The Washington Post

Editor’s note: Are college degrees in big data the new gold rush?

As the father of two boys in college, I find I’ve become particularly interested in stories about the direction of higher education these days. So when staff writer Steven Overly told me he was going to write about the latest “gold rush” on college campuses, courses and degrees aimed at big data, my ears perked up.

To a parent, big data (computers!) sounds like a career that might one day bring a big paycheck and be worthy of an investment of thousands — and thousands and thousands — of dollars in tuition.

But I know better.

Kids don’t necessarily pursue the degrees their parents think might be the most promising. Even when they do snag a lucrative major, they don’t always chase the highest-paying job, based on a report I heard last week from National Public Radio’s “Planet Money” team.

And that’s OK, as painful as it might be for my wallet to admit. In my experience, success flows from what we can be passionate about.

Back in my college days I flirted with the idea of getting a dual major, in math and journalism. The math was mostly to appease my father, the mechanical engineer. But I thought it might also distinguish me from other aspiring journalists.

Of course, I also wanted to play soccer. I was lucky enough to find my perfect match at American University here in town, where I got to do it all, double major and kick a ball.

Unfortunately, a goalkeeper kicked me back and broke my jaw, interrupting my semester and ending my pursuit of a double major.

I stuck with journalism, perhaps because the major in those days was rooted in the liberal arts. I wanted to learn about other disciplines and sample from the college buffet.

For my education as a journalist, I’d spend my summers literally knocking on doors at the National Press Club, asking for someone, anyone, to take me on. I’d work for free doing whatever needed to be done.

Now, working for free is not much of a return on investment. But I was happy, living my dream. For me, that made all the difference.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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