Should You Hire Developers Without a Degree?

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What should you look for when hiring? A degree, experience or neither? The whole thing comes down to what your company needs and values. In the fast-developing, and in some regards, defiant, IT sphere, diplomas are often perceived as remnants of the past. The textbook examples we never stop hearing about: Gates, Zuckerberg and Jobs, all inspire young devs to drop out from universities and walk along the path of liberty, the path of self-education. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t.

Universities grow good employees

There’s a strong correlation between education and industrial success on every level, from individual careers to an entire country’s GDP. Universities deliver intelligent, thinking people—exactly the type any company would like to employ—who have learned from the very best in their field. They also function as a filter, wherein the more popular universities will only admit top applicants amidst a sea of hopefuls.

Building our business in Ukraine, we value a good education. Ukraine has been ranked high in the educational sphere and we know from our own experience what talented and skillful developers are grown in tech universities.

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A university degree proves that your candidate has been able to cope with university norms and work structure for a number of consecutive years. A recent study on personnel psychology shows that graduates generally have better cognitive abilities, which increases the quality of their performance. Group projects also play their role. Being an essential part of any educational process, they improve the communication skills of a degree holder.

Lastly, and although not necessarily all too relevant to an employer, universities promote communities. Fraternities and student organizations have scattered networks all over the world. They provide their members not only with the collective support, but also with useful business contacts. But does this really make a candidate more attractive than one without a bunch of university friends? For the candidate, it can open up countless doors. For you, it probably doesn’t matter.

Self-educated developers are worth trying

Ignoring degreeless folks may mean ignoring the real tech rockstars. The ones who went on to become legendary have probably never regretted their decision to drop out.

Obviously, not all degreeless developers are geniuses, but that’s not to say that a genius is the extreme you should be looking for in the first place. With extreme talent, often comes extreme characters.

Steve Jobs, for instance, in his pre-Apple career, used to work at night because his colleagues hated his bad hygiene odors so much that they couldn’t stand working with him by day. Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson, recalled that Steve was neglecting his hygiene, too busy coming up with genius ideas, probably. “His co-workers didn’t want to work with him, because he smelled bad and often walked around barefoot”.

Ignoring degreeless folks may mean ignoring the real tech rockstars.

Yet, not all degreeless candidates dropped out owing to their difficult personalities. There are as many reasons, as there are individuals.

“For me, personally, the courses were abstract, they weren’t sufficiently to-the-point,  to help me realize my ideas I had at the time,” comments our now Chief Marketing Officer, Sebastian Streiffert. “And when you find that you’re making more progress with endeavors, kicked off in your spare time, than at university, it becomes increasingly difficult to motivate a degree over results. My spare time web development projects eventually landed me both the network and experience to build a career.”

How many teach-yourself-French or Spanish books… or cookbooks do you have, gathering dust on your living room shelves? If you have at least a couple of those, then you should know what motivation it takes to sit down and inspire yourself to learn something new. Degreeless folks have managed to do this, with no shortcomings for passion, and this speaks about their motivation far better than diplomas.

“Formal education will make you a living, self-education will make you a fortune,” Jim Rohn says.

Is there a third option?

Over the past few years, IT education has been forced into a wheel of change—for the better.  Due to the industry’s ever-changing needs and evolution, it’s become apparent that a traditional, cookie-cutter university model isn’t necessarily the best fit.

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As a result, a new form of education has emerged, known as coding boot camps. These training programs, of up to six months long, focus only on teaching the most in-demand skills. Their purpose, in a nutshell, is to get people ready for real tech jobs.

“It’s hard to believe, but with a good teacher and real commitment, complete beginners can become job-ready in a matter of months”, says Denys Serheyev, manager at Beetroot Academy, a boot camp we run ourselves here in Ukraine. “They’ll leave our academy with a good enough foundation to do real work, and can then continue to grow from there.”

Formal education will make you a living, self-education will make you a fortune.

Can a few months at a coding boot camp measure up to a multi-year tech degree? Employment statistics suggest they can. Our numbers show that, of all Beetroot Academy students, 70% were employed after graduation.

The hard school of life

Our experience shows that the absence of the prestigious tech diploma is never an obstacle for performing a great job. But if you hire a developer, college graduate or not, make sure they’re always on their toes to keep learning new things, or they’ll soon get left behind. Whatever way of whichever professional development they pick—reading books, online guides, or attending boot camps—give your developers space to grow and keep them challenged. Hire for their hunger and potential, and convert it into results.

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