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Why School Wasn't Right For Me

I dropped out of school a few months ago. I cover why I made that decision in this post.

You might have heard, in my last blog post, that I've been working as a full time indie developer for over a month now. I wasn't cool enough to "quit my job to go indie", but I did the next best thing and dropped out of school to go indie. I usually enjoyed school too, so some people (my parents) were probably confused as to why I made the decision to leave (though are probably glad they don't have to pay tuition anymore). Anyway we need to start with my highschool experience to fully understand my perspective.

I went to a highschool in the western boondocks part of Massachusetts. Not quite the middle of nowhere, but not quite a bustling city either. I lived next to cows and corn though, on the edge of this town (i.e. a good 10 miles away from any of my friends). It basically meant I couldn't really have any social life outside of school before I had my drivers license (so I managed to pass the time by learning how to program games in flash. I'd known pretty much my whole life this was what I wanted to do). Hence, I joined the band (in my high school the band wasn't just "the weird band geeks", there were nearly 200 people in it since we had a really good music program); I joined the honor society; I got involved.

Academically, I was a good student. I was in AP classes and the honor society and related stuff. The important part about being an honor student in high school was knowing how to slack effectively, and everyone knew it. We had an honor student lounge that we could go to in our free time. They probably expected us to use it to study, but we played video games and watched movies and joked instead. Everyone had a great idea of the minimum amount of work you had to put into each class to get an A, so the effort saved could be put into subjects you cared about, or just having a good time. 

I never really learned that much directly from the classes. I would slack too much in the classes I didn't care about, and in the subjects I did I would usually learn on my own at a rate faster than the class could go (they had to stick me in calculus a year early so I wouldn't get bored. I still got bored), and had more time to slack as a result. By senior year, I was taking 3 band classes out of the 7 slots we had. We slacked there too. Much of the day was spent… hitting fruits and donuts with golf clubs, and watching youtube instead of playing instruments. It was pretty fun too and quite enjoyable nonetheless.

We were always taught that the point of highschool was to get into a good college, and the point of college was to get a job. College for me wasn't much different from high school, academically. I would teach myself the subjects I cared about, and slack on the ones I didn't, and spend the rest of the time socializing. So why didn't I think it was worth it then? Stuff changes a lot once you realize you're paying for something. We pay for things we can't acquire on our own. I can't make my own LCD screen, so I buy a TV. I cannot cook a pizza, so I buy one. I can't draw or animate for the life of me, so I pay an animator to do that instead.

I can educate myself. Not only that, but I had been doing so all throughout highschool. There were no programming or linear algebra classes in highschool, so I had been teaching myself those skills on my own. As a result I performed just fine without doing any work in the college classes corresponding to those subjects.

Does it mean I was smarter than the other students in the class? Absolutely not, I simply had a head start. I saw people who never touched a computer before take a programming class and emerge nearly an expert at those languages after a couple classes. Obviously the system was working for them, but for someone like myself it just didn't seem to be worth the cost to sit through classes of subjects I already knew, just to meet prerequisites for classes I would have found interesting.

C programming was a prerequisite for C++ programming. I only knew the basics of each going in (though C programming only covered the basics anyway), but C was very easy to pick up for someone who had been programming for as long as I had, so I passed the time by reading a book on C++. By the time that class came along, I had already taught myself 95% of what was covered in that class. Hence, I learned a LOT in college, though none of it came directly from the classes themselves. If I was able to skip the first few prerequisite classes, perhaps I would have started off on more even ground, but as it was I was perpetually about a year ahead in terms of personal skill from what the classes were teaching me.

That's not to say the classes weren't of value for the other students, anyone who went in without experience was brought up to speed very fast and learning at exactly the rate the classes were going. I watched a few talents emerge from people who had never realized they had it. For them, school is very much worth it.

The other focus of school then, was getting a job. We all were taught, by parents and teachers and counselors and the media that you need a college diploma to get a good job, or else you'll end up working in a McDonalds or a Wal Mart for the rest of your life. I can't really go get a diploma on my own, even if I could get an education on my own.

Though, in 2008 I began getting involved in the indie gaming scene, after I realized that the flash games I'd been making as a hobby for so long actually made me an indie developer. I went to GDC that year, began to realize that being an independent developer was actually becoming a viable career option. It was risky for sure. If I left right then and there to become indie, there'd be a huge risk if I couldn't handle it because then I'd be without a job AND without a diploma, and it also felt weird to question the "truth" of "high school -> college -> job".

Over the next 2 years, my game Closure began winning a few awards and attracting attention. I realized here that leaving school to be an indie developer wouldn't be as risky as I thought it was. I was getting pressured from family to stay in school, and other developers to leave, and random people on the streets would always feel the need to chime in with their suggestion if I mentioned I was thinking about it.

I even talked to a few professors at my school to see what they thought, expecting them to try and keep me in school so they could keep getting my tuition money, and to my surprise they mostly all told me that leaving wouldn't be a bad choice for my specific situation, under the premise of "you can always come back if you think you want a degree".

So I can educate myself, and I can probably succeed just fine without a diploma (crunching numbers I'd have to sell chicken scratch copies of my game to NOT break even), really left pretty much no reason for me to keep paying money to the school, so I left. My brother can make way better use of a college education than I can anyway, so my parents are probably glad that they can stop spending money on me and save it for him instead, even if they were averse to my decision initially.

This was really the first big decision in my life that was 100% my own decision, and, well, it feels kinda good to have control over my own life. Time will tell if I made the right choice, and frankly, I'm optimistic.

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