Getting a job without the degree

A student wrote to me: “I graduated in Chemistry two years ago but could not find a job. In the past year, I have taken several computer courses online in coding Java and C++. I can develop websites using HTML 5 and Javascript. Is it possible to get a software development job without a degree in Computer Science? Please advise.”

Answer: Today, due to the critical shortage of technically skilled people, it is possible to get a job in the technology industry even WITHOUT a degree. I know many people who work at companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon that do not have a Computer Science degree. Google and Facebook executives already stated that a degree is not a requirement for jobs in their company as long as people have the skills that they need. If you can demonstrate your knowledge and skills even without the degree, you have a very high chance to get a job there. Last year, when I was teaching in S. Korea and Japan, I also learned that many companies there also hired workers without a degree if they have the skills that these companies need.

Of course, to get a software job, you need to have coding skills, in which you already have but you still need to pass the interview where you have to demonstrate your skills to the hiring managers. You will be asked to solve problems and required to write down your solution on a board. You can choose any language that you like but Java is the preferred one in most interviews.

My advice is you need to prepare carefully for the interview. The key is NOT about knowing how to code but to demonstrate your abilities and how strong your coding skills are. Strong coding skills are the combination of theory (i.e., Critical thinking and Problem solving) and practice (i.e., Design and Coding) where you will have to explain each step that you are doing and why you choose to solve the problem that way. You cannot just quietly code and hope that you do well but you need to explain the algorithm and your logic thinking too.

That is why you need to understand Computer Science basics such as algorithms, data structure. I know many students start Computer Science by taking programming languages but at Carnegie Mellon, we always start with the “Introduction to Computer Systems” course to make sure students understand all basic concepts which are the foundation of all programming languages before learning how to code. If you do not know these basics well, you should go back and review your Computer Science textbook on these topics.

By explain your solution during the interview, you also demonstrate your problem-solving skills too. Most managers would be impressed with how well you explain your solutions to their problems. Problem-solving is a process where you solve the problem step-by-step in a logical manner. It does not mean your solution has to be correct, but it is the explanation on how you solve it that count. A common misunderstanding among students is only the correct solution matters, and if you do it wrong, you fail the interview. From the hiring manager’s view, you are being evaluated when you are given the problem to solve such as how you understand the problems (i.e. do you asked them to clarify the problem if you do not know it well or not.) How do you analyze it (i.e., how do you break down the problems and start to solve it piece by piece, which is the design thinking skills.) How do you choose the solution (i.e., your logic and problem-solving skills) and how do you solve it (i.e., your coding skills).

By explain your process of solving the problems to them, you also demonstrate your communication skill that most managers are also looking for. Communication, Problem-solving, Critical-thinking are the key soft skills that every worker must have. If you can explain everything is a logical, clear, and calm manner, you will do well in the interview.

Your KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS, and ABILITIES are more important than the degree, which is nothing but a piece of paper. It does NOT matter whether you have a degree in Chemistry, Biology, Math or business or NOT even have a degree, It is your knowledge and skills that get you the job and determine your future career.

Sources

  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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