How Much Does a Computer Science Degree Really Matter?

The best IT candidates for your company may or may not have a formal college degree – and that’s OK

The best IT candidates for your company may or may not have a formal college degree

There are some professions – such as doctors and scientists – that require many years of schooling, and rightfully so. But what about industries where on-the-job training is far more relevant than hours spent in a classroom? What is the definition of conclusion in science? When looking for candidates such as these, does a degree really matter that much?

We took a look at hundreds of IT positions we filled over the years, and talked to many fellow recruiters to get their opinions on the subject. Based on analysis and feedback from hiring managers, a clear answer started to take form. Many businesses will only interview candidates with a certain level of schooling. This is typically referenced as a “required BA or BS degree” and sets a minimum standard against which most recruiters will compare their candidates – but maybe they shouldn’t.

An overwhelming number of job descriptions that require a BS or BA degree do not specify what type of a degree is requested. Not all degrees are created equally and not all may be relevant to the position. While recruiters shouldn’t waste anyone’s time, we have started to alter our approach based on what we’ve been seeing out in the field and shifts in the IT industry as a whole.

For one thing, when position requirements include a degree and a certain number of years of relevant experience, we don’t hesitate to present the potential candidates who possess the latter but not the former. Why? Here are a few key reasons:

#1 Real-world experience trumps classroom instruction

When it comes to the field of technology, computer science degrees, even with specialization, still lack enough depth to encompass real-world solutions that an experienced engineer would be accustomed to delivering. For the vast majority of these candidates, the skills they learn on the job are far more valuable than the ones they’d learn in school.

#2 An old degree might not be relevant

The field of technology is changing at breakneck speed – meaning that all the skills a candidate would have learned in school years ago are likely to be completely irrelevant now. An engineer who is well into his or her career with quality references from previous employers has a good chance of being successful in a similar role.

#3 Certifications matter more than degrees

Most engineers take certification programs while they’re working, which says something about their work ethic and their interest in becoming experts within a particular niche. A Network Engineer with a CCNA certification is likely to be more knowledgeable in their field than a computer science degree holder with no specialized certifications.

#4 Not all intelligent people can go to college

No matter what the circumstance – time, family obligations, cost – some people are unable to get their degree, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t smart and it doesn’t mean you should discount their ability to do the work. Anyone who is passionate about IT will find a way to learn about it…even if it doesn’t involve formal classroom instruction.

We don’t discount the value of a college education or industry relevant degrees. Computer Science degrees can be valuable and many engineers say it helps them develop a foundation of skills and gives them structure in learning and using commonly taught methodologies. But just because it can be helpful doesn’t mean it should be a pre-requisite over and beyond other criteria when it comes to hiring a candidate.

A great hire is one who can not only do the job, but one who is invested in learning and growing their expertise so they can continue to deliver their best for their company. Some of the most motivated and intelligent people do not have a college degree. Don’t discount them; you could be missing out on your best hire!

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