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Discussion on: There's More Than One Way to Become a Developer

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Aaron Todd

Just to be up front moved from a CompSci+Eng to just a Eng degree. I've been writing software almost 20 years and have played a part in hiring for 10+ years of that. I've worked in startups (usually leaving when they hit ~50ppl) and various other companies of 10-150ppl. In all these jobs we integrated with large multi-nats so I've experienced that, too. I grew up and got my degree in Australia and have worked in the US a while.

I got a degree in essentially physical engineering. Electronics, power electronics, semi fab, ASICs, control software, etc. I trained myself in writing code to write an online store for my employer at the time. I took a full time software job with one of the companies we supplied at the time once they found out I had created the store. It was after the first bubble so tech jobs were really difficult to find.

My first job was with a crew of self-taught developers - I found so many SQL bugs because they'd learned SQL but didn't really understand it.

Since then I've gotten every job I've had via word of mouth. After your first job it really doesn't matter what your qualifications are if you are networked and represent yourself well and do good work.

If you want an international career you will need to get a degree from a decent school unless you get a decade of experience and find a willing employer. It is possible to circumvent this but a degree makes things easier.

Outside of this one of the best developers I worked with did a semester of a biology degree and then taught themselves. The worst developer I ever worked with also was self taught.

You sort of hit on the main differential I've see between someone with a degree through to self-taught and that is breadth of knowledge. Depending on the quality of the school you'll generally get a wider knowledge than someone who teaches themselves and absolutely more than any bootcamp. You might not have used those skills enough to be practical but when a problem arises you are more likely to be able to find an existing pattern/algorithm or practice. You're also more likely to be able to differentiate between solutions as the problem sets get more complex.

I see bootcamps only as accelerated self teaching. They get you more quickly to the point where you can teach yourself but do not seem to give nearly a broad enough understanding of software development, computer science or anything else to be useful without further learning. College suffers the opposite problem in that they teach you a broad range of knowledge without necessarily seeing how to use it in the real world.

What I would say is that if you have a college CS grad they might have some lackluster skills but you typically have a large amount of shared understanding. With a bootcamp or self-taught person you quite often get hit with surprise gaps in their knowledge.

If a company has the resources to really hand-hold new recruits then I don't care about schooling as much as their demonstrable skills, ability to learn and their motivation. If the company has limited resources to train new developers then typically college graduates are easier because there is a shared understanding of knowledge.