College Degrees Shouldn't Be Required for Tech Jobs

  • qbrt


    Points: 2487

    BrainDonor - Friday, September 7, 2018 2:48 AM

    As an aside - Kendra, it does tickle me that you're listed as a newbie here. If you need any help with basic SQL stuff, please make sure you show what you've tried so far, or we'll just ignore you...

    Welcome to the forum, Little Kendra.

  • TomThomson

    SSC Guru

    Points: 104773

    I first had to recruit people 46 years ago; my boss at the time had a policy of not considering people with CS Bachelor degrees, and I agreed with him because CS degrees were a new game back then, almost non-existent - there wasn't much computer science that could reasonably studied in a first degree course.  So we hired people with all sorts of qualifications - one who had left school at age 17 and now had 6 years of experience in software development in industry, a couple of others with no college education and rather less experience, others with degrees in Music, Chemistry,  Physics, French, Philosophy and Classics, Maths and Economics, some Bachelors degrees, some Masters, and some Doctorates.  They made a really good team - or rather 3 really good teams, as I had two unrelated development projects plus a customer support team to look after.  My own degrees were an MA in Maths and an MSc in Logic (for a thesis on the semantics of infinitary languages - where set theory collides with logical calcui), I'd learnt about software development through working in computing since 51 years ago and playing with computers during my research on semantics of logical calculi.  I think that we had the right idea back then - valuing experience, and also valuing getting degrees from decent universities whatever the subject because they demonstrated the ability to put a lot of work in.  When recruiting since then I've tried to follow the same idea - but sometimes I've been stuck with a boss who thought a young kid with a bachelors degree in CS from a University that teaches its CS students to write bad C++ and no other languages except badly taught COBOL  and no actual science at all is a better bet than some one with no degree (or a degree in anything but CS, even from a top-rate University) who has 25 years or more of solid software or hardware development experience.

    Incidentally, Philosophy and Classics was Tony Hoare's subject for his first degree. He also picked up a certificate in statistics.  By the time I first met him (in the second half of the 80s) he had already become a Distinguished Fellow of the BCS, and a Fellow of the Royal Society, and had an ACM Turing award, an IEEE Harrry H Goode Memorial Award.  And subsequently he was awarded honorary docorates by Universites in Ireland, England, Scotland, Greece, Poland and Spain, became a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of CHM(Mountain View) and picked up a Kyoto prize for information science, a Friedrich L. Bauer-Prize from the Technical University of Munich, an IEEE John von Neumann medal and a SIGPLAN Programming Languages Achievement Award.   I guess that is a pretty clear demonstration that a CS degree is not needed to be really good at computer stuff, a Philosophy and Classics degree does at least as well.


  • david.gugg


    Points: 5696

    I just finished a job search (next week is my last at my current employer before moving on to the next one) and I can attest that most of the positions I applied for or considered applying for had a desired amount of experience and education, but included notes that one of the two could be substituted for the other. So for example, they want a four year degree and four years of experience, but if you have eight years of experience you don't necessarily need the degree.  This makes good sense to me, and it was encouraging that so many employers are realizing the value in this approach.

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  • jay-h


    Points: 18816

    Eric M Russell - Friday, September 7, 2018 7:33 AM

    Subject like: applied mathematics, systems analysis, computing fundamentals taught using a core programming languages like C++ and SQL, database design and normalization, software development methodologies, management of information systems; these things were being taught in universities 25 years ago and still will be relevent 25 from now.

    To a large extent  (with the exception of deeper mathematics which most of us don't use unless we're in data science or theoretical work) requires technical education, but not a 4 or more year degree. Programming languages, network design, security management etc can be very well handled by technical training.

    [Humorous side point: I have a joke T-shirt labelled 'Copenhagen Interpretation Fantasy camp" with pictures of Bohr and Heisenberg and a couple expressions with Planck's constant. In all the time I've had it  the only person I ran into who actually seemed to get the joke was a guy selling wallets at flea market. So much for education employment prospects]


    -- FORTRAN manual for Xerox Computers --

  • ZZartin


    Points: 30430

    Now here's my question how many of those companies listed as not requiring a 4 year degree are actually hiring people fresh out of high school(in the US) into even entry level tech jobs?

  • Jeff Mlakar


    Points: 2879

    This is why I advocate for programming interviews either on the keyboard or whiteboard. It isn't the answers that I want to see (would be nice though) but rather the thinking process. That tells me pretty much everything I need to know for a developer position. Admins are a little different. YMMV

    My opinion is that removing education requirements from a job description is for sure lowering hiring standards (in and of itself). That said there are some points I can make based on what I've experienced.

    • Education does not predict job applicant success as much as we would like. This does not mean it has no value. I have seen highly educated people be the least useful members of a team and the most capable. I have seen those without a formal education be superstar developers and I have also seen them be walked out after 90 days. 
    • All things equal (in economics we would call this "ceteris paribus") - two candidates who are exactly alike (thought experiment) with only the education apart - of course the individual with the education has the edge. Let's not pretend it does not.
    • I see this same line of thinking used with certifications. Likewise I have seen the same phenomenon as with education with certs. Sometimes they are super good people and other times they just went through the motions of passing a series of exams and retain very little.  
    • I have had good arguments with other hiring managers about this. My bias is towards school (I have a graduate degree). I think, for example, if you are going to be working with company networks that you should probably know something about the OSI stack. I don't just want someone who has memorized a technique for getting something done - I want someone who actually understands what is going on and how things should work. Usually that kind of foundational know-how comes from school. Not everyone without a college degree is Jamie Zawinski. That is the rare exception and not the norm. 
    My favorite example of this was a blog post written a long time ago by Jeff Attwood (Coding Horror!). There is a classic post called Why Can't Programmers..Program? and it is well worth a read.

    School is not the be all end all answer but for sure it is better in most situations than none. It can be difficult also to see where to draw the line. Do you want someone who didn't go to college operating on you? Or would you prefer someone credentialed who has taken an anatomy course? Same thing with Law. Same with Computer Science. There are no guarantees in life but having a proper education makes it more probable that you know what you are doing.

    Last thing to note: this aligns more closely if you are trying to hire top talent. If you work somewhere where you just need a carbon based lifeform who will not rock the boat  and perform as well as the other B-teamers then it really does not matter about the education. I assume we want great people - not merely adequate.

  • Eric M Russell

    SSC Guru

    Points: 125115

    I believe there are a lot of similarities between working in IT and working in the restaurant industry. When doing a google search on "what do you learn in culinary school", it doesn't mention how to make eggplant parmesian. What is taught are things like kitchen operation, safety, time management, presentation, soft skills and of course how to prepare a portfolio of dishes. I guess you could start at the bottom and (more or less) learn all those things on the job (eventually), but starting out with the degree certainly helps.

    "Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Instead, seek what they sought." - Matsuo Basho

  • Brad Allison

    Hall of Fame

    Points: 3540

    I have been in the IT world on both hardware and software for over 30 years now.  Yes, I just turned 51 yesterday and an starting to count the years to retirement.  Today I am a programmer doing Application and Data Analysis and making a great living.  In the past at one point in time I was also a hiring IT manager with a Fortune 500 food company.  In that job, I pursued people who had more hand's on experience and real world experience, more than I did with those that just listened to some lectures, read out of a book, and did a few labs on a computer.  Why?  Because that is how I have built my career.  I only have a two year Associate's Degree and I just recently received that.  However, I am sure I could teach an advanced class in Object Oriented programming, SQL, Visual Basic, Office 365 and its many tools, etc.  

    As a side note, when I left that managerial hiring job, the company hired someone fresh out of college with that 4-year degree and she didn't last but six months.

  • jmcgarvey

    Default port

    Points: 1489

    I think SSCommitted hit the nail on thehead.  Life is not a piece of paper saying you know "stuff" butcan you get that knowledge to your fingertips.  I do not have a collegedegree but have been very successful over the years.  I received myinitial electronics training in the US Navy and built upon that.  I washired out of the Navy as a hardware tech and very quickly learned that it isnot always the hardware that is broken.  With that mind set I got a holdof the program listings (in assembly language) and a little magic decoder bookpublished by DEC and reverse engineered the code to find and correct the realproblem.  From this foundation I went on to become a software engineer anddeveloper and later moved into database work.  I love me some SQL.  Ihave been working for 40+ years and have kept current with seminars, onlinecourses and just reading.   Do I miss not having a degree?  Yesand No.  Sometimes I feel having the formal education would help me be alittle better spoken but not necessarily a better programmer.  Programing is a way of thinking not strictly training.  I have developedmy skill set over years of hard work and commitment and do not regret amoment.  Yes, I've had set backs but who hasn't. 

    Having interviewed and trained numerous developers and DBAs over the years Ialways look at for the practical approach and not pure elegance.  In thebusiness work we need to get the job done.  Show me what you can do nota list of degrees.  Not being mean justpractical.

    Anyway, I am right at the end of my career(retirement as soon as this contract ends) and have loved what I do.  I hope that those coming into the IT worldget as much satisfaction as I have over the years.

    Good luck to all.

  • david.gugg


    Points: 5696

    The other thing I'd like to point out, having graduated from college just 10 short year ago, is that, at least here in the US, our university system is quite broken.  In the past a degree from a university meant that the student had learned how to learn.  A degree was an indicator that the student could problem solve, use critical thinking, ask the right questions, and formulate conclusions.  They would be well-rounded, learning how several different disciplines tie together, while still focusing on a particular subject.  Today most college degrees, at least at the bachelors level, are simply extremely expensive technical training with some political propaganda sprinkled in.

    The degrees that are most common are teaching the student how to perform certain tasks - marketing, math, accounting, human resources, business administration.  While these things are certainly important, few of them require a four year degree to learn.  I can still remember my first job out of college, I worked for a bank in the Secondary Markets department.  The job required a four year degree, yet a month-long technical course would have been sufficient.  I used almost nothing I learned in college for that job.  Now that I've advanced I'm using more of my math degree - Set Theory, Operations Research, Discrete Math.  However, I've learned far more since I left college than while I was there.

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  • Sonya Slavina

    SSC Enthusiast

    Points: 133

    I have BS in Engineering from another country and 20 years of experience in IT, however some hiring managers are not happy with that, since I don't have "american education".

    Buy experiences, not things

  • Rod at work


    Points: 33424

    +1 a hundred times!

    Kindest Regards, Rod Connect with me on LinkedIn.

  • MMartin1

    One Orange Chip

    Points: 27502

    The thing that I would want to see is initiative. Listing the books read along with a professional certification as a plus  shows me this person is not only motivated, but pragmatic. To an inexperienced manager I can see the college degree being the standout. If you really learn on the job you will learn to spot the characteristics of the successful people and value that instead of a safety net standard.

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  • TomThomson

    SSC Guru

    Points: 104773

    Sonya Slavina - Friday, September 7, 2018 9:02 AM

    I have BS in Engineering from another country and 20 years of experience in IT, however some hiring managers are not happy with that, since I don't have "american education".

    You have my sympathy on that.  

    Many Americans think that Americation education is the best in the world - but the reality when it comes to Engineering is that the USA has only 3 of the worlds top 10 Engineering schools (MIT, Stanford and UCB) - the same number as the UK has (Cambridge, Imperial College London, Oxford) and only 1 more than Singapore's two (NTU and NUS) (the other two of the world top 10 are one each in Switzerland and China).


  • brad.mason5

    Hall of Fame

    Points: 3299

    Kendra great editorial,

    This one will trigger many comments and already has.  As a new father of a 9-month-old, I think going to college will be less important for him landing a job.
    I did attend college and graduated with CS degree and that really helped me get the interview.  As I grew older I realized that having a degree is a very good accomplishment (independence, ability to finish, lots of studying and memorization), but should not be a requirement anymore in tech field. 

    There are so many talented people in the world and they did not attend college or decided to drop out. 
    There are many bright men/women in the world that just focus on tech, taking online training courses, reading tons of books, figuring out how a database engine works without going to school. I would hire them in an instant. 

    My future projection for my son would be, going to college will not be required to get a high paying job.  I do want him to attend college but I leave that to him.  I think what might happen is these specialized tech courses will sky rocket in price.  Become almost equal to what a college degree is.   

    One of the main reasons to attend college is knowing that you would be selected over someone that does not attend, paying a very high cost.   This might be a good thing where college tuition will decrease as it is extremely expensive to attend college here in US.   If things remain as they are, it could cost 500k or more to attend a well know school for 4 years.

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