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Skip the IT Degree? Not So Fast

Skip the IT Degree? Not So Fast

Allan Hoffman /

February 25, 2008

Remember the dotcom days, when tech-savvy teens went straight to work for Internet startups, skipping or dropping out of college in the process? Their reasoning was that if they stayed in school, their skills would become stale and the opportunity to make it big off a hot IPO would vanish.

That was then, this is now.

While technical skills and work experience matter, employers today generally do not advise anyone who wants to pursue a technology career to shun college – at least not before giving serious thought to the repercussions. Since IT workers are now expected to possess a more well-rounded skills portfolio – one that includes business and communication skills as well as technical proficiency – employers often view a college degree as a requirement for anyone who wants to move up the ranks.

“To get in, you don’t need a degree,” says Jim Lanzalotto, a vice president at staffing firm Yoh who notes that entry-level help-desk and technical-support positions often do not require a bachelor’s degree in IT. “It’s as you move through your career where [the degree] will become critical.”

School Daze

Techies posting to Monster’s Technology Careers message board often ask whether they need a degree to break into IT. They note that plenty of successful IT professionals – Bill Gates chief among them – are not college graduates. Wouldn’t it be better, they ask, simply to get experience rather than waste time on college classes?

Bill Gates aside, today’s techies can better position themselves for advancement – and for surviving the vagaries of offshoring and economic downturns – if they have a college degree. Instead of the techies who’ve acquired a hodgepodge of technical skills on the job, employers are seeking individuals who are creative and possess strong critical-thinking and communication skills. Fair or not, employers often see a college degree as evidence of those traits.

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