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Most of my fellow students that I've talked to claim that aiming for good grades is useless as the companies don't care about them when hiring programmers. To them, it's enough to have simply attended courses which may be important, and that's that.

Is this true? Are university grades useless when leaving campus, or do employers ask to see them for an interview?

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closed as off-topic by GrandmasterB, gnat, MichaelT, GlenH7, Jim G. Sep 28 '13 at 10:23

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It's been a long time since I was a fresh-out-of-uni graduate, so I don't know whether grades matter or not these days. But it's kinda helpful to actually learn stuff at uni, and if you do that, it's kinda likely that you'll get good grades. I'd be more worried about how much these students are not learning if they're trying to cruise through doing as little as possible. –  Carson63000 Oct 11 '10 at 22:26
    
It's worth mentioning that most of the answerers only talk about GPA, which is US-specific. –  DeadMG Sep 14 '11 at 0:06
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In my experience, the only students who say this are the ones who aren't confident that they can graduate with good grades. –  user16764 Dec 3 '11 at 6:33
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Voting to reopen, the question is asking about hiring practices specific to programmers, not for advice. –  Telastyn Nov 3 '13 at 13:30

15 Answers 15

up vote 42 down vote accepted

Incorrect. Grades are important especially if you have no or little professional programming experience. It's the bulk of your resume until you have professional experience.

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My thoughts exactly, but I wanted to be sure that this was the case. –  gablin Oct 11 '10 at 21:06
    
@gablin,bigtang: But how would one get experience if freshers are rejected on basis of grades ? –  Ayush Goyal Oct 29 '10 at 11:29
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@Ayush - it's not the only parameter in hiring, but it is an important one - "good grades" are NOT useless for "freshers". –  bigtang Oct 29 '10 at 14:55
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Disagree. Grades are only one dimension and in some countries grade inflation is making them meaningless. I also look for the clues about whether they are a motivated person - what else did they do at college beside exams and homework? If you want someone that can communicate, adapt, get along with the team you need to see more than grades. –  james Sep 14 '11 at 0:23
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@james but with grade inflation then surely bad grades are even more of a red flag –  jk. Sep 14 '11 at 8:29

Put yourself in the place of a hiring manager at a large (or not so large) company. You have one or two entry level positions to fill, and 150 applicants. The easiest thing to do is filter out everyone with a GPA less that 3.0 (or 3.5). True, you may eliminate a truly good candidate. But you will also cut down on your workload, and the time before you can hire someone. As a hiring manager, my goal is not to fairly evaluate all of the potential candidates, it is to fill the positions with good or great people as quickly as possible. Anything you can do to make yourself stand out in relation to your competition is a good thing. Anything that raises questions in the mind of the person reviewing your resume, deserved or not, is a bad thing

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+1 for "it is to fill the positions... as quickly as possible." That's the crux of hiring: The hiring manager wants to hire someone; fairly evaluating all candidates is a luxury. –  Stephen Gross Dec 9 '11 at 17:53

They are useful if you don't have real work experience.

If a potential employer has nothing else to go by (no work experience, open source project development, etc), then that's the only physical thing they can evaluate you by. Typically, it doesn't matter as much as you actually knowing your stuff. If you have a GPA of <2.0, and don't have other experience to back you up, you can expect some data structures questions to make sure you actually know that material, even if you did bad on all your tests in school.

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What is important is related to the person that will hire you.

If the guy spent most of his young life studying while others spent that same time clubbing and flirting, there are good chances that he will value university a lot...

Still today, with more than 12 years experience in the industry, people ask me what university I went to (I left school early, so the dialogue that follows is really funny sometimes).

To answer your question: you will be more likely hired by someone that is highly educated, so sure that studies will be important. If I had a time machine, I would have flirted with fewer girls and spend more time with my professors ;)

However, since there is currently higher demand than supply in the programming world, you won't be a second choice for long, even if you did not spend too much time at the university.

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You could have flirted with the professors! –  user1249 Oct 29 '10 at 11:29
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Yes, a couple of friends did that. On the long run, that did not helped hear so much.... –  user2567 Oct 29 '10 at 11:39
    
@Pierre303 People ask you what school you went to? Really? Man, I never run into that. <selfpity>I went to a top-rated school and no one in tech has even heard of it!</selfpity> –  Stephen Gross Dec 9 '11 at 17:55
    
@Stephen Gross: yes. Cultural maybe? –  user2567 Dec 9 '11 at 19:15

You're trying to figure out what a hiring manager will value... and that can be tricky. My experience is mostly with companies doing systems programming, compilers, and embedded software.

I've worked at two companies who had a minimum GPA to be considered, but it wasn't too onerous. (3.0 out of 4) Some hiring managers view overall GPA as a half decent "performance evaluation" of the candidate over a long term period, and a decent measure of self-motivation. This is not entirely inaccurate.

When I'm hiring, I will look at GPA as something of a base requirement. Do I really want to hire someone who managed to spend four years of his life and how-many thousands of dollars, and couldn't put forth enough effort to beat a 2.5? Frankly, in order to even look at a below-B-average student, they need to have absolutely stellar projects on the side that they've been working on. (core components of a large open source project would be acceptable, for example... senior thesis would not be)

On the other side of the coin, the difference between a 3.3 GPA and a 3.9 GPA is negligible from an employers standpoint. A 4.0 is notable, but a bit of a bias exists that the "4.0 student" is really aiming for academia, and may leave soon to pursue that goal. Others in this thread mention that some employers insist on a 3.5, but I haven't personally come across them.

In summary, I would work hard to keep your grades above a 3.5. At least at my school, it was several orders of magnitude more difficult to maintain a 4.0 (or just short of it) from a 3.6-3.7 range. While that first job you want might not require it, you won't be shut out of interesting opportunities with a "high A-B student" grade, and you very well may get more out of your classes anyway.

"First Job only": Some have mentioned that the employers after the first don't really care about grades. While this is true to a great extent, it's also true that there are "job development paths", and it's much easier to move to higher paying positions if you start out at a higher-paying/more-technically-challenging first job, which will often have more strict requirements.

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Re: "First job only" -- I once had a company give me a hard time because I didn't have a transcript available so they could verify my GPA. This despite the fact that I've been out of college (and working continuously as a developer) for over twenty-five years. That was the first time I ever told a company I wasn't interested in the position before they'd offered it to me. –  TMN Oct 29 '10 at 16:05
    
I agree with jkerian, especially on the notion that unless a new grad brings some other real experience to the table he or she needs to have at least a 3 out of 4. Above 3.0 I consider to be noise. Now if a 2.5 comes in who has written a real commercial quality application in their own time, then I will look at him or her, ahead of the 4.0 no experience applicant. I don't want to screen out the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. –  Jim In Texas Dec 9 '11 at 16:43
    
@tmn Wow, which company was that? They should be blacklisted. You should have responded with: "I need to see your internal audits for the past 25 years to verify your quarterly statements. What, you don't have them available? What kind of a company are you?!" –  Stephen Gross Dec 9 '11 at 18:10

I've never had anyone ask to even see proof that I have a degree, let alone actually look at my academic transcript and results (4 jobs so far, almost a decade in the industry).

You'll generally find that, for most programming jobs, it's what you can do that counts. In my experience, getting through technical questioning/tests in the interview and hiring process and showing first hand that you know your stuff takes you 90% of the way there. This is one thing I really like about programming. Unlike some other white collar fields, the Who You Know and Book Learnin' Grades factors are relatively low and it's reasonably pragmatic-meritocratic (far from 100% of course, but relatively speaking).

All that said, many big companies who have very formal hiring processes for graduates/juniors probably WILL check your grades. So it's good to have the best grades possible to keep as many options open as possible. But I wouldn't lose much sleep over not being top of the class.

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Although interviewers did not ask for proof, have you ever submitted to a background check as a condition of employment? If so, it's likely they contacted your school for proof of your claimed degree. –  Stephen Gross Dec 9 '11 at 17:56
    
@Stephen Gross: Hmmm, I don't think so. Then again, IANAL so I'm not sure if this can be legally done without "submitting to it" as such in Australia. Knowing how paranoid the privacy laws are here, I'd be surprised if there was some kind of "companies can do it by default" clause in the law. So long story short - no. –  Bobby Tables Dec 10 '11 at 6:08

It's important to have a good grade especially applying for the first job fresh out of college. Some companies might even set a GPA threshold (for example, 3.5/4.0) and might screen off candidates with a GPA lower than that. Sure, there will always be exceptions, most likely due to leadership qualities, for example, if you are the president of the IEEE chapter of your school and have a 3.3 GPA, you might still have a shot.

Also, it doesn't hurt to explain why you have lower grades as well. If a person can show that they've improved over time (maybe a student slacked off during freshmen year, or had gone through some hard-ships, but his/her grades improved over time when life circumstances are different), it does show maturity on the candidates side to explain those circumstances to the recruiter.

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+1 for recognizing that there's a story behind the grades. It's deceptively easy to reduce a candidate down to a single quantitative measure. –  Stephen Gross Dec 9 '11 at 18:11

It depends a lot on the type of company where you are applying. A large organization is more likely to have a screening process that uses objective metrics and is done before the hiring manager sees the resumes. Smaller organizations may value different things. Grades demonstrate that you are good at the university game. That doesn't necessarily correlate with the professional game.

It matters most for your first job if you have no experience. But what matters more is if you can demonstrate that you've accomplished something relevant. This could be an internship that gave you real development tasks, meaningful contributions to open source projects, released software (shareware, mobile apps, etc.).

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yeah the first job is pain in ass.. –  Ayush Goyal Nov 6 '10 at 5:15

In order to graduate at my university we had to do a major project, including non-trivial programming, with a suitable report, meaning quite a bit of work had to be done in order to have the project approved. That work was time limited, and you had to manage your own time in order to finish the project.

Hence, presenting a university grade not only show that you have had a bit of theory, but also that you have managed yourself to finish a non-trivial project with a deadline. What the project was actually about is less important, than the fact that you finished it in an acceptable state on time.

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I thought this was a requirement for all universities around the world. Isn't it...? O.o –  gablin Oct 11 '10 at 21:04
    
@gablin, I would suppose so, but I haven't checked all universities in the world. –  user1249 Oct 11 '10 at 23:58
    
Depends on the degree. Some undergrad programs require large-scale projects. Some do not. Same goes for grad school (my first masters in urban studies required a significant research project; my second masters in software engineering did not). Go figure... –  Stephen Gross Dec 9 '11 at 18:13

Grades do NOT matter at ALL!!!! I graduated in May 2011 with a 3.8 GPA. I received an Honors Degree. Worked my ass off to get those grades. I didn't miss ANY school at all.

My friend, got through with C's and D's. Slept in when he wanted, skipped when he wanted. We both graduated, and he got a job because he knew someone in the field. That is the only reason!!!!! We both applied for the job, I have NEVER heard from them.

Unless you are in the medical field, enjoy your college time. Don't stress over getting the good grades, it is totally over-rated!!! I have been applying for jobs since graduating in May 2011. I have applied for jobs all over the United States.

I strongly suggest working on getting experience in the field, either by apprenticeship or internship : get to know someone in the field.

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You are almost missing the point of your experience : Apprenticeship and Internship are not the only way to get to know someone in the field. The basic thing to know people is networking and it is clearly a key in a succesful career. You can network anyway you want and it will almost always be a way to improve your situation if you choose the right network. –  Matthieu Dec 9 '11 at 15:24

The field has certainly embraced specialization of labour. Grades achieved need to be good enough to get you to the interview, and after that, it is all a matter of technical mastery.

In the past most coders were generalists and academic achievement over a broad area of subject matter was considered to be of high importance, however, these days it is largely about specialization within a smaller subset of skills.

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this post is rather hard to read (wall of text). Would you mind editing it into a better shape? –  gnat Sep 28 '13 at 4:51

I can only tell about the local area - for me it's Latvia - the companies prefer peoples with working experience.

Based on my interview experience I was never asked about my university grades (my grades were just slight above average); the same situation for my friends and colleagues, who are working in the IT/software development area. Of course, that could be because of technical graduated student's shortage here - mostly students are going for a management and economic education...

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In general, the interviewer is going to look at a student and try to find multiple signs of either the student having already been vetted as being smart by someone, or, impressive work done somewhere else, or else, general competence. In order of importance, interviewers look at the following items when deciding whether to hire students, stopping when they've seen enough impressive details:

  • School attended Schools tend to be filters - they tend to select particular kinds of people and students, through their admissions process. The school you've attended tells people that you've already, at least at one point in your life, seemed to be particularly productive and smart. It's an external filter.

  • Program graduated from Different programs have different requirements and demands, and some are considered to be more challenging or appropriate than others. This changes based on the region you're in, and the time you're attending school. Just having graduated, though, gives important information to the employer about the kind and quality of work you do.

  • Relative placement within the program Grades don't matter so much as relative placement does. Grades have slowly been inflating over time, with more and more people graduating with higher and higher grades. A relative placement (6th in my year) is much more useful and will get more attention.

  • Relevant courses attended Relevant doesn't necessarily mean related to the work you're going to do. If you've taken a course requiring you to write a major piece of code (virtual machine for a subset of Java) in a team of four, that tells an employer lots of useful information about how competent you are.

  • Extra curricular experience What has the student done besides attend university. Have they started their own projects on Git? Do they have their own startup on the side? Are they in the top 10 player list for North America for one or more video-games? Do they know how to play an instrument? Did they achieve a black belt in Aikido? Did they start a wine tasting society which grew to several hundred members?

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Grades are not the only factor to consider when hiring someone, but obviously they are pretty important, especialy if you lack experience.

But, I am concerned that you might seriously consider not aiming for good grades because you think that some employers might not care. If there is a remote chance that an employer might care (and many will), then why not aim for the best grades you can? In fact, forget about employers, and forget about grades, why are you not simply aiming to do the best you can and get the most out of your education?

If you aim to get the most out of your time studying then good grades will follow anyway. Sure, there may be compromises e.g. you might take a harder module because you enjoy it more and maybe you may get a lower grade than if you took an easier option, but if you care about what you are doing and put the effort in you'll get good grades.

Put it this way, if you don't get good grades and feel you could have, you'll regret it sooner or later.

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Your concern is, I assure you, unnecessary - I do try to aim for the best grades possible simply because I always try to do my best. Which happens automatically when it's something I enjoy. –  gablin Oct 29 '10 at 10:42

Honestly, it all depends on the employer. If all they have to go on is your GPA, without any listed experience, it can be a factor. There are so many variables that are accounted for in the hiring process, such as the type of personality you exhibit, the degree of professionalism you exhibit when you answer questions, your on-hand technical knowledge that applies to the job in question, etc. When compared to these other factors, I think that grades are somewhat of a low priority, but can be a determining factor when weighing one job candidate vs. another.

I'm currently a new developer and my educational background is in geology/GIS. When I interviewed with my currently employer, I had very little to go on in terms of experience in the industry. I ended up getting through the interview based on the other factors I listed earlier. I think my good GPA was further support in proving that I have the ability to be disciplined in following tasks and getting them done.

With that said, there are many more important factors in getting past an interview, but for many employers that have very little else to go on when shuffling through a stack of resumes, GPA can have importance in determining if someone makes the cut or if they're being compared to someone else with similar abilities.

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