Bartender school

Today I was listening to an Ibiza cocktail bartender describing how he got into the business. Someone asks if he ever took a class or any formal training. The response was a bit of a chortle. “It’s way overpriced and you don’t learn the little important details. The best way to learn how to make cocktails at a busy bar is by working there and slowly picking up on how the bartenders do it.

While he was saying that, I thought of the trope of how useless business school is (other than for networking). It seems much of a liberal arts education falls prey to this attack. Not to say that it can’t be valuable — I’ve spent much time over the past year pouring over philosophy and psychology. The problem is when you rely solely on this to then go out into the world and do things. What we’re missing is a viable apprenticeship system for much of the economy. How many of us went to bartending school thinking that’s the fast track to becoming a star bartender?


Also published on Medium.

2 thoughts on “Bartender school

  1. This is a surprisingly important point, even in technical fields where you’d think formal schooling would be useful. I’ve got a pretty extensive computer science education, but all the major lessons on building real software were things I learned from actually working with experienced engineers. They were barely hinted at in any class I took, and the academic subdiscipline of ‘software engineering’ is famously held in contempt by academics and practitioners alike for being mostly useless.

    Interestingly, your point on apprenticeship brought to mind comments I’ve heard on the practice of code review. Several colleagues have told me that they consider code review to be the #1 most important practice we have, because (aside from the usual code quality reasons) it transfers all this unwritten knowledge and concretizes various abstract principles. And since it’s an institutional practice, this sort of distributed apprenticeship carries on long after the original experts are gone.

    Not sure how to extend this to business contexts. As it is the umbrella term ‘business’ encompasses too many things, some decomposition is required.

    1. Yea, it seems a combination of building actual things and then having someone experienced code review it is way more effective than a CS degree. I came to a similar conclusion regarding the importance of CR and mentoring junior devs.

      In general business contexts, I think good managers of managers serve as mentors to new managers. A lot of that is transferring the soft skills required to do “leadership”. The general problem of “succeeding in business” is a lot harder, though — seems like the best way to apprenticeship that is to be an early employee at a high growth startup.

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