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You’ve heard the stories of college dropouts turned billionaires. I’m sure you can even list a few self-made, self-taught software developers yourself. So you may ask the question: Does a software developer really need a degree? Check the résumés of top developers and you’ll find backgrounds with incredible range. Scan new job postings for programmers and you’ll find ‘Computer Science degree’ listed as a frequent requirement, even for entry level positions. Meanwhile, if you look at the curriculum of a computer science or software engineering degree from recent graduates, you’ll most likely find it filled with less than practical courses.
For these reasons, the debate of ‘degree vs. no degree’ is hotly contested in the tech world. Regardless of your opinion, you can pull real world examples to justify an answer. More often, the confusion stems from our collective lack of understanding about the requisite skills for a software developer. Add a mixed bag of anecdotes and the answer most certainly ends up, “it depends.” To get a better understanding of why, it helps to look at how software developer is defined and make observations in the world of academia that produce degrees such as Computer Science.
We’ll start with the definition. A software developer is someone who develops software by writing a set of machine readable instructions that work together to execute complex tasks. Software development includes a variety of activities but ultimately comes down to writing these instructions in a programming language that is understood by a machine. So you need to learn a new language to be a software developer. Well, unlike software development, you can probably relate to learning a new language from your K-12 education. Do you need a degree to learn programming languages? Actually no. The reality is that you can learn programming languages from many great resources… books, Youtube videos, coding bootcamps, high school courses and even hands-on or online institutions like Woz U. Plus, with Woz U programs, you can get updates to course curriculum for free, but I digress …
The degree that comes to mind when most people ask this type of a question is Computer Science (CS). Companies tend to make this degree a requirement or strongly preferred in order to obtain employment, however, this practice has more recently been in decline. Easing requirements have come with the great rise in demand for quality developers and increased access to learning materials for everyone. The changing landscape is leading more talented young students to skip the degree; with many beginning to learn programming languages before their teenage years.
For traditional college goers who are interested in a four year degree, Computer Science is the route most taken. The CS degree also is a source of frustration for a good number of students as they go on to realize that the field of computer science lacks practical, up to date programming language training. That being said, the study of computer science at a traditional university may not be pragmatic. However, consider the hybrid of practical and theoretical study with hands-on training like Woz U’s Software Developer that directly relates to your next career. Bonus if you can find one that allows you access to updates to curriculum to life.
Of course, there are other degrees in the field of software development that place more emphasis on real-world experience like Computer Information Science (CIS).
One of the strongest arguments for not needing a degree is that the technology of software development changes rapidly. By the time a graduate earns their four year degree, only the last two years will be relevant in time to study emerging programming languages to stay ahead of the curve. Imagine for example you entered school five years ago and studied one of the most popular programming languages of the time like C# or PHP in your Computer Science degree program. As of mid 2013 vs mid 2018, people looking for PHP and C# as a skill for a software development has dropped by more than 50%. Meanwhile a third programming language Python, learned in Woz U’s Data Science program, is now sought after three times as often. This means a 2016 high school graduate could have easily jumped into programming during their senior year, then subsequently spend just a few short months applying their knowledge and obtaining a job using this highly in-demand skill.
So how do degree programs compete? The first two years of study often focus on theory, math and other skills which may already be well developed, then programs offer the real hands-on work later in the degree courses. At Woz -U we believe the best place to learn is in the real world, facing real challenges which require real problem solving, so our program is designed around providing students with the skills needed to be productive today and in the future. Most progressive employer’s would agree:, Aa degree in software development isn’t absolutely necessary in order to become a Software Developer.