Need a college degree to be a professional programmer?

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Need a college degree to be a professional programmer?

Postby hansn » Thu Apr 25, 2013 7:33 am

I was at this job interview a couple of weeks ago (did not get the job), and during the interview the guy interviewing me basically told me that if I want to become a very skilled programmer, I have to go to college.

Now I know that's not true, though going to college might get you there faster. But he kind of bursted a bubble of mine.


College vs self-taught, what are your views on this?

Did you go to college? And how did it affect your carreer.

What do you consider essential skills that every programmer should have?


EDIT: Just to clarify, I was applying for a user support job, not a programming job. They just happened to have a development department and I said that's where I'm hoping to end up. My skills are not good enough to get a programming job. Yet.
Last edited by hansn on Thu Apr 25, 2013 9:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Need a college degree to be a professional programmer?

Postby metulburr » Thu Apr 25, 2013 8:19 am

I think it depends on what you plan on doing. If you are planning to go work for Google, Microsoft, etc. as a programmer, i would think its safe to assume that they wont hire you until you have a piece of paper from a college. Or at least in college. However, if your just writing a program for self.teaching or attempting to become the next Notch, then you can learn everything from the web. And probably more from the web than you would in college. You dont need a piece of paper from a college to sell a Minecraft game that happens to become popular. OF course what is that chance of that?

Personally, i am biased against college somewhat, because i think society has gone crazy about having a piece of paper. Ive seen unqualified zit face kids get the job before my step-father, while he goes back to unemployment, just because the kid had a piece of paper. Whereas my step-father had 30 years expierence in the field, and no college. I mean come on, that is rediculous.

I did go to college for computer science, but dropped out. And now i just do it for fun, because i like it. I may go back (if i come up 3 grand to pay what i now owe), (highly doughtful, that i could ever come up with 3 grand up front to get back into college), but i do not do it as a job, i dont work anything related to programming, and i do it for self.teaching and fun.

I was always told that a very important skill is to have 3 main programming languages at least down. I dont know, something like , Python, c++, Java, javascript, HTML, CSS, etc. The more i program, the more i realize what they meant. The importance of having multiple skills in languages becomes important regardless of which language is you "most used" one. Another one, i think, people should have expierence in Linux. The computer science degree i was going for had 1 requirement class of linux, but that touches no where near the amount of information it takes to comfortable with linux. It could takes years upon years of practice. Same as programming.
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Re: Need a college degree to be a professional programmer?

Postby Kebap » Thu Apr 25, 2013 8:30 am

I can recommend these articles which discuss exactly this topic: How To Become A Hacker and How to be a Programmer: A Short, Comprehensive, and Personal Summary by Robert L Read

Now going to college is certainly one way, and a traditionally very respected one. However, in these times which are ever-faster changing, I think it would be ridiculous to pretend, it would be the only important or even "right" way. I taught myself a lot of things without any written permission or confirmation, and of course I can utilise this for my job, etc. Anybody ignoring these things would be just foolish in my opinion. Then again, selecting new staff is a tough job itself, and often there is only little time and info, so it could make sense for you to be much more vocal about all the things you did besides not going to college. Good luck with all this!
Last edited by Kebap on Thu Apr 25, 2013 12:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Need a college degree to be a professional programmer?

Postby micseydel » Thu Apr 25, 2013 11:06 am

I wonder how things could have been without a degree. I have thought about how I could have done things differently, but I was too afraid to not get the degree, and now I'm almost there and have been hired for a job post-graduation (that requires the degree, but pays very well probably because of the cost of the degree). I believe based on my experience that the inherent value to the degree is very overstated, although the monetary value to someone who gets the degree is actually quite large (the overall value, including time, stress, attention, etc. might be another thing though) even if the companies providing the nice compensation are crazy for doing so.

That said, I don't regret the path I have chosen. It has worked out well for me. And I'm not the right one to speak to alternative plans. I found much of my education frustrating, I often did not feel motivated to do it, but it gave me access to a job I'm really looking forward to starting.
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Re: Need a college degree to be a professional programmer?

Postby KHarvey » Fri Apr 26, 2013 7:40 pm

First off, I am not a programmer.
But I have been in the IT industry for quite sometime now, and I have held or done most jobs in IT (networks, servers, security, backups, databases, programming, web development, phones, printers, helpdesk, etc...)

Once again, I am not a programmer, so this may not be completely applicable. But here has been my experience both as a hiring manager and as someone interviewing for a job (full time and consultant).
IT Certifications get you past HR. They normally do not know what the random string of letters mean, but they are something that is a requirement.
Experience gets you past the IT hiring manager. You have the credentials, they just want to make sure that you do have some experience and knowledge.
Knowledge gets you the job. After the IT manager you normally (if it is a good company) interview with some of your future peers. They will normally ask technical questions and try to gauge your knowledge. If you and talk the talk and walk the walk then you get hired.
College degrees are what you use to negotiate salary.

Personally I don't have a college degree. I have been to college(s), but I have yet to complete my degree. I do have a handful of certifications, but not as many as I probably should. What I have is knowledge and experience, and I have only been unemployed one time in my adult life that lasted more than a couple of weeks, and it was while I was in college. Currently I don't really have any desire to get my college degree, as I have other things that I would like to spend my time on.
But if I were to get my college degree my salary would almost double. While it might be nice to make more money, I don't really need it. I make enough to pay my bills and give me the freedom to do most things that I want to do.

I'm not saying that not having a degree is best for everyone, that has just been my personal experience thus far. I do know that certain industries require you to have a degree. But so far every job that I have applied for that a degree was a requirement, I still got.
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Re: Need a college degree to be a professional programmer?

Postby hansn » Fri Apr 26, 2013 8:34 pm

That's nice to hear, KHarvey. As going to college is not an option for me at this point in my life.
Does anyone have any experience with the programming certifications that you can find online?
I have no experience in hiring, but I always imagined that someone with a college degree would be more attractive for hire than someone with a couple of certifications.
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Re: Need a college degree to be a professional programmer?

Postby KHarvey » Fri Apr 26, 2013 8:57 pm

I used to use certs to get my foot in the door. Now I that I have been in the industry long enough I just use networking (social and business contacts).
It's knowledge and experience after that.

The problem that I find with college students (I apologize for the generalization) is that their knowledge is either out dated or theoretical. I tend to disagree with computer science degrees. The problem with them is that the technology changes faster than the curriculum does. I also run into the fact that the way the book says it works, and the way that it works in real life can be quite different.
Once again I am not a programmer so it may not apply to programming. But my .NET developers pretty much say that college was a waste of time. The things that they learned they haven't used in the real world. They have complained that they had to learn X in school and then learn Y at their job. While some of the theories correlated, a lot of the knowledge did not.
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Re: Need a college degree to be a professional programmer?

Postby KHarvey » Fri Apr 26, 2013 9:05 pm

I should probably clarify something:
All of my experience has been in the US and Asia. I've only done one contract for a company in the UK.

I figured I should clarify this, as I believe most people on hear are from Europe. Or at least the ones that I have talked with on here.
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Re: Need a college degree to be a professional programmer?

Postby hansn » Sat Apr 27, 2013 6:37 am

There seem to be a lot of .NET jobs available. What's up with that? I live in Norway and .NET jobs cover over 50% of the programming job market.
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Re: Need a college degree to be a professional programmer?

Postby casevh » Sat Apr 27, 2013 6:51 am

Here are my two cents worth....

Many companies require a degree but for a different reason. The intent of the degree requirement isn't (or shouldn't be) proof that you know .NET development (pick your technology), but that you have knowledge of a variety of subjects, know how to learn, how to write papers, how to work on a small team, how to interact with people,... Unfortunately, too many companies treat college degrees like trade school diplomas - they are looking for someone trained in a specific skillset and the HR department only understands college degrees.

My suggestions:

    Know why 0.1 + 0.2 == 0.3 returns False.
    Know why bubble sort is bad.
    Know how to write documentation/proposals.
    Know more that one programming language.
    Know world history of the past 100 years. (Read a book on the history of computers.)
    Create something that you can show a prospective employer. (Join an open-source project...)
    Prove that you can write documentation. (See above...)
    Join a user's group. (Linux, Python, whatever. If someone knows what you can do, you can usually get past the HR filter.)
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Re: Need a college degree to be a professional programmer?

Postby micseydel » Sat Apr 27, 2013 6:52 am

I see a lot of mobile demand (iOS, Android). I've seen some .NET online, but nothing near anything I've pursued. I'll be using Java at my job, though not on Android (not at first anyway).

I like casevh's post. He's mature in the field and all too, besides having showed us his Python wisdom before :)
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