In IT, College Degrees Take Backseat to Skills, Experience

Aug 29, 2014
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Glassodoor Q2 employee surveyBy a surprisingly large percentage, CIOs put more emphasis on skills and experience than on tech degrees from prestigious universities.

A Robert Half Technology survey of some 2,400 chief information officers at companies with more than 100 employees found 71 percent place “more weight on skills and experience than on whether or not a candidate attended college/university.” Another 12 percent said university prestige didn’t matter at all.

Now, that’s not to say most tech executives complete ignore degrees — 17 percent say they put at least some weight on a candidate’s education. But what the majority look for first are candidates who can get the job done.

That tracks with what employees across all industries and occupations are sensing. A Glassdoor survey in June found 63 percent believe learning new skills or getting special training is what’s important. In addition, 74 percent agreed with the statement that, “Employers value work experience more than education.” And eight out of 10 said they have never been asked about their college GPA.

No less a tech powerhouse than Google long ago discovered that academic credentials aren’t as valuable as coding skills and learning ability in hiring for tech jobs. In an interview with The New York Times, Laszlo Bock, senior VP of people operations at Google, famously declared, “GPA’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless … the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time.”

Writing in Informit, professor and software author Matt Weisfeld discussed his own informal poll of a few business leaders about what they look for when hiring programmers. One of the two larger employers (more than 1,000 workers) told him they still value a four-year or better computer science degree. The other large employer, as well as the two other business leaders he spoke with, told him skills and experience are more valuable to them than a degree.

When it comes to degrees and certifications, Weisfeld concluded: “It’s mostly what you can demonstrate that you know. Degrees may be required for organizational purposes at some companies but it is mostly about experience.”

No wonder then that with demand for programmers rising, and employers putting less emphasis on the educational background of their hires, coding schools have been erupting nationwide.

Twelve-week intensive programming schools — bootcamps, as it were — are turning out coders with skills good enough that companies like Facebook, Salesforce, and others are snapping them up. Despite the 12-hour days most of these hack schools — another name for the intensive programming academies — demand, their graduates won’t replace the demand for senior engineers whose experience allows them to command six-figure salaries. But even the lower-level jobs pay in the $50,000 to $70,000 range, says Fast Company, which scoffed at the notion that someone with no coding experience can complete a hack school program and walk into a high-paying programming job.

Nevertheless, as the CIO survey suggests, employers desperate for programming talent, are more than willing to ignore a lack of academic credentials for candidates who have the technical coding chops.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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