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I'm curious to know if there is any cons of not having a degree if you are already in the IT industry.

If you have lets say three four years working in IT as a Systems Admin, Programmer, or a Software Developer, as examples.

Does not having a degree hinder your career development even if you're already working in your desired industry?

I've heard stories of people being told that if they had a degree they would have been promoted months ago or that they would have been able to "write their own term" in regards to contracts/wages, the validity of them is questionable but it made me curious as to whether or not people with degrees get preferential treatment over others who have industry experience.

Would it make sense for someone who has been working in IT for three years to go for a degree, or would they be better or working towards industry experience?

  • A degree is, at the very least, considered equivalent to some number of years of experience. And there is material you will get while studying for a (credible) degree which it hard to pick up on your own -- optimizing compiler theory, for example. Four years of working as a sysop equips you for a job as a sysop, not as a programmer/developer, at least at any serious level – keshlam Jun 10 '16 at 21:22
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    At my company you can get an IT position without a degree, but they will not promote you to the highest IT positions or any software engineering position without one. – Anketam Jun 10 '16 at 21:26
  • I think it's also probably worth distinguishing between having no degree at all and having an unrelated degree; it seems like these are different stories. – Casey Jun 11 '16 at 4:08
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    This site may have the worst reasons to close questions in the SE world. I voted to reopen. If this is closed as opinion based so should 80% of the questions on the site. – blankip Jun 11 '16 at 17:14
  • @blankip I've had to re-phrase this question twice and both times it has been closed, I really thought here would be the best place to post it. – RyanIG Jun 12 '16 at 17:29
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Some employeers will not consider applicants without a degree, regardless of how much experience they have. It's short-sighted in my opinion, but it does happen.

  • I've heard of that happening before, which I find crazy, I understand the benefits of having a degree but I have always thought that actual industry experience would be better. – RyanIG Jun 12 '16 at 17:31
  • For a software developer a degree is mandatory. At least you can hope they learned some design patterns and best practices and remember to use them if they have a degree. There are basics that are fundamentally important for good design and maintainability, especially if you work in a team that do know all those things. – drake7707 Jun 15 '16 at 17:14
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YES. It matters a lot everywhere. At the very least it is something to knock you when you and another candidate are vying for the same job/position/promotion.

In the harshest circumstances some companies might not even look at you for any sort of management position without a degree (mine fits the bill here), really no matter what your experience and qualifications were. I have also seen it used to squash employee pay raises.

Should it matter as much. Probably not. The results you produced at a company should matter more than what you got in Philosophy 101. And you might be in a better circumstance with no degree when you have been at a company for 3+ years. However hitting the open market, not having a degree will cost you money, and in the workplace $$$ = matters.

From an employers point of view people with degrees can usually manage people better, articulate better, and run a team better but these are just wide broad averages, not indicative of you or Tom or Jane or Susie. But as a hiring manager at a big company or an HR rep... well they don't want to be accountable for hiring the wrong candidates, so they will hedge with the safer option almost all the time. No degree is a huge risk to most companies as is no experience.

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More or less it could harms you in the future but not so much. Experience really counts (at least until the 40 years) (*).

Certification is a big plus if you think that you don't want to take a degree. A smart one could obtain 4-6 certifications per year and it gives you a really boost in comparison with the rest of candidates. However, certifications aren't forever, some of them last 2-4 years.

Also, you can take a degree after your work. In fact, some Universities gives you a degree with only a few hours per week. I hear some universities gives a title for a sum.

(*) If you are willing to obtain a degree, then pick a business school. Why?, remember the limit of 40 years.

ps: To study in the University is a waste of time and money. I learned way more in my first job than in +6 years of study (i am a MSc Software Engineer). I wish i would have spend my time doing new entrepreneurs and projects rather to spend time and money in useless courses. Also, i know "how to think", i learned it when kid. So if you want to study, then do it for the diploma, nothing more.

  • That's my worry, that 10 years from now it bites me in the back, I've gotten my CCNA with Cisco but that expires every two years, I have been learning everything I can since I was a child, and learned more in my first 2 months of working in industry than I did while in College, dropped out of s Computer Science degree to start working in IT. I've currently been working in IT for three years and i'm now weighing up whether or not I should go back to college to get a degree in order to protect myself in the future. – RyanIG Jun 12 '16 at 17:36
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The difference between experience and a degree is the expectation of ability that is associated with it.

  • When you say you have experience: You generally have examples and stories to back it up to prove it's worth. However, determining exactly what you know and what skill-set you have can be difficult if it's based purely on experience without investing time into testing the candidate.

  • When you say you have a degree: You're saying that some institution will vouch for the fact that you have a set of knowledge or skills that have been proven in a controlled setting that meet a certain criteria. This typically includes a formal setting of education taught by someone who is expected to understand the topic extensively. There is an expectation of the candidate to have a certain level of understanding based upon the degree, which also tends to include supporting courses and a general education.

A degree gives a better idea of what to expect from a candidate, simply because it's more standardized. If provides a safer bet to an employee if they have certain expectations that must be met to even consider a candidate.

Granted, after a certain point, that degree may not matter anymore. Once you've had 15 years in the industry, your past projects and connections are going to be more important than your bachelors. Or perhaps you get a masters after 10 years and use it to open more doors.

It may hinder you slightly to not have a degree. If you have enough experience, projects, and connections to prove your ability, it likely won't pose a problem. Alternatively, you may seek certification depending on the industry. Although it can be useful, formal education is not a necessity for career development.

More specifically towards IT, I've found it's less important to have a degree when you can show projects you have already created. It's easy to show application of programming experience in comparison to some other skills. To become a lead programmer may require more formal education though, since a rounded skill-set becomes more necessary and desired.

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I think it helps. There's a lot of fundamentals you learn in school that might not be learned in the workplace, as well as some new technologies. Also, employers who see you have experience AND a degree are more likely to take you seriously than someone who just has the experience (for one reason or another). Furthermore, if you went to school for, say, a business degree with a Computer Information Systems concentration, you may have broader prospects in terms of promotion, as you would have a stronger background in basic business processes and management. It's definitely not the case for everyone, but if you're looking to advance more rapidly, it's a pretty common way to do so.

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A degree is a job requirement in many job postings. The best chance of it not mattering too much is if you stay with the same company because your experience is known and proven with them if you rely on experience alone. And I have seen many IT professionals rise through the ranks to top positions like this. It was very common in my time and still is in many places, precisely because a degree is not available in many localities.

Experience is great and it's what I prefer, but it needs to be proven, quantifiable experience, ten years experience of breaking deadlines and making excuses is not a good thing and that's all that many people have. 10 years looks great on paper, but I'd rather know about the solid results etc,.

Certification is the best avenue in my opinion. Once in the workforce it's not easy or cheap to pursue a degree, but certifications can be achieved a lot easier, have more relevance (my opinion) and are acceptable almost anywhere in lieu of a University degree.

Certification is the route I took, I went to university as an adult, but I studied a totally unrelated subject, yet I'm an IT professional these days with a lot of certifications and experience, and wouldn't have any trouble getting a job if I wanted one.

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    In my experience certification is much more highly regarded for system admin types of positions than developer ones. – Casey Jun 11 '16 at 4:11
  • I agree, certification is more relevant – Kilisi Jun 11 '16 at 10:21
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For IT/system administration it matters less. In that area certifications are generally sufficient.

For anyone writing software formal training makes a big difference in the kind of code you will be capable of writing and your knowledge and that is reflected in hiring practices. Degrees are not just pieces of paper. I spent years in school studying week after week, month after month, complicated computer science theory, doing problem sets and writing complex theses and papers under the direction of professors who were leading experts in their field. You cannot just watch a few YouTube videos and get the same knowledge. Degrees represent serious levels of theoretical knowledge and preparation that represent years of effort and study.

If you want to advance in computer science and do higher level work, formal education is extremely important.

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    You don't have to get a degree to learn CS. It serves as proof you have gone through a course with that goal, to be sure, but the material is available to anyone. – Casey Jun 11 '16 at 4:10
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Not being able to communicate with others at "a university level" will definitely limit your career development in the computer fields and most others. Acquiring knowledge and skill is important of course, but of equal importance to your credibility is your ability to communicate - both verbally and with writing - about complex ideas.

This is a skill set that is usually acquired in university coursework, pursuing just about any degree. So a degree is supposed to provide some guarantee of being able to express yourself about a technical subject and, more generally, of being able to communicate with others at a certain level of sophistication. It might be nice if the working world were not stratified in this way, but it definitely is, so if you choose not to pursue university study you will need to find other ways to develop these important personal skills.

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It really varies. Sometimes the value varies. In fact, what is most valuable is a detail that can vary. So there's no single universal answer that is right for all cases. (In some cases, one answer is right. In other cases, that same answer is wrong and a different answer is right instead.) I will explain why I reach this conclusion.

  • Some people are more impressed with degrees from formal college programs, including being able to handle a variety of tasks like computers, language, and Math. It can show the ability to complete college, which may represent modern challenges similar to what has been traditionally valued. It may also indicate well-roundedness, and endurance with less liked subjects.
  • Some people are more impressed with certifications, which show specific skillsets from certain industries. This may show an ability to focus and accomplish, including some hands-on skills (depending on the certification).
  • Some people are more impressed with stories of hands-on experience. Such skills may indicate having a stronger sense of the "big picture" of how businesses operate.

So, if you're trying to get a job, which of these approaches works out best for you?

The correct answer is: whatever impresses the person that you're trying to get the job from. Unfortunately, there are different opinions, and in most cases you may not have a very good idea of how much a person values each of these different approaches... until you get to know the person. However, until you get to work alongside them, you may not have much opportunity to get to know their individual attitudes.

Once you're hired, promotions might be made by different staff, who may have their own different values on which qualities they care about most.

Getting a degree is generally a great thing, because degrees tend not to expire. In most employers' minds, they aren't a negative thing. The "standard" amount of education has risen: centuries ago, a 6th grade education may have been considered decent. In the 1980s to early 1990s, a high school education was a good standard for many people. Nowadays, an Associates Degree is preferred for many relatively simple positions, and even a Bachelor's Degree doesn't count as much as it used to. So this indicates a trend that the value of a particular degree may be less impressive to society over time. Still, having a bachelor's degree is more valuable than not having any college, so getting a degree is nice so you don't need to obtain that same degree later.

As for certifications, this is industry-specific. Referring to the IT industry, I can say that some of them expire, so they are worth a whole lot less after they expire. Still, learning the required material can be quite useful. If you're going to get a degree, many college programs teach the material for these certifications anyway, which may be a benefit to going to college instead of avoiding college. (That way you also make progress on getting the college degree.)

As for hands-on experience, your best bet is if you work with numbers, so you can then tell people later about how you raised revenue by 15% or whatever specific details you can do. If you don't get to see the numbers because you're not part of management, then a lot of people will just pay attention to your lump sum detailing how many years you've worked. Stories may be very valuable, or not, depending on your audience.

I hope this overview explains why there isn't a correct clear-cut answer that is correct in all cases. As a generalization (recap), the more good things you have going in your favor, the better. It is better to have degrees than to not have them. It is better to have formal certifications than to not have them. How much an individual degree or certification is worth will vary among different audiences you may contact.

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