In the old economy, a degree was a surefire way for an employer to know a job applicant was good quality. A good degree from a reputable University meant the applicant had studied their chosen discipline in detail, and likely picked up lots more transferable skills during their time studying.
Like so many parts of the old economy though, this system had lots of problems lurking under the surface. In countries such as the US where University educations are prohibitively expensive, only recruiting people with degrees limited your candidate pool to those with greater economic means, excluding those of equal or greater talent who happened to be born into poorer families.
Meanwhile bias – either conscious or unconscious – in the University admissions process favored those who looked like they fit in with the existing student body – probably male, and probably white. There’s a reason why it’s called a Bachelor’s degree.
So while requiring a University qualification might seem like an effective filter to make sure you only attract good candidates, in reality you’re more likely to exclude talented applicants from different socioeconomic backgrounds, non-males, and minorities.
Tech companies don’t care about degrees
They care about talent, and talent is the result of hard work. There are plenty of places to work hard that aren’t University.
The majority of startups founded since the turn of the millennium have no degree requirements, even in technical roles. Most larger tech companies – Google, Apple, IBM and others – have also never had, or recently dropped, their requirements that staff carry a Bachelors or Masters degree.
Even some older firms which are rapidly modernizing – EY, for example – are happily hiring those without higher education. The assumption that a University degree requirement is the best way to attract quality candidates has all-but evaporated.
Of course there are some careers where it’s crucial you learn the ropes in a controlled, academic environment. Medicine is a great example of a field where lengthy academic study gives you the experience and knowledge to become a great Doctor, Pharmacist, or Surgeon.
Similarly, there are some fields where lengthy study and participation in academic research will make you far more effective in your job – Artificial Intelligence is a great example. There’s a great discussion on this very topic featuring our CEO Alessandro on the Itnig Youtube Channel.
For developers, experience trumps qualifications
It’s true that some companies still value formal qualifications when recruiting Software Engineers, but even these companies will place a much greater emphasis on the applicant’s portfolio of work. A potential employer will be much more impressed with a fully-functional app than with extra letters after your name.
Some of the best-known faces in the tech industry have landed dream jobs not because they have a degree, but because they have done amazing things. Marcus Hutchins, the security researcher who defeated the WannaCry malware in 2017 landed his position as a malware analyst because he was able to infiltrate some of the world’s largest botnets where other researchers could not. He does not have a university degree.
Jack Dorsey was able to attract investment for Twitter on the strength of a prototype he and co-founder Biz Stone built in a fortnight despite not possessing a college degree – in fact he dropped out of New York University to pursue the project.
Other notable figures in the tech industry such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs famously dropped out of college in order to pursue their passion projects, which eventually turned into multi-billion dollar companies. Apple CEO Tim Cook was one of the first industry leaders to acknowledge recruits without degrees could be great coders.
There’s a growing anti-degree movement
In countries where the cost of University education continues to rise – notably the UK and the USA – there is a groundswell of opinion that a costly degree is no longer necessary to secure your dream job in tech. Vocational training such as Apprenticeships or shorter, focused bootcamps are replacing 3- or 4-year degrees for many people.
“Should I get a Computer Science degree?” has become an increasingly common question for those interested in working in tech. Pete, the founder of website No CS Degree, is a passionate advocate of alternatives to traditional degrees:
“I think universities have a big problem. They are generally slow to adapt to changing technology and are often not aligned with the coding languages employers use nowadays.
“There is also the fact that many university courses focus too much on theory. I’ve been told by many CS graduates that they were just expected to learn to code in their own time.”
There are plenty of reasons to pursue a University degree, and a BSc or MSc will undoubtedly help you grow both personally and professionally. But if you think you need one to land your dream job in tech, you should think again.