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I once attended a top-10 American university but I am currently not in school for several different reasons. Chief among them is that I did very poorly two semesters and even failed one of them (got two F's) which put me in automatic suspension. My major is not CS but math.

I am in a pickle at the moment. After I was suspended I got a job at a niche IT company in the area. I am employed as something of an IT generalist; my primary responsibilities are Windows systems administration/networking but I also do some Android, iOS, and .NET development. I have released a few apps to the app store under my name and my company's name, and we have done work for a few big clients. I started working at my job about 1.5 years ago and I am somewhat happily employed but I do not see it as a long-term fit because it is a small company with little opportunity to advance.

I would like to move out to California and particularly to the Bay Area to get a job at a more reputable or exciting company, even at a lower rate of pay, but I am not sure if I should do that or try to go back to school.

If I went back to school, it would take 1-1.5 years to graduate and some $. Best case scenario I would graduate with a 2.9 or 3.0 GPA. It is a top-10 school, but that's a crappy GPA.

If I do not go back to school, I will be a field where most people have degrees, without a degree. If anything goes wrong I could be really screwed as I feel I will get no respect without a degree. On the other hand I really would like to get started in the field and get more serious about developing good development practices, learning new languages/frameworks, and working with people who know a lot more than I so I can learn and grow as a developer and eventually do my own thing.

Basically, I am wondering:

  1. Should I just go back to school? How much does the bad GPA / good school reputation weigh in? What about the fact that I am a Math major and not a CS major (have never taken a CS course)?
  2. Does my skill set as something of a generalist bode well for me finding work at a start up in the Bay Area?
  3. If not (2), should I hunker down and focus on producing a really good (or a few mediocre) iOS apps? Android apps? etc.
  4. How would you look at someone who did great in HS, kind of goofed off in college and eventually quit, and got into development?
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closed as off topic by Jim G., Glenn Nelson, Yannis Rizos Apr 2 '12 at 3:41

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Career advice is off topic, please read our FAQ thoroughly. –  Yannis Rizos Apr 2 '12 at 3:41
    
I think this question is very pertinent to Programmers. Case in point, the asker thinks that the majority of developers have a degree. I don't know the full numbers; but I know a sizeable number of technologists without degrees and some of the most notable names in the industry are college dropouts. This is one of the few fields where your applied talent determines your success. –  Mike Brown Apr 2 '12 at 4:10
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This may be a good question for The Workplace Currently in commitment phase at Area51. Please go and commit to supporting this community. (We are 7 commitments from going live lets push it through!) –  Chad Apr 2 '12 at 13:31
    
If you have a job, then your GPA would not be held against you, since you have a job now it would mean your current may even pay you more money for having a degree. Once you decide to go to a new job, outside of the fact you have a degree, they won't even know your GPA unless you tell them. After your first job unless you have a 4.0 GPA removing the GPA from your resume is fine. I decided while looking for my first job I wouldn't even mention my GPA, I was able to find a job, they didn't even care my technical knowlege spoke for itself. –  Ramhound Apr 2 '12 at 15:42

5 Answers 5

... I was going to upvote TomJ but forgot this isn't stackoverflow and I'm a newb here :)

Sure, I've got a BSEE from a state school with 3.73 gpa and maybe that got me in the door at the one real professional software job I had. But being able to flowchart problems and algorithms and hand write syntax-perfect C code is what got me the job. That particular company's staff were all from a small high end school and looked down at anyone not from their school regardless of GPA. Being able to convey my ability to help them in the interview is what got me hired.

If you've got the skills to solve a company's problems and they see it, they'll hire you. Employee #2 at a startup long ago bought up had a bachelor's degree from University of Phoenix. Yes, 888-UoP-info. He was crucial to implementing Employee #1's theories in code and hardware. And doesn't have to work another day of his life. So, go to Cali, try to network with people and get a job. If not, UoP.

Caveat: I have had friends in high level positions with some corporations where they had written policies dictating wage/position limits based on whether they were a degree holder.

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A Degree can only result in you getting paid less. It can be the difference between "Yes" and "No", having a degree will not prevent the "No", but it certainly won't be the reason. You made a good point, networking is important, and key to getting a job in this field. Being able to prove your knowlege is also important. You need a reason to get in the door, so you can do exactly that, and a degree often is exactly that "a reason". –  Ramhound Apr 2 '12 at 15:47

Lots of people hit a rough pitch in college. Many flunk out, and never recover. Many more drop out. Not so many hit the rough pitch, are given academic suspension, and then come back, recover, and finish their degrees. Although it is not written anywhere on the diploma, or on your transcript, finishing your degree demonstrates beyond doubt that you can see a long, difficult task through to the finish.

The fact that you graduated AT ALL means a hell of a lot in today's world. The fact that you went back and finished it, after almost flunking out, after being given academic suspension, says a lot about your character.

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As someone who holds a BA in Anthropology, but works as a developer as a living (DC metro area), I would say only go back if you have a tangible reason to do so. One reason may be that you are denied several jobs solely because you do not have a degree.

When I got my job, the only formal technology courses I ever took were basic computer skills (MS Office, Excel, etc.), a class on basic HTML in highschool, and a keyboarding class in middleschool. However, in the interview I was able to explain key OOP concepts and could demonstrate that I could make working and maintainable programs. I then went through a four-week OOP (through Java) training course for my employer and ranked top in the class, despite the vast majority of my classmates holding CS degrees.

I would focus on being able to demonstrate key skills, communicate theory effectively, and networking. I would also get your work out there (and it sounds like you are already doing that). Everything from open source projects, to mobile, to even blogs help in demonstrating skills and knowledge. Lastly, and perhaps the most important skill you can learn is networking. Go on MeetUp and join every programming/development/technical group you can find and just talk with people. Get to know the jargon, who the key players are in your area, what is in demand and what is not. You also get the added benefit of recruiters who routinely go to these functions.

If you need to learn theories and concepts, there are great free learning resources available from world renown schools, like Stanford, MIT and UC Berkley. To start ups like Udacity whose instructors hail from schools like Virginia Tech and Stanford.

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Honestly the answer to whether or not you can succeed in the field now or in the future depends on how hard you're willing to work and how well you can sell yourself both on paper and during interviews (then later on at work). For me personally, I don't feel I'm very good at selling myself unless I'm nearly 100% convinced that I'm qualified for the job. Other people have the ability to sell ice to Eskimos!

Some thoughts to consider:

  1. If an employer sees that you went to such a high end school and failed/quit, it is possible that they will see from that that you won't finish what you set out to do when it gets hard or that you can't adapt to a tough situation.
  2. The field is definitely very competitive and those with degrees and those with higher GPA's tend to stand out near the top of the list of potential candidates during the resume review and final selection.
  3. In my opinion having the degree even with a 3.0 will give you more long term job security than not. This field is changing so rapidly that employers want to know you know how to learn and move with the changes. Many high end jobs even pay for employees to seek further education for that reason because they see the value of having well educated employees.
  4. While generalists are needed in the field, from what I have observed its those who have a specialty that really take off and do well.

My recommendation would be to finish what you started. Work to get the 3.0 and you will likely still look good to potential employers. If it were me, I know I would regret it down the road if I hadn't stuck it out in college and gotten the degree. Remember that it doesn't really matter how good you are. Its how good do you look to the people who are going to pay you? While in most cases the two points of view are very closely linked, they're not always and in my opinion its better to be on the safer side of the equation.

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Finish your degree! In a few years, noone will care about your GPA, but people will care if you finished your degree for the rest of your career.

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