Let’s pretend you are a high school senior. You already know what you want to do for a career: you want to be a programmer for a company like Google or Facebook.
What’s going to get you there in the best, least debt-incurring manner? Four years of college? Or walking up to Google and telling them you’ll work for them for four years for FREE? After four years, you’ve already got a ton more experience than your peers who are just graduating and you won’t have the massive student debt (you might just need a paying part-time job on the side…which you’d need through college anyways). Your professional network is also going to be immensely larger.
Yes, you’ll start at the lowest rung possible but 1) You’re not costing Google anything and 2) you’re learning exactly what they want you to learn. You’ll be putting in some extra time doing self-study over the years, but almost everything you’re learning will be applied.
So which is the better deal? And which would give you a better chance of getting your foot in the door in the first place? Now that everyone goes to college, does it really get you ahead of the pack? I think education through experience is becoming more important than formal education.
Disclaimer: I have a four-year degree. Obviously this approach wouldn’t work with a profession such as a doctor, teacher, or lawyer. But I think it would have worked for me (Business/marketing degree).