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Degree-free IT: Can college-skippers thrive in tech?

Mary K. Pratt | Jan. 15, 2015
With college costs sky high and the IT job market red hot, some techies are skipping the sheepskin and heading straight to work. Is that a smart move or short-sighted?

"It's a results-oriented world these days, and we're looking for results," Denney says, explaining that his company's hiring process includes Predictive Index testing, a nationwide background check and rigorous interviews to ensure candidates have the skills and disposition needed to do the job.

"There are organizations out there that won't hire someone without a college degree, but I think they're selling themselves short in their hiring practices," Denney says. "Does a college degree show something? Yeah, there's some socialization there, you might come in more mature, it shows you're teachable. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter to us. I'm not going to pay you any more whether you went to college. I'm going to pay you based on your experience,  your ability to get the job done and your certifications."

Others, though, don't believe the outlook for those without degrees is so rosy, even in today's tight job market. They say companies still want candidates with a college education.

David J. Bair, executive director for technology at the Tampa, Fla.-based staffing services firm Kforce, says many companies still mandate four-year college degrees for IT candidates because they see college as a way to confirm that candidates have some or all of the skills being sought. Bair has seen some companies  open up their searches to those without degrees, but only when they are having a hard time finding good candidates.Darin Matuzic, a senior technical recruiter at Riviera Partners in San Francisco, sees a similar pattern, with companies willing to consider work history as well as side projects, certifications and portfolios in lieu of degrees -- but only when they have to. "Companies will say they're open to those without degrees, but they'll always [hire] the person from the good school first," Matuzic says, noting that he has only placed one non-degreed IT worker out of the 60 he's placed since taking his current position.

While recruiters and hiring managers say they do indeed see more companies willing to overlook the lack of a degree, the trend applies more to entry- and mid-level jobs such as help desk positions and infrastructure, networking and development jobs. It's difficult, they say, to determine how high up the org chart that amnesty extends.

All told, degreed candidates still have a leg up when starting out, are favored when moving up, and are better positioned to move to a new job if the economy turns down, industry watchers say. "A college degree continues to give you an advantage in the marketplace. It's really a good asset to have, particularly when there are two equally qualified candidates," says John Reed, senior executive director of the national staffing firm Robert Half Technology.


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