Saturday, 3 January 2009

Get a degree, but not necessarily a CS degree

Joel Spolsky has started a lot of blog postings in many places about the value of a CS degree. I would like to point out Bill the Lizard's blog, because he has a good point: CS graduates were once without a degree, so they know the difference and the value of the degree.

However, I also recognize some of the problems with CS graduates. Not all CS graduates are better than programmers without degrees, and it is important not to judge people on their degree — you need to evaluate the full person.

That said, however, the entire discussion lacks an important point: There are other degrees than CS out there. Very few businesses can survive with only CS knowledge — usually you need other knowledge too, like chemistry, physics, engineering, biology, mathematics, business, geology etc. The world needs people with those degrees as programmers in order to create great software. Bill Gates and Larry Ellison are not CS graduates.

My advice is: Get a degree, if you can. Respect the knowledge of others, also of those without degrees.


rif said...

Larry Ellison was at some point employed as a programmer but that was before he started Oracle with Robert Miner. LE did not write the original code of the Oracle RDBMS, RM did. LE is a salesman/business promoter type.

You can get some insight if you read a book "The difference between god and Larry Ellison".

Anonymous said...

I work for a very large bank in the United States, and we ALWAYS interview candidates that have Engineering degrees, regardless of their experience. The reason being that we believe those that can tackle the math, science, and critical thinking required of a degree can learn.

And really, you don't necessarily hire someone that has every skill you want, but someone that can learn it.

Anonymous said...

I'm really sorry for your organization. There are many of us out in the world that took a different route to get the skills that we need to be successful.
I realize that your comment was meant to communicate inclusivity, but also communicates exclusivity.
I don't disparage a degree, but education takes various forms.
Interest, ability and curiosity can take you many places along an alternate path.

Anonymous said...

I'm the poster that works for a large bank in the U.S.

Why are you sorry for our organization? I didn't say we exclude those that don't have degrees. However, having an engineering degree does convey a couple of things:

1) You went to school. You did it. It took 4+ years and you were committed to it and saw it through.

MEANING: You clearly can take direction well. You also had the opportunity to go to school.

2) You took oodles of Math, Physics, and learned the scientific method.

MEANING: You can learn difficult concepts, or at the very least, don't quit when learning difficult concepts.

Here are a few things to note about an education (as I see them):

1) A high GPA means almost nothing. If you got a 4.0, I'm going to assume you didn't take courses that challenge you. You didn't take many risks in your learning.

2) Getting an engineering degree doesn't guarantee you are smart. It just means I'm certainly willing to talk to you about a position.

I understand the argument that you are making. "I don't have an engineering degree, but I'm a damn fine programmer".

I don't disagree with you. For me, it just means you need to demonstrate it with your experience, in spite of your education.

In fact, one of the best programmers on our team has no formal education, and was a diesel engine mechanic for 10+ years before he got into programming.