In its April 9-10, 2011 weekend edition, the Wall Street Journal published the article, “How to Get a Real Education,” by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert and the eponymous comic strip. Adams explains how he got his education about how the real world works by pursuing opportunities that ranged from running “The Coffee House” on his college campus, getting the job as student manager of his dorm, and setting himself up as “CEO” of the indoor soccer team. The article includes seven suggestions about how to succeed in whatever you do. I enjoyed the article and recommend it, particularly to high-school- and college-age people. They need to know they won’t learn everything in college or grad school and they should look for interesting opportunities in not-so-obvious places. (Adams did received an MBA degree from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, so some things need college course work.)
The Adams article sparked many letters to the editor and one mentioned the need for engineers to learn how to write well. I’ve written several blog entries about how to improve writing skills on the EDN Dev-monkey blog (www.devmonkey.edn.com), so I won’t repeat them here. In my experience, engineers who write well do better in their careers than those who don’t communicate well. And unlike knowledge about microprocessors, computer languages, and FPGAs, for example, good writing skills don’t go out of date. You can continue to improve your writing skills without worrying about them becoming obsolete. As far as I know, no one has proposed English++.
A second article, “Who Needs an MBA When We Have ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’?” written by Eric Felten, ran in the same newspaper’s April 22, 2011 issue. The article explained the entrepreneurial education TV viewers can get when they pay attention to shows such as “Pawn Stars,” “American Pickers,” and “American Chopper,” among others. Here’s an excerpt from the article.
Buddy Valastro, heir to his father’s Hoboken bakery, is the small businessman’s answer to the CEOs on “Undercover Boss,” those desk-jockeys happy to parade their appalling ignorance of the businesses they helm. If you run a small family firm without knowing every aspect of the business, you’re done for. In an episode of “Cake Boss” that aired this week, an overburdened cookie-cutting machine breaks down amid Christmas Eve craziness. Buddy and his crew know how to jury-rig it themselves, and soon the cookie line is up and running again. That would make a decent MBA case study.
OK, you might not like “Cake Boss” or “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” but many of the shows mentioned in the article provide an interesting look at small businesses and how they succeed or fail. I’d put “The Apprentice” in the same category with the shows Felten writes about. As the old saying goes, “watch and learn.” — Jon Titus