Fog Creek Software
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Breaking into development without a degree

Well, I am finally moving this topic on its own. Sorry AC for clogging your thread. This is place where people can discuss the pros,cons, and any other information on why not having a degree will get your resume thrown out in the first rounds of filtering. I personally feel that it is unfair to do the first rounds of judgement based on this fact because there is relatively no correlation between Academic Computer Science and real-world computer programming. Anything that can be learned in a classroom can equally be learned reading books. So why is so much emphasis put on reading the books and not as much on the experience?

Giampiero
Thursday, December 12, 2002

here is the link to the other topic that I accidentally cluttered up with this discussion.

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=22354

Giampiero
Thursday, December 12, 2002

" I personally feel that it is unfair to do the first rounds of judgement based on this fact... "

Grow up. Who cares if you personally feel it is unfair? I personally feel it is unfair that I haven't been selected to star in a feature film about my life.

"...because there is relatively no correlation between Academic Computer Science and real-world computer programming."

This isn't true if you are writing a compiler, or anything to do with computer graphics, or writing a search engine, or anything beyond dotNet/J2EE backoffice style applications...

"...Anything that can be learned in a classroom can equally be learned reading books.  ..."

I will grant you that.

"So why is so much emphasis put on reading the books and not as much on the experience?"

This is a straw man. More emphasis is put on experience in 99% of the cases. If you don't have a degree, you have to get creative about getting hired. Mailing your resume to the HR robot is not a good strategy. I worked as a programmer for 6 years (starting at age 18) before finishing my undergraduate degree, which was in mathematics and biology. 

raven
Thursday, December 12, 2002

During my freshman year at Virginia Tech, my Intro to Comp. Sci. professor told the class, straight out, "You're in this class because you're chasing a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science.  CS is theory, CS is architecture, CS is design.  Computer programming is a 2 year degree.  If that is what you're looking for, you've come to the wrong place."

We were forewarned.  That was 1995; while non-degree-chasers were working away during the dot.com boom, I decided to stay, but stretch out 4 years into 5 with server infrastructure co-oping.  I came out with a Bachelor's degree, 2 years of experience (I worked for the school as well while taking classes), and an ability for analytical thought I wouldn't have gotten on my own, or from a book.  Without that ability, I couldn't do my job of troubleshooting/debugging of enterprise systems, a job that I'm (relatively) happy with; I didn't want to be a programmer-drone to begin with.

Fact is, someone may think they're the best thing since sliced bread, but so do the other 600 people applying for the job.  You may be great, but if they're great with the tenacity and training it takes to get a CS degree, whittling down is a no-brainer.

Not Joel Spolsky
Thursday, December 12, 2002

A CS degree tells you a few things:

- The person had their stuff together from age 18-22 enough to occupy a chair 15 hours a week.
- The person was able to follow rules and procedures from age 18-22.
- Likely, the person learned something about algorithms and wrote simple programs from age 18-22.

How do you judge a 35 year old, mid-range developer based on these criteria?  Sure, a degree is better than no degree, but of all the axis on which to measure a resume, these are pretty weak.

I am sensitive to this issue, as I dropped out of school at 15, never to return.  I'm lucky to have found a company that knows which ingredients make good software and knows you can't order them like you order a pizza.

My advice for the degreeless:  Know something about the industry you're trying to break into.  Applying for a job as a "financial services developer with knowledge of banking practices, protocols, and databases" may get you farther than "know C, have degree".  You'd need to put this front and center on a resume.

What needs to happen is for capitalism to take its course and the good developers (those that are not just programmers) will rise to the top.  Probably optimistic, but there's hope.

Bill Carlson
Thursday, December 12, 2002

Raven,

You tell me to grow up. I have done a lot of growing in my lifetime, went to University for 5 years and got every credit except some electives. So as far as Math/CS goes (which is my degree program) I have as much schooling as any other University graduate. On top of that I have experience and drive. So what prevents me from getting a job? It is that first round of resume sifting that is a simple algorithm

applicant.hasDegree ? cv.keep() : cv.throwOut()

Wow, I am glad that I will be paying my HR people money to do research that a 10 year old can do.

Giampiero
Thursday, December 12, 2002

<snip>
A CS degree tells you a few things:

- The person had their stuff together from age 18-22 enough to occupy a chair 15 hours a week.
- The person was able to follow rules and procedures from age 18-22.
- Likely, the person learned something about algorithms and wrote simple programs from age 18-22.
</snip>

A CS degree will also tell you:

* This person knows about hardware architecture
* This person knows about compilers
* This person understand OO fundamentals
* This person works hard
* This person can learn
* This person has written and verbal skills
* This person can work in a group environment
* This person knows about finite automata
* This person understands network communication protocols
* This person meets deadlines
* This person is motivated
* This person can research

and finally

* This person is "smart and gets things done"

You're right Bill, a CS degree does say a lot.

I have a CS Degree and you don't
Thursday, December 12, 2002

===
I have a CS Degree and you don't
===
,  You must be DREAMING.  You actually believe everyone with a CS degree has even HALF of the skills you listed above??? I'd venture to say that 1/8th of them have those skills.  And now what?  Someone understands what an object is?  This is like saying a guy that studies grammer for 4 years is going to be able to write a best selling novel.  I don't think so. 
  There is one thing I think a CS degree will do.  I believe it will take a GOOD programmer, teach him things he hasn't thought about (i'm busy learning j2EE, not O notation), and sharpen his skills even more.  It does not make programmers, it does not make computer science professionals, it doesn't even make good code monkeys. 

Vincent Marquez
Thursday, December 12, 2002

"A CS degree will also tell you:

* This person knows about hardware architecture
* This person knows about compilers
* This person understand OO fundamentals
* This person works hard
* This person can learn
* This person has written and verbal skills
* This person can work in a group environment
* This person knows about finite automata
* This person understands network communication protocols
* This person meets deadlines
* This person is motivated
* This person can research"

I don't know what school YOU went to, but for any graduate I know with a CS degree, it wasn't THAT necessary to do any of these things. For some students, the only real benefit to college is learning how to slack and fake it when need be.

Anyone that says "This guy has a degree" and infers from it that "This person works-hard-can-learn-meets-deadlines- etc" is ignorant in my book. Not everybody worked/studied their asses off in university.

Mark
Thursday, December 12, 2002

Have you interviewed many "recent" graduates?  Obviously, there's tremendous variation, and I'm happy you learned those things, but it isn't universal.  The ones I've interviewed we're mostly in desparate need of some reality therapy (with exceptions, of course).

Also, this knowledge is useful, but comprises only a small portion of what most people actually do.  I've had to write 1/2 dozen hash functions in my career.  I've never had to write a "good" hash function, though.  Most developer's haven't.

Getting trained as a chef doesn't qualify you to run a sausage factory.

Bill Carlson
Thursday, December 12, 2002

Several months ago I met a very nice guy on a train in the last year of his CS degree from Rutgers.  He said that all the classes were in Java -- no Pointers at all.  he said he knew what pointers were in theory, but did not know why someone would use one.  You project managers out there can look for him in your 'must interview' pile.

CS is very useful, but not the only measure of talent for interviewers.

RW
Thursday, December 12, 2002

if they're great with the tenacity and discipline it takes to educate themselves, whittling down is a no-brainer.

fool for python
Thursday, December 12, 2002

."On top of that I have experience and drive. So what prevents me from getting a job? It is that first round of resume sifting that is a simple algorithm

applicant.hasDegree ? cv.keep() : cv.throwOut()

Wow, I am glad that I will be paying my HR people money to do research that a 10 year old can do. "

the point being:

"...Mailing your resume to the HR robot is not a good strategy."

Like my old boss always used to say (pardon the expression) "Don't be such a Pussy." There are plenty non-degreed programmers, you just have to a bit more legwork to get hired. Anyway, If you want a good programming job, you typically don't get them by going through HR, degreed or not.

raven
Thursday, December 12, 2002

Bill,

I recently hired a guy with a 4 year degree and 2 years work experience.  He graduated from a top notch school, with top notch grades.  Super star material, no question.

I'd stack him up against any guy that has 6 years of ONLY work experience.

I'll even give you 2 to 1 odds.

------------------------------------------------------

What I am saying is that on the surface, a CS degree says a lot.  Are all CS grads equal?  No.  A all non-degree candidates equal? No.

Do you have a better chance *on average* that a candidate with a CS degree is better suited?  Absolutely.  No question.

I have a CS Degree and you don't
Thursday, December 12, 2002

Dear Vincent:

<snip>
You must be DREAMING.  You actually believe everyone with a CS degree has even HALF of the skills you listed above???
</snip>

No, I quite clearly stated I believe that they have them ALL.  (Please read more carefully next time).  Did I say that they possess expert capabilities in these areas?  No.  I merely suggested that they have been exposed to them, however limited.

<snip>
And now what?  Someone understands what an object is? 
</snip>

No, I said OO fundamentals.

<snip>
It does not make programmers, it does not make computer science professionals, it doesn't even make good code monkeys. 
</snip>

I am going to go out on *big* limb here and guess you have never attended University?  You don't graduate by sitting on your ass.  There has to be at least a minimum amount of effort.  Which suggests at the very least, a minimum amount of knowledge.  Verifiable, measuable knowledge.

I could give a rats ass about some guy that read a book about compliers.  That in no way, implies that he actually understood  the material.  I know that my CS compadre has, at *least* a minimum of understanding.  He has a grade to prove it.

I have a CS Degree and you don't
Thursday, December 12, 2002

"I have done a lot of growing in my lifetime, went to University for 5 years and got every credit except some electives"

After all that, you gave up, or at the least changed your mind.  To me, that says much more negatively than not having gone at all.

Not Joel Spolsky
Thursday, December 12, 2002

I started out  20 years ago with no degree.  I wouldn't recommend anyone do that now.

It would have been easier back then if I had a degree, and now it would be almost impossible. 

Gerald Brandt
Thursday, December 12, 2002

These threads always devolve into stupidity. There are tons of developers with degrees, tons without. I don't know why people get into these pissing matches about whether or not a boring computer computer science degree is relevant or not to obtaining a boring programming job.  If you want an interesting career, you have to just do something interesting. Neither 5 years of programming experience nor a degree in computer science will make much of a difference, if you want to do something cooler with your life than being a mid-level software architect weenie. 

Giampiero, if you want a software job, and don't want to go back to school, unfortunately you will have to become a bad-ass on your own, write a cool demo app, and try to make friends with someone at the company you want to work for, who can recommend you to be hired. However, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

raven
Thursday, December 12, 2002

I would just like to say that I started this thread because I believe that both employers and potential employees are losing out because of a misconception that a College Grad necessarily has some kind of advantage over a non-grad. I don't think that even 50% of college grads can program as well as is expected of them. I have lots of CS friends and I have helped them many times (including post-grad students) with programming problems. Why? Because I know Windows programming. Learning programming through Computer Science is like learning to walk by reading a book.

And for you people that believe that university shows some fortitude. I know what I saw when I was in school. Most of my CS friends did nothing but play video games all year round. Then they would drink a lot. Rush their assignment at the last minute and get a decent grade. They would miss a crapload of classes and then catch-up by reading the textbook. If these people were trained assassins they wouldn't be able to kill a sloth that was already dead.

Giampiero
Thursday, December 12, 2002

I don't have a degree, primarily because I stuck my resume up on the net for kicks while I was still a student and ended up getting an offer I couldn't refuse. 

I've thought about finishing the degree at some point because I'm sure it would open doors, but now I'm not sure if these are doors I'd want to open.  A company that would reject an applicant based solely on lack of degree probably isn't a company that's worth working for.  This demonstrates that they have little interest in true merit and don't know much about software or people. 

I've written countless lines of code for dozens of applications that I've developed out of personal interest.  I've been involved from the ground up in numerous shipped products.  I wouldn't want to waste my time with a company that would reject me outright for someone who has a degree but doesn't know what a pointer is.  Not having a degree provides a convenient filter for this.

DropOut
Thursday, December 12, 2002

Giampiero, you are perfectly correct, but the world is not perfect. You need to develop particular expertise in some field, so you can impress experts in that field. That will get you hired.

Also, having useful apps, or having the experience to discuss the pitfalls in creating those apps, will get you a job, possibly even while the economy is in its current parlous state.


Thursday, December 12, 2002

It's not correct to say that a CS degree is required for computer graphics. Almost all the early commercial work in games engines was by non-degree people and large numbers of high quality software engineers in the field entered from other areas.

Smart people CAN learn all this without someone pushing it to them. Let me say, people with this ability are at the top of the tree. Sometimes they do indeed go directly into PhD programs.


Thursday, December 12, 2002

Giampiero,

This is nothing more than an argument about perceived value.  I perceive commercial software to be more valuable than open source software.  There are many opinions on this - but the only one that counts is your customer's opinion. 

Your customer is the potential employer.  The typical employer sees you with no degree and no "real-world experience" and says - if this guy didn't spend his time (and yeah, money) on a relevant education to make himself more valuable than the next guy - what value is he presenting me with? 

Note:  I'm not saying you don't have the experience, or offer no value, etc.  Hell, I admire a friend of mine who's one of the developers for EA/The Sims Online.  He never set foot in college.  He's the best developer I've ever met and if I become 1/2 the programmer he is, I'll more than exceed my own expectations.  But that's what - maybe 5% of the developer population.  Even he told me to get my degree.

My opinion is that a degree is only useful to get you an interview before you have any experience and to put you ahead of people who don't have degrees.

I spent the first 2 years of college pursuing CS at a university.  After realizing that I had no interest in engineering level math or physics, and that I learned more on my own putzing around with algorithm books, VC++, VB, web development, etc.  I did however know that I needed that damned piece of paper to have a decent chance at getting a job.  So I got a CIS degree (*ducks*) and spent my 'free-time' learning & building apps with VC/VB/etc.  It proved to be invaluable, but without that degree, I probably wouldn't have gotten the interview and hence, the job. 

Giampiero, if you have connections in the software business, you have a shot without a degree.  Otherwise, hit the books my friend ;-)  Talk about rambling - sorry folks.

GiorgioG
Thursday, December 12, 2002

Giampiero,

<quote>
Well, I am finally moving this topic on its own. Sorry AC for clogging your thread. This is place where people can discuss the pros,cons, and any other information on why not having a degree will get your resume thrown out in the first rounds of filtering.
</quote>

You have to look at it from the point of view of the hirer. Lets say they have 50 applicants - not uncommon for a programmer job in Sydney at the moment. They need to choose who to interview - they obviously can't interview all 50 of them (due to time constraints). So, they sort the 50 into 3 piles:

* To Interview
* Maybe To Interview
* Not To Interview

The third pile is for people who don't meet the essential criteria (the essential criteria being different for every job), who didn't include a cover letter - basic stuff like that...

The difficult thing is splitting up all the other resumes (probably at least 30 of the original 50 would have survived so far) between the first two piles. Of the remaining 30, probably 4 - 10 will get into the first pile.

So, how do you quickly cut 30 to 4 or 10? Basically, you flick through each one. Very quickly. And if there is ANY excuse to put the resume in pile two rather than pile one, you stick it in pile two. Lacking a degree may be one such reason. Age may be another one. And so on and so on. Its not that you love degrees that much. Its just that you need to cut the 30 to 4 or 10. And doing it based on having a degree is a good a strategy as any...

In short, while I understand your point of view, if you think about it from the hirers point of view, it makes a little more sense. The best advice I can give is to work VERY hard on your resume and cover letter. That way, at least, you can try and reduce the odds of being a pile two'er.

Seeya

Matthew Wills
Thursday, December 12, 2002

I find it hard to sympathize with hiring managers who rifle through a stack of resumes scanning for keywords.

Okay, you're hiring a mid-range programmer.  You're going to pay ~$100K fully loaded.  A programmer typically needs to generate around 2x their salary in revenue to even bother.  The difference between programmers is huge.  So, really, you're looking at a $300,000 decision.  That's a nice house in many parts of the U.S.

If I'm making a $300,000 decision, I'm not going to say "gee, I've got an hour before that next meeting.  Let me run through this stack really quick and pick 3 to interview".  I'm gonna agonize over it.  But that's just me.  $300K is a lot of beans.  And yes, I'm going to look at EVERYTHING.

For me, the intuitive approach works best.  Read the resume and think "do I want to meet this person?" "does their choice of words and presentation indicate someone process oriented or task oriented?" "are they a bandwagon jumper?" "have they had to take responsibility for their work?" "are they a buyer of ideas or a seller?" "have they completed long, boring projects?"

These are all more critical factors than "Degree: Yes/No".  No, you can't always pull info like this from a resume, but it's the info you really need.

Bill Carlson
Thursday, December 12, 2002

didn't steve wozinak build the apple II out of parts from radio shack, write the operating system himself, then write the basic interpreter, then single handedly write most of the early software titles? From scratch? In assembler? Without a degree?  Sorry to sound like a Nike commercial, but if you want to do something, "Just Do It." Don't worry about whether or not it is "fair" that HR people throw out whomever's resume because they do/don't have a degree...

weAllSuck
Thursday, December 12, 2002

Bill,

<quote>
If I'm making a $300,000 decision, I'm not going to say "gee, I've got an hour before that next meeting.  Let me run through this stack really quick and pick 3 to interview".  I'm gonna agonize over it.  But that's just me.  $300K is a lot of beans.  And yes, I'm going to look at EVERYTHING.
</quote>

Maybe your way IS a better way. But the fact is, most people don't act like you. Almost everyone I speak to regarding recruitment (in all fields - from public health to insurance) act closer to the way I specify in my post.

I am not saying that I LIKE it. Just that that is the way it is. And by knowing that that is the way it is for the majority of people doing the hiring, you can customise your approach for your audience.

As an example, if most people were like you, I would write a ten page resume with alot of detail - since I will know you will read the whole thing. And no point doing a cover letter - since you are going to read the whole resume anyway.

But I know most people aren't like you. For most jobs, I include a one page cover letter addressing their specific criteria. And the first page of my resume / CV is a summary - since I know half the people reading it won't read the second page onwards (or, if they do, its only because they like what they see on the first page). And my resume is 2 to 3 pages long (total).

The point of my post was to help the original poster get into the minds of the average hirer. OK - you are an exception, and a good exception at that, for which you should be proud. But, by definition, the exception is not normal (ie like everyone else doing the hiring).

Seeya

Matthew Wills
Thursday, December 12, 2002

Thanks for the kind words, Matthew.  I agree with you on the current state of affairs.  I've had people ask me "what's the next big thing after the internet?".  I never had an answer.  Well, maybe the answer is "some way to know who you're about to hop into bed with".

Aside from choosing a business model, the right people are _everything_.  I'm floored to see that there isn't more recognition of this fact and proportional effort spent on the hiring process.

We're stuck with being offered a one page investment "prospectus" with unverifiable information and only half the story (a resume)?  This isn't good enough.

If someone can solve this "problem", business would be changed forever.

In theory, large companies that grow forests of "dead wood" would eventually succumb to the marketplace.  Surprising it doesn't happen more often...

Bill Carlson
Thursday, December 12, 2002

[The person had their stuff together from age 18-22 enough to occupy a chair 15 hours a week.]

Some of us don't have degrees because we were poor, not because we were lazy.

I made two companies 500k+ in the last year, some how managing to do so without a CS degree. And as they say "I have a CS Degree and you don't" money talks and bullshit walks so stfu and write code you code monkey with a degree.


People without degrees: Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Michael Dell, Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs, Theodore Waitt, Norm Waitt, Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, Harry S. Truman, Stephen Speilberg, David Geffen, John Glenn,  Ted Turner, Wolfgang Puck, Bob Pittman, Thomas Monaghan, Micky Arison, Debra Fields, Leonard Riggio, Ernest Gallo, etc, etc ...

These people changed your very way of life but I bet you still think that degree is your ticket to paradise. WRONG. It's called hard work, get used to it.

trollbooth
Thursday, December 12, 2002

very well said, if not in the most elequent way, trollboth.
:-)
Hard work and smarts is what makes someone successfull.  I think some people get a lot out of a university, but then again, I also think those people would have gotten a lot out of learning on their own time.
    Its quite obvious "I have a CS degree and you don't" hasn't had a whole lot of real world experience.  The statements I made contradicting his "This is what CS people have" was based upon many hours interviewing new candidates, sifting through resumes, and general experience working with different people.  One of the best developers I know has a masters. The second best developer I know didn't graduate high school.  They both make a crapload of money. 

Vincent Marquez
Thursday, December 12, 2002

Just a little thought...
Maybe the real "extra" that the CS (or related) degrees is what they teach you that is _not_ directly related to programming??

Of course, anybody can learn about almost anything from a book, so those degree-less who are motivated will probaby be more up-to-date about "the pillars" of the profession than a recent grad. They'll have more experience, so they might (probably?) be better "programmers"....

I used to complain, when I started my degree (Industrial Engineer, a 6 years programme) about all the subjets totally unrealted to those I knew were "important" to my goal that I had to take. I mean, I wanted to be an _Electrical / Control Engineer!_ Who need Fluid Mechanics (2 terms), and "Material Stress and resistance" (2 terms), and Chemical Engineering, and ... you get the point, I guess. I had to suffer through them, and all to get "not even a basic understanding" of them, maybe I managed to "fake it and slack it". OK. Possibly ;) BUT that means I know enough on the topic as to be able to fake it, so I am aware that the topic exists, I have the two basic ideas down pat, and I know where to go looking for info should I need to "fake it" a little better....

And you know what? I no longer think all those topics were a waste of time. Quite the contrary, because the "real" basics of what I want to do are things I would / will learn for sure, as those are the things I _will_ have to use on my daily job. But those other "bits and pieces" I have had to go through, they have given me bigger insights into things I would have missed otherwise....

I think that it's a matter of width versus depth. It's important to have a deep knoweldge of your field of endeavour, but I believe to be a truly great pro (in _any_ field) you have to have a breadth of interests and knoweldge. I think University is not so much about imparting knoweldge (books are for a reason) but more for giving an education. And there is a difference.

Of course, that doesn't mean that having a degree will magically make any difference. The best pro I know hasn't finished his degrees, but is a IT Director on one of the technical biggies around here, and he's barely 30 ;) He's the best person to ask about any of the things he knows about; his knoweldge is deep, his understanding great. But he admits sometimes he misses to "miss" some more "wider vision" (though that might be his striving for perfection; he surely works on compensating for that)

Talking about degrees vs not, and the importance of having a degree to be a "real" programmer, Alan Cox (I think that's a good example of what could be called "real macho programmer") once said (can't find the URL, sorry), that having a degree was important for all those things besides programming that you are "force fed", things like calculus, logic, and even history and philosophy, that will make you a better programmer.

Ok, back to the cave now :)

Javier
Thursday, December 12, 2002

Javier, your argument can be used the other way too. Those who, by dint of talent and application, can master new topics typically master them with much more width and depth than those who are fed the main points in a university course.

That much-vaunted concept of team work at university also means people can get pushed through by their friends or tutors. In the real world, they don't where to start or how to interact.


Thursday, December 12, 2002

Hi Giampiero,

Whether you have a degree or not is overwhelmed by other issues that make that one irrelevant.

Here is what I gather from the persona you are putting forth:

1. You went to some lame ass school for drunk jokers in Canada.
2. For whatever reason, you 'almost' completed the degree. This only says one thing - you did not finish the degree. Did you have to stop to take care of your ailing parent in a remote area? No? Well then I would have to conclude that you gave up because you couldn't handle it. Maybe it was something else, but I know what it looks like and it looks bad. Considere never mentioning your college background - it will work against you to bring it up in an employment situation. I know plenty of people who dropped out. The attrition rate is enormous, particularly at the best schools. Students can't get past key courses, their grades are lousy, they get addicted to video games and/or liquor and don't finish assignments. At top schools, these are the ones who drop out, not, as you suggest, the ones who graduate.
3. You have a terrible attitude that would poison the team.
4. You talk big but don't have a portfolio that you can show me right now. That means to me (as someone evaluating your big claims) that you are entirely full of crapola.

See - lots of good reasons not to hire you and none of them are relevant to having gone to college vs not having gone to college.

Don't take this personally, you're probably not like this at all. I'm just telling you what a hiring manager is going to see.

Sarain H.
Friday, December 13, 2002

I don't recall Giampierno ever mentioning that he was Canadian.

HockeyAndDonuts
Friday, December 13, 2002

He mentioned it in the other thread where he started this discussion.

I am saying nothing about Canadian Universities. I know nothing about them. I am simple repeating back the story he has told us, showing that the problem with his not getting callbacks after 'dropping off' his resume may not have anything to do with the degree issue but be the way he presents himself.

Sarain H.
Friday, December 13, 2002

I didn't even know there were universities in Canada.

HockeyAndDonuts
Friday, December 13, 2002

The best new employee we hired lately, I was one of the two interviewers and pushed to employ him.

While I probably noticed whether he had a degree or not, I realised afterwards that I hadn't given a crap about degrees in the interview. I talked to him, asked him to do simple little problems, describe projects (You know the drill ;) and it was pretty easy to see he was good.

Aaron Lawrence
Friday, December 13, 2002

First, I have a CS degree. Now that's out of the way let me go on.

Whoever said that it isn't fair that you need (in many/most cases) to have a CS degree to get a job is absolutely right. Tough. Them's the rules, if you don't like them then you don't have to play. Alternatively you can start your own company and hire whoever you like, because then its your game and you get to make the rules.

Does it make sense to require a CS degree? No, probably not. As has been said, where you learn something is unimportant, what matters is that you either know it or know how to find out about it (incidentally, the latter that is another thing which can go on "IHaveADegree"'s list, but that's not the point).

So your choices are fairly simple:
1) Post here and complain about it;
2) Get yourself a degree (it doesn't matter whether you agree with it or not, just nod your head, say "Yes massa", and think "Fsck you" - if you believe a degree is unimportant then it shouldn't matter if you /do/ have one, right?);
3) See end of second paragraph; or
4) Change the thinking of all of the companies in the world and make it a fairer place.

Some alternatives are mode likely to be productive than others.

H1B thread, anyone?


Friday, December 13, 2002

Why is it that those who seem to insist that a degree is not necessary, are the ones who have none?

Whereas the ones who do have one are not insisting you do need one?

And why is anyone in 2002 arguing that you do not need an education? I mean, if this was 1002, but 2002?!!

Doesn't all this back and forth argueing merely prove that computer related science is too immature to have developed demonstrably valuable education? I mean, would anyone argue that you don't have to study medicine to be a doctor or surgeon? That you might just as well get a lot of practice?

If you really think contemporary education is not sufficient, improve education, but don't promote anarchy.

I am Baffled
Friday, December 13, 2002

Before I dropped out of the degree program I was enrolled in, I took an actual architecture course (architecture, as in buildings.) It was a survey course, where one got to walk about and look at old buildings and whatnot. In the early 1900s, anyone could just say they were an "architect" and design a building, and get it built. If it didn't fall down, served its purpose, and had a bit of style, the architect was successful and got commissioned to build more buildings.  Many of these buildings are still around and are pretty cool.

Nowadays architects have to go to school for 6 years plus a two to four year professional apprenticeship  during which time they  get to draw the lighting plan of the Old Navy superstore opening near you, over and over again. When they finish with their extended training they finally get a chance to work on exciting projects such as remaking live work lofts out of old warehouses , warehouses originally designed by architects with no degree back in 1904. 

Thus, I always find it amusing and somewhat incomprehensible when software people moan about lack of "standards" or certified diplomas and degrees. Embrace the fact that it is one of the few professions where one is _mostly_ judged on quality of work, rather than the number of hoops you have jumped through. If I was a real architect, I'm pretty sure I'd rather be living in 1901 than now...

iDontHaveADegreeAndIMakeMoreMoneyThanYou.
Friday, December 13, 2002

Similarly, back in those days, anyone could pretend to be a doctor and if the patient survived, the doctor was considere succesful and was commissioned to cure more patients.

Need I go on?

I am Baffled
Friday, December 13, 2002

Well, you are setting up a straw man. Software is much more akin to architecture than it is to medicine. In both software and architecture you are creating something, not cutting someone open or prescribing medication.

iDont...
Friday, December 13, 2002

Well, not exactly, but you are right about different circumstance, different solutions. That was part of my point. Just because something might apply to architecture, does not mean it applies to software. Same with medicine. So let's think of the similarities and differences before we pick analogies.

In fact, software is more like both. Some people build software for medical devices, like x-ray machines or even more complex equipment, others build games, and yet others do even more unrelated things.
Point is, some of the applications make a difference between life and death, whereas other are entertaining at best.
Until you decide what you are talking about, you can't have a decent discussion.

One thing that this discussion shows is that people select there arguments based on their own perspective, no matter how much they deny it, and conveniently ignore arguments that do not fit.

I am Baffled
Friday, December 13, 2002

"iDontHaveADegreeAndIMakeMoreMoneyThanYou."

LOL! I bet you don't (the last one I mean). Sorry, but given who I work for, I really believe that you don't (though you may get paid more).


Friday, December 13, 2002

"In fact, software is more like both. Some people build software for medical devices, like x-ray machines or even more complex equipment, others build games, and yet others do even more unrelated things."

Well of course people pick and choose their arguments, didn't you take debate in school? ;-)  I still disagree that software is like medicine, or that degrees are relevant in software.

The point I was making was that software is a more interesting field because one is judged on the merit of his or her work, not because they have a degree from somewhere. Your arguments are getting kind of shaky; they guys who invented the pacemaker were college dropouts, as is Dean Kamen (Segway inventor), who made his fortune with a few medical device patents . 

Particularly humorous (or disconcerting, depending on your point of view) might be the admission that my current contract is with a hospital, desiging a system for syndromatic surveillance and biodefense. (Which really just means an emergency room database with some automated statistical analysis) I have no degree and got the job from a referral, the same way I got my other contracts. My boss is impressed, and is sliding me on to some other projects, where I can get co-authorship on some scientific papers to be published sometime next spring. In my experience, you don't even need academic credentials to excel in academia! ;-)

iDont...
Friday, December 13, 2002

"Well of course people pick and choose their arguments, didn't you take debate in school?"

The operative word was perspective. Which you prove right now, because why should I have taken debate in school? I do not even know what it is. But it must be familiar in your culture, because you did not even stop to think about it.

Of course being judged by your merits is always important, but that is independent from the need, or lack thereof, for a degree of some kind.

And pioneering can't be compared to mainstrain development in any field. They require different approaches by definition.

And last but not least, both our personal experiences are anekdotal and prove or disprove nothing. They add to the probability of something being true or not, but not at all significantly.

My colleagues are building an evacuation system. Luckily there are government laws that set criteria for such equipment, because otherwise commercial interests would certainly decreases the changes that our equipment would actually be worth anything in a crisis. Education and experience of the people involved not withstanding.

I am Baffled
Friday, December 13, 2002

There's another factor to note when thinking about this sort of an issue:

People tend to be blinded by their own university experience (or lack thereof).

It's worth noting that some universities offer a much different experience than you may have had.  While your university may have been full of people slacking off, many others are not.

I got a Computer Science degree at George Mason University, and that degree is considered Ivy League level by many employers.  The coursework was extremely difficult, we worked very hard, and as a result, my degree means a lot to potential employers.

Completing a university degree does require work, and it tells me something -- not everything, but something -- about a person if they got one.  At most, it's a data point, but it's a valuable one.

Matthew Wills is absolutely correct about how employers cut down on the number of resumes they have to read through.  This isn't necessarily fair, but also remember that this doesn't mean employers *won't* look at you if you don't have a degree.  It's just a point against you.

See the thread, "Degrees, Publishing, and Professionality" for more on this.

Brent P. Newhall
Friday, December 13, 2002

Where is George Mason University located?

Yalie
Friday, December 13, 2002

Sarain,

In my own defense. I have a wealth of experience broader than most developers (especially ones out of college). I have skills and working experience from technical writing to testing to IT infrastructure to development. I have been promoted 3 times within a span of 3 years of working experience. I am a solid worker, and I enjoy programming alot. My attitude in my resume says nothing about my short patience for forum flamers.

The school that I went to is called University of Waterloo. Which is one of the top schools in Canada for math and computers. The University of Waterloo actually has a Faculty of Math (Computer Science is a department of the Faculty) instead of just squeezing it into another Faculty. Microsoft, IBM, Sun, Corel, and other notable companies hire co-op students straight from that school.

And the fact that I couldn't finish has nothing to do with my ability to "cut it", because my Math courses are finished and I don't have anything but electives left. Oh, but wait, doesn't my resume say that I am finishing my schooling through correspondance. It sure does. Does that mean I am a quitter? I don't think so.

Wanna hear some more? I managed the entire department effort on the core product at one of my companies while I was a co-op student. That really sounds like I am a bad fit. I also currently manage company infrastructure (which includes Exchange, SQL, Notes, and Web Servers). I have technical skill, a broad range of abilities, responsibility, leadership, and most of all, experience. As far as the theoretical stuff goes I have just as much knowledge as any other college graduate. 

I didn't want to post in this thread again, due to the constant flaming. But I think the fact that I don't even get interviews for Technical Writer jobs shows some lack of critical thinking on the part of the employer. So, maybe I will just lie and put down that I have a degree. I basically do have one. They probably won't do a background check because if I didn't write it down they would be too lazy to read the rest of the document anyway. And even if they did do a check, I wouldn't be in any worse position than I was when I didn't put it down.

Thanks for opening my eyes a little wider everyone.

Giampiero
Friday, December 13, 2002

>>>
I got a Computer Science degree at George Mason University, and that degree is considered Ivy League level by many employers. 
<<<

Never heard of George Mason U. and neither has the newsweek poll.

Beaver Cleaver
Friday, December 13, 2002

I haven't got access to the latest US News rankings, but George Mason appears to be in the first tier National for Law School, but not for Computer Science or in general.

So not Ivy League, but not community college/ diploma mill either.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, December 14, 2002

George Mason U is in northern Virginia.  As has been said, it's best known for its law school.  As an undergraduate program, its draw is mostly regional, but it definitely is a "real" University.

AC
Saturday, December 14, 2002

I'm currently attending Waterloo right now and I can assure that Giampiero's word's are correct.

My friends from second and third (some first!) year from CS and Comp. Eng. did internships at Sybase, IBM, Microsoft, Sun Research Labs. Some are ACM ICPC (inter-collegiate programming contest) medalists.

BTW, we don't have SAT scores, but high-school entrance average cut-off's is 93%.

Pavel Levin
Saturday, December 14, 2002

Pavel,

Thanks for the input. It was bold of you to say that you can assure that Giampiero's words about Waterloo University where you attend are correct, since he said the following:

"And for you people that believe that university shows some fortitude. I know what I saw when I was in school. Most of my CS friends did nothing but play video games all year round. Then they would drink a lot. Rush their assignment at the last minute and get a decent grade. They would miss a crapload of classes and then catch-up by reading the textbook. If these people were trained assassins they wouldn't be able to kill a sloth that was already dead." -- Giampiero

Thanks for telling the whole story. I hadn't heard of Waterloo before but now I know to watch out for it since you both agree about what sort of a University it is.

Sarain H.
Sunday, December 15, 2002

This is true about any school.

There is always a percentage of people that don't spend a lot of time on academics and Waterloo is no different.

However, there are still a lot of bright students around here, it's just they make different choices regarding their university life.

PS One of my classmates IS playing games all year around and DOES catch up last minute all the time. BUT, he is 3rd in class and won every national math and physics competition while in high school. Bottomline: some people are smart and don't have to put a lot of effort to achieve outstanding results, which sometimes annoys people who have to work a lot to suceed (me including).

Pavel Levin
Sunday, December 15, 2002

UWaterloo is no doubt that Canadian university mentioned in Peopleware.  I've heard of it occasionally on /.  Apparently they interview well.

anon
Sunday, December 15, 2002

Hey Pavel,

Yeah I know. I have no beef with UW. I'm sure it's fine. The horse I'm riding on this thread is that G's having problems getting hired and I suspect it's the way he presents himself so I keep repeating his own words to make this point - just holding up the mirror so to speak.

He says a degree means nothing. Then he talks about his credentials of having gone to what he believes is a prestigious university as if that means something despite his having just said that degrees don't mean anything. Then he talks about how the classes there are easy and the students are drunk and no one is serious and then when confronted with this says its a fine university of the highest caliber. He insists he is a model employee who has been the top guy on a variety of projects then insists he is going to have to lie on his resume just to get a job.

Now personally I think this is all a troll and that this G. guy doesn't even exist. "He" is probably an Ecuadorian housewife with nothing better to do during the commercials between daytime soaps than hang out on Joel's board and say silly stuff. After all, if he is so willing to lie on a resume why wouldn't he also be lying about his identity, origin, background and history.

But on the off chance he is for real, I simply make the point that he comes across very poorly and although I would have to interview him to be certain, I am almost positive that he has a bad attitude and would poison a team with his big ego, his complaints, his woe is me story, his confusion about his own life, and his strange hijinks.

Sarain H.
Sunday, December 15, 2002

Oh I forgot to make it constructive criticism so here's my advise for our friend G.

G., if you don't have a nice girlfriend already see if you can find one and treat her well and allow her to offer you advise in the form of "G., when you say this, people will react thus and think this and that about you." This is the process of the girl socializing the guy and can be helpful.

If that doesn't work for you, try some books. Most are quackery but I like "The Friendship Factor". And if you have the cash or the insurance, some time with a therapist can be helpful to give you the same sort of feedback a girlfriend would, though it can be hard to find a good therapist.

Best of luck.

Sarain H.
Sunday, December 15, 2002

Note: The University of Waterloo is a highly reputable school, especially in the realm of Computer Science and Mathematics. And no, I'm not a UW shill.

In my experience hiring programmers, I never actually put much weight into the degree, unless of course, they were a UW graduate (the actual problem with fresh UW graduates is that they expect to make tons of money because of academic lineage -- but this is the same with grads of most top schools).

I've worked with programmers without degrees who were brighter than those who did have CS degrees, and vice versa. A good recruiter looks at the entire picture of the candidate. That means BOTH experience and education are factored in.  A CS degree is no guarantee of a minimum level of competency. To believe this is folly.

And before someone like Sarain starts accusing me of not having an education, I have two degrees. And if I were recruiting even someone like myself, I wouldn't put much weight into the degrees, because they're no indication of what I can or cannot do. Yeah, having a Master's degree is a good way of getting your foot in the door, but there's a big difference between theory and practice. My degrees tell people I understand theory. My experience tells people I understand the real world.

Disclaimer: I actually know Giampiero and worked with him in a team environment. He's a pretty bright guy, and I would have no qualms about hiring him. On the other hand, if I were a recruiterbot type, I can understand why his resume would be passed over, especially in this economy.

Steve Ng
Monday, December 16, 2002

I do recuit as part of my job, though English teachers not programmers, and I can say that Sarian is right - Gampeiro comes across as a disaster.

Let's take his "they won't even hire me as a Technical Writer". Now nearly all Technical Writers I know have one or two degrees (in their technical field and/or in English) and the job is a career in itself that pays a salary between that of a teacher and a developer. It's not the kind of job a drop out final year student can take as a stop-gap instead of working at Macdonalds. If Gampeiro wants to be a technical writer, then he should take a leaf out of Joel's book and enroll for composition classes at Yale.

Also he appears to have a perfectly responsible job, basically a combination of a system administrator and database maintainer/extender. This is the kind of experience he ought to build on, and which many graduates would be happy to have (particularly as it is impossible to outsource), yet instead he seems to be applying for jobs at random, instead of honing his skills or even bothering to finish his degree.

He seems to fail to realize that in mature industries most people work beneath their level of competence; to complain that a job is beneath you is a sign of emotional and intellectual immaturity.

Stephen Jones
Monday, December 16, 2002

When I said "They won't even hire me as a Technical Writer" I wasn't saying that technical writing was beneath me. It was a "I have a lot of working experience as a Technical Writer with good references, why won't they hire me" kind of statement.

My response will be brief in the hopes that I won't get flamed again.

Giampiero
Monday, December 16, 2002

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