back to article Don't bother with that degree, say IT pros

Learning to code in your bedroom will prepare you for the IT job market just as well as a three-year degree costing £27,000, professionals said in a survey published today by CWJobs.co.uk. More than half the IT professionals polled said they would not do an IT-related degree today if they were paying the increased fees, which …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lies, damned lies and statistics

    "45 per cent said they feel a degree in computing is no longer valuable for securing a career in IT"

    SECURING a career - thats different to getting your foot in the door in the 1st place.

    It is also a different mindset between "learning to code" and studying for a degree - its not a bl**dy 3 year training course!

  2. L.B

    The real lie is...

    ...that the little kiddies are sold the lie (by those in education mainly) about a degree getting you a well paid job!

    Most degrees are worthless to employers unless they are specific to a real world tasks, like medicine, law or real engineering (civil, electrical,...).

    In most cases (IT included) both employers and employees would be better off if companies provided real apprenticeships. For starters the apprentices would be earning some money not getting into debt, and they would also learn from people who actually know what is required in the real world so would be learning useful skills.

    I believe anything else should be regarded as Hobby courses and should be paid for by the person taking it.

  3. Code Monkey

    I don't have one and have worked in the industry for 15 years. I'm now studying an IT degree solely becuase I think it'll be necessary (or at least very helpful) to get a job abroad.

  4. LawLessLessLaw
    Boffin

    That's all very well

    But every job I've been self-qualified for and interested in says "Graduate ....."

  5. CD001

    Ironically - when I was "straight out of Uni" (11 years ago) - every job advert said 2 years experience; my first job out of Uni - web designer on £13k a year ... which I was happy to take as I knew it would start to get me that experience.

    If I'd clocked up £27k worth of debt going to Uni now - I'd be less than pleased with having to have chalked up that massive debt for that wage.

  6. Vic

    Re: That's all very well

    But every job I've been self-qualified for and interested in says "Graduate ....."

    Apply anyway.

    Write a covering letter explaining why you are right for the job. Don't whine about how life is unfair - a prospective employer just doesn't care. Tell him why you are going to make him rich. Convince him that securing hot-and-cold running blowjobs for the rest of his career depends on hiring *you*.

    This is an example of solving a problem using the tools available. It's what we programmers are supposed to be good at.

    Vic.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    27k debt for 13k salary, not a great deal n the face of it but let's not forget that you won;t have to pay a damn thing back until you earn quite a bit more and if you're good with your cash then you can repay early to reduce the debt.

    I'd take the deal if I didn't have two kids and their mother to support.

  8. CD001

    Don't get me wrong - I'd still have taken that £13k p/a job; it's just that you're sold the "get a degree - earn more £££s" line all the time - the reality isn't quite like that and if I'd bought into that line to the tune of £27k debt that reality would have been a bigger kick in the nuts... not to mention that your "quite a bit more" figure is going down by the year...

    When I went to Uni (first year with loans and we had grants as well and no tuition fees - kerching!) the amount you had to earn to _begin_ paying your student loan back was about £28k p/a IIRC which is adjusted for inflation every year so it's always been more than my salary... and at such a low interest rate I've never bothered to pay it back (it's actually at -0.5% atm so it's paying itself off without me doing anything) - financially it makes better sense to put the money into an ISA or higher interest e-banking account until such time as the interest rate on the loan is higher than it would be on the ISA (or you're earning "too much") and then just pay the loan off in a lump sum; student loans were only about £1500 p/a then mind as they didn't have to cover tuition fees.

    If you go to Uni now it's what, £18k before you have to start paying your loan back? Less?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Degrees versus actual hands on experience

    I don't know how many times I've been told by a bright young graduate: "Oh yes, we did a module on [insert skill here] in Uni.

    No experience, just a piece of paper.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's even worse is that many think that IS experiance, and when you try to explain that what they are doing is not good enough for real life, they get all shirty.

  11. Jon Green
    FAIL

    Don't ask the candidates, ask the employers!

    As an employer, I'm quite lenient about qualifications, I'm more interested in proven ability and I'm prepared to some of the recruiting myself - but that puts me firmly in the minority. If you don't have a computing-related degree, you WILL be at a disadvantage in the current market, compared to those who do.

    It's not just employers at fault. If it will save them some effort, recruiters will tend to set "silent" additional requirements of their own, and the ones who use automated CV filtering a lot - that's most recruiters, remember! - will have dropped a lot of non-degree-qualified candidates before the prospective employer ever gets to see the list. And that can happen even if the employer explicitly stated they were prepared to consider non-graduates.

    So I'd take opinion polls of potential candidates along with a couple of packs of Maldon's finest, because the candidates only see half of the picture, at best. I'll put this to the nay-sayers: just for giggles, when you're next looking for a job, try putting together a CV replete with your top-notch job history, but miss out the qualifications - and see how far you get. You might feel differently after the 50th "Unfortunately, on this occasion..." response.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pardon !

    >> You might feel differently after the 50th "Unfortunately, on this occasion..." response.

    Some of us would consider it good going to even get an acknowledgement of the application, actually being told you were unsuccessful would just be the cherry on top. Would it be so hard, or cost so much to send out the standard "your application is being considered" and "sod off, you're not the droid we're looking for" letters ? Sadly it seems that standards have dropped so far than many agencies can't even be bothered with that.

    Now, I'm off to polish up the CV, announcement of impending short time and/or redundancies at work :(

    AC because some people at work read ElReg.

  13. Hungry Sean

    hang in there AC!

    having gone through two months of my previous work slowly going out of business, paychecks being missed, etc., I know what you're going through. The best bit was definitely the rejection letter from ARM I received a full year after I'd applied (by which time I was luckily at my new work). I'm not sure why they even bothered at that point.

  14. Watcher
    Paris Hilton

    I'm not surprised

    Bedroom coders are probably doing it because they are interested and in my experience passion for a subject usually makes you better at it that someone who is doing it "because my career teacher said there were good paying jobs in IT".

    I'm not sure how people select Uni course these days...presumably not always for sensible reasons. Only this week I was at a meeting where a pretty intelligent young chap said he was going to Uni to study 'x'. He said "I don't know what 'x' is, but I guess I'll find out soon".

    PS. I may be biased...I was a bedroom coder who used my interest in IT to make a 30+ year (and counting) career in IT.

    Paris...because she's passionate.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I disagree with the survey. I started coding around age 10, but studying formal methods, functional programming, etc during my CS degree really made a difference to how I _think_ when I code.

    I've seen lots of code written by self-taught coders who learned it on the job (or incidentally while doing some other degree) and they don't remotely compare to those who've actually _studied_ computer science.

  16. J.G.Harston Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Yebbut, Unis don't actually teach computing *science* any more, they teach IT, or even worse, ICT.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I know what you mean, but I would recommend trying different languages as an even better way do expanding the way you think about code. Use C/Java/C++, but learn enough to do at least simple programs in Smalltalk, Lisp, Forth, Io, Ruby, Assembler, Prolog, Haskell etc. Even if you never get paid to program in these languages it will make your code better and you more adaptable.

    I completely disagree with your general claim that people who have studied computer science by doing a degree in it are in anyway superior coders to those who have studied it because they have a love of it. There are *plenty* of computer science students who have zero real interest in the subject and it shows very clearly in their code. A degree is not any sort of certificate of ability in the subject, only in the ability to get through university.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sadly, true

    I've being interviewing people for system design / development position for over 15 years. I've watched standards decline over that period to the present point where It seems that the universities have decided to produce graduates that industry thinks it needs rather than providing students with a strong theoretical background that will be useful throughout their professional lives.

    Trivial example to prove a point. Try asking a recent graduate to sketch out pseudo code for quicksort. Assuming they understand what you're asking, you'll find fewer and fewer able to do this adequately. Often it will be pointed out that the current framework du jour provides sorting as standard so they don't need to know "this stuff". Which is all well and good until you're working on a micro-controller and you need to write the code from scratch in assembler.

  19. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    @J.G.Harston

    We do teach computer science. There are IT courses taught by the Hanze University of Applied Sciences next door, but we, and all other traditional universities over here still teach computer science. However, very few of our graduates ever become coders. They become researchers (in academia or industry, a lot of ours go to companies like Philips Medical Systems) , or become software engineers and architects (OK, they are also involved in coding, but cost a lot more ;-) )

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have to disagree

    Many teach the 'science' and the mathematics that underpin Computer Science - they do well

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And I have to say

    We tend to hire people with a little depth which education brings to the job. (6 so far in the last year, all of whom have decent degrees from, I hate to say it because someone is going to winge) 'old universities')

  22. CD001

    @Robert Long 1

    Totally agree about expanding the program language repertoire ...

    My interest in computing got serious when I was at university (doing a degree in Art *shrugs*) and the web was just beginning to really enter the public consciousness; before the original .com boom - I wasn't about to try and switch course so I started to teach myself because it fascinated me - being able to make something, in a computer, and see it there, on the screen - upload it and everyone can see it...

    So I started with the very basic for the web, HTML - added in CSS to simply things and begin separating the semantics from the style ... added JS to make it more interactive ... added PHP/MySQL to make it easier to maintain (not having to upload files over FTP; just very basic CMS type stuff initially)... then Perl and so on throughout my degree and well into my working career.

    The problem you have there, with Perl, JavaScript and PHP is that they're not strictly typed and that leads to some "quirks" when you start applying OOP principles (can't be properly polymorphic for instance) ... but of course, when you don't know anything else, you don't realise that.

    Started learning Java in my spare time and OOP suddenly clicked; even more so with C# as that "feels" like a better language to me and I find it much easier to "get along with" than Java - I think that the PHP code I use in my day-job is now MUCH better because of my experiences with Java and C#. I don't try and shoehorn PHP into a strictly typed language (it isn't one) but I do much better understand OOP principles (abstraction, interfaces, patterns ... ) and can better apply them to PHP.

  23. jonathan1
    Facepalm

    All well and good

    But you don't start off with experience, it needs to be aquired, you can't aquire experience because no employer will give you a job due to your inexperience.

    Tell me how my generation gets its foot in the door, when every job application seems to require one, and not only that but most places demand that you have at least a 2:1. (Which I have).

    The only people who say experience is all you need, are those that have already have it.

  24. janimal

    Try a sandwhich degree

    Which is exactly what I did for my BSc Soft Eng.

    When I graduated I too found that despite the qualification most employers wanted two years experience.

    Of course the company I did my sandwhich course with hired me two months later. I worked there for 5 years from code monkey to senior developer. Just don't screw up your year in industry :)

  25. Vic

    > Tell me how my generation gets its foot in the door, when every job application

    > seems to require one

    The thing you need to realise is that something like 60% of job vacancies are never advertised.

    If you're having difficulty getting into a career - change you approach. Find people who can recommend you from the inside of a company.

    This will undoubtedly require some hard work on your part. Them's the breaks.

    Vic.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As a collogue, from the days when I worked in academia said: "the closer you get to having 50% of people going to university the more certain it becomes that some will be of below average intelligence.

    Educational inflation has reached the limit, from now on its deflation.

  27. CollyWolly
    Facepalm

    On the other hand

    I work with a lot of bioinformatics people, many of whom come from a biology background and are self taught with the programming side. Some of them can code properly, but many of them are worse than useless - for example producing millions of files and cocking up the network filesystem for everyone, instead of taking half a day to lean to use a bit of SQL and put it in a database table.

  28. LJRich
    Thumb Up

    True

    No degree here, just passion and enthusiasm. Driving strategy for one of the world's top 10 software co's.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    which one

  30. Pastey

    Is it the degree or the education

    Firstly, I don't have a degree in computing of any sort. Secondly, I've got about 12 years experience at all levels.

    Over the years I've employed developers with and without degrees, and to be honest the ones without degrees tend to be better. Their skill set tends to be more up to date, they tend to be able to think their way around problems. Graduates tended to be only able to do things in one particular way, and that way often two or three years out of date.

    This is changing now though. We're seeing graduates who've got themselves some work experience in a real company, learning that a developers job isn't always just sitting down and typing away in your preferred language, coding what you decide you want to code. There's a whole lot more to making yourself employable than just getting a degree. We've had graduates in the past that turn up late, leave early, dress poorly, refuse to answer phones or doors, talk loudly and wonder why they don't last through their trial periods. We've also had bedroom coders with the same problems, but they tend to not think that the job should be theirs because they've got a bit of paper.

    But it is changing, some Universities are realising that the degrees they were offering weren't making their students employable so they've started working with companies to give their students "real world" experience.

    For me personally though, do I wish I'd gone to uni and got a degree? No. Back then there were no degrees in what I now do. What I could have done would have been a waste of time. IT moves fast, and thankfully the unis are starting to catch up to working at that speed.

    Do I think that students deciding whether or not to go to University should go? Yes, but choose *very* carefully which University, and which course you go to. If you can, talk to the people at the sorts of companies you want to work for and find out what *they* think of the degrees. And if you do go, get involved in as much of the social aspect of the computing courses as you can. I still think you learn just as much from talking to other developers as you do from text books.

  31. Skizz
    FAIL

    Degree != Quality Coder

    I've seen many rubbish coders, some had degrees, some PhDs and some didn't have any higher qualifications at all. I've seen some great coders, again, some had degrees and some didn't. From my experience, having a degree is no indication of coding ability. Either you get it or you don't. There's an interesting paper at http://www.eis.mdx.ac.uk/research/PhDArea/saeed/paper1.pdf.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmm...

    I don't have a degree, but did go to uni for a couple of years on an electronic engineering/comp sci related degree. The issue that I have is that many people without degrees don't really understand what's going on under the hood, or have fully rounded knowledge of the systems. However, conversely many people with degrees don't understand various areas in business which you don't learn at uni and can be equally important.

  33. jason 7
    FAIL

    For those of us over the age of 30....

    ....and who were told to get off our 18 year old arses and "get a bloody job!" this cant be said enough.

    Thanks to Blair making degrees the equivalent of the maths/english GCSE, those of us of a certain age with no degree (as it wasnt expected of us) but 20+ years of solid experience cant get a bloody job worth a damn.

    I can list all the IT skills I have, all the major IT projects I've delivered on time and on budget etc. etc. but as I dont have a crappy medieval studies degree I cant get an interview.

    I do partly blame the dumb as ditchwater HR depts too. When you read the job description/requirements it bloody obvious they have just listed every IT term they could find in a computer magazine. It's almost like you have to have been genetically created for that very job.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    Need a degree

    Just buy one from the back of Private Eye :)

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Michael Wilkinson

    I think you are quite right: bedroom coders often lack a proper foundation. They probably won't even have heard of Knuth or Fred Brooks, and have little idea of the history of software (quite important if you're not to reinvent the wheel - sometimes in square or pentagonal shape).

    Trouble is, most employers know just as little about software and software engineering. They hire people who have superficial coding experience, cut costs, set unrealistic deadlines, and then are surprised when their software is bad or doesn't even work at all. It's a vicious circle, which will be broken very gradually as people who do know what they are doing get into positions of responsibility and start hiring good experienced programmers.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Agree with the article but!

    As someone with nearly thirty years in IT, I have managed to progress pretty well without a degree and recently joined one of the top consultancies without issue. Anything I could possibly have learned at university in the early 1980s would be somewhat useless today.

    And when I recently tried to recruit someone whilst at a major UK retailer, the internal HR department were shocked when I told the assembled recruiters that a degree was not a prerequisite.

    But I'm certain I am an exception. If under 30 and wanting to work in IT, a degree of some kind is vital to even be considered - at least if one is applying for anything more senior than 1st line support.

  37. jai

    have never needed to use anything i learnt while at university

    Actually, that's not entirely true. I taught myself HTML 1.0 and Javascript when it first appeared. But that wasn't part of my degree, I picked up those skills when I should have been studying more between lectures.

    Haven't ever used any of the so-called Computer Science they taught us. The one course that might have been useful was the Database design one, but it was boring as hell so I tended to stay in the flat and playing Fallout and StarCreft instead of going to the lectures. Even then, I've picked up all the database knowledge I've needed through using google when a problem has presented itself.

    The IT world changes so much that by the time you leave uni, what was useful when you started is going to be old-hat and out of fashion. So there's no hope for whatever topics they put on the curriculum 5 years before you signed up, unless they constantly change it every 6 months

  38. CD001

    Good database design never goes out of fashion young man!

    "It's the key, the whole key and nothing but the key, so help me Codd"

    3NF - 40 years old and counting.

  39. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    This explains so much

    as to why so many IS systems and services are badly thought through. Too many people mistake education for training. We try not to hire them.... The IT world changes very little, syntax changes, hyperbole evolves, the fundamentals do not.

  40. Billy 8

    If we don't have compsci graduates...

    ... who's going to fill all those Haskell & Lisp jobs?

    Ah.

  41. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge
    Happy

    You can write

    Haskell or Lisp in any language - but I would prefer to use SML (and have done many times in 30 years) - http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/real.programmers.html

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can't be a real IT professional without a relevant degree

    Having worked in IT for a number of years I often come across the 'I taught myself' type of IT 'professional'. Unfortunately these people are so far up their own backsides that they fail to see that despite doing something for the past 20 years they have been doing [insert sys admin or programming skill here] wrong or badly for all that time. Not their fault, they haven't been formally trained in the subject but they fail to see this.

    Having more formally qualified people in the field should gain real IT professionals more respect; would you want someone designing bridges or buildings to have taught themselves about engineering in their bedroom or rather have them complete a 4 year degree in the subject? Designing large computing systems is the same nowadays and it's these bedroom cowboys who are the reason for so many failed IT projects.

  43. CD001

    Funny - the Romans seemed to manage to build things without bits of paper using some kind of strange apprenticeship scheme - the laws of physics haven't changed in the last 2000 years so there's no real reason why an architect shouldn't be taught "on the job" (especially now that Physics is no longer a requirement for degrees in architecture).

    However programming principles, designs and practices change frequently - a computing degree from 10 years ago is probably ONLY worthwhile as an indicator that the person has (or should have, it's not always the case) a good understanding of IT principles - if they've not kept their skills current they're probably going to be useless in a real-world environment - even with a degree you still need to keep learning on the job.

    Though I tend to agree - we really need something like RIBA for software architects (RIBSA perhaps).

  44. Piro
    WTF?

    Oops, sorry!

    It's the other way round.

    It's passionless drones that write awful code, and can't wait to clock out.

    Not the people with a genuine spark and interest in what they're doing.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't think it is as easy as it was without a degree.

    I am of the ZX81, 6502 machine code generation. I passed computer studies O level where you had to actually write code.

    I have 25 years in the industry and no degree. I've worked first line replacing broken disc drives and unjamming printers. I worked on small database developments pre MS Access (Paradox, DataEase) and on large multi gigabyte Oracle databases. I now specialise in BI solutions on large DBs. I have experience, a proven track record and good references.

    HR departments that receive 200+ applicants have and do throw out my CV for not having a degree. Not only as an easy way to filter down the numbers but also to avoid accusations of some form of *ism. If you can show you have applied objective criteria it is easier to defend a decision.

    I have managed to get a number of jobs through word of mouth, on more than one occasion having been rung up and advised to apply. That simply does not happen today except in small companies.

  46. Vic

    > That simply does not happen today except in small companies.

    Errr - yes it does.

    Vic.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I agree with you Vic but often it's from people who can't manage to batter the HR morons into a corner and make them accept that the best candidate is not necessarily the one with a degree.

  48. Semaj
    Thumb Down

    BS

    Sorry but from my experience that's complete BS. Most self taught coders are atrocious. They usually have massive gaps in their knowledge of basic practices and theory so tend to create bizarre overly complex solutions to solve simple problems. They also tend to be much more unwilling to learn anything new unless they discover it meaning they are a nightmare to work with.

  49. Pete 43
    Thumb Up

    Degree isn't any guarantee of anything.

    Some of the graddies I had on rotation were woeful and some were outstanding.

  50. The MOTO
    Boffin

    Programing is easy ....

    Programing in itself is easy. Really, so is playing the piano. You point to any key or set of keys on the piano and I can hit them. Does this mean I can play the piano? Not even close. The same analogy goes for programing. Just because I can do an "if" statement, can call a function or class, and/or increment a variable, it does that mean I am a good programmer.

    The bigger issue at hand here is how one designs/architects ones code, in other words puts it all together. As a person with a degree, the big thing I noticed was that during the dot com days too many people dropped out of college or just outright skipped it to jump into the game. Many of these people never learnt the appropriate discipline and understanding software design/architecture that is required to writing good software, and now many of these same people like to think that they are "experts" and are deserving of special something when in reality they stink as programmers.

    My favourite quote is "I don't understand why my application is running so slow .... we are using a database"

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