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I wanted to name this topic as "Education vs. Experience", but this topic already exists. I've read that discussion and though what I'd like to ask is related with that topic, the question is quite different.

I've started learning programming about 12 years ago. For the last 4 years I'm working as developer in software outsourcing (located in Russia). I'm thinking about leaving Russia and moving somewhere else like Australia (doesn't matter basically). I have a number of examples illustrating the general ability and success stories, but still there's a difference between all these people and my case.

I have quite a good technical experience - primary areas are C++ and .NET. I have already participated in 7 projects based on different technologies/platforms (Windows, Linux, Android, Qt, .NET, etc). So, I believe, I'm capable of working as a software developer. Let's just take it - "from technical standpoint, this guy is absolutely OK".

The only problem is, I don't have any education. So, here's the question:

In most cases, may I read words like "BS in CS, equivalent, or better" as "N years of experience"?

Update: Is there a sense in getting certificates like MCSD (for .NET)? I know there's a separate topic for this question, but still asking for the case when there's no education but there are certificates and experience.

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put on hold as off-topic by Jim G., MichaelT, gnat, GlenH7, Robert Harvey Jul 7 at 20:32

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Some kinds of visa require tertiary level education. You might look for the countries that doesn't and try to emigrate there. The other problem is that international hiring is expensive and risky. And taking a developer without tertiary education is often also seen as risky. This combination might skew the perceived benefits/risk factor against you. Can't you go to a local equivalent of a community college and get a degree? This will make way easier for you to emigrate. –  Vitor Sep 6 '11 at 14:07
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9 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Loki, I myself don't have any kind of degree, but I don't think that you can generally substitute "BS in CS" with "N years of experience".

I have applied for jobs that required a degree in the past and I have been hired (and I am talking about companies which are known to have rather strict policies). If you think you can compete with people who have a degree, don't hold back. Apply for a job that sounds good to you, regardless of the requirements on the ad.

As from now, I second @Andrew McGregor:

How much a degree is valued depends on the employer. I've heard stories of people who got neglected because they didn't have the best possible grade on their degree. I think the industry also matters a lot. Some jobs are quite hard compared to standard crud enterprise software/forms over data stuff, you'll need solid maths and algorithm skills to work on them and thus people with degree are preferred.

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+1 for "Apply for a job that sounds good to you, regardless of the requirements on the ad." –  Jalayn Sep 6 '11 at 11:47
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Different employers will vary in the way they regard experience versus qualifications. Some will take experience over qualifications, and those are the ones you want to work for anyway. I have no formal programming education, although I do have a science degree, and I've been working in software engineering for 15 years now. Last time I was hired it was in a fairly senior position, based on all that experience.

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I personally think that with 7 years of experience you should at least obtain some interviews, provided that you organize your CV in order to show first your experience and below that, the fact that you do not have any education degree/diploma. There is no need to lie, but just avoid putting in big bold characters "I don't have any degree!!" :-)

Also, if you can put references of your project (websites, application names) that's even better.

I happened to have had a discussion on this subject with my HR director very recently and he told me this is what they put on nearly all job offers but what really counts is how the potential candidate's experience matches what the job is about. I also remember that three years ago on my latest successful job interview there was no question at all on education, everything was about the latest project I did because some similar work was involved in the new job.

There is an interesting article covering that subject here.

Edit: regarding the certifications, it depends on the job you want and the workplace. For example, in Europe, it really does not mean much. However - as I already wrote in an answer regarding the purpose of certifications - if you want to be certified then the process of reading books and studying is useful in learning new tricks and having a more in-depth knowledge of the technologies. This is very useful in "technical" interviews.

Edit2: I agree with Andrew McGregor's answer, and I really thinks it varies for every workplace.

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I have zero education (did not finish high school) and while education question popped out in interviews, I never had any problem to find work. In fact, at a certain point, education become less important as experience is what employers are looking for at the first place.

Of course I did few things to increase my chances to get interviews:

  • I put professional experience section first, ordered by date descending. Education was listed at the end on the last page of the CV, but I later completely removed the section since it was irrelevant and most employers did not ask a single question about them.

  • I put an emphasis on my ability to solve problems. Rather than explain the purpose of the project (which most job seekers does), I explained briefly the challenges and how I contributed to solve them.

  • I made my resume easy to read, without picture of me, and with a generic title. For example .NET developer will get you more interviews than Senior .NET Developer or .NET Architect. The reason is that the first leave the judgment to the guy that select the CV while the latter put you in a category that may not be suitable for him.

  • Create a CV per role. If you can coach, manage and develop, having a resume that will highlight every ability will be weaker than a targeted CV.

Your CV should be improved all the time. When the interviewer ask you if you have questions, ask questions about his company and all the recommended stuff but after that, ask them how they think you could improve your resume. It's how completed my "resumé" knowledge I gathered by experimenting.

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Formal education does matter if you don't have any experience (i.e. someone who is fresh out of uni only has a tertiary education degree to build himself up). So, in your case, four 4 years experience will be seen as great professional experience! You should have no trouble finding employment.

However, an exception that comes to mind is that some companies like Google require you to have a degree in computer science or something equivalent. I believe these are in the minority though and can afford to do so because of the sheer number of applicants they have to sift through.

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The something equivalent for Google at least is relevant experience. While some of their job postings say degree only, others say degree/experience. As someone else said, if you like the job apply. –  jmoreno Sep 6 '11 at 18:41
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Once upon a time it was possible to find great talent in the work force that had acquired no collegiate degree because they had spent all their time acquiring actual demonstrable experience. Often this was not based on employment experience, but through other means. At that point, there was this unquantifiable status that was "equivalent of a 4 year degree".

As time goes on, the price of entry in almost any job in the corporate world is a 4 year degree of some kind, even if it's art history. Once the tech bubble burst, the job market was flooded with under employed people who all had the equivalence of a 4 year degree but also had some kind of 4 year degree as well.

If you see a job posting that says BS in CS for a major corporate opportunity, you're very unlikely even to be considered because the human resources department will immediately see you don't have the actual degree and they don't have a metric for what qualifies for a 4 year equivalency. If you see a job posting that is made by a recruiter or a headhunter, your chances go up because they can help bypass that human resources element and help you target your cv to a specific job for a specific client. You'll still be up against some heavy competition but if your cv is packed full of experience and technical yumminess then you may stand a chance.

As for certificaitons, they look great on resumes, but they don't really mean anything. Some employers will require that you have them, most will not. All of the companies I've worked for have largely disregarded these kinds of certifications. The only certifications I've run across that have had real impact on job consideration are the CISSP and related security certifications.

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The answer is highly dependent on the local customs, so the question where you want to move to is important. My answer applies to the situation in Germany.

First the direct answer to your question:
Yes. equivalent, or better can be read as N years of experience.

Now for some background:
As a general rule, a degree matters a lot. People are very much focused on things they can see written on paper.

The specific situation in the IT sector is a little different. I have a degree in Process Engineering, and I acquired all my IT related skills through learning by doing, but never had trouble finding a job in IT. So a CS degree or similar is not always necessary. On the other hand, the fact that I do have a technical degree has been noted and taken into account when I applied for a job. So for the IT sector I would say that the general rule is: Any degree is better than no degree.

If you have no degree, try certifications instead. Any Blablabla Professional Developer certificate will help you find a job. As I said above, if you have it written on paper, it counts.

But this is all in order to pass the review by Human Resources. Once you are past that and start dealing with the department that wants to hire someone, job experience becomes more important (they still like to see degrees and certificates, though).

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Mostly correct, but don't forget that they also must pay for degrees. An applicant without formal education may still outcompete others by demanding lower entry pay. –  Ingo Sep 6 '11 at 15:03
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This is entirely dependent on the company. IMO good companies don't care about a piece of paper, they care about results and experience and "Can you get the job done". The bad companies put all their faith in degrees, certifications, and buzzwords and won't give you the time of day even if you have 8 years experience doing exactly the thing they are hiring for if you don't have X degree or Y Microsoft certification. Technical recruiters are especially guilty of that as most of them are technically ignorant and glorified salespeople, so buzzwords are all they know.

In short: Work experience trumps education. If it doesn't, chances are you don't want to work for the company anyways because they're putting more faith in education, which almost never teaches you anything beyond the basics, instead of in practical and verifiable results.

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If I were you I would definitely invest in a degree program. As you have mentioned, prospective employers specify that they want the stamp of an accredited computer science degree program. A CS degree will bolster your practical experience and technical know-how with a theoretical foundation, give you more credibility, and qualify you for better employment.

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Hi. I think your answer recycles what's been already said in earlier answers. Please don't do that, if you agree with an earlier answer just up vote it. We expect each answer to add something unique to the discussion and late answers that are as short as yours are somewhat frowned upon. –  Yannis Rizos Jan 17 '12 at 7:33
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