Land a career-level tech job without a college degree

An elementary interest in technology could develop into mad coding and programming skills for both autodidacts, and those who availed of online certificate tech courses.

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Bill Gates 

Microsoft

Many IT pros were hailed as the heroes of the enterprise's new normal, as they facilitated the pandemic transition between in office to working from home, taking on the responsibilities for staff's business and even personal devices. They had to make sure employees had access to the software and hardware they needed to do their jobs well; they ensured staff had access to reliable Wi-Fi, while installing security software to prevent breaches. 

Today's IT professionals are the definition of trouble-shooters; they must be dependable, responsible, patient, skilled, and knowledgeable. 

But there's one thing they just might not need—a college degree. 

We're only a short generation away from the deep belief that attending college is tantamount—for the first foray toward true success. And many of the higher paying, reliable, and stable tech positions have required a college degree (usually a BS/bachelor of science degree). Some companies even gave preference to candidates with further advanced degrees. While neither Steve Jobs nor Steve Wozniak had degrees when they launched Apple, they also were armed with a good deal of confidence and natural instincts. 

Tech clearly has become increasingly more accessible, offering larger storage capabilities, 5G speedy internet, convenient templates, and reasonable pricing. Those accessing the arsenal of information grow younger and are more savvy. And some are skipping a university experience and education and moving right into a career position. After all, the list of tech giants who don't have a college degree is impressive. (*List below) And given that the national student loan debt is $1.6 trillion, it's an economical choice, too. 

SEE:  3 ways to help your team stay connected while WFH  (TechRepublic)

Get certified

We're in a tech age where certificates have increased in value, and, in some cases, enough certifications/courses can replace a college degree. 

"Achieving professional certifications, for those who have been out of school more than five years, may quickly become more valuable than their college degree, at least as far as finding that next career opportunity—especially in the age of cloud," said Adam Kranitz, a board member of the Multi-Cloud Leadership Alliance and marketing director of CloudCheckr. "Cloud-native skills had already been in high demand recently, with remote work increasing, cloud services consumption and a driving demand for qualified software engineers—who know how to develop applications and architect workloads for the major IaaS providers—even higher."

Cyber careers

"Many people think they need a degree to get a good job in cyber," Brandon Hoffman, chief information security officer at Netenrich. "You  don't need a degree to have a great career. There are many paths [that] don't require formal education. Some of the best researchers and security experts started out by tinkering as teenagers and young adults,  which led to a specialty focused on cyber skills."

Hoffman continued: "Certification programs are an alternative path to employment in cyber, but somebody taking this path should focus on practical application. Many certificate programs include hours and hours of lab work, programs with the highest value. Another option is the military, especially in intelligence. Look at threat intelligence, most there are seasoned military veterans classically trained in intelligence by different branches."

It's "all about breaking into the industry," explained Thomas Hatch, CTO and co-founder at SaltStack, a Lehi, Utah-based provider of intelligent IT automation software. "You can do that by writing open source code or just proving yourself in general, and then once that is done, if you keep up, have passion, and keep developing your skills, you can have a long and successful technical career."

Make an impact

"Developers don't need a degree to make an impact on an organization," said Richard Wang CEO and co-founder, Coding Dojo. "Once you land a job, very few people reference or talk about their bachelor's anyway. Workers just need to get their foot into that first door to gain experience. Then, your degree, or lack thereof, will not be an issue."

Wang said there are many jobs, but degree-less Coding Dojo alum have often landed the following popular positions: "Software developer, software engineer, web developer, full-stack developer, support engineer, SDET, cloud engineer, QA analyst, data analyst, tester, application developer, and many more."

Wang also stressed that workers can move vertically within the company as they gain tech skills and experience. "Nearly every company is a 'tech company,' so gaining skills to advance the company's digital transformation or other digital initiatives is a great way to leverage your existing skill set, expand it, and land a better job."

What's available right now

A college degree "is often held up as the golden ticket to finding one's dream job," said Kathy Gardner, senior director of media, Flexjobs. "but there are great opportunities for people who have not gone to or completed college." Gardner shared the following active remote tech-related job openings that don't require a college degree:

  1. Lambda School Associate Instructor, Data Science Full-Time, 100% Remote
  2. TTEC Technical Support Representative Full-Time, 100% Remote
  3. Medical Transportation Management Operations Security Engineer Full-Time, Option for Remote
  4. Acrisure Application Support Specialist Full-Time, Option for Remote
  5. Kforce IT Support Specialist Full-Time, 100% Remote
  6. Assured Consulting Solutions Junior Software Developer
  7. Ascension Demand Manager Full-Time, 100% Remote
  8. Contigo Health Full Stack Developer – JAVA, Apache Groovy, Angular I Full-Time, 100% Remote
  9. Percepta Systems Liaison I Full-Time, 100% Remote
  10. Spectrum Health  IT Help Desk – Digital Products Full-Time, Option for Remote
  11. Kelly Services PC Technician Full-Time, Partial Remote
  12. Ajilon HRIS Analyst Full-Time, 100% Remote
  13. O'Reilly Automotive Senior Software Developer Full-Time, Option for Remote
  14. O'Reilly Automotive  Linux Engineer Full-Time, Option for Remote
  15. Ascension Cloud Data Operations Specialist Full-Time, 100% Remote
  16. Kelly Services Technical Lead Full-Time, Option for Remote
  17. Regions Bank Cybersecurity Engineer – Mainframe Monitoring Full-Time, Option for Remote
  18. First American  CAD Technician Full-Time, Partial Remote
  19. The Standard  Robotics Process Automation Business Analyst Full-Time, 100% Remote
  20. Leidos SCCM Lead Full-Time, Option for Remote
  21. Bright Health Manager, Analytics and Reporting – Risk Adjustment Full-Time, 100% Remote

The most valuable certificate career courses

For a non-degreed person seeking a job in the tech industry data science is a great choice. Wang said: "At a high level, data science is an extremely valuable skill and a burgeoning industry. We're still in the (relatively) early stages of unlocking the power and potential of data science. This is also a great skill to gain if you want to move vertically within your current industry versus jumping into a new one." He added that general coding courses and more specialized ones focusing on a given language or stack are also valuable, as is learning to design and deliver AI.  

Jonathan Finkelstein, CEO of Credly, said he finds "the rise of role-based digital credentials" compelling, and cites the value for those who didn't attend or finish college, those who have an obsolete degree, or who need to make a career change in the current global economic climate. "Role-based digital credentials can be earned through many learning channels."

Wang also said, "From a general and high level perspective, basic programming skills like HTML, CSS, and Javascript are fundamentals that will open up a variety of doors."

"In terms of languages or stacks, Python is a very open-ended and widely applicable technology to learn. It also is used frequently in data science." Check out a report on the most in-demand programming languages, "any of those on the list are a great place to start."

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Mark Zuckerberg

Frederic Legrand - COMEO, Shutterstock / Frederic Legrand - COMEO

Tech leader legends who don't have college degrees

  • Bill Gates (Microsoft)
  • Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)
  • Jack Dorsey (Twitter, Square)
  • Evan Williams (Twitter co-founder and former CEO)
  • Matt Mullenweg (WordPress)
  • James Park (Fitbit)
  • Daniel Ek (Spotify)
  • Sean Parker (Napster, Plaxo, Airtime, president, Facebook)
  • Jan Koum (WhatsApp)
  • Dustin Moskowitz (Asana, Facebook co-founder)
  • Travis Kalanick (Uber)
  • Arash Ferdowsi (Dropbox)
  • Richard Branson (Virgin)
  • Bob Pittman (iHeartMedia)
  • Michael Dell (Dell)
  • Kevin Rose (Digg)
  • Barry Diller (media mogul),
  • Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founder)
  • Larry Ellison (Oracle)
  • Hiroshi Yamauchi (Nintendo president)
  • Gabe Newell (Valve)
  • Azim Premji (Wipro) 
  • David Karp (Tumblr, and for the record, he never even finished high school, dropping out at 14) 
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    In September 2018 the U.S. Senate grilled Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg over internet trolls, fake news, and deepfake videos.

    U.S. Senate (screenshot)

It's not for everyone

"When it comes to building a career in technology, it need not be a binary choice between college or alternative credentials," Finkelstein said. "In fact, a number of colleges and companies are working together to create scalable, targeted training, and upskilling. Tech employers are partnering with academic institutions to create learning pathways."

It should be noted that not everyone is equipped to achieve what's needed for a tech job without a college degree (and in some cases, with one). "It's all about the skills you have, your problem-solving skills, experience, and creativity," Wang said. "Ultimately, it comes down to: 'Can you do the job?' This doesn't always correlate to a college degree, nor does having a college degree guarantee you can perform the job." 

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