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Degree or No Degree…That is the Question

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In the professional field of IT what is the true value of a college degree?

This topic is all over the news and the subject of many studies; “Why do we continue to invest tens of thousands of dollars into obtaining a traditional degree?” “Will you be able to land that dream job once you get your degree?” “Is there a downside to not having a degree?”

This is not a debate as to whether or not you need an ongoing education to be successful in the Technology field…this is strictly focused on what value a four year degree program offers in the real world.

An education and continued learning are non-negotiable for you to be successful…but is technology moving at a pace that renders traditional education and degree programs obsolete? Not necessarily, but it depends on what you are trying to achieve in your career and how you leverage and manage your time during your degree program.

Week after week I meet people who are proud to announce “I just graduated with my Bachelors degree in Computer Science.” They exude confidence and certainty that this newly printed document, matched with their four to six years of experience as a Sales Clerk or Customer Service rep (I do love great customer service so keep it up) has laid the foundation for their dream Web 3.0 career.  They feel such a sense of accomplishment and they are ready to take on the world and take their seat at the table of high paying technology jobs.

Unfortunately, that’s not exactly the reality of the current situation.  Fast forward six months into their job search and these same graduates are contacting our firm singing a slightly different tune. Their sense of pride and accomplishment turns to stress, frustration and self-doubt.  They start to ponder if they made the right investment over the last four or five years of their lives. Often times people will accept an entry level role just to get their foot in the door or ask for internships within one of the many IT companies that surround them. They might even come to the realization that the “nerdy” classmate that missed class several times a month because they had landed a side job working with a small technology firm, may have been on to something. You thought they were crazy when they dropped out during their second year of college for a job with their buddy.   And where are they now? Oh that’s right, that guy with no degree is leading a development team for some cool tech company and you’re just embarking on your career.

Here is the secret…There are many great benefits that your degree will bring to you in your lifetime… But to get into the lucrative club of technology professionals, there are several strategic keys of entry. In the IT world, having a college degree with limited to no experience is pretty much like deciding to move to a beautiful remote island. You have $10,000 of spending money in your debit account, which is great, except you have no way of accessing your funds because the island has no ATM machines and 90% of the resorts and eateries only take cash…So on the bright side…you’re not completely screwed…but let’s just say your options are very limited.

On this IT Island of Dreams cash is KING! Your professional experience is like a stack of Benjamins , the face on one hundred dollar bills, and the exchange rate for your hands-on experience is very good! Cash is universal as is your experience. It’s not your degree that opens the doors of opportunity for your future; it’s your network, your knowledge of real life practices, strategies and solutions. So while you’re working on that great degree, spend just as much time and energy expanding your professional network…fight for internships and don’t pass up any opportunity to get your hands-on experience hot off the press.

Now just to be clear, there are some companies that will not consider you for employment without a four year degree. However in most cases if you have the right experience, companies don’t care if your degree is in Computer Science or Underwater Basket Weaving, both check the education box just the same on applications.

Technology companies want…

  • Thought leaders and problem solvers
  • Employees who aren’t afraid to challenge the norm
  • People who have seen things work and seen things fail…learning from those experiences

At the end of the day, remember to chase your dream and your passion, not just your degree.  Get your hands on a few technology certs and show that you have the aptitude to solve the technology problems that we have yet to even discover.  Always continue to learn and challenge yourself in your particular field of expertise. Don’t read this article, drop out of college and throw all of your hard work to the wind, but do keep in this in mind if you find yourself at a crossroad where you must choose between viable hands on experience and the next pre-req class.  Take a step back and analyze your choices…more importantly, realize that you do actually have a choice. I’m not saying you’re going to be the next Mark Z or Steve J., but following the crowd and the traditional path is not always the right road to great success in “your” life.

A wise author once wrote, “Master Your Mind, Design Your Destiny”.

Good luck!

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Joe Thurman

About Joe Thurman

Joe is the Founder of JobberTechTalk. As an entrepreneur & founder of multiple companies, he loves discussing technology, company culture, and how to drive the change companies are looking for.