Do university degrees matter?

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Early last month, one of my cousins flew into London for an overnight stop before continuing her journey back to Malaysia. As I hadn't seen her for a while, we agreed to meet for dinner, and over the course of dinner, she asked what I do for a living. She was surprised when I told her I'm a software engineer.

"But Farah," she said, "I thought you studied international relations. How come you're not doing something related to that?"

This is a question I frequently face whenever I tell people what I do, and what I studied. But whilst in Britain this question is accompanied by polite interest - it is, after all, normal in Britain for people to study one thing but forge a career in a different field; in my own workplace, there are former physicists and at least one English graduate working as software engineers - in Malaysia this question is usually accompanied by incredulity.

Do something you didn't study for? Why? How come? In Britain, my explanation of how I got where I am today is usually accepted without much question. In Malaysia, I get the inevitable follow-up: so did you do another degree?

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