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I work on a team with 6 other developers in a growing company that's doing very well. We currently have one Technical Lead. As we're growing, we've identified the need to split our teams, which opens a position for a second Technical Lead / Team Lead.

In the past two years, I have been peer leading and just taking on various Technical Lead / Team Lead type duties as opportunities have presented themselves. (There's no agenda. I just have the experience and enjoy those things).

My manager has expressed (along with some of my team members) that I would be a good choice for this new role. However, the owner of the company, and our V.P. of HR, have drawn a line in the sand that, without a bachelors degree, I will not be allowed to move any further in my role.

Some of my stats:

  • 14 years of general web development experience in PHP, C# ASP.NET, JavaScript, CSS, HTML, SQL, and some light network & systems ops.
  • I was about 75% finished with a Computer Science degree before I stopped due to competing priorities.
  • Excellent reviews and reputation in all three of my workplaces in my career.

Two questions:

  1. Is this considered a rare, somewhat normal, or a extremely common stance for a company to take for a position like this?

  2. If it's a rare stance, would I be better off moving to a different company or investing in finishing a degree?

  • 3
    Related question: Would you hire programmers without a 4-year college degree? – Rachel May 25 '13 at 2:07
  • 2
    Note that "did you finish your degree?" is actually very close to "why did the project where you were project manager fail?" – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen May 27 '13 at 9:40
  • My current manager dropped out of college (subject unrelated to computing), picked up a book called HTML for Dummies and 10 years later he's my boss. I wouldn't say it's uncommon. – rath Apr 4 '16 at 9:34
  • I hire programmers. Above about 1 year of commercial full-time experience, I don't take any notice of whether they have a degree or not. – MGOwen Apr 5 '16 at 4:22
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Is this considered a rare, somewhat normal, or a extremely common stance for a company to take for a position like this?

In my experience as a non-degree'd technical team lead, it is somewhere between "somewhat normal" and "extremely common". At half of the companies I've worked for (3), I've either been outright turned down a promotion ("Hey, I'd like to promote you, but HR policy prohibits it") or turned down a promotion because "that requires a VP's signature and I don't have the political capitol to pull that with my boss' boss' boss". Larger companies tend to be worse, since they tend to have larger, more old-school, more rigid HR departments. (Note to HR departments: I left each company within 3 months of being turned down).

Though that's the companies I've worked at. I have interviewed with more than my fair share of companies, and I expect that quite a few didn't even consider hiring me because of the lack of degree, especially recently with the increased workforce competition.

If it's a rare stance, would I be better off moving to a different company or investing in finishing a degree?

You might not have to. Not a few HR policies state that the employee needs to either have a degree or be in the progress of finishing one. Further (depending on your scenario), it may be possible to negotiate with the HR VP:

"Hey, my manager and peers want me to do this work. I am capable of doing the work. If you want me to have a degree, why don't we setup some tuition reimbursement plan?"

"No? Why should I stay with a company whose bureaucracy prevents me from advancing my career?"

9

Anecdotally, I don't have one and I'm doing pretty well. Beside this latest job, I've never had a problem either finding a job or at the job because of the lack of a degree, and found that nobody cared, in general.

It's certainly not a rare stance.

That's probably because I tend to work in smaller or innovative companies that hire for the quality and quantity of work I can actually do. There's little politics and a lot of attention to hire good developers because a bad hire is a big deal for the company.

Imaginary conversations:

Case 1: "He doesn't have a degree but he is good at coding, hire!"

Case 2: "He has a degree, but what does that tell us about his actual skills?"

In larger corporations, the game is typically more political and you may get rejected because no one wants the responsibility if you fail. A bad hire is a big deal for whomever takes a chance but not for the company.

Other imaginary conversations:

Case 1: "Who hired that bozo without a degree?"

Case 2: "How could I possibly imagine he was not good? He's got a degree and all these certifications!"

  • 1
    I agree with these examples. As a hiring manager, I don't care whether a developer has a degree or not -- I care if they can do the work, and have experience in X, Y, Z. In our latest job ad, I didn't mention anything about degree qualifications, and we ended up hiring one person with and one person without. But I am one of those people who works for and hires for smaller, innovative companies as you mentioned, and outside of that realm it is more common for a degree to be a limiting factor at the HR screening stage (sadly, imho). – jcmeloni May 24 '13 at 23:59
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The answer may be somewhat regional, but in my experience a bachelors is becoming the minimum needed for most professional computer jobs. Twenty years ago it wasn't super uncommon to work with people without any degree, and now I find my BS degree is a bare minimum, with many co-workers having a masters. However, that is circumstatial evidence from a small area, working in non-startup companies from 6 people to a Fortune 500.

If nothing else, the bachelors certainly won't hurt, especially if you can pick it up without too much more effort. It will open opportunities, allowing you to be considered by both companies that require it and companies that don't.

  • This is my observation as well; in the early 90s the PC revolution caused a shortage of traditionally-qualified, educated computer types, which the industry filled with anyone who could give any evidence they could do the job. Now, with universities pumping out graduates in CS, MIS, AIS, and a half-dozen other programming-related majors, the industry can afford to be a little more picky. But, experience still counts; after about 10-15 years in the industry, any education you have trends toward the bottom of your resume as the experience is more relevant to how things are done now. – KeithS Jun 5 '13 at 23:18
  • A lot of job profiles in the tech industry still say "equivalent work experience considered in lieu of degree". But, you better know your stuff. – KeithS Jun 5 '13 at 23:19
4

I absolutely guarantee you that you will find many, many companies that consider 14 years experience, covering front and back-end technologies, to qualify you several times over for a team lead or tech lead role.

I really have to echo the question Telastyn mentioned as a possible HR negotiation:

Why should you stay with a company whose bureaucracy prevents you from advancing your career?

In all seriousness, though, in a situation like this you are probably better off looking to smaller companies. V.P. of HR? I think I've only ever worked for two companies that even had an HR department.

Vast amounts of web development is done is small shops and agencies, and from personal experience with the roles of team lead and tech lead at web dev agencies, 14 years of experience, excellent reviews and reputation, and such a good reason to look for another job = fantastic candidate.

2

You are more likely being able to find a position that doesn't stress programming as the main function of the position, but has the possibility of expanding into programming. And it appears that you have successfully done that.

One problem in getting a programming job when you are just getting started is that if the requirements come from an outside organization (for example a government contract) they will set the minimum standards. They may not be able to charge the customer a high enough rate if you don't have a college degree. In other cases the position will include a trade off between years of experience and degree level (BS + 10 years; MS + 5 years; or PHD + 1 year).

Companies are less concerned about degree for internal positions. Cost of the hire is still a concern but these positions are not directly charged to a customer, so they don't have to worry about customer approval.

Since they will be splitting the team anyway, this is the perfect time to have you the new role. Things will be changing anyway, so if you have enough of the basic skills, and the people skills you should be given a shot.

You could offer to spend the next year completing the missing parts of the degree or getting training on new technology. You could also offer to become a certified PMP (Project Management Professional) after a year or two in the new role.

2

I'll add one more anecdote. I don't have a degree and:

  • Out of many dozens of interviews over the last 10 years or so, I've found that most interviewers don't even ask about formal education. (My resume clearly states that I don't have a degree.) My past employers include AT&T and The University of Chicago, so you can apparently still land jobs at certain big companies if you want to.
  • I've always gotten paid plenty, and I'm not just blissfully unaware of market rates. The amount of money I earn is something that's always been at the center of my radar screen (which probably has something to do with why pay has never been a problem). How much you get paid seems to depend much more on your negotiation skills than on your formal education level.
  • No one I work with cares whether I have a degree.

So to address your question about how common the desire for a degree is: just totally anecdotally, based on my own unique experience, no one cares.

That said, I've always had a nagging feeling of not having finished what I started. That's the one and only reason I would ever go back to school.

0

I would say invest in your doing bachelors degree. It may seem like a silly point for companies to harp on but that is the reality of the industry. So many companies are fixated on masters degree though there is so little value addition most of the time.

I know a guy who decided at the age of 32 to complete his bachelors. And this guy was an awesome software architect and could easily command 100$ or more per hour

  • 1
    What point are you trying to make with this answer? – jmorc May 28 '13 at 12:55

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