Your diploma doesn't matter in the tech world

Tal Nitzan


If you’re aiming for a career in tech and think you need a degree, think again. You don’t. I know that especially in the US there’s a royalty status that’s especially reserved for IVY league grads but if you look at student debt stats you might want to put your ego aside and ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve. The fact of the matter is that the tech environment is advancing much faster than the syllabuses taught in universities and colleges. Just when you wrap your head around a new subject, it already becomes irrelevant and a thing of the past.

The tech world is evolving and we’re slowly passing the point where diplomas won’t be necessary for successful job hunting. Practically when all the teaching materials are online and all the best teachers are easily found on the Internet (in fact, you can take for example all MIT lessons online for free and basically gain a non formal degree from there, which is a nice self test to find out your internal motivation, is it the knowledge or the degree you’re after. Would you take their courses if you didn’t get the credit?).  

To be more precise, this is not something exclusively tied to the tech industry as the future of work is increasingly moving away from college degrees and placing emphasis on skills. If you read my previous post, you have a fair grasp of my career and know the direction(s) I took to get to where I am. To me, the real question is how common stories like mine will become?

I’m betting – very common.

The discrepancy between what you learn vs what you need

We’re on the brink of a major revolution, one where it universally won’t matter how you picked up your knowledge, expertise, and skills, but just that you actually did. The only reason it’s not yet happening in full force yet is the long-established cultural and institutional norms brainwashing and instilling fear in young people, making them take on lifelong debt and justifying their existence while at it.

Why is this revolution happening?  Because the difference between what you learn in school nowadays and the skills needed for real-life work is growing on a daily basis. Those are two very different points of view, so much so that those that come from the “official” learning background (so to speak) are actually worse off than people that didn’t. It’s a matter of mindset where you’re constantly been told one thing only to find the reality demanding something completely different. 

Take it from my experience. I routinely find myself with such hiring crossroads. If I have two candidates, one that has a four-year degree while the other one has no formal education but has completed some online courses and created something on his own (some codes or games), I prefer the latter – hands down, even if he/she doesn’t have the theoretical knowledge.

In those cases, I trust that this candidate is intelligent enough and can be taught whatever is needed, and much faster too. When you think about it, sometimes a diploma is more of a downside than upside. 

The shortcomings of formal education

Formal education largely bases its teaching on infrastructures that last and foundations aiming to be beneficial later on. But here’s the catch –  code doesn’t last long. I don’t think any of the codes that I wrote lasted more than two or three years. Code is something that is supposed to die and the coder can’t really fall in love with it. If you are a coder, you should know it’s a temporary thing and that it will be changed very soon. You’d be crazy not to.

With the fast-paced times we live in, the idea is to just write stuff that works and not focus on writing the best infrastructure that will last 10 years from now. You’re not building an actual building, you’re building a code. 

And another thing. The majority of the university/college professors that I’m familiar with have zero experience with startups and production codes, so they can’t really know the practical side of business these days. They know the theoretical part like how to make the code, how to make it scalable, reliable, last forever by being easy to edit and so on but that is not the truly important stuff when you apply all of that in a profitable company. 

The idea of a profitable company in the tech environment is to move as fast as you can. The “move fast break things” mindset. Make it work even if it’s fast and dirty, and continue to improve the code “behind the scenes” when you get the time. But first of all, just get to the goal. Don’t take six months to get to it only to find out that goal isn’t relevant anymore.

So what does matter? 

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that learning isn’t vital for this skills-centered ecosystem. On the contrary! Being an autodidact and always learning is a necessity. I’m saying – learn and gain hands-on experience – that beats a formal education, always.

A deep look into your GitHub portfolio can reveal a lot of things, including the quality of your code writing. A winners profile will convey intelligence and passion for solving problems. 

I know I’m not the only one with such hiring practices but at the moment, these days there’s a real shift in hiring practices as the landscape is evolving. 

Educational institutions, just like some businesses and individuals, are firmly locked in their old ways and that needs to change. The way the market operates today doesn’t align with today’s teachings so if you want to succeed in the tech industry your goal should be to gain hands-on experience and to focus on different courses available either virtually or physically, allowing anyone truly interested to acquire skills that are useful.

People can learn anything they want on their own nowadays. It’s an amazing time for self-learners. Everything is out there. I am here to encourage you to take part in this transition where capability will override an academic degree. Skills and experience are everything in the tech industry. 

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