I studied computer science with a fellow student I will call Joe. Joe did the first year of college and then dropped out and got a job as a developer. I studied four years, then took an extra six months to do some advanced courses, then got a job at the same company. Now Joe has 1 year of education and 6 years of job experience. I have 4.5 years of education and 2.5 years of job experience.

Joe is far more senior than me, and since he we are buddies, he disclosed to me that he makes $17,000 more than me. I'm currently looking for new work and I have noticed that interviewers don't care about my education, they just want to know about my job experience.

I'm not sure how to compare my skills to Joe's. I often find myself surprised that he doesn't understand concepts I would consider basic (when he saw I had written a recursive method, he thought it was a mistake because he wasn't even familiar with the concept). On the other hand, I often go to him for help when it comes to practical stuff like deployment and writing build scripts.

I have two friends who are currently studying computer science and I'm wondering if I should advise them to do the same as Joe. There is a gender element here, because I understand that men drop out more often than women and also have higher salaries, so I wonder if women should be advised to drop out too.

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    If your two female friends studying Computer Science didn't ask for advice, do not give it to them. Also, your assumption about drop out rates seems to be incorrect. "Outside of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics curricula, women are more likely to complete a degree than men are." typesofengineeringdegrees.org/engineering-school-dropout-rates Also, I do not think that you can extrapolate too much from just two data points (yours and Joe's). – Stephan Branczyk Jun 4 '16 at 7:53
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    A lot of jobs require a degree. I bet Microsoft, Google, and Oracle have very few programmers without degrees. – paparazzo Jun 4 '16 at 8:26
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    How many people get a chance to work at Microsoft, Google, and Oracle? – Jack Jun 4 '16 at 9:50
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    Joe doesn't know about recursion? I think you have the better situation. – Brandin Jun 4 '16 at 11:35
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    @Jack Enough. If you want to limit yourself from top tier companies that is on you. – paparazzo Jun 4 '16 at 14:58

That is the exact opposite of what I have found for those low level, early career positions. The companies I have worked with require a bachelors degree for many positions. The lack of that 4 year degree limits what positions that can be offered. The main reason for this is that that their customers demand that requirement.

For the next level of positions I typically will see requirements such as bachelors plus 6 years experience, or master plus two years experience.

While it appears that you went to work for a company that doesn't value education as much as experience specifically when you look at the $17,000 a year difference; You may find that the gap is closing. That lack of bachelors may permanently limit their salary growth potential as long as they stay in a technical field. Your friend may also find that other companies may not value their years of experience the same way the current employer does.

I'm currently looking for new work and I have noticed that interviewers don't care about my education, they just want to know about my job experience.

When interviewing candidates the longer they are removed from school the fewer questions I ask about school. It doesn't mean it wasn't a requirement, it just means there are not a lot of questions I will ask about it. The education requirement filter was already applied before scheduling candidates for interviews.

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You compared one person who dropped out of university and started a job, and one person staying at university. The decision to drop out of university or to stay is not the only thing that influenced your careers. Much of it comes from the people involved.

You may have a person dropping out of university because they are not good enough, and not getting anywhere outside university, because they are still not good enough. And you may have another person dropping out of university because they believe they can move forward quicker in a job, and they get a job and move forward quickly.

In a software development job, very often what is important is what you can do, not what qualifications you have on paper. Sure, a 20 year old dropped out of university will find it harder to get a job than a 24 year old with a fresh degree, but that 20 year old has four years time to move past where the 24 year old would enter the job market. It will be different in other professions.

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Whether or not to drop out depends entirely on your individual circumstances and preferences - and your friends will need to examine these first.

  • Taking risks is a better strategy for some than for others. If Joe is self-assured, and flexible and copes well with change or uncertainty, then for him the employment option is more likely to succeed.
  • Some people thrive better in an academic environment than others; for some a work environment is a better place to learn. Perhaps Joe was very unhappy in university or struggling with aspects of it, or maybe he just enjoys work more.
  • A lot depends on the financial and economic situation. If your education is subsidised or financed with low-interest, long-term, or income-dependent loans, and the entry-level jobs market is slow, then this might not be an issue. But there's a skills shortage and you're forgoing decent pay, and if every year at university is costing you heavily, leaving with an offer in hand might be worth it.
  • Interviewers don't care so much about education because you've already been graded on that and they're trying to assess your ability to do the job they are filling, but recruitment filters (HR, robots) might (because they just have your CV, don't really know the job, and have nothing better to go on). You might get interviews that Joe doesn't, thus more chances and maybe more choices. You don't know what interviews you would have been screened out of if you didn't have a degree.
  • Even if interviewers don't care what you did in your degree, some interview questions might be easy for you and hard or impossible for Joe. (Write a recursive function to do X).
  • Consider your long-term earnings profile. In ten years' time you'll have 12.5 years under your belt and he'll have 16 - and you'll have a degree. Joe might be earning more now but you might overtake him once your experience is comparable.
  • If either of you want to change career paths, Joe has only one 'string to his bow' - his experience in a career path he's leaving. Your degree might be worth more in a different field than his experience.
  • In some fields, qualifications are a hard requirement. In a few, you might be expected to take additional qualifications - and Joe might be expected to complete his degree at that point.

Most of the advantages to dropping out are going to apply to people who decline their university offers in favour of a job offer, and they don't have the disadvantage of having paid fees (although they may have more insight in to their own abilities and preferences). Anyone considering dropping out should wonder "If I didn't decide to forego a qualification then, why should I right now?"

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    There are "diploma mills" where you basically pay for a diploma or a degree that has no value whatsoever. I'm told that in some positions these are used when a person is perfectly suitable for a promotion to the next level except for a missing degree or diploma that in reality nobody cares about. – gnasher729 Jun 4 '16 at 11:44
  • This is exactly the point: In ten years' time you'll have 12.5 years under your belt and he'll have 16 - and you'll have a degree. You might be discouraged now, but on the long term not only you'll find you have basically the same level of experience as him, but your college degree will also pay out concerning salary raises and promotions. – Ouroboros Jun 4 '16 at 17:58
  • Actually, in the last twenty years nobody has bothered asking me about anything that has to do with my university. – gnasher729 Jun 4 '16 at 19:17

There is the advantage you mention, that time on the job can, under the right circumstances, lead to a better position and better pay, but there are disadvantages to dropping out too:

Disadvantages of dropping out to take a job (incomplete list):

  • If the company that hires you fires you soon after, you have nothing.
  • If the company that hires you doesn't promote you or give you raises, your salary 6 years down the road will be lower than that of someone who finished their degree.
  • If the company that hires you goes bust, you are in trouble.
  • If your manager dislikes you enough to give you bad references, you will have difficulties finding another job.
  • If you later apply for a different job that explicitly asks for a university degree, you may have difficulties getting that job.

Advantages of dropping out to take a job (incomplete list):

  • If you perform very well, or get very lucky with the company that hires you, you can get massive raises and promotions very quickly.
  • Starting salaries fluctuate, so if you get hired at the right moment, your starting salary may be as high as that of a graduate who gets hired 5 years later.

Salaries and positions are not tied to what school you attended for how long, that idea would be closer to communism than to capitalism. Salaries and positions are tied to what the company is willing to give and what the employee is willing to take - and vice versa.

On to the question what you should advise your friends to do: Since you need to ask strangers on the internet for advice only to relay that advice to your friends, be a good friend and don't advise them at all. Nobody here can know what's best for their specific set of circumstances, so pressuring them into doing one over the other is not going to help anyone.

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There are two types of skills that you need for any kind of job.

The skills you should know already (pre-requirements); and the skills you gain when you actually start doing the work (experience based skills or knowledge).

Education makes it so that you are quick to pick up and retain the second part; and then apply it further in another situation. Part of education is learning how to learn. That is, to gain the skills and knowledge to acquire new skills; and part of that is knowing the basics - that is (in computer science) knowing what a stack is, what is recursion, what are loops, what is a "memory leak" and so on.

These things that sound purely theoretical when you are learning them are there to provide you the basics so when you go out into the Real World, you are quickly able to understand and master an existing process or system.

As a dropout, you immediately lose out on:

  1. Job opportunities. It is a lot harder (not difficult or impossible) to get an interview if you don't have the educational requirements even if those requirements are not commensurate with the job position.

  2. Career Advancement - many job positions (however incorrect or backwards it may be) require a certain level of formal education - even if the person is otherwise qualified - just to be employed at that position. For example, you may be an ace programmer and have progressed to team leader or even department head; but now you want to get into project management and you find out that part of the requirements to obtain a project management certificate is a 4 year degree.

There are some other issues where a formal education comes in handy - for example, if you are trying to immigrate based on your work, a formal secondary / higher education is a requirement for many countries.

Although the trend is slowly shifting - for the majority of work available, it is still the norm to have a college education. Many organizations provide incentives - some even pay for staff to complete/finalize their education.

I would definitely avoid advising against dropping out.

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