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Lucy Oleschuk
Level 31

Do I Really Need a Degree in Computer Science to Become a Good Programmer?

Published in the Random group
The answer is not necessarily “Yes, so go and get your academic degree”. The truth is, it’s not essential to earn a degree in computer science if you want to work and succeed in the IT industry. Many believe getting a degree can help them land their first job faster, and there’s no denying that you will develop unique skills and abilities if you complete a degree. However, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that more than 25% of IT professionals in the country don’t have a bachelor’s degree (or higher). Google, Apple, and Amazon are among the top companies hiring “non-academic” developers. Does it mean you don’t need a computer science degree to build a successful career in software development? We have done some research to find this out. Do I Really Need a Degree in Computer Science to Become a Good Programmer? - 1

Different Paths to a Career in Tech

So, a computer science degree can be very helpful, but it’s not crucial. Almost any recruiter agrees that there are currently no strict education requirements for candidates. Employers often appreciate commitment, and strong IT and communication skills more than technical proficiency. What else do they value? For example, Stewart Webb, a senior software engineer at PrimeCarers, says that candidates should mainly “be capable of going out and learning new technologies and solving their problems somewhat independently”. And Casey Jordan, a co-founder, and CTO of Jorsek LLC, believes that “There are three most important questions. Are the candidates personable? Can they communicate well? And do they have the hard skills to perform the job?” It’s easy to conclude that we live in times of reduced emphasis on academic degrees. Moreover, for many hiring managers, even computer science degrees aren’t sufficient to get a full grasp of your knowledge. The reason is that universities provide too theoretical education and don’t help you acquire the practical skills you will need in your future career.

What Skills Matter (Besides Programming)?

The truth is, it’s much more important how you demonstrate your proficiency than how you got it. Companies definitely appreciate strong technology expertise and excellent programming skills. However, besides that, they value soft skills, such as:
  • Problem-Solving. It’s one of the main add-on “tools” in your programming toolbox. College students often focus on the theory, syntax, language, and learning to “code” instead of solving problems. But in reality, developers should be good problem-solvers by their nature. The entire basis of their job is to solve issues. By the way, our course involves solving challenging “real-life” problems so that you get valuable experience.

  • Sharp Memory is also a must-have for any programmer. And you may be surprised that multitasking can severely harm your memory. Exactly what studying in a college with an overwhelming number of subjects requires.

  • Efficient Laziness. Some successful tech people (like Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard) believe in the power of the rule “if you want to solve a tricky task quickly and efficiently, ask a lazy person”. People with an adequate amount of laziness may find the quickest ways to complete a task.

  • Self-Motivation. Though self-motivation seems to be the opposite of laziness, it’s not. A programmer who deftly combines these two soft skills may strike the perfect balance when performing complex tasks and meeting strict deadlines.

  • Perseverance. Be ready that your code won’t work at the first attempt (it rarely happens). You may even scrap hours of your effort and succeed with a completely different approach in the end. So, it’s quite important to be persistent and keep pushing yourself forward if you want to become a good programmer.

What Are the Other Options?

Sure, if someone has finished Harvard, Berkeley, or Stanford, employers are confident they have found the best of the best candidate. But do you know that Influential tech figures, including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg, haven’t graduated from college? And, as we know, the lack of an academic computer science degree hasn’t held them back from succeeding in the IT industry. What matters here is high ambitions, a willingness to self-develop, and talent. And for most companies, it doesn’t matter where those skills come from, a college or self-education. Anyways, many college graduates may look great on paper but fail their ‘exams’ in the real IT project. So, where can you get much-needed experience, knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills? Today, there is a wide range of self-learning opportunities, online courses, and bootcamps. They offer a more efficient, fast, and affordable way to get computer-related knowledge than pursuing a four-year CS degree. Plus, they tend to omit extra information and focus on what really matters - teaching you “what coding is".

What Are The Job-Search Boosters?

If you’re looking for a job in Tech but don’t have a degree, some things can help you surpass your competitors:
  1. Use the power of the network. The first platform that comes to mind is LinkedIn. It lets you easily connect with recruiters, participate in challenges like #100daysofcode, show off your projects, and communicate with people who are doing what you wish to be doing.

    LinkedIn can help you build a great profile that will act as a resume and a portfolio. You can add relevant coursework, projects, and certifications there.

  2. Another way to get some extra confidence is to practice for whiteboard interviews. It’s a real-time technical problem-solving assessment that typically involves you writing code on a whiteboard onsite.

  3. Prepare a comprehensive portfolio with a CV that can make you stand out as a software developer. Nick Larsen from Stack Overflow says, “It's way easier to get hired if you show the company what you have done. A portfolio of projects and products you’ve contributed to is worth more than years of experience or studying.”

  4. Contribute to open-source projects and acquire “the proven track of your knowledge” for your CV. One of the best resources is GitHub.


As you see, it’s mostly about the experience. Many companies (including giants like Google and Apple) value their own tech tests over education. They put candidates through coding tests to make sure they don’t just look good on paper. An academic computer science degree doesn’t guarantee that you will become a good developer (though it may be a considerable bonus). For the IT industry, your real project experience (“doing”) is often more important than a degree crammed with many different exams. So, let’s get down to “doing” with CodeGym ASAP!