A good education will go a long way. Many employers would like to see a degree in a relevant field. Some will require it. Be aware that some companies and industries may have different requirements. If you’ve got specific hope-and-dream jobs in mind, it might prove beneficial to keep that in mind when working towards a degree.
The university I attended had a decent Computer Science program. By the time I was through the first half of my third year I had taken most of the major requirement courses. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was boredom, I left school before completing my degree.
Experience is what will make your career. While it’s true you’ll need a solid foundation, it’s hard to argue with good experience. Some may choose to forgo a formal education completely. It’s quite possible to to be successful in this case, but it’s equally as easy to stumble and fumble for years while you learn what a good college curriculum would teach. Now, this is entirely dependent on the program, the technologies you’re interested in, and your style and preference for learning.
I left school right at the end of the Dot-com boom, just as the bubble was bursting. This was actually a great time for me to enter the field. There was plenty of opportunity for a young (and cheap) software developer who eager to learn. It wasn’t too hard for me to land a pretty good job and gain some much needed professional experience.
There have only been a few occasions when the lack of a degree was ever a concern to a potential employer. These were early on in my career, before I had the documented experience, and for employers that were admittedly more corporate than I would have enjoyed. Thankfully, with quite a bit of hard work and a good work ethic my resume now speaks loudly about my experience and accomplishments.
Which is better?
In either case, make sure you start with a good foundation. Be sure you learn how to learn. Without a formal education it’s a little tougher to gain that solid base, but it’s certainly possible.
It all boils down to your learning style and opportunities available to you. Be open to learning in every situation, from your peers, from your leaders as well as your subordinates.
Some industries will require certifications. Unless absolutely required for a particular position I tend to think of certifications as seasoning. While it’s nice to demonstrate your knowledge in a particular field, there’s a danger in studying for the test. Don’t fall into this trap, as knowledge is far greater than memorization.
Find a mentor. Throughout your career you’ll need to continue to learn and grow. It could be new or different technologies that you’re unfamiliar with. It could be business processes. Recognize those individuals with something to teach and seek their guidance.
Be a mentor. There will be times when you’re the mentor. Don’t make light of this responsibility. You’ve got a responsibility to teach those seeking your knowledge, just as others have taught you.
Never stop learning
Never stop learning. Both in a classroom setting as well as on the job. Whenever the opportunity presents itself I try to learn as much as I can. I continue to read tech books, blogs, and magazines. I subscribe to Pluralsight and listen to podcasts. I try to attend one or two tech conferences a year, all in the name of learning.
Which do you find to be most beneficial?
What path have your chosen? Have you experienced any issues along the way?
A Microsoft MVP, John has been a professional developer since 1999. He has focused primarily on web technologies and has experience with everything from PHP to C# to ReactJS to SignalR. Clean code and professionalism are particularly important to him, as well as mentoring and teaching others what he has learned along the way.