What about Mathematics.
Do you think you would have been a radically different Tom without your education?
Let me address this in reverse. Would I have been a radically different Tom? No, I don't think so. I might not have had the same opportunities that I had, but I would not have been radically different as a person.
I owe much of what I am technically to a guy named Woody Lons. I answered an ad in the Washington Post posted by GRC (small company that no longer exists in Vienna Virginia) for "PL/I programmers wanted, no experience necessary". I absolutely qualified for that. On the same day I interviewed with GRC, I did an interview with another small company -- Quantum Computer Services, in Tysons Corner Virginia, not far away from GRC. (I remember eating at Wendy's in between, it was a really hot day out). With my BA in Math from the University of Pittsburgh - I had two job offers:
a) GRC. They wanted programmers writing PL/I on an IBM mainframe.
b) Quantum Computer Services. They were looking for help desk analysts for a consumer dial up startup.
The year was 1987. I of course took the cooler of two jobs and became a programmer/analyst (I had no idea what that meant, I had not touched a computer really in college, it was all proofs and theorems).
Well, google quantum computer services, go ahead, oh never mind go here instead. Now ask me if I made the right choice! Hind sight, no big deal. I could be retired
So, I took this job with a bunch of people that were beyond belief (in a good way). I was teamed with a guy Woody - he was about the age I am now as I write this. He taught me lots of stuff - he was my mentor. He taught me how to write code that was understandable, maintainable, debuggable, traceable, self diagnosing. He taught me to think before coding. He taught me to test test test and never say anything "was true" without testing and showing it. He taught me more than any school could have. He taught me how to do this computer stuff "right". I still to this day do the things he taught me almost 20 years ago now.
I could have been teamed with him out of high school and still be most of what I am now, that I firmly believe. Do not believe that a college or advanced degree means someone is better than someone without, it gives them an advantage, especially in the beginning but doesn't mean they are necessarily better. For many, the relevance of a person is in what they can do, not what school they went to a decade ago. They have either been successful, or not. On their own. Period. I especially respect people that are successful - without the initial silver spoon. They had to work harder to get where they are.
Now, did the math degree help me? Probably yes. It gave me a good foundation in what I do now - but that was ingrained in me over and over by Woody. Test, Trace, Prove, back it up, don't make it up. Do it right - you will be in a room with 20 of your peers and they are going to rip your algorithms/code apart. Back in the day of code reviews - )does anyone do those anymore?) those were scary events. Making transparencies for the overhead projector with psuedo code - a room with lots of other programmer/analysts who had been doing this for a lot longer then you - reading it all as you explained your approach to a problem. That is fear, real fear, sick to stomach fear. Criticism abounded, it was expected, it was not only allowed - it was demanded. You were expected to justify what you proposed. You could not just "say stuff". And, if you sat through a code review and just nodded your head, you were not doing your job.
I have "observed" (slipping totally into opinion) that some of the best programmers are math, engineering and history majors. Totally an opinion and observation. It might be the training in critical thinking and "analyze" mind set.
Did the college years shape my life? Sure, but only thru coincidence, because of who I met and made friends with. I met my wife of almost 18 years there when I was a junior. I learned to work 30-40 hours a week and do the school thing at the same time from the time I was a freshman. I was a first a cook and then a manager in the student union restaurant. I opened it at 6:00am (it opened at 6:30, but lots to be done to open). I worked lunch rush. I closed it at night at 7:00pm. Scheduled classes around that. Cut loose on the weekends, except during football/basketball season. I worked the games cooking or delivering food. Guess the weekends were mostly shot too :). It sounds bad but I look back on it with good memories. Made friends there that I have to this day, most from the restaurant.
So, it was just one of many experiences that brought me here. I had no formal training in databases in school, but I read the books, a deep book that made me see the light is on my links I like page, the book on transaction processing. The chapter on two phase commit (in the release I had) compared it to a wedding with the minister being the commit point. "do you take this man" (vote to commit) - yes, then PREPARE to commit, "do you take this woman" (vote to commit) - yes, then PREPARE to commit. "Anyone out there have a good reason not to do this?" -- no, then "I pronounce you man and wife" - transaction is committed. I got it! I had mentors. I listened to people. I learned from them. They made me what I am now.
School - it was important, but if you didn't have a chance to do it (it could be hard, not everyone can get there for various reasons), so be it. The school of experience is more than enough for me.
People are who they are. Especially after many years in the business. A good suit and piece of paper from years ago won't make you any smarter than you are today. I judge people on their work and contributions more than anything else.