A Degree Is Not Always The Best Way Into A Career

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As the 2017 academic year winds up, there are tens of thousands of students coming into the last few weeks of their high school or university studies. When I was a lad, a degree was pretty much a guaranteed ticket to, if not a life-long career, a pathway into well-paid employment. But things are changing.

My view of university degrees is that they deliver two very different educational outcomes.

One is a body of knowledge that forms a foundation upon which ongoing learning can be built. For example, I did a degree that majored in biochemistry and cell biology. While the knowledge that was imparted to me was current at the time, our understanding of those subject areas has changed significantly.

That goes for almost every discipline. Just today, we learned that our historical view of trigonometry has been challenged. While it was widely thought trigonometry, as a mathematical discipline, was created by the ancient Greeks, it seems the Babylonians beat them to it - by about three millennia!

But the other set of skills, that I think were more critical, are research skills, communications, critical thinking and the ability to learn. And a degree might not be the best way for everyone to get those skills.

Some research by IBM suggests there are some jobs in cybersecurity that offer great career paths that don't require a degree.

They suggested the following.

  1. Ethical Hackers: Companies hire people who can “think like a hacker” to try to find security holes within their systems before the bad guys do. Requires people with a natural curiosity, ability to think outside the box and consider all possible avenues a potential hacker might consider.
  2. Threat monitoring analyst: These analysts work on the ground in security operation centres to monitor suspicious activity on the network and use clues to determine which activities may be true security threats which require investigation. Multitasking, prioritising and efficient communication skills are critical.
  3. Cyber help desk analyst: Provides support and instruction when users experience security incidents and events, such as receiving phishing emails or having their systems locked by ransomware.
  4. Technical writer: Authors manuals and supporting documents for security policies and response plans; this job is a fit for those with strong reading and writing skills, who can interpret technical subject matter and translate it into clear communications for various audiences.
  5. Security awareness trainer: Trains employees and customers on cybersecurity basics and recommended practices. They must translate complex, and sometimes scary, cyber information into simple actions and tips that users can remember and implement.

Outside of cyber, there are lots of great career paths for IT professionals that don't require a degree. What suggestions do you have for aspiring IT pros who don't want to enter the sausage factory that is much of the university system?


    Totally agree with this. I know many great software developers who never went to uni. What they possess that's far more important are:

    1. Natural curiosity and a desire to explore the unknown

    2. Maturity - the understanding that it's not about how cool the toys are, or having a mental wank. It's about getting the best out of yourself and those around you to make a real difference.

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