“It’s Too Bad You’re Not Using Your Degree”

Last week’s post about college reminded me of something that used to happen to me quite frequently in the few years after I left my job. After explaining our business, people would comment “it’s too bad you’re not using your degree.” This always got under my skin. I understand where they’re coming from (e-commerce != engineering), but I always felt like they were hinting at some failure on my part, or that I had wasted my time and money going to college. I always though the more appropriate remark would have been in the form of a question – “are you using your degree?”

Setting aside all of the social benefits, networking benefits, and experience from internships of my degree (and most degrees) that are universally applicable to basically any job. And setting aside that almost any degree is beneficial when you run a business because there are just so many facets to a business that it’s almost impossible for it not to be (accounting, HR, technology, legal, accounting, marketing, etc etc). Setting all that aside, I actually am using my degree pretty directly.

At 18 I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do within the engineering world, so I was lucky enough to have chosen the broadest type of engineering: industrial engineering. Industrial engineering focuses on process design, data analysis, and data-driven decision making, while still providing a strong background in the math and physics that’s necessary for all engineering disciplines. I took secondary classes in facilities design (directly applicable to our warehouse design), inventory management, C++ programming, and information systems (my introduction to creating web ventures). It’s not hard to see how those things directly and indirectly have helped me as a business owner.

I really was lucky though. I just as easily could have chosen mechanical engineering and missed out on some of those classes. But had I done so, I probably would have been more inclined to do a startup that involved a physical product because that skillset would have been stronger. I guess what I’m saying is, there are probably degrees that are a little better or worse for running a business, but there’s nothing that will entirely prepare you. The best you can hope for is to have some experiences that you can draw from to make the challenge of starting a company a little smoother. I think most degrees and most schools will give you that provided that you put in a little effort.