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Location: The Netherlands

Certain junior programming job applications in the NL require you to have finished a HBO study (similar to a Bachelor’s degree),

As I understood, a lot of programmers are self-taught and do not have a degree.

Question: Why would not having a degree instantly disqualify a programmer? And what does this say about the person/company who wrote the application?

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    This is opinion based... At my job we require a degree for people without experience because we notice that we turn down over 10 times as many "self-taught" programmers as we do people with an official degree. Their interviews take the same amount of time, so we rather put that time into higher chances of good fits. (We waive the degree requirement for people with demonstrable experience, of course). – DonFusili Jan 29 at 13:30
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    I think this is a fine question that fits the requirements for Workplace well. There's even an actual question in bold. Well done. – dwizum Jan 29 at 13:33
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    Thanks. I tried to be clear and 'straight to the point'. Perhaps that is why it came off like "a rant" to Keith. – Finn Jan 29 at 13:36
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    Getting some kind of a certification or degree seems to be the basic foundation for every job. Is there a reason why you think it's not done for software development? Do your friends go into their first jobs self-taught? – nvoigt Jan 29 at 14:04
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    @Monstar I'm not sure what you are talking about. Yes, an education is critically important in most non-trivial jobs. If it has to be that specific degree, I cannot say, but a degree or certification? Absolutely. – nvoigt Jan 29 at 14:21

20 Answers 20

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As I understood, a lot of programmers are self-taught and do not have a degree.

And likely don't work in jobs that have a hard requirement for a degree in CS.

Why would not having a degree instantly disqualify a programmer?

Some companies expect their developers to all share a baseline of knowledge before working in their respective teams. Some require them for clearance level work (I'm self taught, always reach a roadblock with NL recruiters looking to contract me because I don't have a UK degree).

And what does this say about the person/company who wrote the application?

Not much really. The person who wrote the application, depending on the company size, likely isn't the one who originally outlined to requirements for the candidate.

The person who specified a HBO is necessary may be:

  • Old fashioned and doesn't trust self-taught.
  • Is following some policy handed down to them.
  • Isn't aware that you can reach the same level of competence without a degree.
  • Doesn't really care and puts it down because "everyone has a degree nowadays".
  • Has a firm requirement for one for their own reasons. This could be company policy, a legal requirement (clearance) or something else.

Each company will have their own reasons, most of which you'll likely never know.

My recommendation is to apply anyway.

If they say no, you still don't work there.

If they bring you in for an interview and you get the job, you haven't missed an opportunity because of a badly crafted job description.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Jan 30 at 18:17
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    A degree is also a 3rd party vouching for what the holder can do. This could also come experience with projects that you can prove you did, but it's a lot easier to trust a organization dedicated to teaching a subject that somebody knows the subject, then it is a project or organization that may be independent, and not widely known. – MartinArrJay Jan 31 at 10:46
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    "Old Fashioned" was almost nobody had a degree. CS is very new as a discipline, and its only in the last couple of decades that expecting all applicants to have a degree in it was even feasible. When I started my first job in '89, a lot of the new hires had CS degrees, but almost nobody else had one. I've actually gotten fairly used to having to tutor folks in basic CS design concepts like cohesion and coupling. – T.E.D. Jan 31 at 14:53
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    Other requirements might be advanced mathematics (think multivariable analysis, nonlinear optimization, scientific computing, etc), software architectures with high degrees of abstraction... lots of reasons you might want someone with a well developed academic background, particularly if the challenges of the role go beyond simply implementing algorithms or behaviours and stretch into developing algorithms, data analysis, or other types of cross-disciplinary activities. – J... Jan 31 at 18:59
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    @BrtH OP said equivalent of a Bachelor's. That's not a vocational degree - it should probably be corrected if that's the case. – J... Feb 1 at 14:13
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There is a lot more to software development than knowing a couple of programming languages and hacking out some code. Universities are how you get trained for that.

What does it say about the person hiring? To me it says they care about the product they are developing and want skilled people to do it. If you want to hire an accountant, you look for someone trained in accounting, not someone who took some math classes. You don't hire a self-taught structural engineer for your construction company.

Are there exceptions to this, sure, but my experience has been people who are self-taught just don't come in with the necessary skills to do the job and take a lot more training once they are hired.

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    "Universities are how you get trained for that" - The only thing that I can really say that my B.Sc. Computer Games Programming degree has helped me with in my professional career over the last 9 years is that I know what big O notation is. That said, I had been learning to program for 7 years (from the age of 11) before I went to university, so most of the other stuff I "learned" there wasn't really new. University degrees are how you show you have training for that, that is all. – John Jan 31 at 2:17
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    @John It really depends on which field you get into. Its not just learning to program in a language. Different areas like Networking, Security, Operating systems, Artificial intelligence are taught and concepts like memory allocation and references are also included. There are careers that require indepth knowledge in these fields and they can be difficult (and sometimes illegal) for a person to self learn/understand/execute without help or lots of on the job training. – Shadowzee Jan 31 at 4:25
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    @Shadowzee I was only responding to that one part of the answer. It's entirely possible for someone to learn everything by themselves without university, and in some cases perhaps better than people who went to university, since they might have more time to dedicate to the subject than one of say 4 modules in a given semester. The degree certificate serves as proof that you've received such education (and yes, it can satisfy legal requirements, etc.). I say this because I know several incredibly competent developers who do not have degrees. – John Jan 31 at 4:31
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    "but my experience has been people who are self-taught just don't come in with the necessary skills to do the job" And this is why reasoning from personal experience is considered iffy. My experience tells me that any beginner needs training, and that whatever they teach in Dutch universities, it isn't the skills they need for the job. @John hits the nail on the head imho. – Douwe Jan 31 at 11:22
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    @john You also have received formal training in how to think (if you weren't too bored to listen). A lot of bad habits probably have to be unlearned too. Also you have done assignments you probably wouldn't have done otherwise (this is for most people the only place they write a full compiler - even as a toy project), as well as introduced to ways of thinking you probably wouldn't spend time on otherwise. Tried Lisp? Prolog? Haskell? Seen the light for these strange tools? – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jan 31 at 14:43
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Think it this way:

Do you absolutely, really, completely need sports shoes to go for a morning walk?

Answer: No, but it helps.

Many organizations take this approach, when they prepare the job description / requirement.

As suggested by Jay in the other answer: apply anyways, who knows, you may end up getting the interview and bagging the job.


To elaborate a bit on why companies take this approach:

Organizations needs some sort of filtering mechanism to get rid of the rubbish resumes as early as possible in the recruitment process. They also need to ensure that if they're going to process a resume, it should be a valid one for that role / requirements. Putting a formal requirement of a degree is the easiest way to achieve this, without appearing as discriminating. In most of the sensible workplaces, having a degree (or lack thereof) rarely matters, given that you can prove you're worthy of the job.

Also, with your career progression, the academic degree slowly takes the backseat and the relevant industry and domain experience takes the precedence.

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    The problem with using "has a degree" as a filtering mechanism is that not all degrees are worth the paper they are printed on, and not all degree-holding developers are worthy of being called developers. Some of the worst developers I have worked with have had degrees, and some of the best have been self taught. I personally walked away from my OU degree course because they were trying to teach techniques that were, by then, 10 years out of date already. I've dealt with degree holders who couldn't code themselves out of a wet paper bag, but were proud of their degree holding status. – Moo Jan 30 at 3:07
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    @Moo I agree, but many a times, the people actually writing the job description follow a template, and does hot have the side by side working experience with those people - so the analogy I mentioned above, sadly, prevails. – Sourav Ghosh Jan 30 at 6:36
  • I think this is probably the most accurate. They need some way of filtering out candidates. IMO the most valuable thing about a degree, even more than the actual coursework, is that it shows the person can finish something they start. That's why I tell people to get a degree, no matter what its in. Also, consider most HR people do not have the background to judge a programmer's ability. HR people may not even understand that programmers can be self taught. Many may just assume you need a degree to know programming because they simply don't know better. – GrandmasterB Jan 30 at 22:34
  • @Moo: All Dutch HBO degrees are accredited. While they're intentionally a lower tier than Dutch universities, the side effect of that is that the quality varies less. (Some parts of Dutch universities reach world-class level, others are altogether average). – MSalters Jan 30 at 23:50
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    @MatijaNalis as a filtering mechanism it sucks tho - here I am, without a degree, earning high six figures, in charge of three teams of devs (30 people in total) on a widely used platform. If my employers had insisted on a degree, I wouldn’t be here. How many other employers are missing out on decent employees because of a sucky filter? It doesn’t even make it better for them, it just makes them think it does. – Moo Feb 1 at 20:12
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A lot of programmers are self-taught and do not have a degree.

A lot of them do have degrees. Self-taught is a phrase that needs to die. Every programmer is "self-taught", formal education or not. It is commonly being used on social media to humble brag, not realising those with degrees are also largely self-taught.

Why would not having a degree instantly disqualify a programmer?

Often it doesn't providing you have proven experience, but there are almost an endless amount of reasons why it could:

  • Maybe they need you to have a masters degree in mathematics because they program encryption algorithms or build client-side science calculators
  • Maybe they want a degree in zoology because their main software is for zoo management
  • Maybe they want a CS degree because they build their own caching software and want someone that knows how to manage memory at a low level
  • Maybe they have had bad luck with past employees that don't have degrees
  • Maybe it's just so they can offer candidates a lower salary for not having all the requirements
  • Maybe the software they program could result in harm to others so it could be a legal requirement for their insurance

What does this say about the person/company who wrote the application?

Nothing, and neither should you even think about it this way. The employer knows their company and the skills required for the position.

They might be asking for the wrong skills for the position but that's not really your concern. If you like the sound of the job, just apply and provide a cover note saying how passionate you are and how willing you are to learn any required skills.

for a junior programmer's position?

There is nothing wrong with a company wanting a junior with a degree, or a junior with 4 years experience etc... Junior does not mean a "training" position.

I know a lot of social media will publicly berate junior job descriptions that want more than 2 years experience but this is misplaced frustration.

There are plenty of junior developers that have 5+ years experience. They are still junior because they haven't developed their skills. It is not related to years of experience.

Some companies hire a junior to train up, but some want a junior with experience that can just do the job, without having to spend time and money training them up.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Jan 31 at 16:32
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In my experience (working and living in the Netherlands all my life), most adverts in the Netherlands will not require a HBO study, they usually require "HBO werk- en denkniveau" (HBO-level of working and thinking). You usually must be able to demonstrate that in some way (eg job experience, courses, etc), but for a junior position having actually completed HBO (bachelor or master) or University (bachelor or master) is the only available sign, unless you are switching fields (otherwise: why would you be looking for a junior job, and not for a medior job). Other forms of assessing your knowledge-level is more work for the company, and less sure.

Programmer (or 'software developer' or 'software engineer') in the Netherlands is generally considered as a knowledge-intensive job, and a lot of companies will even prefer University-level over HBO-level. Having been to an HBO or University (and preferably completed with a degree) is seen as a test of your knowledge-level, which means that the company won't need to do this test. Having a degree in computer science, software development or similar isn't even a hard requirement, any degree will probably do (though 'harder' fields are probably preferred over 'softer' fields).

That said, generally the requirements in a job ad are not set in stone. Not having such a degree will not always be a deal-breaker, but it might be harder to get your foot in the door, and with multiple suitable candidates, companies will more likely skip you because then they don't have to dive too deep to assess your knowledge-level.

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    This is the correct answer. It's about being able to demonstrate "HBO werk- en denkniveau". The easiest way is to do that with an HBO diploma. – Caroline Jan 29 at 15:31
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    I have only worked in the Netherlands for two years, but my understanding is that this is indeed a very valid point. Just to make this explicit, companies typically do not care which specific study you did if they require university level thinking. So yeah, it's definitely possible to get into those companies without having an actual degree if you have different ways to clearly prove you're capable of that . – David Mulder Jan 30 at 16:06
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It's helpful to consider your question in the larger context of hiring processes. Typically, hiring processes have multiple stages, which are designed to filter candidates until a single person can be selected. Each step in the process therefore needs a set of criteria on which the filtering can be done. Importantly, each step needs to be designed as a trade-off: how much time can we spend on this step in order to do an acceptable job of screening candidates?

In essence, a hiring manager may not care whether or not an employee actually has a specific degree. What they really want are people who can consistently do the work they have in front of them. However, you can't realistically test that directly, so you need to come up with things to use as proxies for testing that. And, these proxies need to then be organized into the different stages of the process based on effectiveness versus cost (time) spent to evaluate.

In an interview, of course, you can ask a candidate detailed questions, and you can evaluate many proxies for a specific requirement. In an interview, you can afford the time to have open-ended "storytelling" or narrative responses. You can ask someone to describe how they work, what things they consider as they make decisions about their work, and so on. You can ask people about times they have failed, and what they learned from those failures. And so on. These questions help bring out the nuances between candidates. They can be highly accurate but they're also expensive - all of these questions take time, but they are valuable enough that it's worth taking that time, once you have filtered down to a small set of candidates.

That last sentence is crucial - you can't literally ask everyone who applies all of these questions, or you might find yourself spending a thousand hours evaluating candidates when you can realistically only afford to spend 25 hours doing so. So - obviously - you don't ask every single candidate all of those detailed questions. Instead, you come up with a much coarser proxy - one that's quick and easy and might occasionally mis-classify people, ideally as accurately as possible, but isn't blatantly incorrect. This type of proxy becomes your written job description and your application screening questions. This way, you can spend 2 or 3 minutes on each candidate, instead of 2 or 3 hours. Yes, you might discard a good candidate here or there, but in a job market like our current software development market - where there are a ton of openings, and a ton of candidates, and everyone is spamming everyone else, you need a way to roughly filter before you even consider interviewing.

Further, there is often an element of oversight from other factions within an employer. Typically, HR is involved in writing job advertisements. While HR wants to support hiring managers in their attempt to find the best candidates, HR is also usually responsible for protecting the company's best interests when it comes to employee issues. In terms of hiring, this means that HR is responsible for ensuring hiring processes protect the company from lawsuits or other issues. Any time a hiring process can be made objective in a black and white manner (either you meet this requirement, or you don't), that can be perceived as a way to reduce the chances of candidates having a legal complaint. On the other hand, a process that is highly subjective can leave the door open for a candidate to say "you didn't hire me because you're discriminatory." Being rejected because of a clear yes-or-no requirement tends to shut those things down quickly. So - it's common for HR to make job adds as objective as possible, which often means enforcing strict requirements about things like degrees or years of experience.

When all these factors come together, it's easy to see why job adds often include rather high level "requirements" that may or may not make sense in terms of a specific individual's fitness for the job. Certainly, there are lots of software developers without degrees who do great software development work and are excellent employees. Some employers understand this and are willing to make exceptions to requirements, so as others have suggested, you have nothing to lose by applying anyways.

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I don't know how it's done in The Netherlands, but here in Bulgaria every job listing requires you to have university degree in some sort of computer related field.

In reality I haven't seen seen a case where someone was rejected because they did not meet that criteria.

When I ask the people who write the job requirements: "Why are you including this when it doesn't matter?" they say "Because it looks better that way." and "To prevent people who have no technical background at all from applying.".

That's just what I've heard.

In my opinion you should just apply anyway. Focus on the non official experience and education.

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  • It feels like a "test". To see if you're brave enough to apply anyway. – Finn Jan 29 at 13:23
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    @Finn Maybe not a test of bravery, but an indication that you need to be able to motivate that you have the same amount of knowledge as someone with a degree. If they don't put it there it might look as you can learn everything you need on the job. – rasan076 Jan 29 at 16:49
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To put this into perspective place yourself in the recruiter's shoes. How would you like to post a job that has no requirements other than a passion for programming? Imagine that you get hundreds of job applications from around the world from strangers that claim a passion for programming. You have a month to find the best applicant in addition to your regular job duties. How would you go about choosing the one applicant that is best qualified for the job?

You can't. An application this open- does not draw highly qualified applicants.

  • They are lost in the hundreds of applications.
  • You would not have enough time to interview them all.
  • Having that many applicants- you can't possibly remember all their names and faces.
  • You may actually interview the most highly-qualified applicant and not realize it in the rush to interview everyone.

You essentially filter no one and accept everyone.

From the applicant standpoint- none of these people are served well. The chance to acquire the job is abysmal yet you still demand to take each applicant's time and energy. How much better are you for posting a job application with literally no requirements? What you propose may actually be worse.

As an aside- if I were a college graduate then I'm not sure I could take a job posting that has "no requirements" seriously. On the other hand- if I had no degree and no programming experience and found myself desperately unemployed- I would say anything to convince someone that I'm qualified for a job, to include lying about my experience. The only way to expose such fakers is to thoroughly interview them. It's not fair to the recruiter to put-up with such nonsense and posting a job with little to no requirements is asking for trouble.

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  • ". How would you like to post a job that has no requirements other than a passion for programming?" This is a bit of a straw man. The question isn't why do they have requirements, but why do they have this specific requirement that poorly correlates with ability? – NPSF3000 Jan 30 at 14:50
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    @NPSF3000 I think an education can indicate ability. And that ability can be had without an education. It is impossible however to say why a recruiter may think a certain way or why they do things that poorly correlate with ability. I tried to empathize which is the closest thing- that is not good enough? Perhaps it's a bad question then. Can't help that. – Zorkolot Jan 30 at 15:52
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Question: Why would not having a degree instantly disqualify a programmer?

Not having a specific degree is not bad. Even no degree is not bad if you have the experience to make up for it. But having no degree at all for a junior position means I have to educate you. I'm not looking for an apprentice to train, I'm looking for a junior developer that is inexperienced but can do the job. Had I been looking for an apprentice, then I would have made that clear in the job ad.

And what does this say about the person/company who wrote the application?

That they need people that get the job done, not apprentices or interns.

As I understood, a lot of programmers are self-taught and do not have a degree.

Some of the best developers I know are self taught. But only because they are so old that back when they went into the work force, something like an apprenticeship or degree did not exist for them. They are self-taught because they had to, not because they skipped their education. They are also "self taught with 25 years professional experience".

Sorry to be blunt. But ask yourself the following questions: Would you buy meat from a butcher that is self-taught? Would you let the brakes of your car be repaired by a mechanic hat is self-taught? Would you go to a dentist that is self-taught? What about a policeman? Judge? Teacher? I require a degree (or actually a finished apprenticeship) from the people that paint a room plain white for me. Why would I require less from someone to develop software? A degree means you have been certified to be able to do a good job on average. Why would I want less?

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    "Yes, I believe police typically do not need a degree". I guess you are from the US? In Europe, we don't give people a badge and a gun and tell them to wing it. Becoming a policeman is a three year serious education here. They don't take self-taught people. As far as the butcher goes: In Germany we trust butchers to sell us meat we can eat raw without any danger. Matter of fact, Mettbrötchen (raw meat on a bun) is a traditional meal. I guess we have higher standards as far as that goes. I would not buy that from someone who just likes to kill pigs and does it a lot. – nvoigt Jan 30 at 15:38
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    Yes, 2.5 years of training. Guess what you get at the end? A degree. Not a university degree, but a degree. We are talking about degree (any) versus self-taught here. I would not consider 2.5 years of education "self-taught". And butchers have a certification. Not a university degree, but we are not talking about that here. Again... would you buy your meat from a self-taught butcher? Really? – nvoigt Jan 30 at 17:08
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    "We are talking about degree (any) versus self-taught here" Nonsense, the question specifically specifies "require you to have finished a HBO study (similar to a Bachelor’s degree)" not "certification of ability". Self-taught in this context always means 'does not have a uni degree' not 'has no qualifications or training'. The OP could have several programming certifications without having a degree. It's also worth noting that there are lawyers who do not have a degree e.g. some have gone through apprenticeships. There is a difference between an education and a certification. – NPSF3000 Jan 30 at 21:58
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    @NPSF3000: Actually the EU does require a certificate of competence to work as a slaughter in a slaughterhouse. I guess there's a reason the US needs chlorine to clean up poultry. – MSalters Jan 31 at 0:05
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    @Magisch I'm in favor of apprenticeships, I have trained about a dozen FI:AEs myself. It's a solid education. My point is that one needs any kind of degree or certificate for formal training, because self-taught is not good enough. There is a reason why we have certified teachers for most of the jobs we have. You cannot just say "Oh, I read some books on the weekends". An apprenticeship is 6000 hours worth of structured training by a trained professional, and even that is sometimes looked down upon by those that have a university degree. There is no way to get close "self taught". – nvoigt Jan 31 at 9:40
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My personal preferences aside, most companies that require degrees will also allow you to substitute years of experience for on a 1 to 1 basis. IE, four years of DEMONSTRABLE programming experience is equal to a degree, in many instances.

Part of the problem these days is that anyone can hop on Google, and find code snippets, there are tons of answers to technical questions that can also be found online.

So what is an employer to do?

Require a degree so they know that you are walking in with at least the basics (A bit optimistic on their part, given the state of education). Also, requiring a degree lets them cull the resumes to a manageable level.

If you have 500 applications for one opening, you're not going to want to go through all 500. Eliminate those without degrees in the specific field, and you're going to be down to half of that, if not less.

No employer is going to want to interview more than five, ten people tops, for a position. Fair or not, requiring a degree is one major way that employers narrow the field.

Once you get a few years of experience under your belt, the degree becomes less and less important.

I have over 20 years experience, and no degree and it's not even a concern anymore. And, the few places that require it anyway have screened themselves out of the running, as I would not want to work for a company that has such a poor understanding of the industry.

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    500 applications for one opening as a developer? The situation in the Netherlands is significantly closer to the reverse. My company literally had zero applicants for an opening, during well over a year. – MSalters Jan 31 at 0:09
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    German chiming in, we had 0 applications for the open software development job at my current workplace. For anyone with any sort of demonstrable experience, nearly for any job opening, the interview rate is close to 100%. There just aint enough devs here to satisfy the local market. – Magisch Jan 31 at 9:18
  • What if all 500 prospective employees had no degree? – Neil Meyer Jan 31 at 12:05
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    "four years of DEMONSTRABLE programming experience is equal to a degree", no in fact it is better then a degree, at least in the Netherlands. I've expanded quite a bit on this in my answer. – Douwe Jan 31 at 13:31
  • @Magisch I know about Germany. Many Devs are coming in from Poland, due to the shortage. – Old_Lamplighter Jan 31 at 13:34
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As a current junior developer in NL, it is true that most (almost all) job postings I have seen have this requirement.

It helps the filtering process, but as someone involved in recruiting from the other side, what matters is the knowledge and not the paper, so do not let it stop you from applying if you think you have the required knowledge.

As for the reasons why it simply is a combination of old customs and the fact that self-taught persons have quite frequently large fundamental gaps in computer science knowledge and often have a more practical approach to programming. I'm not judging if that is a good or bad thing, but many of the companies willing to receive and mentor a junior developer are looking for someone with strong fundamentals that they can build on and teach them industry standards and their own project specifics, as fresh juniors are not expected to be productive anyway.

In any case, neither not having a degree will bar you from applying, nor having one will ensure you meet the requirements in the interviews. Sometimes recruiters or intermediaries will take these requirements as rather strict even if they really aren't from the company's point of view.

Note that in some specific scenarios, the hard requirement might be due to regulations or policies in place. Those would disqualify you immediately, but they should be fairly rare.

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  • Thank you for your answer. If the application requires HBO and my highest degree is MBO (programming related) would that up my chances or would it be on the same level as a self-taught developer? – Finn Jan 29 at 13:34
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    Any sort of additional education will improve your chances, as it is further proof of some sort of baseline competency to justify the time and expenses of doing an interview. – H4uZ Jan 29 at 13:37
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    @Finn Having a MBO degree will help, but probably not a lot. The problem is not really to do with your education per se, but the knowledge/intelligence-level that is inferred from the highest level of education you reached. Someone with MBO-level will likely 'drown' in an environment that expects HBO or higher level, by simply not being on the same level of intelligence (I know this sounds a bit elitist, but I have seen it first hand, and it was frustrating for both sides). – Mark Rotteveel Jan 29 at 15:10
  • @MarkRotteveel So the advice would be to search for a company willing to accept a MBO student? I sadly (currently) don't have the possibility to do HBO due to financial issues. But once I work I would be able to do part-time school. – Finn Jan 30 at 7:23
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    @Finn: Gonna be honest here (I'm also Dutch, we do that). We had an employee in a similar situation, except one level up (got HBO, tried a part-time Master). The problem is that in the sort of environments where you need that skill-up, you'll be already challenged simply by your work. The additional mental challenge of an education is likely to push you over the edge. You might want to first get some experience with your current MBO skills; 2 years is plenty. – MSalters Jan 31 at 0:14
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Why would not having a degree instantly disqualify a programmer? And what does this say about the person/company who wrote the application?

It doesn't, and in fact it can say something about the company.

A lot of answers seem to come from people without actual experience in hiring software developers in the Netherlands which I have been doing for a lot of years now. (disclaimer: this answer comes from my personal experience in the field, no more, no less)

First: Like another answer already mentioned, most companies actually don't ask for a degree, but for "werk en denkniveau" (they expect you to operate on this "level", regardless of actual education). This is fine, just apply if you think you have the skills.

A hard requirement for a degree is actually quite uncommon (even if it looks that way from reading the application form, just ask them). The reason for this is simple:

The Netherlands has a huge shortage of software developers

A lot of companies just want to appear to be very picky about who they hire, but in reality they'll hire anyone that's willing, and the real selection will be after your first contract (6 months most of the time). They just want to appear like they're "only hiring the best" for marketing purposes. Unless they are part of a select group of companies (like Google or in game development) they cannot afford to be as picky as they appear to be and they know it. So again, just ask if you can apply, the answer will almost always be yes.

This leaves (in my experience) only three reasons why there would be a hard requirement for a degree:

  1. The work involves a niche where a certain other degree is considered essential (the already mentioned math degree for cryptography related software is a prime example)
  2. There are legal/compliance considerations set by the stakeholders (which relates nicely to point 3):
  3. It's a government (or semi-government) job.

It's vital to understand though, and by the looks of it a lot of other posters don't seem to know this, that Dutch Universities do not teach software development at a level required to actually be a software developer. If someone fresh out of school has any real programming skills it will be either because of their internships or because of what they taught themselves in their own time. The curriculum alone does not prepare you, and the chances that your teachers actually know the industry are slim at best.

Furthermore, the way the curriculum is set up, with all the group assignments and such, makes getting a degree in "application development" without having written any software a very real possibility. We used to "weed out" applicants by having them pull 100 records from a mysql db and putting them in alphabetical order. About 50% of applicants with a bachelor degree (or better) could not pull this off. With internet access. In 3 hours.

Then there is the observation (as researched by Google but I can't seem to find the document anymore) that after a short time on the job (I think it was a year), no correlation between job performance and academic background is found.

The above leads me to confidently state this: Not having a degree is not a real inhibition for getting employed in the Netherlands, except for a small amount of jobs. Your experience and skills are all that matters, and you can work on those without formal education.

As an aside (since this is a pet peeve of mine) consider this:

4 years of relevant experience on your CV are in fact a better starting point than having a bachelors degree. I've been asking this question (which is better) for years to an ever increasing number of persons involved in hiring software developers and the result is (neigh) unanimous. That does raise some interesting questions about education in general and student debt in particular, doesn't it?

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  • SO basically if I want to work for you I need to be able to...SELECT * FROM Customers ORDER BY Name. Don't know why that would take 3 hours to figure out. – Neil Meyer Jan 31 at 14:56
  • @NeilMeyer They had to do this from python or php and present it in html. Indeed the only way to fail this test is to have no experience in coding whatsoever because only then it would take more than 3 hours to figure it out. Most developers could do this test in any language, whether they used that language before or not, in a fraction of the time. This was for juniors of course, and the next part of the test would be a "casual" conversation with me or my coworker about why they choose the solution they did and how they ordered their code. Usually, this told us what we needed to know. – Douwe Jan 31 at 15:11
  • Seeing as this is a MySQL database could and you mention PHP, could you do it trough PHPMyAdmin? Or is that more for web apps? – Neil Meyer Jan 31 at 15:16
  • They were supposed to this in code, and they were given an ERD of the tables involved and the credentials for the database. So it was a little more involved than just writing the SQL, but not much. – Douwe Jan 31 at 15:23
  • Interesting to have it explained from a recruiter's perspective. And I also remember to have read about, that Google HR claims that about 80% of MSc CS are not suitable for their needs. I've often been asked for far more advanced "coding challenges", which always turned out to be a rip-off (work without compensation). – Martin Zeitler Feb 1 at 2:52
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Having a degree in CS, or having done a technical engineering school, certifies that one person has followed some courses and passed an exam, so a minimal knowledge on the subject should be granted. So the HR has a quick way to cut the number of candidates for a given job. Granted there are people that got a degree by luck and brilliant self taught people.

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  • Not applicable to the Dutch situation. No one here needs a "way to quickly cut the number" when you have an average of one applicant every two months. – Douwe Jan 31 at 13:44
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    I think it is completely incorrect that a CS graduate should have 'minimal knowledge' on the subject. When it comes to C# and Java a self-taught programmer can very easily have gained more knowledge far quicker by not having to spend 4 years learning C++. – Neil Meyer Jan 31 at 15:00
  • @NeilMeyer If only they did 4 years of C++... I recently had to explain the concept of pointers to a very bright new hire with a bachelors degree who has shown great progress since he started here. It just wasn't taught, they stick to php, python an a little java nowadays. I think the fact that finding good teachers for our "hbo" (bachelor education) is even harder than finding devs has a lot to do with this, hard to teach pointers when you yourself don't really grasp the concept. :/ – Douwe Jan 31 at 16:13
  • @NeilMeyer to be a nitpicker Java is all about pointers, except the asterisk is omitted. On the other hand not having an assembler language class seems to me a lack on modern CS courses. I nthe old times I had an exam on microprocessors and the lab was to write a program for an 8086 board. Register relative addressing? No problem! – Michele L'Intenditore Feb 3 at 8:52
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I don't know if it's the same in The Netherlands, but in the US you should not generally consider the job requirements listed in a job posting as a firm list. Finding a person who has all the qualifications is usually nearly impossible.

Think of them more as a wishlist. The hiring manager will list all the desirable qualifications, and hope to bring in candidates who meet many of them. They will often accept substitutes for some of the requirements -- if you've been working in the industry for several years, your practical experience will often make up for the lack of a degree.

Consider that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were both college dropouts.

Publishing a large list of "requirements" is often done as a way to weed out candidates who are obviously unqualified. If you look at the list and find it daunting, you may not want to bother applying. But if you think you can do the job even though you're self-taught, go ahead. What's the worst thing that can happen?

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  • I've always heard that if you can meet half the requirements, go ahead and apply, for exactly this reason. – GrandmasterB Jan 30 at 22:28
  • Bill Gates dropped out not because of academic reasons but because he had a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity to go and start Microsoft. – Neil Meyer Jan 31 at 12:07
  • It's more or less the same in the Netherlands. Another reason for all these requirements would be that the recruiter usually deals with marketing jobs where 100's of people apply and now applies their "knowledge" to software engineers. – Douwe Jan 31 at 13:47
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    @NeilMeyer But imagine if the financiers wouldn't have given him that opportunity because he didn't yet have a college degree. – Barmar Jan 31 at 15:59
  • You don't need to be a cpa to get funding for a business. I doubt the current us president has a college degree. – Neil Meyer Feb 1 at 7:54
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What it really tells you is that the person who wrote the ad is clueless and lives in magical Christmas land. A lot of job ads get posted by HR personnel who don't have any real technical skills. They often just rattle a bunch of keywords that the technical manager has mentioned in passing to them.

So, yes you are completely correct in saying that there are MANY! programmers who are perfectly proficient at there job who don't have degrees, self-taught is often the way the majority was taught.

Here is the catch though, you can still apply for jobs even if you don't have the degree. If you mention that you have a couple of portfolio websites you can show the prospective employer then you can easily get your foot in the door and then it is your own skills and knowledge that is going to matter.

All employers would like to pay minimum wage for a CS graduate from Harvard College, but the reality is that if they are going through the trouble of looking for candidates they usually cannot afford to have the position go vacant, usually they still need to pick the best candidate from the application pool and that could very easily be you.

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If someone is asking for a "Junior" developer, but still expects "Senior" experience, as the detailed description of the position might suggest - they're usually cheap and do not care much about project experience. And there's also corporations, which only accept freshers, in order to train them according to their particular needs. An experienced software developer, who might have spent a whole lot more time learning by trial and error, owns someone who holds a minor title at any time - because passing school means one thing: never question authority, just drink the kool-aid (which is the wrong mind-set when it comes to software development). When the position is much about theory and the development of eg. encryption algorithms, which require an excellent level of mathematical background, this might be a whole other story. An ideal company would combine these people - so that theory and practice are both covered - where there often is a huge gap in between theory and practice. Being able to repeat doesn't guarantee one is able to innovate, as it may be required - rather the opposite is the case. The same goes for extreme situations, where experience is often more useful than a certificate.

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  • Exactly this, a certain amount of training for the newbies is inevitable. You just really want the training of the newbs to not be a soul-destroying hassle. If you can discuss the topic with them and they can have a reasonably intelligent conversation on the topic then they are halfway to being a successful hire. – Neil Meyer Feb 1 at 7:44
  • This might depend on the size of the company; smaller companies might not be able to afford the waste of time & money - while larger companies may have their own boot-camp, where they learn exactly what is required for the destined career path. Training on the job is not always an option. – Martin Zeitler Feb 1 at 9:23
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In addition to the the points covered in other answers, there can also be regulatory considerations. In the USA, for example, companies that sponsor work visas for foreign employees can get more power and flexibility in the work visa lottery system if they can prove to the government that they only hire foreigners who can do the job at least as well as the average American applicant. One way to prove this is to enforce a hiring policy that requires relevant degrees and certifications. It's not uncommon for companies to reject even applicants with graduate-level (5+ year) degrees, if those degrees are not directly relevant to the position.

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-1

If this company is an outsourcing company it may be the requirement of their clients. I was once applying to such an outsourcing company which was working in the financial industry. They told me that their client's - Banks - require a degree from developers whom they want to work for them.

Also my current employer, an outsourcing company, requires a degree, when i have to work in a project for the (German) government.

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-2

It is a simple lazy filter. You should not take it personal. Maybe company decided that instead of receiving 30 CVs (including 10 CVs without BSc) they just want to review 20. And they don't particularly care about hiring the best out of 30 possible candidates, just one good enough from 20 with BSc (and they are willing to ignore 1%(or %5 or 25% or 50%) chance that the best candidate is in their ignore list).

In general this is a bad sign, but you should not extrapolate too much from your only contact with the company(different SW teams can differ significantly, and even bigger changes between different departments are normal).

If you are still interested in the company I would suggest writing a nice mail to HR department explaining why despite your lack of BSc you would like to interview with them.

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    This point was already made by half of the existing answers. And all those answers failed to show where those 30 CV's would come from, given the fact that the Netherlands has a enormous developer shortage with most positions never filled and a lot of them with zero applicants. – Douwe Feb 3 at 12:21
  • That is just not true, because I actually interview people in NL... It is just that a lot of companies are trying to hire below market rate. If you are willing to pay you will get 30 CVs. – NoSenseEtAl Feb 3 at 18:41
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Many people without formal training or qualifications are perfectly capable of doing electrical or plumbing jobs. If you have the right aptitudes, you can probably teach yourself to be a midwife or a nurse without going through formal training courses. Yet employers, and the public, tend to demand that people aren't allowed to practice these trades without some kind of training and qualification.

Why should programming be different? The amount of harm a rogue programmer can do is at least as great as that of a rogue electrician or midwife.

Yes, I've come across many self-taught programmers in my career who are extremely capable. I've also come across self-taught programmers trying to write a sort routine having no idea that there are good sort routines in every textbook.

And there are certainly lots of practising programmers asking questions on StackOverflow who are clearly not qualified to be doing the job.

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    "Yes, I've come across many self-taught programmers in my career who are extremely capable". And yet you have no problem dismissing them because "why should programming be different". This makes no sense. – Douwe Feb 3 at 12:16
  • It makes absolute sense. You're not just looking for competence, you're looking for proof/evidence of competence. When I employ a plumber, I can't judge his plumbing, but I can see whether he's a member of the right trade association and has a certificate showing he is approved to work on gas boilers. – Michael Kay Feb 3 at 17:24

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