CIO Jury: 75% of tech leaders don't require a computer science degree for developers and IT pros

Nine out of 12 members of the TechRepublic CIO Jury said that work experience and skill set were more important than a four-year degree.

Traditionally, organizations have sought out developers and tech professionals with a four-year degree in computer science or a related field. However, with a shortage of tech talent in many areas, many companies are beginning to widen their pool of applicants to those with nontraditional backgrounds to fill tech positions.

We polled the TechRepublic CIO Jury to learn about what experience they require when hiring developers and IT professionals. When asked, "Does your company require a four-year computer science degree for your developers and tech professionals?", nine tech leaders said no, while three said yes.

"Over the years I have seen the industry go back and forth and back again from degree to certifications," said Jeff Focke, director of IT at Shealy Electrical Wholesalers. "A degree or even certificate only shows they can learn, not necessarily what they know. It is nice, but I want to hear the rest of who the person is and what they can do."

SEE: IT jobs 2018: Hiring priorities, growth areas, and strategies to fill open roles (Tech Pro Research)

Lance Taylor-Warren, CIO of Community Health Alliance, agreed. "The experience and background to do the needed job is more important than the fact that you were able to sit in classrooms for four years and complete the coursework that typically is only 20% to 30% geared toward the area of your degree," he said.

Requiring a four-year computer science degree for all job applicants will lead to missing out on a large talent pool, said Dustin Bolander, CIO of Technology Pointe.

"We don't have a hard requirement on hiring, although it is seen as a 'plus,'" said Michael Hayes, founder and CIO of Darby Hayes Consulting LLC. "We've found that many strong workers have pursued computer science through bootcamps and other certification programs, many of which are more rigorous and demanding than four-year degrees, in my opinion."

The firm also includes a number of technical tests during the interview process to help the selection process be more stringent, Hayes said. "As a college graduate myself, I at once have respect for the effort and achievement, but also don't view it as a stand-alone qualification for real world work," he added.

At Nor-Cal Products, Inc., a four-year degree is also listed as desirable, according to IT director John Rogers. "We've found that some of our best aren't those with 4-year degrees but those with a solid foundation and an ability to think logically and creatively," Rogers said.

Jerry Justice, CIO of Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP, said his firm does not require a four-year degree, but does require experience equivalent to the role. He has a bachelor's in marketing, he added.

SEE: IT Hiring Kit: Programmer (Tech Pro Research)

At Payette, hiring managers look for a bachelor's degree as a base requirement for employment consideration for developers, according to Dan Gallivan, director of information technology, who was not part of the CIO Jury this month. But for some tech professionals, the company considers work experience in lieu of formal education.

"We do find that younger staff coming in often have their masters, whereas a 20-plus years of experience person usually has their bachelors," Gallivan said.

The National Council on Compensation Insurance requires a four-year degree for applicants, with the exception of entry-level programmers, said Michael Spears, CIO and chief data officer. "We may have to broaden that in the future, but right now the we are still able to attract strong candidates with four-year degrees," Spears said.

Requirements also differ depending on geographic location. "Here in India, there is a large supply of college graduates," said Inder Davalur, group CIO of KIMS Hospitals Private Limited. "Another reason is the affordable salaries for entry level and mid level techs and supervisors."

While the nature of the role dictates if there is a requirement for a degree or experience, for broader roles such as analysts or architects, the degree is a requirement along with other professional requirements, said Flo Albu, group chief digital officer for Westcoast.

"As a recruiter, a university degree gives me the reassurance that the person has been exposed to the necessary wide array of subjects in the respective area," Albu said. "These are subjects that otherwise most people won't cover in their own time. Apart from this exposure, it is the structured way of thinking taught in universities, that I find valuable for certain roles."

There are exceptions to this rule, of course, Albu added. However, he found that degree-educated applicants tend to be more able to formulate the right questions that need to be answered, which will eventually help them avoid becoming automated. "This is the skill that ultimately will allow one to avoid being commoditized," Albu said. "Knowing how to formulate the problem is what would set one apart, in an era where finding the solution to that problem is more and more a job for the computer."

This month's CIO Jury included:

  • Jerry Justice, CIO, Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP
  • Michael Hayes, founder and CIO, Darby Hayes Consulting LLC
  • Lance Taylor-Warren, CIO, Community Health Alliance
  • Mike S. Ferris, global IT director of infrastructure, Lincoln Electric
  • Jeff Focke, director of IT, Shealy Electrical Wholesalers
  • John Rogers, IT director, Nor-Cal Products, Inc.
  • Flo Albu, group chief digital officer, Westcoast
  • Michael Spears, CIO and chief data officer, National Council on Compensation Insurance
  • Dustin Bolander, CIO, Technology Pointe
  • Inder Davalur, group CIO, KIMS Hospitals Private Limited
  • Johan den Haan, CTO, Mendix
  • Shane Milam, executive director of technology infrastructure services, Mercer University

Want to be part of TechRepublic's CIO Jury and have your say on the top issues for IT decision makers? If you are a CIO, CTO, IT director, or equivalent at a large or small company, working in the private sector or in government, and you want to join TechRepublic's CIO Jury pool, click the Contact link below or email alison dot rayome at cbsinteractive dot com, and send your name, title, company, location, and email address.

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Image: iStockphoto/artisteer

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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