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Currently I'm a university student, but I'm having troubles with it, and actually some reservations as well. I'd rather just start working - the problem is that I can only seriously consider a position in the software industry, where at least a BSc degree is expected in most cases. The subject of what I'm learning is really relevant (some kind of mixture of IT and economics), but I don't want to finish it. I'm sick of the way I have to learn (I learn on my own much better) and moreover, I really worry about making and defending a thesis.

Without a college degree, I'm not sure how much of a chance I have to find a job. I have some references as I love programming in my free time, and I'm going to start a 6-week trainee period in the next month, so I may even get a positive impression on my performance, but I'm not sure if it's enough for a proper job.

What are the other things I may/should consider?

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    That might depend a lot on your location. Could you please add details regarding where you are/where you want to work ? – Sheldonator May 3 '16 at 12:33
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    I believe Sheldonator meant "what country?". In France, bypassing diplomas is a career suicide before even your career begins. In other countries(like the UK), milage may vary. – gazzz0x2z May 3 '16 at 13:21
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    @gazzz0x2z and in the UISA, it varies widely from field to field. I know several IT people who never went to college at all who are self-taught hackers who are doing VERY well. Other fields, it's suicide. – Old_Lamplighter May 3 '16 at 13:24
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    Most European cultures place a very high value on education and degrees, so trying to enter the workforce without one may not work out too well. I'd also like to point out that school teaches you skills which you might not be aware that you need, such as presentation, communication, and team-work skills. You may also meet professors, and other professionals who will give you valuable insight. – AndreiROM May 3 '16 at 14:35
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    What is the concern about making and defending a thesis? Especially after reaching more senior positions, I often had to prepare a technical report, and present it to a set of decision makers. – Patricia Shanahan May 3 '16 at 15:50
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Most employers look to a college degree for more than just the actual technical skills (which are often not applicable or quickly obsolete anyway)

  1. It shows that you can work towards a single goal for an extended period of time and manage to stay focused on it.
  2. It shows that you can reasonably well manage yourself without day to day hand holding being required
  3. It shows that you can learn independently and that you have the ability to think in abstract concepts
  4. It shows that you at least a minimum ability to work scientifically

You need to demonstrate and communicate that you can do all these things without having an college degree. You also need to provide a clear explanation of why you are not finishing your degree. There is obviously a reason for it and you need to make clear to the employer that the same reason isn't a problem when working for them.

All in all, this is a difficult battle to fight. While there are some famous success story around college drop outs, the vast majority of drop outs simply don't have the ability, stamina or the conviction and employers know this.

I would recommend taking a good hard look at your personal reasons and see if you can overcome them. You need to weigh the effort required to finish college against the effort of finding a decent job without a degree.

Good Luck !

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    Very interesting aspect, I totally missed all those points you listed. From ability, stamina and conviction, I definitely own the last one, and I assume, the first one as well - my issues are related to stamina. Learning in the way schools expect has never been easy for me, as at the very beginning, I could memorize the majority of the things that was told on classes, but the heavier subjects get, the less likely it is. On the other hand, I noticed I can self-teach and can also focus on a work (programming) if I "catch the flow" and I assume it's more worthy and efficient than learning. – Zoltán Schmidt May 3 '16 at 13:00
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    I think this is a good answer, but I disagree with the premise that a degree actually shows these things. I think that far too much value is placed on the degree, and all it shows is that you passed college. Passing college does not show that you can do any of the above. – silencedmessage May 3 '16 at 13:43
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    @silencedmessage: The question is not whether a degree actually shows those things - but whether a significant number of employers think they do - which I find plausible. The key problem is actually getting beyond an initial CV keyword scan. – RedGrittyBrick May 3 '16 at 15:20
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    @silencedmessage that's true of all paper achievements (degree, certificate, etc). While the paper certainly doesn't specifically necessitate these traits, it's often a good litmus test. Are there people with these skills without a degree, and vice versa? Certainly. But if you're filtering out hundreds of resumes, having a degree is a good starting point. Someone without one is probably going to have to do more convincing. – DrewJordan May 3 '16 at 15:23
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    About those famous drop outs: At least in CS all of those stories that I can think of involve people who either started their own companies or were hired by a company while doing their degree. In both cases they had already convinced people of their skill. – Voo May 3 '16 at 16:27
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I have had success with the following:

Together with my CV i handed them a list of all relevant projects i did with a short summary of the details. If possible i offered to actually show it.

I offered to get on site and let the engineers turn me inside out for a day to check if i am capable of what i claim or to do some days of free work for them as a testrun (this will give you a better insight of the job, too).

As a personal advice: buckle up and take that diploma. It will make things easier and there will be less hindrances later.

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    That last sentence is key. It's a royal pain for a couple of years. You'll probably be glad you stuck it out for the next couple of decades. – DrewJordan May 3 '16 at 15:24
  • @DrewJordan the problem with it is that I'm out of money and I can't pay all the costs of being on a university anymore. Other jobs are too stressful or exhausting for me, and in fact, I've never even worked a single minute in my life, so earning money is really questionable this way. – Zoltán Schmidt May 4 '16 at 11:45
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    @ZoltánSchmidt well, you didn't mention money in your question, but that's certainly a concern. If you think having a job in the programming industry isn't going to be stressful and/or boring, you may want to talk with more people in the field. Anyhow the point is that while it's hard now, a degree isn't going to hurt you later on. It's possible that you will find a job where they don't care about it, but having it isn't ever going to hurt. – DrewJordan May 4 '16 at 11:59
  • @DrewJordan actually, I didn't want to mention it, because even in its current form, the question is considered offtopic, but anyway, thanks! – Zoltán Schmidt May 4 '16 at 12:05
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I can only speak from personal experience, and preferences.

First, I am a software developer. So this only counts in that one single field. I have also been doing this for a long time (about 20 years), so again, make sure you account for that when reading.

As an applicant: I have found that a degree can help get past the HR person collecting the resumes. Some HR people really want to see that degree and will move those resumes up to the top of the list. Obviously this can be more important, of you have to go through 5 non-technical people to even get the interview with your soon to be boss. That said, once you're past the HR people I have found degrees to be absolutely worthless. In some cases even a hindrance (more later). What an employer wants to see is rather you have a skill set that matches their team and goals. These change frequently, and if your not staying on top of current trends and technology, then your doomed (in most cases). Most employers will ask you about skill sets, past projects, language skills, and the like, very few ask about education.

As a hiring employer:

  • I take that stack from HR, and move all the people with CS degrees or the like to the bottom. If I see one with a Business degree, that counts a bit more.
  • Then I set aside those with a CS degree, and re-order the remaining stack. If there is a person with a CS degree and a large chunk of real world experience, then I put them in the normal stack.
  • I look for project, and languages, that seem close to what I want. I order those towards the top.
  • Then I look for "years experience" and move those to the top.
  • Then I take those resumes with a CS degree (that were set aside) and stick them on the bottom of the stack.
  • I start reading the resumes and when I get to 5 I like, I put the rest of the stack in a drawer and start interviews.

Usually the "drawer stack" will have to be pulled for a time or two more, But in the end I want 5 people to choose from. Then those 5 get a call back, and a better "team" interview, and finally a choice is made.

So the stack is:

  • Years Experience
  • Relevant Projects and Languages
  • Degrees in Business
  • Degrees in CS (or similar)

Now, it's important to know that it's just "my way" and not everyone will have the same way of doing things. I don't like candidates with a degree in "computer stuff". I usually have to spend the next 6 months un-teaching them what they learned in school, and another 6 months teaching them real world (non-laboratory) coding skills. Degrees in business however are very helpful, I'm always looking for another developer that can do any kind of business level ROI analysis on the code that's written, but to be honest that's secondary to the ability to code.

Now with that said, this is my advise:

  1. Stop listening to your school "people" for advise on this topic. Instead do more of what your doing now, open it up to others. The school has a vested interest in keeping you enrolled. Others will give you a better sample.
  2. Ask other programmers what they think. A lot of other areas will want a degree. IT and Software development are a kind of odd ball situation in that respect. IT will favor Certifications over a degree any day, and Development will focus on experience and skill sets over a degree. Other trades/carriers will not have said focus.
  3. Stay in school while you figure it out, or maybe take a semester off to figure it out. But if you decide to stay in school keep your momentum.
  4. If you want to go into programming take a month or two and contribute to some open source projects that you use and find interesting. It will help your Resume, and give you a better idea what areas of programming you like.
  5. Go to a workshop/boot camp/training course. THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT for you. You will likely get hired right out of this boot camp. Specially if it's a credible one. It will also give you a better idea of, and more confidence in, your chosen programming path.
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    from the way this reads, you punish someone for spending the time to complete a degree. If you have 2 people with 5 years experience, one with a degree (so ~9 years programming) and one without a degree, you'll interview the no degree person first? – adeady May 3 '16 at 17:23
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    I honestly find your views on that rather odd. With 5 years experience a developer has already unlearned all the bad habits from school while still having the background theory that helps them reason about code. FWIW, I put my degree and school at the bottom of my resume to get it through hr filters. I don't get why you punish individuals from seeking formal education in a field they wanted to pursue. – adeady May 3 '16 at 18:28
  • Clarified that a bit, the point is (which I'm not making well) is that, to me, a CS degree is something that needs to be overcome, and not a +1 when I look at resumes. If anything it's a -1. – coteyr May 3 '16 at 18:44
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    You just seem to have a bias against college educated applicants. While you may favor hiring people without a college education, I would be surprised that's the norm. You say it's : "In some cases even a hindrance". Unless having an unfavorable bias against college educated candidates is standard practice in your market you can't really claim it's an hindrance. It's just an hindrance if someone wants to apply for you specifically. Also you say that you're a hiring employer but your profile says you are a freelance dev. – Gilles May 3 '16 at 19:42
  • I freely admit a bias. There are several articles available about how programmers don't need a CS degree. More about how a CS degree is a waste of time and money. Though you could find articles in the opposite direction. While a degree may have a larger impact in other field in this field the impact seems negligible. Being a freelancer doesn't preclude me from running (and hiring for) my own company, which I do, or hiring for other companies, which I also do from time to time. It's just how I choose to categorize the work my company does. – coteyr May 3 '16 at 20:05
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I would suggest finishing your course and polish your knowledge at the same time. I don't know how it works in your country, but for example, in France, it will be almost impossible to find a job in software engineering if you do not have a related degree, even if you have wide knowledge of the field and are able to prove it, and your salary is most often based on the degree you possess.

What you can do is stop relying on your course to learn, teach yourself a bunch of stuff in your field (which seems to be web development), get your degree and start from there. It will be much easier on average to get a job. Also, why are you so worried about defending a thesis ?

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  • First paragraph: situation is similar here, though some of my teachers told me, relevant knowledge is more worthy and valued than "a bunch of papers". Second paragraph: it's the lack of self-confidence, and I also worry of the great final exam. Not sure, what it is called in English, I talk about the final exam that happens close to the date of defending the thesis and is an exam of 6-7 key subjects. That's just too much for me to learn – Zoltán Schmidt May 3 '16 at 13:04
  • You're probably not the only one struggling with exams, but I understand it's really a chore to some people. Still, you should hang on, it will be worth the struggle. – Sheldonator May 3 '16 at 13:11
  • Actually, I also have issues with subjects that are not, or very loosely related to what I want to work, because some of them (theory side of linear algebra, or operation systems, or leadership & management) are just really hard, because of the amount of requirements. I'm both overburdened and undermotivated when it comes to these subjects and I fail, or don't even dare trying the exam itself - which is, I'm aware, the possible worst choice. Anyway, I stop complaining, because it's not a life decision making Q&A, an I think it's better listen to you, so thanks for your time & your answer! – Zoltán Schmidt May 3 '16 at 13:23
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    @Zoltán Confidence is essential in the real world as well. And honestly defending a thesis sounds much worse than it actually is, you might want to check how many people actually failed their thesis the last few years. But you actually point exactly to one of the main reasons why people look for degrees: It shows that those people actually got over the whole "I really don't want to learn linear algebra, so boring" phase of their degree. That's an essential skill - you'll have to do enough things like that at work too. – Voo May 3 '16 at 16:34
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I strongly recommend getting a degree if you can, as it will make your career a lot easier. I know in some recruitment processes, CV's without any degree will not even be looked at.

As you are currently studying "IT and Economics", check if it is possible at your university to transfer to a different bachelor that is more "IT"-focused. This would allow you to pick up modules more closely related to programming, which you appear more interested in.

You should learn in your own style, with the courses assisting you on the way, so you can pass the courseworks and/or exams successfully. A large portion of university is figuring out what method of learning works best for you, and applying this to the topics being taught.

For a bachelor degree, the thesis is not the most important part of the degree. You do still want to pass your thesis, but since you'll get to pick your thesis yourself, why don't you pick a project you can do in PHP and NodeJS?

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I live and work in the UK so this might vary to your location. However I was a university physics student who dropped out part way through year two. Prior to that I have GCSE's and A-Levels none of which are relevant to programming. However I am now over half way through a programming apprenticeship that started a couple of months after I dropped out of university.

I would suggest if you do not want to do your degree do not do it. Be prepared for the typical question:

Why did you leave university?

Where my response is usually, the truth:

It wasn't the right fit for me and I found I was not learning as much in the environment.

After all, all you need is the correct job for yourself, when I found this one, although an apprenticeship so not a concrete job, it fitted me personally.

My advice is to do what you want to do, keep active in what you are passionate in and do not do something for the sake of it.

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    As an example (of my answer), I would be far more likely to hire @TheLethalCoder, based on his response, then a person that had completed a CS degree. The apprenticeship is of more value to me then any degree. – coteyr May 3 '16 at 18:29

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