Conventional wisdom says that if you want to be a success, you need a degree in whatever field you want to work in. No degree, no chance. While that is true for some fields (for example, please do not try to be a nurse if you have not gone to college!), it is just not the case in tech!
In fact, computer science degrees are kind of a dime a dozen in the tech world. So many people have them that they no longer stand out. In fact, employers are often looking specifically for the people who can show they have tech skills but did not major in computer science or another tech-related field.
I am a great example of that. I dropped out of college, taught myself tech skills and have experience that includes everything from being an insurance agent to filmmaking! I worked my way into tech positions on the job, and I have never even been asked about a degree (in fact, I do not think anyone has ever even asked me if I graduated from high school, let alone college; and I have one friend who’s lead design teams at some top tech companies who did not graduate from high school).
The point is, not having a degree in computer science will not hurt you when applying for 99 percent of tech jobs out there. Sure, some of the more conservative companies out there still like to see a degree on your resume, but even those will often hire without a degree if you can show them a stellar portfolio.
Breadth of Experience Brings More to the Table
Companies are finding that creative problem solvers often come from areas outside of computer science. People with liberal arts degrees bring a different set of skills to the table.
Specific tech skills are relatively easy to learn, but the knowledge you get with a degree in art history or English or economics is not something that you can replicate in a 3-month bootcamp.
And if you do not have a liberal arts degree, do not worry. Showing that you have diverse or unique passions, experience and background can do just as much. In fact, even the biggest tech companies out there value skills outside of the arena of tech. According to an article from FastCompany, Steve Jobs famously said, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It is technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” That is right: even tech giants like Apple value the arts and humanities just as much as tech skills.
It is because a liberal arts education, or a diverse background of real-world experience, lets you approach problems from unique angles. And most jobs in tech are at least partially focused on solving problems. Developers, designers, analysts and even marketers all work to solve problems for their users. And while tech skills can help in that arena, if everyone approaching a problem has the same background, they are all going to come up with similar ideas for solving those problems.
Tech Gets Old Fast
No, I do not mean like you will get sick of it fast!
I mean that what you learn in year one of a computer science degree will be at least partially outdated by year 2, and might be completely obsolete by the time you graduate! That means that even with a CS degree, you cannot just say, “Well, got my degree, guess I am done.”
Staying up to date on new web standards, modern best practices, the latest frameworks and user experience improvements, and other changes in tech means you are constantly learning. You do not need a 4-year education to get started!
Instead, you can learn the basics in just a few months, and start working in tech right away. You will learn the practical skills you actually need as you go (there is no shame in Googling how to do the things you do not know how to do; trust me, everyone from “newbs” to seasoned pros do this sometimes), rather than learning a bunch of theoretical stuff you may not remember by the time you graduate.
Related to that is the fact that things like coding, and to some extent even design, are becoming more automated all the time. Learning to use modern web development tools does not require a computer science degree, because it is not that complicated.
Sure, knowing how to dive into code and figure out how to do things from scratch is valuable, and will make your life a whole lot easier in the long run. But you can also build a successful career in tech using frameworks, platforms, libraries and other tools that do much of the heavy lifting for you.
But … What if I Already Have a CS Degree?
All of the above aside, a computer science degree is not likely to hurt your chances at an amazing tech career. The thing to remember is that a computer science degree on its own does not guarantee that you will land your dream job or have a successful career.
The best employers expect more from their developers and designers now. They want employees who can approach a problem from a unique angle, one that has not been done by every other tech company out there. That is where a diverse background and skill set both become super valuable.
So let’s say that on your resume you are listing your computer science degree. Great. But at the same time, list any other degrees, workshops, seminars or any other education credentials you might have, even if you think they are unrelated.
The same goes for jobs. No, you do not need to list every menial, unrelated job you have ever had. But showing that you have worked outside of tech, and can bring those outside skills to the table, is going to make you stand out from the 700 other resumes that list tech work and nothing else.
Do Employers Really Want Bootcamp Grads?
Absolutely! Even President Obama has recognized the value that comes from tech bootcamps, and how they are becoming a huge contributing factor to the economy. As he said in a speech last year, “It turns out it does not matter where you learned code, it just matters how good you are at writing code.” He’s even called coding bootcamps and tech jobs a “ticket into the middle class.”
Part of that stems from the fact that a 4-year degree takes, well, 4 years to complete. Even the super smarty-pants overachievers are not going to finish a 4-year degree in a few months. And that is if you can study full-time, which, let’s face it, not everyone can do.
That means that once you are out of college in your early 20s, going back to school later on might not even be an option for you. You have to look at alternatives for learning the skills you need to go after your dream career.
But as President Obama said, the truth is that employers do not care where you learned to code, whether it was through a formal class, a bootcamp or by teaching yourself. What they care about is that you can demonstrate your ability to code (or design, etc.). That means if you want to teach yourself to code or learn via a bootcamp, those are absolutely valid ways to get into tech!
The bottom line is that a computer science degree is not the ticket to be successful as a designer or developer (or marketer, data analyst or any of the myriad other tech careers out there). Strong skills in your chosen field are, and there are tons of ways you can get those skills that do not require years of your life or tens of thousands of your dollars.
Which brings me to my final point about why not going back to college for a computer science degree has some major perks: no more student loans. Even the most expensive bootcamps out there typically cost less than a year at the average private university (and Skillcrush Blueprints will set you back less than a single college credit). Talk about a major advantage!
Image credit: CC by James