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Becoming a professional programmer, without going to college?

I am currently a junior in college, however I have had multiple jobs programming since high school. Currently I work programming at a company part time using many different languages that I have learned the past few years.

I recently sat down with a advisor and discovered with the classes I have left to take, I will learn next to nothing in them, as I already know the concepts and how to apply them for all the classes.

My current job has offered me a full time position and I have had other companies email me as well.

My question is if I know for a fact that I cannot learn more at college, is there even a point in staying?

I know for a fact I could spend my time in more productive ways programming and working then what I am doing in school.

Do you think to be looked at seriously as a programmer you need a degree?

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marked as duplicate by Doc Brown, gnat, jk., Jim G., maple_shaft Nov 2 '12 at 11:31

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

How much money do you want to make? – Pieter B Nov 2 '12 at 7:24
Your misconception here is that you have already learned everything you can get from a college or a high school, and a "degree is only something to let people look differently at you". If you really believe that, you know nothing. A different question is if you don't want to learn any academic knowledge before taking a full-time job - that is something you have to decide for your own. – Doc Brown Nov 2 '12 at 7:30
You answered your own question: the remaining classes will teach you nothing useful, therefore you do not need them. Think of changing a college (instead of giving up education entirely). – SK-logic Nov 2 '12 at 9:19
And no, theory is the most important thing one can learn. Practice is entirely up to you, nobody is going to be your nanny. You're supposed to learn how to apply your theory on your own, but it is really hard to get the theory right without a guidance. And practice worth nothing without a good and solid theoretical foundation. – SK-logic Nov 2 '12 at 9:23
We've been running a lot of interviews, looking for new hires lately. We came across a few that began their college education, but didn't finish it. It reflects poorly upon your ability to finish up commitments, and makes employers (especially managerial types) hesitant to call you in for a one-on-one interview. You already have two years. Just finish them up. – KChaloux Nov 2 '12 at 13:13

8 Answers 8

up vote 16 down vote accepted

This might sound a bit cynical, but I personally see a degree as not much more than the ticket that gets me into a job interview. By itself, a degree isn't extremely important, since many companies put a high degree of value on experience. But in my experience, most job descriptions require some sort of degree, and without one, you won't make it past the first filter.

That's not to say your college studies are completely worthless. You have an opportunity to learn a lot of theory. If not from the professors, from your textbooks and fellow students. You get as much out of college as you put in, and I personally wish I had invested a bit more when I had the chance.

In summary: Make the most of your current situation; learn as much as you can now, and get your degree! Even if you get nothing else from your studies, you'll still come out with a ticket into the job market.

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+1 for you get as much out as you put in – jk. Nov 2 '12 at 10:37

No, a programmer doesn't need a College degree. However, many companies use it as a filtering mechanism to narrow down the possible candidates.

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"However, many companies use it as a filtering mechanism to narrow down the possible candidates.": You make it sound as if companies do not know what they are doing. – Giorgio Nov 2 '12 at 11:10
That's more often than not the case. Especially when HR is involved in the recruitment process :) – Juha Untinen Nov 2 '12 at 12:12
Maybe a programmer doesn't need a college degree, but remember: "do not call yourself a programmer". – Andres F. Nov 2 '12 at 13:49

It all depends on what kind of college are you going to and what kind of career do you want to pursue in the future.

Some CS colleges are simply bad in what and how they teach. They mostly teach "code monkeys" and they don't really teach you much if you are doing programming yourself. Sadly, those seem to be majority.

The other kind are colleges that focus on theory of computing and breadth of what they teach. The problem is, what they teach is usually not that useful in real world, because it is either extremely theoretical or of extremely specific domain. These colleges are perfect if you want to focus on research and not really good if you want to find a job developing something.

My advice : Do both. Go to college and find a part-time job. Yeah, it will be hard and jobs you can choose from are limited, but it is doable. And you get both theory and practice.

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It's worth noting that there are a lot of degrees here in the UK which do a year in industry after your 2nd year, and it's possible to do a summer internship during your degree too, so there are lots of ways to get professional experience while doing a degree. – Latty Nov 2 '12 at 9:42

This question is somewhat regional, so I am talking from the UK perspective. As someone who has recently been involved with recruiting programmers, I can tell you that if someone has had many years proven experience in programming, then frankly I find the fact that they have a degree is irrevelvant, as the vast majority of what they know will have been learnt since college/uni.

The problem is getting that first rung on the ladder. If someone has no experience then I would be unlikely to employ them without some proof of ability, and this would usually be a degree.

There are good developers I work with who have worked their way up from data entry, and been coding 10 years. For them a degreee would be pointless.

As you already had a foot on the ladder, I'm not sure you needed to start a course in the first place. You don't state how long you have left to go, but it sounds like you done the majority of the course. In this case, I can't in all concience reccomend you drop out.

If your question was really 'Does a programmer need college?' Then I'd say No, a programmer doesn't always ned one, but most often find they do just to kick start their career.

If your question was actually (as I suspect) 'Should I bother finishing?' Then I would say yes, finish what you've started.

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Coders that learnt by experience get the job done. But more often than not, they get it done badly and using bad practices and habits acquired over the years. Formal training and theory is a key component of software development. Otherwise, you're just a code monkey. No different than a plumber. – Zoran Pavlovic Nov 4 '12 at 17:33
Sounds like UK is similar to Australia: a degree is regarded as a piece of paper to get you your first job, after that people only ever care about work history. I never take my academic record to job interviews and have never asked to see a candidates when hiring. In fact no one ever asked to see my degree for my first job position! – MrLane Jun 4 '14 at 2:29

Does a programmer really need college?

The short answer is: No.

However, it sounds as though you have started some form of tertiary education. If I were you I'd finish it anyway. Trying to get back in formal education once you have started working is going to be almost impossible.

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At least in Germany, where I'm located, there is a huge part of job descriptions that don't explicitly require a degree. Companies often just look for experienced programmers. In fact several of my co-workers have no college degree. So if you have enough experience to to prove your programming skills, I guess it is not a problem to find a job.

However, unless you are already making millions with your own startup, I would never advice anybody to quit college. It is not only about learning things, but college also offers you some valuable spare time to do your own projects and gather experience.

And unfortunately, a degree makes a difference when it comes to money. No matter how good you are at programming, you will probably get more money with a degree and in some companies a college degree is a requirement for management positions.

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Does a programmer need college? NO. Often experience can give you sufficient knowledge and skills to become a good programmer.

Can college make you a better programmer? Definitely YES! There are a lot of concepts and skills that you can learn during your study that can help you

  • write more robust code more efficiently,
  • improve your analytical attitude (if necessary you can spend a few weeks on a problem, you value the time spent going deep into a topic, you have better long-term thinking),
  • produce better software designs,
  • learn new programming languages more quickly (because you know the theory behind them),
  • look at technologies from a more abstract point of view, making you less dependent on a particular technology or vendor.

Of course, these skills might not be very important if you plan to only code throughout your career, but they might come in handy as soon as you want to work on more complex projects or get a higher job position (senior software engineer, architect, manager). So college is IMO more a long-term investment.

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Depends, many employers first look at the diplomas, certifications or recommendations. In my case the diplomas was very helpful due to lower taxes paid by my employee. Also certifications also count more than any diploma, so I would advise you to get them for the technologies you use for your actual or for your future jobs.

In my case the College and University thought me how to think and gathered basic knowledge, after that was self learning and skills gathered when I worked, so think before you make any decisions.

My opinion listen to your adviser too.

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