As it stands right now my family cannot afford to put me through college. I let my grades get very low after getting in a slump after three of my family members abruptly died and I got lazy and undetermined to try in school for a while. My grades aren't anywhere near good enough to get in a college. I don't want to start my adult life six feet in student loans. I have been programming since I was 12, mainly in C++ since I was 14.

I'm 17 now and I've messed around with all kinds of projects from OpenGL audio visualizer software, Unity game development, cryptography specifically RSA and AES, game modding like DLL injection, Web development (I made my older brothers electronics website for him which has since gone out of business, not because my work hopefully :D), Raw socket programming in Linux to make a TTL-expiry tool, and various other small, non professional projects.

From what I understand contributing to open source projects looks good on a resume as well as internships. What I would like to know, preferably from those that do hiring and firing, is what things it would take for you to consider hiring a kid out of high school over someone with a CS degree?

What would I have to do to really set myself apart and get a job in software engineering / programming straight out of high school with no degree?

I don't want to sound like I over estimate my abilities as a programmer. I know I am nowhere near on par with those that develop software professionally. And I realize this question may seem naive, unrealistic and too optimistic. Please be as blunt as possible. I need it.


The following text was taken from a deleted answer posted by the supposed OP

Due to very strict time constraints requiring me to be financially stable within the next few years I cannot afford to finally get my degree 5 and a half years down the line after my Junior and Senior year of high school THEN 4 years of college. I completely understand nobody will get it. I understand no one can think of a single reason I would need to do this and I sound completely irrational and like a dumb kid. I have something very important to me that is going to be out of reach by the time almost 6 years passes by. Time is crucial in my situation and believe me when I say it is the world to me that I can get on my own and financially stable as soon as possible. I know this sounds esoteric and weird and it is. But thank you for your answers! I'm sorry I can't accept an answer since I was a guest when I posted this.

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    What do YOU think you should do? Right now, you're setting yourself apart as one who started programming at 13 and never went to uni. The burden is on YOU to tell me why I should give you a second look when I have so many talented types who went to uni to choose from. And if there is one thing I am sure about those who went to uni, I don't have to worry too much about their communications skills being subpar. If you have nothing to show, you get nothing. Jan 8, 2017 at 0:58
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    This is going to be relevant to you - workplace.stackexchange.com/q/7338/2322
    – enderland
    Jan 8, 2017 at 2:08
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    There are individuals who make a living from publishing games for smartphones. That is one way to make a living where I don't think anybody will check whether you have a degree. However skills and luck does matter. Posting this as a comment rather than an answer because I simply do not have enough information to judge whether this is a viable strategy for you.
    – kasperd
    Jan 8, 2017 at 12:00
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    Where do you live? How is the market for programmers?
    – Erik
    Jan 8, 2017 at 12:31
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    Seems like if you're a good enough programmer to (think you'll) get a job straight out of high school, you should be able to find a scholarship that will help you manage tuition and living costs. The truth is you simply won't be able to even get your foot in the door compared to college graduates. Do what you can to get better grades to get into a college program, and use your youthful energy to find scholarships and grants.
    – user70848
    Jan 9, 2017 at 0:43

3 Answers 3


Get a Degree

I know it is not the solution you might want to hear, but it is the reality. Most programming degrees are paid very well and considered "prestigious" in the eyes of management since they get high pay, perks, and are salary even though they are not managers or what not...so they want to make sure you are qualified to receive those benefits (i.e. you paid your dues)

A degree can ONLY help you, it cannot hurt you when looking for a job. It shows that you invested in yourself, started and finished something, had focus on a goal and achieved it, and more. Even if you have to show that you are pursuing one; that is always better than not at all.

I would recommend that you focus on I.T. or business as those will develop your skills further and actually refine them for business purposes. Knowing how to build a game is fun and nice, but it is not very useful or practical for many businesses and their I.T. needs. Having some knowledge of how businesses work will be tremendously helpful and insightful if you get a programming job. You will expand your knowledge of many programming languages and refine certain aspects of them.

For the financial aspect of college I would recommend trying some of these ways:

  1. Student Loans: While these are not always recommended, they are not all doom and gloom, especially if you pick a useful major
  2. FAFSA: I am not sure if you live in the US, but in the US there is something call FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is a program to give students who do not make an adequate amount of money (including household family) some federal pell grants for college tuition. Strongly recommend this
  3. Community College: Ignore people saying they are not real colleges or look bad on a resume. In fact, it is often a wise strategy for financial reasons (ie tuition savings) to use a community college for the beginning part of a degree (i.e. first 1-2 years or Associate's Degree)
  4. Work: Get a part-time job on campus or near campus to help pay for the job. You can build your resume with this and minimize any college debt.

Honestly, the best thing is to get a degree because it allows you to fall back on something in case something goes wrong.

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    Starting with community college is especially good advice for the OP's situation. Letting things slide in high school will probably call for some remedial courses before getting into serious college work. Community colleges are often prepared to assess what courses are needed and provide them. Jan 8, 2017 at 7:29
  • The idea that "he only has experience developing games so he won't be able to do business apps" is not how an IT professional will think when evaluating a candidate's skills. There is a lot of basic skills which you are going to need for good software development regardless of which field your software is targeting. And if you excel at all of the basic skills you can learn the domain specific skills as you go.
    – kasperd
    Jan 8, 2017 at 12:09
  • As someone has worked on both games and business apps, I'd give preference to someone who has worked on games. They tend to be way more complicated to build than business software.
    – Erik
    Jan 8, 2017 at 12:33
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    Community college is a good start. I met a woman who worked her way through community college, transferred to a four-year program, then went to the University of Washington and ended up with a Ph.D. Jan 8, 2017 at 22:08
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    anybody who claims that you can pay even an appreciable percentage of a college education from a part-time on-campus job has clearly not been in college for a long, long time (or makes me question their math literacy). We are not living in the 1950s. Jan 9, 2017 at 17:09

I personally work in the industry without a degree, so it's possible to do so. (Come to think of it, my dad got into the industry as a tester about 25 years ago without a college degree of any kind so this is nothing new.) It's probably less possible if you're 18 than if you're 38, but either way it's going to be hard, and you're going to need to be at least a little bit lucky. However, software development is absolutely not teaching high school or fixing peoples' teeth. You do not have to have a degree in the subject, you just have to prove that you can do the job. Proving that you can do the job is going to be really, really hard.

Some of the tips I have:

  • Boot Camp: I was lucky enough that my first job in IT included a kind of boot camp up front (I still needed to pass a round of coding tests but this gave me skills in a very specific vertical that really helped me get my career off the ground). There are a lot of bad ones out there and it can be really expensive, but I also know that this kind of thing works for people.

  • Community College courses: My local community college had an accelerated program to learn development and have a project under your belt within about a year if you were willing to take a lot of courses. Your mileage may vary on those places, although if you live in a tech-heavy city there are bound to be a couple of places like this. This won't necessarily be cheap either but it's still a whole hell of a lot less expensive than a 4 year school.

  • Volunteer: There are lots of places out there who need some small level of development but might not be able to pay for it. Check here, for example. You're not, of course, going to be making any money off of this but that's not the point. The point is to build up your portfolio and your resume so that in a couple years time you're not knocking on peoples' doors as an 18 year old kid with no experience, you're doing so as a 20 year old with a list of projects you can show off.

  • Expect to be taken advantage of.: I'm not going to mince my words here: it is possible that you could find someone willing to employ you as an entry level 18 year old. These places are not likely to be terribly reputable and you're going to wind up getting grossly underpaid in all probability, but like with the volunteer stuff the point here is to get your proverbial foot in the door and build your resume and portfolio.

  • Get a degree in something else. If your particular hang-up isn't so much going to school as it is going to school for CS (and I would not blame you if it was; depending on the college some CS degrees are notorious for the amount of theory that is taught at the expense of real-world skills), by all means feel free to get a degree in something else. In fact, knowing how to write code but having a background in something decidedly non-codey can really open up your options.

  • Why don't you want to go to college? Most people who do go into the industry do have a degree in CS (and I think you'll find that the vast majority of people who pursue CS degrees are like you in that they've been writing code for years already). I'm not at all saying that you have to bite the bullet, and I know how hard this is to do when you're 18, but it might help to have a few honest moments with yourself and assess why it is you really don't want to go to school. Is it finances? As has been noted, there are things you can do about that. Did you get bad grades in high school? I can tell you from personal experience that if you get a 2 year degree first, most colleges won't even care what you did in high school. Do you have a learning disability like dyslexia or ADHD? You would be surprised at how accommodating schools try to be with that kind of thing (and speaking of which, you might be doubly surprised how many programmers have steady jobs in spite of those conditions) if you only reach out beforehand.

So yeah... as long as you realize that you're taking the road less traveled and are therefore making things a lot harder than they necessarily need to be, yes, absolutely, you can work in programming without a degree.

  • But do you have a college degree at all?
    – user70848
    Jan 9, 2017 at 0:39
  • Yes, but since I got into software development I have literally been asked about said degree once in an interview situation and then it was "wow, how does a person with a degree in English wind up working in IT?". The answer to a trivia question, not necessarily a pathway to work. Jan 9, 2017 at 2:06

what things it would take for you to consider hiring a kid out of high school over someone with a CS degree?

Sorry, but I want to be honest here.

For an entry level job, there are no cases I can think of where I would take a kid out of high school over a degreed college graduate.

There are simply too many risks, and no need to take the chance. At least in my part of the US, there are always plenty of applications with degrees.

Additionally, if your High School grades haven't been good, that's likely to count against you.

Consider taking some other job and trying to get a degree through night classes in a Community College while you work.

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