I am rephrasing my question as my other one was not specific enough and was put on hold. I am worrying because I dropped out from my first uni degree, entirely due to personal health and family reasons, even though I had almost completed it with full distinctions and scholarships for further academic development. Among other things, I had won research funds for some innovative projects where I would have contributed to my field and worked together with some eminent professors. I lost all that...

Four years later, my personal situation is getting better and I have established a relatively successful career in my field from within business. I worked hard as an employee and in the past two years had the opportunity to help invent, together with my boss, a revolutionary tech business model that is now also written about in academic journals. I am very satisfied with my job and income, and we are recognized within our industry niche.

However, I often wonder if I could make that further leap if I did top up my academic credentials. The reason I feel this way is because I sometimes feel puzzled whenever my peers start discussing high theories and models that I haven't. It makes me feel that despite my achievements so far, I might be missing some important knowledge, and training, that could be important for the future.

For example (just an example to clarify the question): Let's imagine I designed a few incredibly useful and profitable mobile phone apps, even though I have no programming skills and know little about computer theory. My boss and the software developers then improved it and made it scalable. I got some recognition and promotion in my company. ...but will that be enough if I wanted go and hold an industry seminar or lecture on mobile app business? Would that alone help me get a higher position in another company? Let alone become a "thought leader"? Or would I need a computer/programming/engineering degree if I wanted to climb the ranks?

P.S.: Just to be clear, I am very satisfied with my job, so I apologize if I sound over-zealous and maybe "dreamy". I just think I may not find fulfilment.

I hope this time my question is more clear and within the standards of stack exchange.

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    There's a big difference between not having a degree, but having the education (see: Bill Gates) and not having a degree and not having the education. If you've designed profitable mobile apps, but have no idea about how to program or know any of the modern user experience concepts... you're not a thought leader; you were lucky. – Telastyn Dec 26 '13 at 20:39
  • You should finish your academic work if you want to, otherwise there's nothing to worry about. If you can show you've gotten useful things done there's plenty of work, and no shortage of respect. – Meredith Poor Dec 27 '13 at 0:15

It's hard to ever be sure which path will lead to greatest success for an individual, but here's what I've seen in terms of college degrees:

  • Some institutions use them as must-have qualifications - if a company gets enough candidates with college degrees, why bother with candidates that don't have them? Hiring institutions want to make the work of hiring qualified people easy and hiring someone with an easily describable degree from a known institution is much easier than figuring out if a candidate with no degree is suitably qualified.

  • Some degree programs do provide useful information. Certainly the question is debatable for a given field. As you describe, there are principles and models for how computers, networks, and software development best practices work that one may learn in a college program - having the time and focus to study those can simply help a person succeed. My experience has been that in many ways a semi-seasoned person is better at picking a program to fill in these gaps, because they have a reasonably good working knowledge of the industry.

  • Somewhere in most career progressions, it stops being about the isolated ability to do good work, and also one's ability to communicate with others and bring a whole team of people forward productively. Sometimes that's being a manager, but also you'll see that highly senior engineering positions talk about "thought leadership" or "mentoring" or wisdom, vision, etc - that's not just being really smart, it's being able to make yourself understood by others. Some college programs will help this along as you are pushed to write papers or make presentations and then given feedback about your attempts.

The caveat here is that college programs work well for people who work well in college programs. History is riddled with geniuses who couldn't succeed in the formalized education systems of their day. Perhaps the ideas that they were capable of forming were so revolutionary that their minds just couldn't conform to a regular college program? I don't know, but there's enough evidence out there to suggest that there's a certain style of person for whom a traditional college education may be a waste of time and money.

College programs are certainly formatted in a particular way - they have a finite duration, specific rules and grading practices, and each school will have requirements for how long credits are valid and other elements of participation. Colleges in a given genre and region will tend to boil down to very similar sets of rules, as they are all targeting fairly similar markets. So, it's worth researching to see if these rules are helpful to you or a hindrance.

I've noticed that early in one's career, a college education is a serious leg up. As careers progress (and as whatever one learned in college becomes outdated) the time spent in college matters less and less, but the mileage varies significantly by time period, location and industry.

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I got some recognition and promotion in my company. ...but will that be enough if I wanted go and hold an industry seminar or lecture on mobile app business?

When you say, "mobile app business," is this about the marketing of apps, distribution of apps, the economics of apps, or the underlying technology? There are more than a few things that fall under that phrase is something to consider here.

Would that alone help me get a higher position in another company?

Possibly though consider what role are you wanting to have in a company here. If you had the idea and initial execution that may not be quite as valued as the side of someone that scales things well and finds ways to be more than a one trick pony.

Let alone become a "thought leader"?

This is where blogging, connections and giving presentations would likely be useful so that your ideas are expressed in such a way that others understand what talent you have and how articulate you are.

Or would I need a computer/programming/engineering degree if I wanted to climb the ranks?

For some companies you may need it though I'd argue a business degree may be just as useful if you consider what expectations of management will be. How well can you handle managing a budget of $x when you have projects that require ten times that? This is what you'd have within IT departments at times though I imagine some product development departments may have similar challenges in the sense that there are dozens of possible projects to fund but only enough funds for a few projects to be done well. How well can you know which are the ones that will give a good return?

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Can I excel in my field if I have great achievements - but no complete formal qualifications?

Probably. In many fields, many have done just that.

It may depend on your field. Some fields value formal qualifications far more highly than others.

I got some recognition and promotion in my company. ...but will that be enough if I wanted go and hold an industry seminar or lecture on mobile app business?

Again, it may depend on your field. It also likely depends on the kind and depth of recognition you got.

If your recognition made the cover of Time magazine, the national news, and the top search results of Google for a month, that may be enough to launch you to a successful lecturing career.

If your recognition was "Team Member of the Week" within your department, that may not be sufficient for much of a seminar/lecture circuit career.

Or would I need a computer/programming/engineering degree if I wanted to climb the ranks?

Climbing the ranks depends on the companies within which you are working, and what they value in their ranks. Some ranks require hardcore computer/programming/engineering background and degrees. Some do not.

Overall, more academic credentials are very unlikely to hurt your chances of attaining what you are seeking. But they may not help, and/or they may not be necessary. Far too many variables and too many unknowns for anyone here (or elsewhere) to predict with any degree of assurance.

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