Challenge your Assumptions

Anytime you move your world goes upside down for awhile. Combine that with some 30 hour flights to Vietnam and you get a chance to reflect on the particulars of how you got where you are.

assumptionsWe all make assumptions. A recent major assumption for me was that I was going to live and build companies in Vermont for the rest of my life. Vermont was the place I always loved coming home to. Then came along a change at gun point where I need to move. I researched, fretted, and made the move to New Hampshire. I hate moving it is a colossal time suck you just don’t get back.

But over the last few weeks I kept getting surprised. Daily. I have been confronted that many of my cherished assumptions have been wrong.

Assumption: Vermont was the perfect place for me to live

I still love VT and always will as it is a special place. But the facts of my move are starting to pile up in the most disturbing ways:

  • My cost of living is significantly less: Housing, utilities, food, insurance, eating out
  • I live near the ocean which I’m liking more than the lake
  • I pay less in taxes (both property and overall)
  • I now live near two airports with better (direct) and cheaper flight options
  • I can walk to the train from my house and be in Boston in a little over an hour where I can see a game, visit museums, or grab some great food. Which I have done way more than I thought I would.
  • I’ve been to a lot more good concerts in NH/Boston then I went to in VT
  • People are ridiculously friendly. As in the NYC’er in me needs to pinch myself regularly. You should taste the handmade chocolates my neighbors brought me if you need proof.
  • My shopping options are better. Two Home Depots, Lowes, Target, Trader Joes, and real outlets across the river in Maine (I’ll admit I’ve been to the Crate Barrelย twice already).
  • There is a lot more tech and software related people to grab a meal with.

I could keep going but you get the point and I’m not saying NH is perfect. Far from it. Here I was bummed I need to make the move from VT to NH. Boy was I wrong. Really wrong. The kind of wrong where you lie away at night and go, “What other assumptions have I made that are totally wrong”.

The move has been refreshing in the most unexpected ways. More importantly it has challenged me to go look at my personal assumptions and go test them. Test them rigorously. It is funny because in both marketing and software development we do this regularly. I guess I have not applied this as well to my personal life. So, if you happen by to grab a meal in Portsmouth/Boston come ready to work with me on those assumptions. As I for one have a lot more work to do but that’s why the 30 hour flight home from Vietnam is so useful.

The ROI of a College Education

It is graduation time for the University of Vermont this weekend. As I was flying back from Kalamazoo, MI this week I happened to sit next to a nursing Professor who was headed to give a talk at the university. We got into a good discussion about higher education and the challenges it faces. Many of her nursing students aren’t finding jobs in this economy and she sees major implications for hospitals as our population continues to age.

I can only imagine that nursing students are in a better position than the Liberal Arts graduates from UVM (which I was one of) this weekend. As a Vermont business leader looking to hire newly minted college graduates we face a host of challenges. While there are many smart and talented students many of them are woefully lacking basic business skills that we need as a software company. They can’t write a decent email let alone a full memo. Presentation skills are low. Excel and Powerpoint are at a basic level. Liberal art students have no exposure to any mid level skill sets such as Google Analytics , HTML, Flash, database reporting tools, or CRM systems.

A four year out of state UVM education will run you $165,832 and the debt load if you financed it all would run you around $1964 a month! Which is why most of my young staff work two jobs to make ends meet. Somewhere along the line Universities lost their way. We now have a system that churns out students that are under skilled compared to their graduating peers we employ in Romania and India where we have some 45 staff members. We typically employee 3-6 interns a semester and many of them we make job offers to as they have the basic skills needed post internship. It amazes me how few local UVM students apply compared to the number we get out of state from say Clarkson. I offered to use my network to set up 50 paid internships for UVM Career Services but it fell into the bureaucracy. As a country we need to have a debate on Higher Education and the return on the investment. UVM has a beautiful new Student Center that cost $61 Million to build. Was it worth the extra debt load placed on students? Would that money been better spent making sure they all had laptops with powerpoint and excel and paid internships? There are no easy or quick answers here but I take heart in efforts like MIT’s OpenCourseWare. Post WWII higher education has been a key driver of equality and prosperity of our country. I look forward to the debate that is emerging about how we regain our leadership in education so that the return on a $165,832 education is worth the investment.

PS: If you are a current or graduating UVM student looking for work/internships I continue the tradition set by my first boss at MTV who I learned a lot from that my door is open for advice Friday mornings at 8:30. Just drop me an email.