I just witnessed an incident at my company where one of my colleagues accused another colleague and his arguments were based on the University he graduated from.

Is it correct to engage in such desperate arguments based on studies? The colleague who was judged is smart and even if he didn’t graduate from a computer science department he has a lot of knowledge in programming and 5+ years of experience in this field.

I’m asking because I also didn’t graduate a computer science university and I would like to know how to correctly react when someone brings such arguments.

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    An argument based on the university is weak at best. An argument based on spedific experts or classes at that university may not be. I'm not right because I went to MIT, but I may be more likely to be right because this is something I learned directly from Barbara Liskov or another accepted authority. . Or it might have been right at the time but is now outdated, or it may be generally right but wrong in this case, or I may be misremembering it. Argument from authority always has pitfalls. – keshlam Dec 20 '15 at 21:07
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    There are a few cases where it might be true. For example if we're arguing about whether the first natural number is 0 or 1, then different universities (or different departments) can use different conventions. Or if you didn't study CS, and you do happen to say something very ignorant about big-O notation, then it would be accurate but unhelpful to say, "you'd understand this better if you'd studied CS". More useful would be to say, "big-O is a standard concept, which you need to understand so we can discuss this further" or something. But I guess that's probably not the case here. – Steve Jessop Dec 21 '15 at 0:42
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    "one of my colleagues accused another colleague". What precisely was the accusation? – Brandin Dec 21 '15 at 11:50
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    This reminds me of someone projecting their own insecurities outward. The employee is probably jealous/upset that this coworker of yours didn't need to go to university to be in the same job as him. I wouldn't get butthurt about it either though. Life is cruel, people are mean, nothing you can control so don't let it bother you. – ballBreaker Dec 21 '15 at 20:26
  • Academia does somehow not understand that actual experience is often worth more than a theoretical view. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Dec 22 '15 at 6:51

First it's utterly inappropriate for that to be said. It is prejudicial, confrontational, insults their bosses decision making process and just avoids the specifics of whatever task they were working on. Remember, work is a job. And a job encompasses tasks. And most of the time if you are upset at a colleague you might just be upset at the task.

That said, about 25 years ago if you did not have a computer science, general science or math degree and attempted to work in the computer field, you might get a basic I.T. job but that was it. Without a real computer science degree your career was limited in many countries and might not even be an optional requirement in others.

Nowadays—in most countries—computer science degrees matter but experience and proven skills level the playing field. For example 25 years ago you would have never seen computer science job listings that say a degree or equivalent work experience is required. Nowadays, work hard enough, learn on your own and prove your skills and you will be considered to be on par with those who have deeper formal training.

This is mainly due to home computers being more commonplace, the rise of the Internet and shared knowledge as well as technology being so widespread in the non-tech world there are tons more opportunities.

So if a colleague is ripping someone apart over a task and they attack based on their educational background, that is just violent, abusive, petty nonsense. How to handle depends on many factors but if this mentality is casually accepted in the office culture, it might be worth rethinking what kind of future one might have in such a non-cooperative environment.

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    Obviously for the degree part, you don’t live in France … – user2284570 Dec 21 '15 at 21:11
  • France, this is more without having a degree from a top public (this is more than schools allowed to qualify for engineer) engineer school (studying at university is often associated to qualify for working in fast foods even with a ᴘʜᴅ) you’re likely to get a basic job (in general) (though the engineer school must be specialised in the field for it).The stance of 90% of ɪᴛ job is “Currently holding a ʙᴀᴄ+5 degree you have 3 years of continuous experience in the same field, 5 years wished”. It’s also true that without such high degree, you’re unlikely to handle the financial requirements. – user2284570 Dec 21 '15 at 21:32
  • because you’re modification is done in the wrong way. Nowadays computer science degrees matter but experience and proven skills level the playing field. in the case of my country is Nowadays both science degrees and experience is a strong requirement. You can only get a basic job if you lack one of them. – user2284570 Dec 21 '15 at 21:49
  • @djechlin - they existed 30 years ago too. Although in my experience you could get away without a degree 25-35 years ago if you had the experience, and that is no longer true. Now it seems rare to get a good job without the degree first. – thursdaysgeek Dec 22 '15 at 0:46
  • Generally speaking in france and the UK, without a CS degree (preferably from a decent school/uni) you are looking at near minimum wage as cap of what you will make and grunt tech support as what you will do at best. – Magisch Dec 22 '15 at 8:46

Definitely not an appropriate argument. It's like saying "I'm right because I'm older." If you are at the receiving end of this, keep asking "why." If someone wants to claim superior knowledge based on whatever, he/she has the privilege of explaining the reasoning. Which brings the discussion back to facts. Something that is appropriate to argue based on.


It's not a nice thing to use in an argument, but all is fair in love and war and arguments. Depends on the actual university in question as well. If someone started citing their masters degree from the National University of Samoa, I'd probably start laughing.

I would like to know how to correctly react when someone brings such arguments.

The best way to react if you want to remain professional is to tell them that university is irrelevant to the issue, and ask them to prove that they are correct. To me a uni degree means very little compared to practical experience. My reaction would be to ask them to cut the crap and show me their solution and then honestly appraise it to see if it's better than mine.


When assessing colleagues, there are limited measures of capabilities that are as easy to measure as university education. Even so, usually it's inappropriate to mention one's university education as a point in a debate or argument while it's advisable to be respectful of someone that has earned respect (either by formal education or job experience).

Some people need to fall back on past accomplishments to feel better in the moment. When an argument is based on this, it's painful to witness because you should expect more from someone that attended a well respected university.

On the other side of this, it's difficult to have a productive debate with someone that thinks they are informed based on self-assessment or inadequate life experience. It can be frustrating when they actually know far less than they realize. This type of ignorance can lead to a better educated, more experienced person making an inappropriate personal comment about education/training either out of frustration or as an attempt to draw attention to the depth of the problem and/or garner respect from someone incapable of recognizing when to be respectful.

To explain the comparison between a top university and a "regular" one, I will use two students I knew as an example. Both students had the same class and textbook. After a year, the top school student was tested on all content in the book. The other student was tested on only the first 30% of the book. So unlike 5 years of job experience, university experience can be rated more consistently with top schools generally demanding more of their students, usually resulting in appropriate higher expectations from those students.

Should work colleagues be judged depending on the attended University?

In general, it is a good indicator of what someone is capable of doing or what should be expected of them. But the role it plays in a particular discussion between two people is usually pretty thin; rarely is one's university education relevant to a particular conversation. Comments like what you witnessed should be avoided.


It is not something that is typically appropriate but it kind of depends on the context.

If it is was about syntax or stuff you can learn with practice then no.

Let's say is was about a compiler design where if you have not been through the formal theory is not something you would readily pick up then maybe. But need to deliver with tact.

Let's say you were at an accident scene and practicing bad (harmful) first aid and I was a Dr. To shut you down and get on with business I would say "Where did you go to med school?"


When faced with a foolish statement, I often prefer quips and sound bites to well reasoned arguments as most people are neither prepared nor interested in a well reasoned argument when they make a foolish statement. Here are a few to try.

"Those who can do. Those who can't teach. Those who can do neither study."

"So basically you're out of ideas and pounding the table?"

"Well, if that's what they do at then perhaps you should return to ."

Throw out a fictional institute of higher learning. Google for names. "You would never have made it at Faber College." Faber College was in "Animal House".

If you want a quip that is rooted in a well reasoned argument try, "Argumentum ad verecundiam". It means "Argument from authority", and it is one of many logical fallacies.


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    You're saying to escalate the argument and make it more personal? – user42272 Dec 21 '15 at 22:03
  • Truthfully this is not the professional way to go. Take a step back from the argument rather than adding quips. If anyone starts with this sort of thing it is rather proving the old adage of "Better keep quiet and be thought a fool than opening your mouth and proving it" is correct. – Magpie13 Dec 22 '15 at 13:38
  • No, what I'm saying is that people sometimes say silly things, and it's not always possible to apply reason and logic to the situation. It is often required that one make an equally flippant comment in order to demonstrate the argument being made has no standing. This is going to vary by situation, and as such I provided a sound, reasoned response of Argumentum ad verecundiam. – Kennah Dec 22 '15 at 17:44

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