As a self-taught, have you considered getting a degree afterwards?

damcosset profile image Damien Cosset ・2 min read

Hello everyone!

More and more people come into this industry without any kind of degree. Considering how easy it is to gather informations today, and how easier it has become to get a computer and start creating things, it is really no surprise.

I am one of those people, I've been a freelancer for almost 3 years now, and didn't get any degree after the high school diploma. Learning by myself, by reading books, watching videos and fucking up thousands of lines of code on the computer, I managed to do alright for myself.

But, even if I am proud of what I was able to accomplish by myself, there is no denying that some companies might not look at it very kindly. While companies/clients with that sort of attitude are not really appealing to work for, I might miss out on some cool opportunities.

Another thing that I have been thinking about concerns the learning of fundamentals. I've never been too concerned about it, picking them up when I felt it was necessary, and unavoidable. There are many flaws in my knowledge, things that some would consider essential. While this is sometimes a matter of perspective, it might be true some other times.

So, I was thinking, to fight the imposter syndrome, to learn some other stuff and to prove to myself and others my knowledge, I thought about getting an actual degree.

Now, in France, there is a way to validate a degree by proving that you indeed work in that domain, and pass a test in front of a jury to confirm that you do know what you are talking about. I have no idea how it works in other countries, but I have that possibility to work towards a degree without having to quit everything. It will add to my workload, but nothing unbearable. May I note that the cost of the procedure is not a problem in my case.

Taking this kind of challenge might also give me some structure about what I learn, because I would have a clear goal in mind (and boy do I struggle with that...). I could also imagine that it could be useful to have some kind of degree as a stepping stone, if I ever want to move in a slightly different direction in my career in the future.

So, I don't know, I'm looking forward to hear some of your stories, experiences, thoughts... I don't think getting a degree is ever a bad thing, but this has been in my head for a few days now.
Love ❤️


Editor guide
tiguchi profile image
Thomas Iguchi

I am self-taught and started programming at the age of 11. I already had a fair amount of experience when I started pursuing my computer science degree at the age of 24 and I already had a couple of years of freelance web development experience under my belt.

It was a practical decision because in my country of origin a formal degree has (had? don't know anymore since I don't live there anymore) a huge impact on your pay as a developer. The better the degree the higher the initial salary and also the better the outlook for pay raises. A friend of mine spent several extra years of his life pursuing a PhD in computer science. He can call himself a computer doctor now. Not that kind of doctor though.

His degree instantly landed him a high paying consultant job at a prestigious company. Only a year later a higher paying management position. He leads a technology innovation lab now for a well known European car manufacturer and is steadily climbing up the career ladder there. His PhD did not make him a better manager or teach him anything about management. But I'm sure he wouldn't have been considered by any of those companies that hired him if he had no degree.

For me studying computer science was also a complete no-brainer decision, since unlike in the US, higher education does not bury you in debt for many years to come.

So to sum up part of my answer: it depends if it makes sense or not. I can see that a degree is not perceived as important in the US than in other parts of the world. Maybe the same applies to France as well, and maybe the entire world is changing and it doesn't really matter anymore.

After all some people in our industry are already anticipating that software development turns into a blue collar job.

However, here is the other aspect of why I think pursuing a degree is invaluable. Good universities teach you the theory, not just the practical part. The history. The mathematics, philosophy and logic. The ties to linguistics. And not to mention they teach you the most important algorithms and data structures, compiler construction, syntax analysis, programming paradigms, best practices and so on. And through repeated exercises they teach you how to solve complicated problems.

You get to see a wide range of topics that deepen your understanding and that will allow you to specialize in a specific (possibly highly paid) niche.

Studying computer science turned me into a much better programmer and problem solver. It sharpened my thinking and skills. It also forced me to overcome my fear of math, since there's no way to get around using and studying math while studying computer science.

Overall it gave me a different perspective on programming. And I never regretted that decision.

bradtaniguchi profile image

A degree isn't as cracked up to be. I'd take practical experience over it any day. Obviously it opens more doors in the job market, but once you have professional experience, it matters more on how you did on your last project, than if you have a degree or not.

Odds are you wont learn anything that drastically new.

I'd only go get the degree if the money isn't that big of an issue, and you want to secure yourself for future employment more-so that you have currently.

Don't go and try to get a degree for knowledge (pretty dumb right?)

foresthoffman profile image
Forest Hoffman

Don't go and try to get a degree for knowledge (pretty dumb right?)

As someone who has experience in primary and higher education...this.

dianacoman profile image
Diana Coman

Aha, nothing to do with knowledge anymore, since quite a few years. And going further down the drain too. A point in case re situation in the UK (eg ossasepia.com/2019/09/19/tedious-t... ) but it's no better in other places and certainly not in the USA.

deciduously profile image
Ben Lovy

I'm currently pursuing the degree as an adult after a few years of self-learning. As a self-learner, I had a severe case of tunnel vision, and felt there were some gaping holes in my knowledge. As I solidified what kind of work I wanted to do, I realized I would benefit from a more thorough introduction to the theoretical underpinnings as well as the practical details, and being required to work through a full curriculum in a subject before moving on means I can no longer let myself off the hook with a partial understanding. When just learning for myself, I have a tendency to learn just exactly what I need to move on and then stop, which can leave me with an inaccurate sense of both the topic and my grasp of it.

It's been frustrating, too, because there has been material that was entirely review that I felt silly paying for the privilege of being taught again, but each class I've taken so far has been more worthwhile than not, and that ratio is improving every semester.

While I think from a practical standpoint I likely could scrape by without an undergraduate-level degree, you also mention another point that's important to me - I may, in the future, choose to pursue a high-level degree in a specific specialization. Programming language theory and design are incredibly interesting to me, and down the road I might want to revisit in a graduate program. That's a lot easier to make happen if you put the time in to get the undergraduate done first!

dmfay profile image
Dian Fay

I dropped out some way into a compsci bachelor's (four-year) program to work fulltime at a startup. I used to say I'd go back to complete a degree in literature or something else for fun, but with the ludicrous cost of higher education in the States these days even that's out.

graciano profile image
graciano codes

I had to leave college in the middle of my CS course. I'm a senior dev now, but I don't rule out eventually going back and completing it. I think that maybe you can study and do this test, but I'd think about it in more broad career stuff like "where do I want to be in 3 or 5 years?"

iam_timsmith profile image
Tim Smith

I started going for my AAS 4 years ago when I was just getting into web development. I decided I liked it and college wasn’t teaching me what I wanted to learn fast enough, so I started supplementing my own learning. I started getting jobs, freelancing, and building side projects while teaching myself. I graduated last April although by my second year of college I had learned everything my degree had to teach. I finished my degree just to do it, but I would still consider myself a self-taught programmer.

jacobherrington profile image
Jacob Herrington (he/him)

Interesting question.

I'm self-taught, but I'm about 20 credit hours away from an Information Systems degree (which had no serious CS component).

It would cost me $10,000 to $20,000 USD, and that's not worth it for me from a career perspective.

I'd love to go back and learn CS more completely, but only if it was basically free. There is also a consideration of my time -- I probably couldn't work on cool projects like DEV if I were going back to school.

aschwin profile image
Aschwin Wesselius

I don't have a degree, since I'm an autodidact myself too. And I don't see a need for it, since it will not teach you the important stuff.

I needed to fill in the blanks too. And I never knew where to start.

If there is a curriculum that teaches you the important stuff from the get go, yes take it! But none of this exists in our field of "science". Computer science is not what makes up software development. Neither does informatics.

I will not invest time into an offical degree. However, I do spent quite some time to get into the important stuff.

The principles we have to deal with every single day are very old and still apply. Knowing these will bring you quite far and don't need a degree for getting to know them.

I expect the book "Righting Software" by Juval Löwy to become a classic. It will teach you things that no curriculum teaches you. This is the important stuff I mentioned. Right from one of the most legendary software architects around on this planet.

yzf_valdez profile image

Hey Damien, never went to college, went to a bootcamp and have been working full stack for about a year and a half now. I find myself asking the same question and after asking several colleagues and reading through several posts on forums, I think it becomes a matter of what you want to do in the future.

One thing I've heard often: If you want to specialize, it's best to get your undergrad because you will probably want have to get a masters+ to be competitive/get started in that realm.

However, I feel like I'd like to get into developer advocacy , team lead of some sort where (I believe) experience may be more valuable than a degree. I live in the Bay Area in the US and an education, even from a community college, can get pretty expensive. I've done some math and thought how long it would take me to finish on a part time basis and I'm looking at 6+ years. By that time, I'd have 7+ years of industry experience and having a degree might only change <10% of opportunities at that point (in my opinion).

I have semi made up my mind to take some classes but more for my curiosity and thirst for perspective, not necessarily with the goal of getting an undergrad.

Hope this helps in some way :)

besabellacyrus profile image
Cyrus Besabella

As a parent of 2, my priorities shifted and now dont have time and budget pursue a degree in CS. I will just push myself to read recommended books about programming and watch many programming conference on Youtube :)

jsmccrumb profile image
Jacob McCrumb

Concur with many here, the degree is not so important (I've even heard plenty talk about the bad effects of a degree gain before real experience). If you're interested in some other topic (math, philosophy, whatever) you could always snag a degree in that just so you can check the box of "I have a college degree" and you might learn something interesting. Otherwise, just let you're work experience and any projects you can share speak for you, I'd say.

peledzohar profile image
Zohar Peled

Over my 20 years career as a software developer, which started before I completed an 800 course with no degree and not even a high school diploma, I can tell you that I've thought about getting a degree many, many times. However, unlike you, as far as I know, I would have to take all the courses - so it would be very time consuming for me, and I'm way too lazy to do it anyway.
Also, I've been working with many people over the years, a degree is not what makes you a good developer.

Having said that, if you can simply take a test, I say go for it.

karlredman profile image
Karl N. Redman

There was a recent question related to this where I answered as well: What are your impressions of your self-taught co-workers?

My answer is here

With that said, I think about getting a higher degree all the time. I certainly would have experienced much less academic discrimination over years and I'm sure I'd have started with higher wages for various companies. More so, I feel that I would benefit from the discipline of providing proofs to knowledge that I learn. It's probably not for everyone, and I've done OK otherwise, but it's really up to you and how you feel that you would use that education.

And, to be honest, I've never been sure that it was worth it relative to my own self-taught bubble. Hence, I'm still only self-taught :D

seanmclem profile image

Since getting my degree, I always kind of wished I hadn't spent so much time getting it. No jobs really ask about it, and 90% of what I learned getting it - was ultimately not helpful

dianacoman profile image
Diana Coman

It depends what you are after, really. The "degree" is a certificate within a system (and it's increasingly just an approval-stamp too rather than any reflection of knowledge/skills) - if you enjoy the system and you want to rise within it, gotta collect all papers on the way, too, so sure, go for it.

A bit like in ye olde communist states: can't make it past this or that unless you have your party membership, what.

bushwa profile image

I have a Communications degree and I don't consider it related to my career of web dev/software dev. I've toyed with the idea of getting a grad degree in CS or something related but life gets in the way. My concern is that I will hit my ceiling without an advanced degree.

I'd love to know if having a college degree and/or degree actually related to your field relates to salary. I always thought a degree was worth 10-15k per year but that could based on our parents generation and not ours.

makiten profile image

I tried, and I studied CS for about a year before switching to math, which I did get a degree in. I wouldn't go back to study CS ever, though.

bugmagnet profile image
Bruce Axtens

Yes, however at 58 years of age I wonder what the point would be of getting it seeing as

  • I'm a partner in the business
  • Retirement isn't a long way off
orisa profile image

Hi. Thanks for d article. Can u pls tell me how u get freelance jobs. It will be great if u can help.