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I'm only 24, but I've been working as a programmer for the last 10 years (not in my current company). Programming is not only my job - it's my hobby and my passion, and I'm very good at it.

I did not attend college and I'm stuck as "developer assistant", as the company requires a college degree for higher ranks. The thing is: people with no experience who barely know how to do stuff are being hired as system analysts and senior analysts, ranks that get paid up 6 times as much as mine, because they have college degrees.

As of right now, no one in IT has as much experience with development as I do and yet I'm the cheapest employee. Everyone comes to me for technical opinions and almost everything related to development goes through me, for council (which technologies to use, time of development needed, cost, etc).

There is no distinction between the workload/responsabilities for those different ranks and I feel like I'm being underappreciated because I don't have a college degree.

There are many other employees in the same position as mine (who have fulfilled all the requirements for a promotion but the degree, and are stuck on lower ranks because of that), but in other departments, and HR has already stated they will not open any exceptions.

This company is the best paying company in the small city I live in. Even as developer assistant, I get paid more here than I would as a senior analyst anywhere else, so quitting and looking for something else is not an option (for now, at least).

I'm going trough some serious financial issues (I'm getting married), and I'm not really sure what to do. I suppose I could go to the CEO or to my manager and have a heart-to-heart, by I'm not really sure I'm in the position to demand things. If those are the rules, should I bend to get a college degree while working a full time job (which is almost impossible where I live), or am I entitled to some recognition for my skills/experience? If I am entitled, how should I approach the issue?


Edit for clarification: My current position is not meant for hired developers, it's meant for trainees. Hence the low payment. I have been here for a few years, work as a hired developer, but cannot ascend in rank because I don't have a degree.

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    You're claiming that you've been working as professional programmer since you were 14? – vartec Aug 2 '13 at 15:56
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    Yes. My father introduced me to basic when I was nine, and we used to "play" with it together. A little after that, I started with HTML and Javascript, and at the age of 14 I had sold a few websites to local businesses, which led one of them to hire me part-time, where I worked until I was 17 and graduated high school, to start working full time at a software house. – Pedro Cordeiro Aug 2 '13 at 17:00
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    Love it or hate it, the Bachelors Degree has become the white collar union card. Though not mandatory with all employers; not having one will shut you out from a large portion of the professional job market. – Dan Neely Aug 2 '13 at 19:08
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    Something doesn't make sense from the details here. It sounds like you make what senior analysts make in other companies in your area. Then, senior analysts at YOUR company make 6x what you make - this means they are making literally SIX TIMES the market rate for their position and responsibilities in other companies in your area. Is this actually the case? – enderland Aug 2 '13 at 21:23
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    I live in a very small city. This is the only company big enough to have an IT department. If I don't work here, I'd have to work for a supermarket, or some other non-related business (like a supermarket), in a much less complex, less paying job (web designing, mostly). – Pedro Cordeiro Aug 2 '13 at 22:04
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Honestly, if you are as good as you say you are, there are plenty of companies out there which will pay you what you are worth.

If you are literally making less than 20% of what you should be making, then you are very unlikely to get a 6x raise.

The thing is: people with no experience who barely know how to do stuff are being hired as system analysts and senior analysts, ranks that get paid up 6 times as much as mine, because they have college degrees.

This company is the best paying company in the small city I live in. Even as developer assistant, I get paid more here than I would as a senior analyst anywhere else, so quitting and looking for something else is not an option (for now, at least).

I don't really understand how these can all be true, unless you are really, really, really underpaid.


What I would do:

  • Recognize HR doesn't care. They don't see you working, they see a random person with a random background. Your manager cares a lot more since your manager gets the benefit of you being awesome. Your manager has a lot higher ability to influence HR and get you paid more than you do
  • Find out what salaries people in your position generally get paid. See this answer for some specific sites to get the information
  • Follow this question as there are some really good answers

I suppose I could go to the CEO or to my manager and have a heart-to-heart,

This is a bad idea. Focus on what you bring to the table, namely you are doing senior/team lead type of work and are severely underpaid.

If those are the rules, should I bend to get a college degree while working a full time job (which is almost impossible where I live)

Software is a field where you can definitely get jobs based on your skills (not degrees). If you insist on working for the same company and they are super strict in their policy, then the answer is "yes" if you want a raise.

am I entitled to some recognition for my skills/experience? If I am entitled, how should I approach the issue?

See above. Keep in mind some companies are ridiculously structured in this regard. Some companies will pay you directly based on your capabilities, some purely based on your educational background. Most are a mix.

  • 1
    When I mean we had a few people that barely knew stuff, I meant we had people hired to develop web applications that knew nothing about that, even though they had a good understanding of programming in general. Yes, knowing the specifics accounts for a small part of being a good developer, but when you find yourself explaining what Ajax is to someone four ranks higher in the hierarchy that makes six times as much as you, you start to wonder. To put in perspective: I make R$1600/month (US$180 a week) in a 200-employee company. I make a little more than a part-time intern. – Pedro Cordeiro Aug 2 '13 at 17:15
  • For clarification: my rank is for trainees, not for developers. I'm currently working as a developer while stuck on a trainee rank because the company doesn't hire developers without degrees. – Pedro Cordeiro Aug 2 '13 at 17:28
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This company is the best paying company in the small city I live in. Even as developer assistant, I get paid more here than I would as a senior analyst anywhere else, so quitting and looking for something else is not an option (for now, at least).

I think this is the key point. The company exists to make money, so has no incentive to pay more than is necessary. If your best alternative is worse than what you're already being paid, then no raise is necessary to retain you as an employee if you are geographically immobile.

10

Ask for a meeting to plan your career. If there is no path to a promotion within the company that doesn't require a degree than you have 3 choices:

  • Live with it. Though over time you will resent the lack of promotion and quit.
  • Work on the degree. This might take time. Some universities will allow credit for life experiences, or give you the option of testing out of some classes.
  • Leave. Though I wouldn't quit right away, but you should start looking.

Why might they not allow you to be promoted to the title without a degree. The rate they can charge customers for your time is based on how well you fit into the stated job requirements. Some government contract specially review the credentials of everybody that bills to the contract tom make sure they are not being over billed. Without the degree their hands are tied.

That doesn't mean there aren't options. Ask to sit down with your manger or HR person and read every job description in the company. There are more computer jobs besides programmers. Some are in IT. Pick one or two that have a higher pay scale than your current one. See if the certification requirements are lower. They might only require an official certification or a 2 year degree. These jobs might a be intermediate step while working on your 4 year degree.

Ask if there are any supervisory positions. You might be able to manage a handful of people in the IT department or the software development department.

Ask if there is a specific technology that the company is desperate for. Promise to become an expert in exchange for a promotion. If they want to move to the cloud, take on the task. If they want to investigate moving an app to Android, offer to go first.

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    +1 "Live with it, Work with it, Leave". My thoughts exactly. I'm doing night classes to slowly get my Bach even though I know that Experience trumps the Degree. Why? Resume requirements, idiots in HR who only follow requirements and desire to not end up in situations such as this... – WernerCD Aug 2 '13 at 20:35
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I understand that there are web sites where you can get an online degree (perfectly legitimately), and then you would be eligible for the promotion.

I don't know if that's something you would like to consider, but I have no doubt that anyone would learn a lot from doing a degree in a course they haven't officially studied.

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    My company demands a recognized 4year bachelor degree. I have taken a lot (A LOT) of courses on coursera (many of those were graduate-level classes), but they are not recognized as an actual bachelor degree. I have considered getting an online degree, but not only it feels like a huge waste of money (more like I'm not doing it to learn, but to fulfill the requirements), it would take me a long, long time to complete it. – Pedro Cordeiro Aug 2 '13 at 14:13
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    Coursera is great but for you it is a waste of time. If you had spent the same time taking online classes at an acceredited university, then you would be much closer to done now. Consider that for future classes. – HLGEM Aug 2 '13 at 15:48
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    @PedroCordeiro - Bachelor's degrees are not done to learn but to get bachelors degrees. – psr Aug 2 '13 at 17:16
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    @PedroCordeiro is it really a huge waste of money if you get a 600% raise at the end? – Lisa Aug 2 '13 at 19:55
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    It sounds like if you want to stay with this company, you need a degree. – Lisa Aug 2 '13 at 20:31
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I'd bring it up with management or HR, depending on how the structure of your company works. Schedule a meeting, state your case and why you deserve a raise. They may listen to you. If not and instead they tell you something along the lines of "Sorry we can't give you better opportunities unless you get a degree" then it may be time to start looking at how much some other companies would be willing to pay you.

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