Google, Apple and thirteen other companies have recently decided that they would rather hire someone for their skills rather than academic qualifications. To that end, we ask the question, does Pakistan have room for self-taught professionals?
The entire purpose of higher education and accreditation is to certify that the degree holder has fully acquired the knowledge of the aforementioned field of study as taught in said institute. This was sufficient evidence for employers to ascertain whether or not this individual was capable of doing the job. This lead universities to become centers for ground-breaking research and industries began investing fortunes to further aid that research enabling academics to create knowledge that would directly help companies with both technology and workforce. This applies to arts, sciences, engineering, literature and everything in between. The scholastic method of creating and debating knowledge and science is how civilization has gone from being impressed by mere fire, to unfathomable technological advancements. However, at some point during the transfer of academics from a public service to a profit making machine, the priority shifted from successfully transferring knowledge to increasing the amount of units (degrees) sold. This was directly proportional to funds and donations a university would receive. This gives birth to an environment where universities started opening up like small shops in markets, behind/above fast food restaurants, around general stores. This is when the HEC was on the rise under Dr. Atta Ur Rehman‘s watchful eye and education was starting to pick up the pace locally. The fees were sky high, limited technological access and the curriculum as-if actively avoiding relevance. Students were graduating by the hoards, armed with degrees containing more initials than a UN subsidiary, for interview upon interview. However, not enough converted to careers (circa 2005-2008). The speculation being a lack of confidence in the chosen field, insufficient knowledge, or perhaps just sheer incompetence.
Autodidacts are a unique breed of humans. These are people who identify a choice of careers and master it at their own pace. Despite the absence of a structured curriculum associated with traditional academia, this method of learning is fast becoming relevant with free programs like Khan Academy, Code.org Digiskills, Virtual University, etc. Regardless of economic conditions or admission criterias, a student from Chhanga Maanga has access to the same level and quality of education as one enrolled in the likes of Oxford, Sorbonne, MIT, etc. The only limitation (at the moment) is access to the research grants and high-tech equipment. In certain disciplines, such as engineering and medical sciences, the tools necessary for training are not widely available or unsafe to practice privately. A degree/accreditation/certification cannot be bypassed in those cases. However, fields in which the tools are more readily available see an upward trend of self-starters.
The Trend in Pakistan
One of the producers of Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor and Burka Avenger, Rizwan Ahmed Malik, who is entirely self-taught in the field of film making and design talked us through how being self-taught is sometimes a necessity as well as a blessing. He cites lack of adequate training available locally as the precursor to his journey of self education. After a brief stint in IT, in 2006 Rizwan took to macromedia and flash based web content, which took him to the realm of WBTs (interactive web-based trainings) and similar solutions. Always having had a passion for filmmaking, Rizwan joined like minded individuals in a quest to create some short films. They created some horror movies and with each iteration, they kept improving. The horror movie Siyaah was a byproduct of these activities. Rizwan eventually ended up at Trango Interactive. The brainchild of Shehryar Hydri of P@SHA (formerly Convo) who intended to bring an innovative media service to Pakistan. He accomplished this by employing highly skilled self-taught professionals like Rizwan and helped them hone their craft even more. They worked on massive scale international projects with gigantic companies like Lucasarts, Nike, Discovery, UPS, Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider). He describes it as his dream job. Competing on a global scale meant producing quality on a globally competitive scale. With trial and error and tutelage from other seasoned professionals, Rizwan was competing (and accomplishing) on a global scale. He describes his job as one that focuses on finalizing the product. He specializes in cleaning up and tidying up the final result. Despite all this time, there is still a dearth of appropriate education on the subject, Rizwan says, and he has been doing his part in training more and more people in his specialization. He has trained fresh graduates, experiences professionals and complete beginners to the point of complete professional proficiency, also on an international scale.
What Managers Think
A questionnaire was sent to some influential managers across organizations, this includes a healthy mix of managers from manufacturing, IT, creative and engineering disciplines. Who had the following insight to share on the prospects of self-taught professionals. The questionnaire was put to managers of companies representing employees from as few as 10 (small startup) to 46,000 (Pakistan Post), including a response from an IT Manager at Facebook. In manufacturing, there are layers of jobs that vary from almost no academic dependency to comprehensive technical and management literacy. Within that spectrum lie jobs that, despite scholastic leniency, are somewhat technical. Organizations operating in compliance with numerous standards and certifications cannot transfer too many jobs to under qualified individuals, regardless of aptitude. However, some professionals are so adept at their vocation that organization. Importing this model to Pakistan is no easy task. With the likes of Digiskills and a bevy of web-based training programs that condenses the global knowledge base of a subject into small digestible fragments, the only limitation becomes an individual’s absorption limit. However, if such a program is successful, following YouTube videos, dedicated forums and Reddits, culture and behaviour can also be acquired. That said, widespread high speed internet access as well as a device to access/practice is an additional necessity that has a limited footprint (in the bigger picture that is).
In some cases, becoming adept at a skill is as simple as putting in the work. In other cases, there’s more to it than just work (there’s tools, timing, environment, etc.). The country is currently at stage where small businesses are just popping up, especially in IT despite a lack of sufficient infrastructure (it is like the university situation all over again). Similarly, certain universities are far behind the times. To compete globally, it seems almost necessary to have ample training. What we can say, for certain, is that Pakistan doesn’t have any clear bias against autodidacts and that’s good enough, for now. I am Adi Abdurab and I learned to ride the cycle all by myself.
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