There are lots and lots of developers in the industry who never went to University and some never went to College either. Well I went to both University and College (Sixth Form) and in my opinion it was definitly worth it.
To start with before University I never had any interest in programming and I would for the most part say it is only because of University that I became a programmer. At University I was given a series of lectures and practical lessons. The lectures and practical lessons form the equivalent of a part time week. In the other half of the week you are expected to be self learning the subject discussed in the lectures and practical lessons.
None of this is mandatory, you do not have to turn up to lectures or practical lessons but seen as though you are paying for the lectures and practical lessons it would be a waste of money not to. University treated me more like an adult than any other educational organisation I had been to prior to University. You are actually a customer of the University.
A certain opinion on University in terms of the programming world are that Universities do not prepare you for the “real world” of development. To some extent this is true, University certainly gives you the ideal programming world. A world in which your profession is respected and you are given ample time to conduct your research.
I once worked for a company where one of the developers stated on a task I was working on “its not rocket science is it”. For the most part the developer was quite right, it was not the hardest task in the world to be working on. However that is besides the point, what does it say when a developer makes such a comment? This developer degrades his own profession by making the claim that the work is simple and easy.
You would not hear such comments at University as far as I am aware because the lecturers respect their profession and they create that same feeling of respect in their own students. You are a computer scientist working to solve real world problems.
A lot of companies are formed by people who never went to University and a lot of companies have developers working at the company that never went to University. For anyone who preaches “University does not prepare students for the real world of development” this is probably the reason why.
The people at the above companies never went to University and never had that same sense of respect instilled in them for their profession. Let us not degrade our own profession by debasing ourselves and making comments like everything is simple and easy, even if it is. In other words the degraded “real world” of development is at odds with the Universities respectable “real world” of development or rather there are so many people joining this bandwagon that it has somewhat become the “real world” because of themselves.
When you go to a University you have the fundamentals of programming explained to you in the lectures. The correct terminology is used to explain everything and it is explained in a professional manner. The feeling this creates in you makes you want to be apart of the latest innovations, discoveries and technologies.
Looking back after a number of years in development I would say that University teaches the foundations of each subject on the course you have taken on. I would agree that there is a lot of self learning to do in your own time but that is to be expected of University is it not? Maybe the people who are saying “University does not prepare for the real world” have been dealing with people who never did any self learning in their free time whilst at University.
Looking back there was a lot of people who only seemed to go to the lectures and practical lessons when they could be bothered. Never seeming to learn anything outside of the lectures and practical lessons. It is quite possible that they still managed to scrape a pass on their degree and maybe that is the reason for the skewed perception.
I would argue that the people who did that are probably in the same category as those people who could not be bothered to go to University at all. They are probably the same people now complaining that “University does not prepare you for the real world”. Ultimately though everyone is a individual whether they went to University or not and it is all about the investment they have made in the programming studies.
I think University does introduce programming students to some concepts they may not have readily picked up outside of going to University. Take “recursion” for example. I have worked on codebases that had parts of code written in ways that could have really used recursion and should have used recursion.
It seemed to me that the programmer had struggled to write the piece of code because he was unfamiliar with the concept of recursion. Not that he could not do recursion but that he was not even aware of recursions existence. This would have been covered at University so at least the programmer would know recursion existed. Had the programmer known recursion existed it would have most likely been used.
University gives you the ideal development world view and I assume the very top companies in the programming world share similarities with this world view. I can only assume this is the case because it all depends on the people working for the said companies.
So was University important? From the learning programming standpoint, perhapes not so much. However from instilling respect in your chosen profession, very much so.