A lot of software developer jobs list "a CS degree or equivalent work experience" as a requirement. I have a degree in a somewhat related field but only about 6 months of on-the-job experience as an intern and then a severely underpaid developer. How much work experience will it take for employers to consider me as on par with a CS graduate, and take me seriously as a candidate for a junior level position?

  • Well, as I stated, I managed to get an internship, which has led to what I guess you might call a junior position. But I'm still being severely underpaid because they know I'll have trouble finding a job elsewhere with as little experience as I have. So what it boils down to is how long will I have to accept this kind of pay before I'll have a decent shot at a position elsewhere. – Hunter Gathers Aug 28 '12 at 19:26
  • @ramoneramone - I've been working for 14 years now and still make less than my degree-weilding peers. As for how much experience to let you move, it depends on your job market. – Telastyn Aug 28 '12 at 19:29
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    If you base it off of their applicable knowledge straight out of college... 30 days. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 29 '12 at 12:47
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    I'd say at least 7 standard time units. – JohnFx Sep 1 '12 at 0:12
  • They want you to be able to work on your own. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Dec 22 '15 at 6:52

It depends.

Some people may have 20 years experience as software developers but in practice are juniors (no idea about separation of concerns, design patterns, SOLID and DRY).

Some people come out with CS degree and need to learn software engineering from scratch (never worked in a team, wouldn't know maintainable code if it hit them in the face, source control is a new concept etc, etc, etc...).

My point with the above two paragraphs is that the comparison is meaningless. Experience does not translate to a CS degree and vice versa.

What matters is provable capability - some of that comes from experience, but not all.

If you can show your developer chops (open source projects or your own private projects) and impress them, they will consider you.

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    +1. Amazing how different developing on a large project is compared to individual projects which don't have to be maintained beyond a small amount of time. – enderland Aug 28 '12 at 19:34
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    This makes sense for a programmer, but I strongly suspect HR writes that thinking "4 years is 4 years" thus 4 years of work = 4 years of school. You have to get past HR to "show your chops." – Rarity Aug 28 '12 at 20:20
  • If only everyone hired this way. I'm with @Rarity. – user8365 Aug 28 '12 at 20:26
  • @Rarity - I can tell you that 4 years of actual work experience is worth more then a 4 year degree and this comming form somebody who actually has one. I have learned more in 2 years then my entire college sprint. – Donald Aug 29 '12 at 11:38
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    @Ramhound - I don't think Rarity contests that. The point being made is that HR don't usually think this way. – Oded Aug 29 '12 at 11:43

I usually see the line CS degree or equivalent. Or the line: "Bachelors degree plus 10 years experience, or masters with 5 years experience, or PHD +1 year experience."

When it is written this way it means that if there is an automated process to screen applicants or resumes the lack of degree will stop the resume from being moved forward. I have even seen a resume rejected because they wanted a BS, and the person had a BA.

The requirements "CS degree or equivalent" means that they will take a large assortment of technical degrees. They can even take a degree if is not technical but related to the subject matter. The less automated the screen the better the chances of them taking a degree in marketing.

In a few cases I have seen them write the line: "X years experience developing software, a Bachelors degree can substitute for A years, or an advanced degree can substitute for B years."

In this case they can be very flexible.

Remember that they might also trying to meet the requirements of a customer. If they are a government contractor, the customer frequently establishes for the contract the specific rate levels. If the applicant can't meet the requirements for the lowest rate category they can't be hired for the position. The category and rate level they fit into determines the maximum salary for that contracted position.

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  • So ignoring a ba would rule out the elite unis that dont give out BSC's – Neuro Aug 29 '12 at 10:27
  • @Neuro - What school doesn't offer a Bachlor degree? – Donald Aug 29 '12 at 11:39
  • @Ramhound Cambridge doesn't you get a BA in Engineering – Neuro Aug 29 '12 at 12:40
  • Thank you for this answer. Those cryptic bullet points of BS or equivalent are very confusing and just one more silly game to screen candidates as opposed to looking at what they can do, not just on paid basis, but they have done unpaid, for me it shows passion and enthusiasm and an auto-didactic person. Such a grind this whole process, it really brings me down as a non-BS engineer. – Daniel Nov 16 '18 at 2:19

If they don't state the amount of experience, you should apply anyway. You've done an internship and have a full-time job as a programmer.

The low salary at this point in your career would be considered as a valid reason to leave that job.

Make sure you have strong recommendations from your internship. While you are looking at other jobs and hopefully landing interviews, keep track of the skills they want. You maybe able to do some new project at work where they can implemented.

I can't imagine a years worth of experience, wouldn't get you past the lack of degree for a junior position. There may be some companies that just prefer college graduates, so there's no getting around this bias in their mind.

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If the posting states "relevant work experience considered in lieu of a degree", apply for the job. Basically what they're asking for is proof you can do the job, and you can answer that two ways; by showing them you've been taught to do the job, or by showing them you've already done it. If you have a few years' experience at a job level roughly equivalent to what they're hiring for, you should be considered (perhaps even more so in this environment since without a degree you'll probably be asking for less). That gets you the interview, where you show them you can do the job.

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