There was a time when a university degree was vital for landing a good job. Certainly, that was what my parents drummed into my head when I was in school. But having a degree won't guarantee you a job and there are many examples of high school and university dropouts flourishing in the IT industry. So do you really need a university degree when you're looking to join the IT workforce?
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We're in an age when skipping university all together is no longer frowned upon. In fact, it's completely acceptable and there are success stories of people who have shunned the traditional education system and still managed to find success in their chosen field of work. This is nothing new for those who have been in the IT industry for some time. Oracle vice-president of human capital management strategy in Asia-Pacific Aaron Green recently shed some light on this topic.
"I have a very personal point of view on this, because I don't have a university degree," he told Lifehacker at a press event in October. He joined Oracle through the company's acquisition of Sun Microsystems in 2010. Green began his career in the IT space after a summer internship program with Sun Microsystems 15 years ago. He was hired when the program wrapped up and he never looked back. But he would be the first to admit that not having a university degree back in the day was challenging.
"In the early days, it was absolutely career limiting for me," Green said. "Today, I don't believe it is career limiting. Take Oracle for example. We look for people with aspirations and desires to contribute to our organisation and the ability to have mastery in the domain we are hiring them for.
"A university degree in some fields will absolutely be helpful but in many others it doesn't inform us of that person's ability to perform."
A degree can serve as an indicator that a person has certain key skills when it comes to technical IT roles, but those skills can also be acquired through hands-on experience outside the formal education system. So while Green does highlight that when hiring for technical positions, that piece of paper will be advantageous, it is not a prerequisite. Again, it all depending on the nature of the role.
"When you look at the technology industry, I think that you'll find that to be a very standard response," he said.
It is a sentiment shared by ANZ global HR business manager Mel Parks.
"When I started at ANZ, everybody needed a degree. I have three, so I've never had a problem," she told Lifehacker Australia. "But I think we have eliminated that and we understand that a degree is not always the answer.
"Broadly speaking, it really depends on the industry. I certainly wouldn’t want to see a doctor who didn't have a degree but I'm happy to work with someone who can code really well and may have learnt that skill outside of school. I think we need to learn to be more open-minded."
Companies in the IT industry are becoming more welcoming of job candidates with no university-level certification. Peter Noblet is the senior regional director at Hays, a recruitment organisation specialising in white collar jobs across a wide range of industries. He noted that while many employers he works with still prefer to hire people with degrees, the IT industry stands as an exception.
This could be exacerbated by the IT skills shortage but Noblet also highlighted that IT employers value practical experience such as those gained through internships.
"Employers won't just recruit people because they have a degree, but it does get you through the door," he told Lifehacker Australia. "Because when you've finished university, there is an assumption that you've committed three to four years of your life to learning. But there is also a gap, sometimes, between what people study in their degree and the amount of hands-on experience they have.
"Also, when you think about the technology space, it moves extremely fast. What you learn as part of your degree today could be obsolete tomorrow."
Traditionally, IT sat outside the realms of normal business functions but this has changed as technology becomes an integral part of most if not all organisations. IT has moved to become a core part of companies which means roles in the IT industry are evolving. Workers in this field are required to be more business-minded. This means potential employees are being assessed on their "softer" skills. This is also what Oracle's Aaron Green looks for.
"My personal advice on this is I always look for the softer side of people's skillsets and capabilities," he said.
So what exactly are these "softer" skills? According to Noblet, these include communication skills and interpersonal skills.
"There is a lot of importance being placed on these softer skills combined with technical skills," he said. "That's what employers are crying out for."
Conversely, businesses across all industries are seeking candidates with digital literacy, Noblet said.
"If you are digitally literate, and have a strong understanding of technology, it would pique the interests of a lot of companies," he said.
What are your views of the importance of a university degree in the IT industry? Let us know in the comments.