Before I get into it, let me clarify that in no way do I think a good education is a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s one of the most valuable things a person can have. That said, in today’s world (especially in the IT industry, but in other industries as well) having a good degree is not a guaranteed path to your dream job.
Imagine you’ve just graduated, or are about to graduate, and decide that now is finally the time to transition into your career. You start searching for jobs, send out your applications, and wait for replies. Unless you apply for jobs at obscure companies no one’s heard of, you’re going to have competition. With your degree, you might think you’re ahead of the game – the truth is, though, that the candidates with actual experience have the edge.
“I would hire the one who has shown they can do the thing. The thing is important to me.”
If you think about it from an employer’s perspective, would you rather hire someone who has shown they can do the thing in the real world, or someone who has studied and is able to do the thing in a controlled environment, or in theory? I would hire the one who has shown they can do the thing. The thing is important to me. And most of the employers I’ve spoken with tell me the same – a degree can be a nice bonus, but is trumped by practical experience.
I’ve seen an innumerable amount of strong candidates with no formal IT education blowing everyone else out of the water. One of our strongest candidates had not studied since grade school, and was offered a job at all three companies we introduced him to! Conversely, I’ve met many candidates who have up to two doctoral dissertations, but lack practical experience. A whopping 0% of those candidates have received an offer when pitted against someone with experience.
“One of our strongest candidates had not studied since grade school”
These scenarios are both extremes, but it happens more often than you might think. All this is to say that although an education is rarely a waste, it’s not a guaranteed boost either, at least in your job hunt. The best thing you can focus on is acquiring a very particular set of skills, skills that make you a nightmare to your competitors in the job market (here are some ideas on how to sell those skills!). With real-life work to show for yourself, you’ll make yourself much more attractive to your would-be employers.