Self-Taught: How I learned to be self-reliant and love leaving school

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Throughout my entire youth, I was taught that in order to have a successful career, I needed some type of college or university education. The quality of job I would land directly correlated with the quality of school I would attend — and the better the school, the more it would cost.

Or so I thought…it turns out, you don’t need a degree to land your dream job. In high school, I was a serial underachiever. My goal was simply to make “C Rule” (a 1.7 GPA), and maintain the minimum eligibility to tryout for sports. Ironically, I was placed in all honors classes and was surrounded by overachievers. I despised them all, reluctantly acknowledging that they would likely go off to Ivy League schools and earn six-figure salaries.

That path was not for me. I wanted to do things differently. I became determined to reach the same pinnacle of success they seemed destined for, but without the Ivy League schooling and 4.0 GPA. I would do it my way. My senior year came and went. I graduated high school and, of course, ignored everyone’s pleas to enroll in college. I walked into my local community college’s placement exam and promptly exited, quickly deciding that it wasn’t my scene. Despite my determined do-it-yourself attitude, it took a few years to realize I was going nowhere fast.

I had been teaching myself web design, but didn’t know how to break into the industry. I wasn’t qualified enough yet to apply for a job (or so I thought), so I finally caved and looked into art school. To me, art school felt like a compromise between no schooling and a formal university. It allowed me to feel like I hadn’t betrayed my own path. I was soon accepted--the best and the worst thing that would ever happen to me. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me because, as it turns out, I didn’t actually need what college was offering. I already knew the content taught in every class.

I ended up becoming a certified tutor—instructors actually came to me for help! To top it all off, I was paying around $12,000 a semester...for what?! It wasn’t all bad, though. It provided me the much needed proof that I could be self-taught and successful. It reaffirmed that my original rebellious tendencies actually had some merit. Three semesters after I attended my first college class, I dropped out. I had a nice bundle of student loans, and very little knowledge gained, but I was riding high on life by knowing I had what I needed to make the cut. I was also confident that whatever I didn’t already know, I could likely teach myself.

I was quickly hired as a web designer at a salary nearly double what I expected, and all without a college degree. That was seven years ago, and I’ve had no regrets since. I consider myself very successful, and I constantly evangelize only going to college if you know you need to. I’m even more excited about non-traditional learning opportunities today than I was when I quit school. In those days, there weren’t many options for online learning. Today, I find myself employed by a company offering exactly what I needed years ago: help for anyone and everyone to learn a skill they would otherwise have to figure out themselves or (cringe) go to school for. I’m now part of a team committed to changing an education model that has been stuck for hundreds of years. Traditional education is obsolete for many careers, and is overpriced for everyone.

When I learned that our company, Smarterer, had been acquired by Pluralsight, a company that gives users access to the same things I taught myself — and that my college attempted to teach me — for a tiny fraction of the cost, I was instantly enamored. On top of that, the curriculum is updated constantly by authors still working in their respective fields. You can’t get more relevant than that. Needless to say, I’m more excited than ever to help push our accessible learning platform forward, full steam ahead.

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Fred Yates

Focusing on make products a delight to use, Fred has been a UI/UX Designer and Front End Developer at Smarterer since 2013. A New England native through and through, when he's not behind a computer you'll find him at the golf course or hitting the slopes.