A conversation in Silicon Valley

Traditionally, companies hire college graduates based on their knowledge and Skills. For science and technology occupations, a college education provides the necessary knowledge for a graduate to do the job. A degree is a selection process that ensures that graduates have some level of achievement, and ability to work accordingly. However, as technology changes fast, many education systems can not catch up with the changes and many graduates do not have the proper knowledge that companies need. Many schools are focusing on making money, not on keeping the training up to date, resulting in their graduates do not have what they need to get a job in this competitive market.

When attended a technical conference in San Jose last month, I met several senior executives who told me that they were not happy because many graduates did not meet their expectations. A senior executive said: “When you have hundreds of applicants applying in your company, a degree is a filtering mechanism to help you to select the best. But today, we cannot depend on the degree anymore so we have to rely on our interview process which focuses on the skills that we need. Each year our needs change so our hiring process is also adjusted accordingly. For example, ten years ago skills in programming languages such as Java, C++, JavaScript, and website development are good. Today, we need Python, R, Analysis, Machine learning, and Artificial Intelligence. If the schools do not adjust their training to meet our needs, their graduates will not get hired. If the students do not pay attention to the industry needs, they will not be able to get a job.”

Image: Internet

I asked: “So the degree is no longer a requirement for positions in your company?”

He answered: “A degree is NOT an absolute requirement. We prefer hiring college graduates but there is no reason to exclude candidates who do not have a degree. As a degree is no longer a guarantee for knowledge, we spend more time to probe into critical skills needed to perform the job in our company. Besides that, we also looking for certain soft-skills that schools may not teach. If you look at most of the jobs posted from Silicon Valley companies today, it all listed “A degree or equivalent,” to emphasize that knowledge and skills matters as much as a college degree.”

I asked: “How do you select a candidate without a degree?”

He explained: “ When I interview candidates that do not have a degree, I always ask them about it. I am surprised that many of them have a life experience that could benefit our company more than typical college graduates. Many of them cannot afford to go to college due to their financial or family situation but despite these difficulties, they overcome their disadvantages by taking courses in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), did well in them, and develop the skills that we need. But more than that, by overcome difficulties and commit to continue learning, they develop a strong discipline and confidence rarely found in young people today. Even they do not have a degree, many are doing better than others who have the degree because they know what they need to succeed. After hired them, I found that some of them even outperformed other graduates. What they have are certain characters such as courage and determination as they believe in their abilities and have the confidence that they can achieve their goals. It is easier to follow the traditional education process from the education system but it would take a lot of courage to determine your own way of learning and be able to discipline yourselves to learn the needed skills. I admire these people and will not surprise that in the next few years, some of the leaders in technology companies may come from these people.”

He concluded: “By looking at the current situation of the education system, we know that many universities are still teaching the same thing that they have been teaching for ten or fifteen years, By looking at the cost of attending a university, as it is rising every year, I think young students should question their decision whether going to a traditional college or taking an independent path of self-learning using other means such as MOOCs and tutorial websites. If they are well-informed about the industrial needs and develop the skills to match our needs and continue to learn throughout their career, we will hire them and we think they will do well.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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