Student Perspective: Alternative Pathways
By Tyler Enfinger
Activation Associate, Chegg
One of students’ biggest misconceptions about success in today’s society is that it is a linear path, starting from the moment you’re born. It’s hard to visualize your manager, mentor, or CEO being uncertain of their ability to be successful. And that’s because we’ve only ever seen those people as exactly that: successful people. But the probable truth is that they’ve struggled in their career. They’ve navigated confusion and uncertainty.
My most powerful experience as an intern was talking to some of the highest-ranking members of the company and asking them about their career paths. I learned that many of them had made mistakes similar to my own. Things that you and I beat ourselves up over are things that those people have also had to overcome—things like struggling with calculus or losing a job. I invite you to find someone that you view as successful and ask them if their path was a straightforward line or if it looked a little more like an overcooked noodle.
What this means is that there is no formula for success that works for everyone. We can’t expect a cookie-cutter vision of how to become successful to produce the same results for different types of people. For some people, going to a four-year university directly after graduating high school works. For others, they need to take some time to figure out what exactly they want to work towards. As a society, we need to work to reduce stigmatization of different career paths.
To explore this topic, I spoke with Stefan Silverio, a student who has taken a non-traditional path and found great personal and professional success.
Q&A with Stefan Silverio
Chegg: Good afternoon, Stefan, and thanks for taking the time to hop on the phone and chat. Can you introduce yourself?
Stefan: Of course, and thanks for reaching out! I’m currently a security consultant at Dark Waves InfoSec LTD, a boutique security company. Education and alternative paths is something that I’m passionate about because there are so many alternative schools and resources that can be much more cost-effective and practical than the traditional four-year university.
C: Your personal pathway to professional growth has been pretty nontraditional. Can you walk us through that journey?
S: After highschool, I was excited about entrepreneurship and technology. My interest inspired me to move across the country and attend a university in the heart of Silicon Valley, where there was no shortage of entrepreneurs and tech firms. One of my biggest frustrations with high school was the rigidity of course offerings and class curricula. Most classes were taught with the goal of helping students pass standardized tests, so the learning did not feel very practical. I had heard that college offered a different experience, but found that, for me, the story was not too different. So, after my freshman year, I decided to explore alternative options.
After researching alternatives to traditional universities, I found Holberton, which claimed to offer an experience like the one I was looking for. It’s a two-year accelerated software engineering program based in San Francisco, meant to emulate the workplace as closely as possible. This appealed to my desire for a more hands-on and practical method of learning. I was excited to have the freedom to work on a project, make mistakes, and iterate.
To date, their program is one of the most challenging things I have ever done, because they intentionally give little guidance when assigning projects. This creates an environment where it is the student’s responsibility to get “unstuck.” While definitely frustrating and uncomfortable, we had to quickly develop strong problem-solving skills to work through those situations. Those problem-solving skills are invaluable in an actual workplace, and I would not have been able to develop them as quickly without my time at Holberton.
C: Holberton can be defined as a “trade school for the 21st century.” What are the benefits of a technical trade school?
S: As we know, there is a lot of stigma around just about any pathway that does not revolve around a four-year university. But technical trade schools are invested in the personal success of the student. In Holberton’s case, tuition can be paid via an ISA (income sharing agreement), so they literally depend upon the student’s success. The better they do at preparing you for your career, the more money they make.
C: What are some ways that Holberton helped you where a traditional university may not have?
S: One of my biggest takeaways from Holberton was self-discipline. At Holberton, there were no class lecture periods, so it was up to each student to decide what time to come to campus (if at all) and how long they wanted to take to complete their projects.
Occasionally we had Hackathons where we would be assigned a team and given only 24 hours to create a “hack” for a specified technology. Those experiences were really powerful (albeit stressful) because you were under a massive time crunch, working on a project with almost no guidelines, with a team of people that you may/may not work well with. While that may sound like a nightmare, each experience was unique and forced me to grow as a professional. That was the experience that I was looking for.
C: In your opinion, what type of person would benefit from a technical trade school over a traditional four-year university?
S: That was one of the most invigorating aspects of Holberton; there was no “normal.” It doesn’t have an age limit, so we had students in our cohort from 18 years old to 50+ years old. There were students who had just graduated highschool, some who were attending Holberton after acquiring their bachelor’s degree, and some who were working full-time jobs in completely unrelated fields, like truck-driving. Despite all of those differences, no one’s background determined their success.
Success at Holberton (and other technical trade schools) is determined internally. A person needs to be a self-starter who is willing to step outside of their comfort zone and struggle a little. There needs to be a passion to improve and achieve your goals.
C: Stefan, thank you so much for sharing your experiences, and we hope that you continue to find success!
S: Gladly, and I hope that my experiences can be helpful for other people out there.
If you have any further questions for Stefan, he invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.