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September 13th, 2016 at 10:21 am

Six reasons you don’t need a college degree to excel in tech

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The tech industry is rapidly changing, but one thing has stayed the same: there’s a lot of demand for workers. Many people rule out the idea, though, feeling like they need a relevant degree to break into tech. However, that’s not even remotely true.

Here are six reasons why you don’t need a computer science or technology-based degree to get ahead in tech.

1. Computer science is a newer field, with less academic establishment. 

“In most colleges, a computer science degree does not give you the programming skills companies want. Many of the top programmers are self-trained or learned closely with a mentor. It’s a relatively young field and many have grown up with the technology. Academia has tried to insert degrees into the system but dedicates most of the class time to theory, not practical hands-on skills that companies want,” says Thomas Frey, founder of DaVinci Coders.

While Frey study programming in an academic setting himself, his experience launching a coding bootcamp has solidified his conviction that a traditional college path isn’t the only one that can lead to a flourishing tech career.

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2. Most college programs hardly cover practical skills.

Often, college classes spend more time on theory than practice, which doesn’t translate seamlessly to the workforce. “Developers occasionally use the math and theory that you’d learn as a computer science major. But they use coding skills — and software engineering principles — all the time. Most college programs barely cover these more practical skills. So most developers end up learning them on-the-job, or by contributing to open source projects,” says Quincy Larson, creator of Free Code Camp. Larson has a liberal arts degree, but learned computer science skills on his own.

Saron Yitbarek, founder of CodeNewbie and a double major in English and Psychology, has interviewed over a hundred developers now for her podcast, and concurs with Larson’s assessment. “I’ve been told time and time again that technical degrees teach important theory and provide a solid foundation in computer science topics, but when it comes to in-demand jobs in tech, most of the knowledge that’s needed is more practical than what’s often taught in CS classrooms.”

3. Liberal arts degrees are well-rounded and provide a foundation for critical thinking. 

Larson, Yitbarek, and thousands of others are living proof that liberal arts majors can make it in the tech world. In fact, some hiring managers actually seek out liberal art degree holders who learned technical concepts later in life. One is David Kalt, the founder and CEO of Reverb.com — an online marketplace for musicians.

Kalt has hired both CS and non-CS majors that have been valuable tech team members — but he’s learned that those with liberal arts degrees are often the best developers and tech leaders.

“Critical thinkers have an upper hand when it comes to mastering difficult tasks — whether it’s a song on the guitar, French or Ruby on Rails,” says Kalt.

In addition, they typically possess the communication skills to function in more than purely technical roles. “From philosophy and history to art and language, liberal arts majors learn about the human experience,” Kait continues. “This background gives them the soft skills to convey a company’s technology vision to customers, executives and other non-technical audiences.”

4. The cost of experimentation is low.

Frey points out that anyone wanting to explore the tech world doesn’t have much to lose. “The cost of experimentation is low. I think the opposite of being a programmer is being a pilot or doctor. If you want to be a programmer — almost anyone (especially in America) can get access to the materials and tools they need to learn. If you can get to a computer with a web browser, you can start learning JavaScript by opening the JavaScript console.”

“Even coding bootcamps like DaVinci Coders are a fraction of the time and money that would be spent on a college degree.”

5. A lot of tech innovation is happening outside academia.

When new information is flooding an industry all the time, it can be difficult for structured curriculums to keep up. Yang explains, “The universities are usually a bit behind the industry and hobbyists (and the gap is widening).”

He brings up the popular figure of “the coder in the basement who discovers some cool new way to build something and then makes a billion-dollar industry from that. Take Oculus – academia has been working on VR environments for decades but it took a young kid in a basement to take it mainstream.”

6. The tech industry is changing rapidly.

On a related note to the above point, in tech you want the most current knowledge at all times, which colleges can’t always provide, especially in the context of a regimented four-year program. Yitbarek explains, “Things change all the time, and it’s up to you to keep up. The longer you stay in tech, the less dependent you are on your initial technical training, whether that’s a technical degree or otherwise, to do well.”

With or without a tech degree, your focus should be on improving yourself and your skills every day. “Excelling in this industry is about constantly learning, growing, and figuring things out,” Yitbarek concludes. “No technical degree can make up for that.”

More at DaVinci Coders and CodeNewbie

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