined by papers that have passed through peer review. In programming this tends to be determined by lines of code that are bug free (or perhaps efficient or clever in some way).

With regard to judging capabilities, I always look at experience and examples. Robin's papers are well reasoned and never shortcut the math so I am always going to respect them. If I find fault it is going to be in the underlying assumptions and not the reasoning based on those assumptions.

Similarly for the future Drs. Sandberg, Graps and McKendrick I will have a high respect for the work that they have gone through to reach their perspective or conclusions. [Though IMO the time involved in Amara's efforts may have been excessive. I'm unsure whether this is by her choice or the system she is enmeshed in.]

Generally, I would fall into the camp Robin supports of peer review and publication record. But there are clearly environments where those values are irrelevant, such as business success or efficiency in programs. I don't believe at this time we have adequate means of translating success or knowledge in one "world" (academics, business, programming, art) into one of the other realms.

I think most of us value those areas where we can accurately assess the degree of difficulty. I know to a much greater extent the difficulty in writing a very efficient computer program than I do writing a successful academic paper. However, for me to propose that writing a successful computer program is harder than writing a successful research paper does seem naive.