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Computer Science Degrees are Optional

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Degrees aren’t always needed. In today’s job market, there is most likely an alternative option for a degree: self-taught, bootcamps, etc. However, there are still companies that require a college degree. One of my colleagues at work expresses that “unless you really want to work as a research engineer for one of the very large tech companies like Google, etc I don’t see the value in an advanced degree in CS.” This statement should not discourage you from pursuing this career path, especially if you want to become a research engineer.

There has been a recent conversation at work that provided a number of those with a college degree versus those who do not. Computer Science degree pie

The College Path

I am categorized with those who have a Computer Science B.S. degree. It was the safe option for me. I would have the degree just in case (being the first in my family to obtain one was also a motivator) and I gained some coding experience through courses. I still don’t regret taking this path. It’s given me the opportunity to get a glimpse into both sides.

However, college only teaches you so much, especially where you attend. My college was still very new compared to its affiliates, so the Computer Science department was still developing. I was taught the basics (how to do a for loop, etc).

The classes were boring and I never felt that the important parts of coding were taught. The closest I got was through the Software Engineer course that was taught by a Facebook developer. He showed us how things really went in the “real world.” We were assigned a semester project that would be presented at the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park. This class taught me the importance of teamwork: team interaction, code management, and leadership roles.

I came out of college with a good programming foundation. It also provided me with internship experience. The college I attended advertised a local hackathon. I wouldn’t have known of this event occurring in such a small city if I had not taken the college route.

I was introduced to the founder of a local website creation company. Due to my professor’s recommendation, I became one of the interns at this location. It was the first time that I was able to get a glimpse of how business was conducted with a client. Unfortunately, this wasn’t taught in any of the courses I took.

College gave me the extra time to figure out what type of programmer I wanted to be. I’ve coded in multiple languages like Java, Python, and React. I even dabbled a bit with game development. I was able to find the most joy from working with web development.

College can also provide one of a kind experiences. Some partner with local businesses to give students an opportunity to get work experience. I was fortunate to be enrolled in a university that had this opportunity available.

In partnering with a local business as a student, we were presented with a problem and it was our job to create a proof to concept and demonstrate it to our client. We had the entire semester to complete the solution. During this time, we had multiple deadlines (just like any real project) that we stressed over. There were times that we did have to work late into the night because a bug was found before our next release.

We were thrown into multiple situations that I have seen occur during my work experience. These are the moments at college that helped me navigate through stressful moments at work. Bootcamp may not provide the same opportunities.

Another of my colleagues who went to college was able to participate in a similar program. He worked with the company for two years, forming connections with his co-workers. It was one of these connections that led him to accept a job offer with another company. If it had not been for this company being persuaded to attend AngularConnect, he might not have been introduced to our current CEO.

He does voice that college is not needed to be a good developer. However, he does add that “If I hadn't gone to uni, who knows what kind of path I'd have taken, but 100% the connections I gained as a result of uni has helped me get to where I am now.

Alternative Paths

All roads lead to the same destination. It just depends on where you want to learn your base. Another of my colleagues stated: “It's like building a foundation before building the house.” I agree: people want to hire someone that understands the importance of the foundation regardless of the background in order to build a strong house.

One of my professors said something that still stays with me: "School only teaches you about 10% but your job will teach you the rest." I completely stand by this. I was able to understand the basics like Git by the time I entered the work field. However, the business side like time frames was something that I picked up from trial and error at work.

This experience has been iterated at work as well:

“Almost all of my learning of development was on the job, although I've reached back to my coursework as I got further in my career to help me make sense of more of the tougher algorithmic challenges on some projects I worked on in the past.” - Colleague

I’ve only been in this field for about 4 years. I’ve met strong programmers on both sides. I’ve seen a teacher’s aide that can write structured scripts for a complex game. I’ve also seen a developer (without attending college) who has delivered many successful projects at such a young age. It’s their commitment to become a better programmer that has them thrive in any environment. It just boils down to which environment you want to experience.

“I don’t really regret anything about going to university except that I wasn’t the best student in my late teens and twenties so I wish I’d had the option of fast tracking the practical knowledge and jumping right into my career. I wish coding bootcamps had been available to me instead of college honestly.” - Colleague

My college background never was asked when I was being interviewed by the companies that ended up employing me. It all came down to my coding skills and the connections (along with my personality). It really depends on the company who is hiring. That’s why it’s important to do your research before investing your time in the application process.

College is not for everyone. Don’t let the pressure stop you from doing what you want to do with your career. Success as a programmer can be accomplished regardless of a degree. There are pros and cons with any path.

Code bootcamps can provide the same benefits as college. Some bootcamps might be even more intense than college, which can lead to great learning opportunities.

I’ve met an amazing developer who came from a bootcamp. Her skills have landed her a position with a company as a developer within months of her graduation. There hasn’t been a task that she wasn’t able to handle.

Bootcamps are just as beneficial. Remember, it’s not where you learn the foundation that matters, it’s whether you understand it. Keep learning, coding, and seeking out connections.

Tweet me your coding start. I would love to share your story with other people who need that extra motivation to get one step closer to their goal.

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