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I have a broad question here today might be flagged but here it goes.

I am currently a software developer working with android and backend technologies in a small-medium sized company. The team is small just me and a couple other IT people.

I have an HND in software development as well. However I was thinking of topping it up to a full BSc. I have gotten an offer to do a course where I would only do on campus one day the rest will be at done at work - it's a Graduate Apprenticeship.

However, this would take me another 3 years and it means that I will be locked down to my current location for at least that amount of time.

Furthermore, I am working on my free time developing software solutions and gaining new experiences this way. It seems like the university course has not much to offer besides a piece of paper that will look nice to my future employers.

My question would be - is it worth it. It will take a significant amount of time and resources to finish this degree (time traveling to campus, assignments) plus as I have mentioned before being locked down in a specific area for at least 3 years.

All I was hearing from my friends and family that it is. However, they are not giving much evidence besides the employability factor which would increase, once I get this degree - but is that the case?

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  • In 3 years your experience would be more valuable than the BSc to many employers, whats wrong with being tied down to the locale? – Kilisi Aug 12 '20 at 11:02
  • just have future ambitions to move somewhere maybe take on more remote roles. I will be gaining the experience while studying so thats a big plus of this degree. – xyz16179 Aug 12 '20 at 11:09
  • Yeah, any sort of formal recognised qualification is good to have, 3 years isn't that long in a career, bonus if you can get your work to support you in some way? – Kilisi Aug 12 '20 at 11:13
  • @Kilisi working and being paid for 3 years with the same technology and stacks doesn't add value to you. In my experience When recruiters see these situations and you don't meet even one of the requirements, they tend to discard you at interviews. – Skelethos Aug 12 '20 at 11:13
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    @Skelethos being able to show up at work and mesh with a team without peeing on the floor or anything else for 3 years is valuable in itself all else being equal. – Kilisi Aug 12 '20 at 11:15
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In your current line of work, any sensible future employer will look at your experience much more closely than your qualifications. These days, even job descriptions / HR filters that still say "must have a degree in Computer Science or a related subject" usually add "...or equivalent experience". That's not universally true, but it's true often enough that having experience but not a degree won't close too many doors.

You can check this easily enough if you wish, by looking at some local developer job adverts and seeing how many of them explicitly insist on a degree without adding the "or experience" caveat.

However, if at some point in the future you move to some other career, your software development experience may be worthless; whereas your degree might still be considered to show that you are capable of delivering at a high level, even if the subject of the degree has nothing to do with that new career. (The usual explanation is that a degree shows a commitment to ongoing learning, the ability to complete a self-driven endeavour, etc.)

You are already sensibly considering the time/energy investment of the degree, and how long you want to stay in your location. You don't mention consideration of the actual monetary cost?

A BSc course in England will normally cost £9250 a year, though perhaps your course may differ, as it is not full-time study and there might be other considerations. You may also be able to convince your employer to pay some or all of the cost (though in that case they will expect you to stay with them for at least a year after getting the degree, maybe longer, and you'll probably have to pay some of it back if you don't).

Still, if we assume for the moment that you pay that amount in full, your degree will cost you £27750. If - and this is not guaranteed - it helps you get, say, £3K/year more in your next software job (which then compounds into future software jobs), it will take more than nine years to "pay itself off", by which time you will have been a professional software developer for at least thirteen years in total. I am struggling to find a source for the average developer's career length, but I have previously heard twelve years quoted. You may last longer than average, many do; and as noted above, the degree may also help in your second career; but it's a fine judgement.

While I think a degree usually makes things easier for someone to get their first job in the industry; as you have managed that already, going back to fill the gap seems to me to be unlikely to be worth the effort. By the time you have 5+ or certainly 10+ years experience, you'll be a proven developer, and few sensible hiring managers will care about a lack of a degree.

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    The price is not an issue, I am based in Scotland here its free. – xyz16179 Aug 13 '20 at 8:27
  • Ah - then forgive me, and I will change "the UK" to read "England". (FWIW, I think "free" is the right price). – BittermanAndy Aug 13 '20 at 10:19
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In most circumstances, having a degree is likely to make you more employable. It's something concrete that shows you have experience and are capable of doing work. Equally, job experience and a passion for the subject is another way to show this.

Having a degree isn't strictly necessary, although it depends on how you want to progress your career.

  • If you want to go into academia, then a degree is absolutely necessary.

  • If you want to move into other companies, a degree will probably help your CV to make it through the selection stage and get you an interview.

  • If you're ok with staying in your current company and progressing your career there (e.g. moving up and becoming a senior dev, or moving sideways into a slightly different area), then I don't think you need a degree. If you're already employed and gaining useful, relevant experience for a career in your field, a degree may turn out to be as you say: "a piece of paper that will look nice to my future employers."

    • However, take care not to get pigeon-holed, meaning don't become "the person who does only x," because if your employer ever goes away or gets rid of you, you're not going to have that many transferable skills.

Something else to consider is: Would you enjoy getting a degree? I quite enjoyed University because I was exposed to lots of different things. To be honest, I'd say I've learned a lot more "useful things" from being employed, but the degree got me thinking about what's out there and gave me some hands-on experience. But University isn't for everyone; it can be fairly high-pressure, and I know a lot of people dropped out of my course.

From the sounds of it you're in a pretty good position regardless, so don't stress about it, take your time and think about what you want to do. At the end of the day, three years isn't that long, and I presume you're still quite young with few family commitments etc., so if you are going to get a degree, now is the time. If you wait until you've got a family to support, your partner isn't going to be happy about you quitting your job and becoming a non-provider for the next three years!

tl;dr my personal opinion is: go for it; you have a lot to gain and not much to lose by doing so, and now seems like a good time.

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  • This is a solid answer – Kilisi Aug 12 '20 at 12:08
  • The problem is the being exposed to many different new things is not usually the case, they teach old technologies like assembly for example... I guess you need to know the basics but you will forget it entirely once you are in the workplace. The only subject I am quite interested and would like to learn more about is AI but apart from that it seems like I will be stuck doing mundane, boring projects. – xyz16179 Aug 13 '20 at 8:48
  • Usually Universities will let you choose from a selection of modules. Is that the case for you, or has it all been pre-arranged? Also, I didn't say that it'd expose you to new things; if you want to be at the cutting edge you need to be at PhD level. I actually did a module on assembly at Uni too, and you're right, I can hardly remember any of it - but the fact that I was exposed to it and given a chance to experiment was useful in that it gave me a basic understanding of it, but it didn't pique my interest. I did do an AI module which I really enjoyed, and subsequently did a masters in AI. – Touchdown Aug 13 '20 at 8:57
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My point of view is that fortunately, IT positions are mostly filled by people who can do and not by right of a certificate.

Having said that you should consider what to do with your future, continuing your studies could help you if you are interested in an academic career and teaching in general, it certainly adds weight to your teaching and puts you in a more relevant position.

On the other hand, you have the possibility to dedicate these 3 years and the time you would save in your free time activities by expanding your knowledge on your own. And here you have many living examples, self-taught people who have created a brand, freelancers, expanding your CV you could change job in less than 3 years (I'm changing after just 9 months of study), you can continue developing software solutions as you said and maybe make one of them a competitive product.

The decision is up to you, your family and the same people here can give you their point of view, but your decision must be made according to what you want to do in the next 5-10 years, how you would like your future to be. Deciding on that, you'll never have any regrets.

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  • I think your "point of view" has skipped the part for most companies where a recruiter reviews a resume/cv, and that "certificate" is what gets a resume in the door. It would be nice to live in a world where skill is all it takes. That's rarely the case. – Joel Etherton Aug 12 '20 at 13:33
  • @JoelEtherton In my experience certificates don't mean much, actual completed projects and mental flexibility in case of technical tests put one foot in, not the other way around. – Skelethos Aug 12 '20 at 13:43
  • You're right, they generally don't mean much. That doesn't mean they aren't the "price of entry for most companies. A vast majority of companies will not consider a candidate for a position without a degree, and that choice is normally made by someone who is not directly affiliated or knowledgeable about the technical specifics of a position. That's not universal. Either way, the degree is an expensive "get in the front door" card. The environment matters. In 2001, everyone on the market had a BS+. "Self-taught" was laughed out. Covid has done something similar. – Joel Etherton Aug 12 '20 at 13:58
  • As for the "you'll never have any regrets", that's an absurd statement to make. I traveled the self-taught path, and the "regret" I have is how a degree earlier would have accelerated my career rather than holding me back having to fight tooth and nail to get every job. – Joel Etherton Aug 12 '20 at 13:59
  • I understand your point of view Joel, I speak for me when I decided to drop the university where assistant professors gave wrong slides to study and basic examples of C++ not working, where I had to help my colleagues in the lab every afternoon but when I needed help for math and physics nobody was ever available I had no regrets and a few months later I was working on a .NET project and paid more than I thought. – Skelethos Aug 12 '20 at 14:39

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