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IT Job Without a Degree?

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the killing-oneself-by-degrees dept.

Education 1123

adh0c writes "I have been lurking Slashdot for some time now without registering and I don't think this question has been answered yet. Is it possible to get a good IT job (assuming that there is such a thing), preferably a sysadmin position, without having a BS or other degree? From browsing the job postings on Monster and such, it would seem that everyone wants university papers. Is there hope for computer enthusiasts who didn't go to college?"

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Don't think so! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940615)

NO. (first post)

Do you live in a van down by the river? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940621)

College degrees are the new high school diplomas. If you didn't go to college, you're like a backwoods hick whose parents took him out of schooling early so he could chop wood and feed the pigs. You don't need to look for a job, you need to go rejoin normal society by going back to school.

Re:Do you live in a van down by the river? (2, Informative)

MindlessAutomata (1282944) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940681)

That's not completely true. You can also do well going to a trade school instead of college.

Re:Do you live in a van down by the river? (5, Interesting)

PenguSven (988769) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940823)

Of course you can. I left High school 2 years early, got a diploma (dunno what that equates to in the US?) and now Im contracting in an unrelated discipline (Diploma in Network Engineering, working Web Design/Development). And before someone mentions $$ - both by previous and current contracts are six figures. I was somewhat lucky, but I am also living proof you don't always need a piece of paper.

Re:Do you live in a van down by the river? (5, Informative)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940849)

Seconded. I dropped out of high school my junior year, got my GED, immediately started working for a web dev firm doing sysadmin work. 10 years later (Just turned 26) I own my own professional services/hosting firm. Don't let anyone lie to you and say you need a degree, for what you lack with paper you'll just need to make up for with effort.

Re:Do you live in a van down by the river? (2, Insightful)

yoyhed (651244) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940871)

for what you lack with paper you'll just need to make up for with effort

Unless you don't have the paper DUE to a lack of effort! Not that I would know...

Re:Do you live in a van down by the river? (1)

speedingant (1121329) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940933)

Third..ed? Left school in junior year and got a job repairing macs. Stayed there for three and a bit years and found a great job as a sysadmin for a reasonably sized organisation.

I'd say the most important thing is perseverance, and obviously you have to know something about what you're doing. This all comes with work experience. Good luck to you.

Re:Do you live in a van down by the river? (1)

speedingant (1121329) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940939)

Oh, and whatever you do. Don't get a job working in phone support. I've heard it's incredibly hard to get out of, and you learn very little. Look for a job that challenges you every single day.

Of Course.... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940623)

Work as developer and/or in helpdesk. Study to get degree in future. Without degree, no career in IT :(

Re:Of Course.... (4, Interesting)

Carewolf (581105) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940873)

Depends on the country and how snobby the company is. There are plenty of smart companies hiring autodidact people, but they just have to prove their credentials through other means, and will be tested harder at interviews.

Personally I work as CDO without any degree, but that is because I've studied at the highest IT education in Denmark where it is common for students to quit before finishing the degree because they are offered 6 figured salaries (in dollars).

On the other hand, I turned down a job offer from Google, because their mentality there is such that you can't have a career there without a Ph.D.

So if you want to get hired as an autodidact, either work you way from the bottom, or get involved in open source and write some really awesome code that proves your proficiency.

Re:Of Course.... (1, Informative)

Bught_42 (1012499) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940889)

I agree with starting at a lower level position but I'm not sure about no IT career without a degree.

I work for my college's IT department, it's a small shop and my direct boss doesn't have a degree. However he spent quite a few years at a couple different places getting lots of experience and he is now the senior help desk guy and mid-level sys admin. As I said we are a small shop so there is alot of cross over between jobs but not all of the higher level people have degrees.

With that said, without a degree you aren't going to get the top level jobs, my brother has a BS in CS and an MBA and makes six figures as a system administrator. I don't think someone without a degree or a ton of experience has that much earning potential. Though if you've got what it takes and don't mind proving it for a few years I think it's possible to get a career in IT without a degree.

Not in this economy. (5, Insightful)

FoolishBluntman (880780) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940631)

Since, there are lots of people who have the degree, I think that you will be in bad shape to compete against them.

Experiance (5, Insightful)

iVasto (829426) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940633)

Without a degree, the only way to really get a sysadmin job would be a few years of experience, certifications, and some good recommendations/connections.

Re:Experiance (1)

tguh (1418855) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940879)

Currently I working as a Junior Sysadmin, freshly graduate aka. my first job. It is possible to go to higher level without any certification? Umm, because here at Indonesia, that such thing is so expensive...

Re:Experiance (4, Insightful)

jimmypw (895344) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940907)


im still fairly young (mid 20's) and I'm a sysadmin. My tips for getting in to my situation are :-
-Apply for jobs in smaller companies
-Do the support roles in your early years
-Learn anout your job in your spare time
-Never stop learning.

In time you'll have the know how to go and command any job you want.

Its also controversial weather you actually need a degree or not. I worked with a degree student in my last job and all he knew was theory. WHen he started he knew what a partition was but didnt have a clue how to partition a hard disk or why you'd even do it in the first place.

Then again i am one of those "taught himeself how to program aged 6" people.

Re:Experiance (1)

purpledinoz (573045) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940925)

I think it's worth the time and effort to get a university degree. If you don't have one, you'll always be at the bottom of the pack. Also, university can be really fun experience. You will meet a lot of cool people, and make new friends.

Re:Experiance (4, Insightful)

Fallingcow (213461) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940965)

In fact, the "meeting cool people" is the most important part in pretty much any business-oriented degree.

You can teach yourself the stuff from a business or CIS degree in way less than 4 years, if you are actually interested in it. It's the contacts you make that matter. It's pretty much the entire purpose of Ivy League business programs, but even at lesser universities it's the biggest benefit of getting that paper.

If you've got family or friends or contacts from some other setting who can get you in to a corporation, though, you can probably skip the full-time-student thing and just let the corp pay for you to do night classes or something.

Re:Experiance (2, Informative)

el-schwa (240614) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940957)

Did your college education teach you any spelling? Or do they stop teaching that in grade school? "Experiance" is not a word.

I love how everyone with a degree thinks that is the only way anyone can get a good job. What you need is the knowledge in your field. If you don't have the knowledge, get an entry level job and work your way up. Learn on the job and improve your skill set. When you can't move up in that company anymore, move on.

Yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940635)

Absolutely. Frankly I don't see why anyone would require a degree for a SysAdmin position. The skills required for such a position are better aquired nerding at home or being an assistant...

Re:Yes (1)

berend botje (1401731) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940803)

But, if he had been nerding at home, he would have a job by now. Looks like submitter missed the boat: too old to get enough experience by himself, too old to go back to school and be taken seriously afterwards. No hope, this one has.

dead. end. job. (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940637)

Do you really want to be a computer janitor? It's a good part-time or summer job but should only be a whistle stop on your way to CS degree or other useful education.

Re:dead. end. job. (3, Interesting)

afidel (530433) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940695)

Hahaha, 6 years after my friend graduated at the top of his class with a CS degree (and 9 after I entered the workforce) I still make more than him. Network admins make more than all but the very top designers because while you make products we make large numbers of people efficient which is more valuable to most businesses.

it's harder, but yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940639)

mostly by knowing someone/demonstration is how i've made it. make an impression, show your skills. my resume and publications speak for themselves mostly.

Yes... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940643)

Yes, but you'll probably need to work your way up or get into a small shop via networking. You'll need to prove yourself and work hard.

Consider that a university degree takes ~4 years w/o pay... you shouldn't expect to jump in at the same level w/o a similar ordeal.

I wouldn't worry... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940655)

One of the things that has always appealed to me about computers is that people who deal with them are as often hired on ability as credentials. I don't know any IT guys who are respected for anything other than ability and how easy they are to work with. I hope that this isn't going to change. But I don't think it will, because some of us find these devices inherently fascinating, and spend endless amounts of time learning about them just because we enjoy it. It is very hard for someone just wanting to complete a degree and get a job to compete with that. I would say, based on my experience, that if you are good you will rise to your level regardless of credentials.


Yet another one (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940659)

I propose the article be renamed to "Useful (stupid) employment tricks"

start small (5, Insightful)

splatterhead (1420865) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940661)

There's no way you can start as a sysadmin without having the degree, but there are other ways. I'd suggest starting at a lower level with a company that will pay for your certs, get your MSCE, CCNE, etc and work your way up.

Re:start small (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940671)

Whenever a discussion about certs comes up here, plenty of actual real-world managers post comments along the lines that certs are worthless and anyone proud of his certs is a dubious hire.

Re:start small (4, Insightful)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940733)

And the other 99% in charge of hiring who don't go to slashdot would disagree but they're not geeks so this site will never hear from them. Heck even those who do post of slashdot probably had the resumes they see first go through HR which falls into that other 99%.

Re:start small (1)

unlametheweak (1102159) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940743)

So one would think that (university) degrees are even more worthless than certifications since they are based more on theory than real world experience, as well as a lot less relevant but required elective courses. The cramming phenomena that schools (especially universities) impose by the workload certainly doesn't help.

Hiring a job candidate on ability instead of pieces of paper or networking ability (I'm talking references and schmoozing here) sounds like something that companies who post listings on Job Boards aren't very interested in.

Re:start small (3, Insightful)

thej1nx (763573) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940835)

I disagree.

University degrees generally go far beyond mere syntactical and grammatical knowledge of a computer language or system. They generally try to instill in you, the capacity to learn. To design something new. A certification is a mere bare second-hand substitute for a degree. Someone with an actual degree will presumable have the capacity to learn new systems, instead of just memorizing the syntax and specifics of a particular language or system, learning to know the basic debugging or common routines.

Someone with a certification is merely learning to use an existing system or language. But someone with a university degree in computer science is in theory, capable of designing a new language or system. Linus Torvald didn't learn about designing an operating system by taking certification courses, after all. True that most of the brilliant folks often drop out of college, but that is because they feel that they have already learned what they can from the university system and are confident enough that they don't really need just the paper proof of the degree. But that just proves that the way you are taught in a university is actually important.

Degrees are important and are worth much more than mere certifications, when accompanied by practical experience. Certifications on the other hand, are acceptable substitutes if you need just a monkey coder or junior sysadmin who is familiar with at least the basics and is required to just maintain an existing system instead of designing a new one.

Re:start small (1)

thej1nx (763573) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940761)

Of course, most of the certificates are useless on their own.

Jobs are all about actual experience.

and most of the certifications generally test your mere capacity to memorize the syntax and specifics. They indicate nothing of your capacity to analyze a problem. Nor do they indicate whether you actually know anything of the problems faced in real world while coding. A certification in programming would not necessarily mean you are a team player or whether you know how to use a versioning system or whether you are aware of undocumented gotchas that the tests never mention but an experienced programmer would know of.

And then there are some monkey coders, who do have experience... on paper. They sometimes get sucked into projects that allow for fairly limited and specialized specific experience. They might have been able to do the bare bones job for years in their previous organisation, but that doesn't means they are suited for your particular requirements. They might not know the system or language at all. A person with 5 years of experience maintaining a small local network at a small company, may not be suited for a job with an ISP where he may need to know all about web servers, dns servers, mail servers, routers, RAID systems etc. etc.

On the other hand, certifications *with* experience *prove* that you have a certain level of mastery with the specific programming language, while also having the on-the-job experience.

Re:start small (2, Insightful)

unlametheweak (1102159) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940859)

On the other hand, certifications *with* experience *prove* that you have a certain level of mastery with the specific programming language, while also having the on-the-job experience.

Having certifications only proves that you qualified for a certification. Having on-the-job experience only proves that you have had a job.

I've had a DBA professor who had a Masters degree and on-the-job experience working for a bank. He couldn't answer simple questions regarding SQL without referencing a manual. In the end our class signed a petition to have him fired. After the dean sat in on a few classes he agreed with our class's assessment. Resumes and pieces of paper and on-the-job-experience have little to do with experience. Ask any customer who buys buggy software or has to deal with an incompetent sysadmin.

There are more practical ways of proving ability (like by demonstrating ability). Asking a comprehensive list of good quality questions will certainly do more IMHO than References, etc in deciding a good job candidate.

Re:start small (3, Informative)

Bonobo_Unknown (925651) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940891)

I've interviewed for Administrator positions and the one thing I noticed in the reactions of the other people on the panel, is that education counts for a hell of a lot less than people think.

From what I've seen, and it might not be true everywhere, but people want to see your on-the-job experience. They basically want to see that what you did in your last job is the same as what you will be doing in the new job. And they mean last job, they want you to have experience and they want the experience to be current.

A degree or diploma or certificates are all probably enough - if you've got the experience. None are good enough on their own. The last interview I did the rest of the panel were really blown away by this chick who had no formal education at all, but plenty of experience.

Re:start small (5, Insightful)

dunkelfalke (91624) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940773)

why should a system administrator need a degree? does a plumber or an electrician need a degree? an apprenticeship should be enough for this kind of work.

Re:start small (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940777)

I would target IT consulting firms. A smaller place has decent wages, and they will cover all your certifications. They also value certifications much more, so you might have an easier time starting there without a degree. (These smaller IT shops are typically partners with Cisco, VMWare, NetApp, etc. and need to have a percentage of their staff certified. So not only will they pay for your certs, they encourage (force) you to pursue them.)

Not any place with and HR department (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940663)

HR departments are all about covering their own asses. A degree (and course grades) is the easiest "objective" evidence of some sort of qualification.

You're going to have to at least do an 18 month "ITT Tech" style training program to not get weeded out right off the top.

Re:Not any place with and HR department (1)

nyck6623 (1411267) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940923)

I agree 100%... Being an ITT alumni as well as attending so called "upper level" colleges, most non-technical colleges pale in comparison to a true tech degree. I learned more from google and written sources than the instructors or rather the course materials from UOP. I only have my A.A.S from ITT and have a salary comparable to what statistics say a masters degree holder should make. All in all its what you know imo, but then again I have been turned down for a job cause I didn't have a MS cert... It's always funny listening to the response from the interviewer when I ask them to bring their best "MSCE" to field some real world aptitude questions.

University of Hard Knocks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940667)

Yes, one can get an IT position without a degree, but usually its a management position with major decision making capabilities. You might even have the chance to create novel products or services like the Cue Cat or HomeGrocer.com. Be sure the negotiations include a hiring bonus for a new Beemer and back-dated stock options. Also, watch the movie dot-com before making any life altering decisions.

Merit can meen as much as a degree (3, Insightful)

Splab (574204) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940673)

but it's certainly going to be harder getting a foot in the door.

I've seen autodidact sysadmins do quite a lot better than ones with degrees, however the reverse is also true.

In general my experience is companies will prefer one with a degree over autodidact people, reason being someone with a degree has shown ability to sit down and learn - this is very important since pretty much no matter what job you end up getting there is going to be some learning to get familiar with the running systems.

Yes, but (5, Insightful)

afidel (530433) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940675)

I'm the senior network administrator for an S&P 500 company and I have some college but no degree. I do have a ton of industry certifications, but I only got those for employers who asked for AND payed for them. Of course before I got my first "real" IT job I had already owned my own PC company for 5 years and volunteered for a number of different schools and charitable organizations so it wasn't like I went in with zero experience to show on the resume. I also started near the bottom as a deskside support guy. I think the only way to get in today without any formal education would definitely be to work a helpdesk position. Personally I would look for a midsized company because if you show good initiative, hard work, and some smarts it's a lot more likely you will move up from within. That's what happened to my junior admin, he had been stuck at the helpdesk level at a number of very large companies but within 2 years of starting with my company he was advanced because he showed all the traits needed to be a good sysadmin.

yes, but... expect to do low-level work at first (1)

davros-too (987732) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940791)

I agree. We hire ability not qualifications. You've got to do stuff to show your ability - that could be an open source project, projects for your relatives, whatever, but you need to show you've got get up and go and you get things done.

The second thing I want to say is be patient. You're going to get an entry-level position and you've got a lot of learning to do. If you're willing to learn and you show ability, then you'll get more responsibility.

Re:Yes, but (1)

ArbitraryConstant (763964) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940951)

I work for a small contracting company. A degree is definitely seen as an asset, but we've seen enough idiots at university that we recognize it's not everything. A technical college is an asset too, as are certs, but honestly people smart enough to figure things out for themselves are hard enough to find that if we see that we'll hire you either way.

OTOH, plenty of people make it through school without developing an aptitude for problem solving, so that's definitely not enough. It's probably going to have an impact on your starting pay though.

Yes, very much so. (4, Interesting)

riflemann (190895) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940677)

I never finished my degree, yet I have been able to pursue a computing career without it being a roadblock.

My present role is as an engineer at Google.

Re:Yes, very much so. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940709)

you must mean "technician"

Re:Yes, very much so. (1, Interesting)

dbIII (701233) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940921)

No he does mean engineer since MS and others rendered the title meaningless so it may as well be Major, Captain, Squadron Leader or whatever since it also implies some form of responsibility.

It is possible to become a real professional engineer from a trade background with a pile of time and experience but I don't think that is what he means. I think acccountants went through this years ago which is why there is the title "chartered accountant" to distinguish them from school dropouts with a spreadsheet.

Then again, I'm a real engineer that is now working with computers and would have been better off with some sort of CS degree. However the purpose of University is to teach you to find out how to do things yourself, and while it's technically not really necessary the number of "self-starters" that can become experts under their own steam is very low. You could learn just as much by reading books, trying things out and talking to people - but Universities conveniently have the people you can learn from close by. A very well run workplace can do the same thing - however most places want somebody else to train their staff.

Re:Yes, very much so. (1)

c-reus (852386) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940725)

care to enlighten us on how you got your career started?

Re:Yes, very much so. (1)

wmbetts (1306001) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940827)

I'm not him, but I started small (a regional ISP doing systems / networking) getting paid hardly nothing, but now I make around $60k a year and where I live that's pretty decent money.

Re:Yes, very much so. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940857)

I also have no degree, and I worked myself to a manager position at an IT company that provides services for major banks.

I've had to get a few more years of work experience to reach this point, so at the end of the day, it took me the same amount of time (but without any student loans :-) ).

Re:Yes, very much so. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940809)

Yeah "network engineer" LOL. It's just like "software engineer"... All these titles to make one feel self-important, but it doesn't make you an actual engineer in any way

-1 flamebait. I know...

My company explicitly does not care about degrees. (5, Interesting)

alanfairless (1420869) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940685)

We've had good results with simply giving out actual trial programming tasks and comparing the results of several programmers.

Degrees don't seem to be a strong predictor of usefulness.

Incidentally, we're hiring right now.

https://spideroak.com/blog/200810280100 [spideroak.com]

yes and no (1)

thej1nx (763573) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940687)

It is always possible to get a IT job without an actual degree in IT.

But there are jobs and then there are jobs. Keep in mind that first and foremost question in the mind of a hiring person is whether or not you can do the job, and whether your skills are good value for the money they will be paying you. And plus you can forget the big labels. You will have to start in a small company, gain a few years of experience under your belt, and then try to apply for a better position.

Or instead, you can just do a few certification courses while you are working. While most companies would prefer someone with a computer degree, they also are willing to take someone who has proven level of skills.

It is possible... (2, Insightful)

wouter (103085) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940689)

... but I would advise against it.

I am living proof that it is possible, but that was right in the internet bubble, when I got media attention for designing a website and was hired as a web designer. I learned programming Perl and PHP on the job, together with basic sysadmin and this experience let me apply for a job as servicedesk employee, get more experience doing sysadmin stuff, getting my MCSE and ending up being a consultant, coÃrdinating 5 people in releasing software packages over 4000 machines working in a bank and insurance environment. And this within 10 years.

I suspect however that if you don't have any experience, you'll have a tough time getting a sysadmin position. Try to find a position as service desk calltaker, study hard on various certification exams and then go for junior sysadmin positions.

But remember employers will favour degree+experience over just experience... And in a tough economy with an overflow of available IT people with degrees, you score low.

My degreeless friend... (2, Insightful)

Trip6 (1184883) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940691)

...started as an operator and is now a Sr. VP at a very prominent software company. Start small and you can go a long way!

Compensation directly tied to degree (2, Insightful)

kachakaach (1336273) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940693)

You may find a job without a degree, but expect to be offered half or less of what a person with a degree would get. My son-in-law "to be" worked as IT mgr for non-profit for several years while going to college and getting degree, and was almost instantly able to land a job making three times as much with full benefits as soon as he graduated and started applying w/degree in hand, (got job in Solar panel manufacturing/installation industry, an industry that seems to be holding it's own in the recession).

Short answer is "yes, you need a degree"

You won't get a job in the fortune 500, but... (3, Insightful)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940697)

The fortune 500 typically have HR departments that roboticly follow a check-list and a college degree is almost always on that checklist. You won't even get to the point where an actual technical manager will see your resume without one.

But, smaller shops without an HR department to institutionalize stupidity may let you in to interview and if you are a hot-shot than no one gives a damn about a degree.

If you are a hot-shot, you can also work contract. Contractors often bypass the HR department completely, even at fortune500 companies. No one hires a contractor for their college degree. They do hire contractors for their experience and knowledge.

So, if don't have experience your only hope is a college degree. But if you do have experience and are good at it, then the world is your oyster.

Re:You won't get a job in the fortune 500, but... (3, Insightful)

mooingyak (720677) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940749)

More or less how I see it too. When I'm interviewing, the last thing I care about is if they have a degree or what it's in/where it's from. It rarely comes up when I'm interviewed as well (though it seems to be a major focal point for recruiters -- I'd say 90% of them ask about it vs. maybe 25% of prospective employers).

But, like you said, if you have no experience, a degree is about all they can gauge you by on paper.

Everything is a lot easier with the degree (4, Insightful)

putaro (235078) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940703)

I've known many people who were great sys admins or developers who did not have degrees so it is possible. However, it is much easier to get a job if you have the degree. Every time you do a job interview you will spend 5-10 minutes explaining why you don't have a degree - that is, if they even bother to call you in. That's 5-10 minutes that you're spending getting yourself up to the level of the other applicants that you could have spent putting yourself above the level of the other applicants.

Your pay level may suffer throughout your career as well. When I was in college, I had a job as a developer at a computer company. I switched from a full-time student, part-time developer to being a part-time student, full-time developer. They even asked me once to drop out to devote more time to the job. One day they hired a new developer, fresh out of college. She was quite sharp but had 0 experience. One day it came out over lunch how much she was making and it was more than me. I asked my boss why and he replied "She has her degree". Needless to say, I didn't entertain any more requests to drop out and work more.

Absolutely. (0, Offtopic)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940719)

Prior to my retirement I spent five years as a technical architect. No degree. Made an absolute fucking fortune and an insane portfolio. Now I'm dedicating the next decade to being with my family. Fuck the work.

I didn't need one. (1)

theantipode (664138) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940721)

I was hired at my company based on nothing but an internship and my personal experience. They also gave me a pop quiz on site to make sure I had a clue.

Those pieces of paper don't mean anything if you can't figure problems out fast, and my IT team knows that. Video game companies tend to not be your average workplace, however.

Experience means almost everything (2, Interesting)

kolbe (320366) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940723)

In my 3rd year of pursuing my Bachelors Degree in Telecommunications, I dropped out of College in 1996 for the allure of the Computer Industry. I started as an entry level IS Support Technician (Help Desk) and moved up several layers through the "Help Desk" chain. I realized after 2 years that getting out of Help Desk was going to be difficult. That's when I jumped ship for a startup company that offered me a Systems Administration job. I've been a Sys Admin since 1998 and feel the need at this time to go back and finish my Degree if I ever want to go into management of any kind.

To answer your questions:
"Can I get a Systems Admin position without a Degree?"

Yes you can, but you have to really work towards it by gaining a good amount of experience (3-5yrs technician work) and perhaps take some risks as many of us have in order to secure the rights to wear the Sys Admin hat.

"Is there hope for computer enthusiasts who didn't go to college?"

I recommend at least an AA Degree and a couple of paper certifications to get you started. Anything less is reducing your odds significantly.

Disregard all these flame-boys with their computer janitor comments and remember this:

Do what you love to do.

If you have any doubts about what it is you want, I recommend taking on a "Geek Squad" job or looking elsewhere. You only get one really good "free" chance to start a career, try to make sure it's one you'll enjoy looking forward to for 30+ years.

It's a little harder but you can find a job. (5, Interesting)

GrpA (691294) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940727)

There are typically two reasons someone will employ you without a degree.

1). They want to get the best skills without paying for them.

2). You have sufficient experience that no-one reads your resume far enough to notice you've never been to college and wouldn't care either way, or you present extremely well at interviews.

I'd say work on (2) because companies that focus on (1) tend to be bad employers, although not always. Sometimes it's just employers who realise the value of the skills you have, not the paper you paid for that claims it.


I wouldn't hire you (2, Insightful)

vinn (4370) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940735)

I manage an area that fortunately has lots of people interested in working for us, doing sys admin work amongst other things. I wouldn't hire you. The problem is, all things being equal, the guy with a college education is going to win. Unfortunately, all things generally are equal. There's no shortage of people with good attitudes, good experience, and are bright. So, often the education becomes a focus. It proves you know how to learn, can follow directions, and have some discipline to pursue a long-term goal.

Now, having said that, if one of my friends told me I had to hire you, I'd generally trust them and do it. So, it's possible to work your way up, but it's hard.

I recommend working for the phone company. It's more interesting than computers anyway.

Re:I wouldn't hire you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940771)

You seem mighty arrogant preaching from your pedestal. It's not about what you know, or even who you know, but who knows you. Getting in somewhere is still a social game.

Of course (1)

dave420 (699308) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940737)

Just write a decent resumé/CV that outlines your abilities. Degrees don't mean squat in IT. People with them would like to think otherwise, but they don't. What matters is end results. If you are competent, skilled, and available, you're fine. The number of people with degrees I've worked with who were shit at their jobs is incredible - a degree does not automatically mean a person is skilled, and not having one doesn't mean you're not skilled. My advice: go for it.

Re:Of course (0)

Dadoo (899435) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940949)

Interestingly, in my experience, a person's computer ability is nearly always inversely proportional to their level of education. I've worked with people who had Master's degrees (in something computer-related) who didn't understand the concept of a character, while the best programmer I've ever met didn't even graduate from high-school. I can only think of one exception to that rule, and I'm pretty sure it was because his BS and MS were from Cornell and Carnegie Mellon, respectively.

What else is on your CV (4, Insightful)

nut (19435) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940739)

A degree is one way of getting your first job. A basic BSc. won't really mean anything after the first 2 years in the industry, although some employers will pay more attention to a Masters, or a Doctorate especially.

If you can't show previous jobs, write your own software and publish it somewhere. Or contribute to open source projects. There are some people who can read code who also have the power to hire.

Get some industry certifications. Microsoft certification, (*ducks*) Java certification etc. are all worth something to some people. That's something you can get yourself for a lot less time and money than a degree although they're generally not worth as much.

All that aside, the current job market is not your friend right now - or anyone elses for that matter. :(

Sure--I've done it, and so has a good friend. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940745)

We've both hit six figure incomes doing it, too! The key is to actually do a good job and devote yourself to customer/boss satisfaction. It's more than just being technical--you have to be great at communicating with your boss or customer and setting expectations properly.

I've met techs who were far better than me technically but who were rotten at communicating with customers. And I've met far better communicators who knew less technical stuff than me and earned far more than I did (they eventually became technical sales consultants).

Word of mouth counts for much more than a degree on the resume. Hiring managers will often fast-track you to HR based on strong word-of-mouth recommendations. In the past six years, I've never had to show my resume--all my jobs were won by my sterling reputation.

Yes... maybe. (4, Interesting)

bziman (223162) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940747)

It all depends on a lot of things, of course! Do you have any experience? What is your work background? If all of your experience is customer service at Best Buy, then you're probably not going to have much luck, going in cold.

You've got several options, none of which are easy.

  • Do you know someone in the field who would take you on at their company? A friend? A parent of a friend? Knowing someone is always the best way to find a job.
  • Are you willing to relocate to a better job market? You'll have to pay for it yourself though, if you don't have any experience.
  • Would you consider an unpaid internship? Non-profits are frequently in desperate need of IT professionals who work for beans.
  • Have you considered going to school? Either to a real college, or even to a community college, where you can get an AS in IT in two years without much effort or expense (and the economy might be better in two years anyway). There are also plenty of professional schools, and certifications you can get, though I think those are not as desirable/credible -- it depends on the sort of positions you're looking at.
  • There are definitely jobs as a technician that do not require a degree, but will give you experience that could lead to a systems administration job. Particularly if you're willing to do shift work.
  • Consider a job in software quality assurance. There's a desperate need for people in that area, and a lot of times, you end up pulling systems administration duty as part of that job. I got my first job, without a degree, doing QA for a small start up, and ended up as lab administrator. But I did finish my degree, and then some, and life is much better now.

You've got plenty of options... good luck!


Volunteer (2, Interesting)

BrainInAJar (584756) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940751)

Take on some volunteer work at a local charity of some sort as the IT guy, work your way up the volunteer chain until they start paying you for it.

I do have a colleague whose first job was right out of highschool at a local AIDS charity, ended up in the regional office for a while, now he works at some hosting firm for pretty decent money

You'd be better served by regulation (1)

sethstorm (512897) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940755)

...that specifically drops that requirement from any consideration or makes working for the degree a lot less costly.

Yes (1)

wintermute000 (928348) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940757)

Experience + certs.

You will have to tough it out for a year or two on helpdesk or desktops or field grunt work. Do your certs at night.

Cisco engineer, no tertiary IT qualifications at all, doing just fine with CCNA + experience + references.

Job Market Signaling (1)

bstadil (7110) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940767)

Read Noble Laureate Michael Spence's famous article about Job Market Signaling [wikipedia.org] Once you understand the thinking of this article you should try and think about what signals can you send to potential employers. It has to be something that can not easily be falsifier and it has to have been "expensive" for you to achieve. Expensive defined as effort by you. Contributing meaningful to an Open Source project or something like that.

Yes (1)

autarch (132719) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940783)

See above.

Just get a degree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940785)

Crack the books, learn some good stuff, and go to work. Sure you can get a good job after working hard for a long time without a degree in shit jobs. Or you can get a degree and (maybe) still work shit jobs but with good pay and health/vacation benefits.

You can likely get to the same place with or without a degree if you are motivated. It's a matter of on what timeline.

Yes, with experience. (1)

Max Romantschuk (132276) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940793)

I currently work as a Systems Architect, working on fairly distributed systems and a wide range of languages and tools. I have the Finnish equivalent of a High School education, on the formal level.

I started in a help desk job and worked my way up, always trying to learn new stuff and seeking out new jobs when I felt I was standing still. With enough experience I now hold positions which need the skills equivalent of a university level education.

So yes, it's possible. Risky, but possible. Learn the art of interviewing.

You can but...expect to work your way up (1)

Bluemars (895347) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940801)

I'm a Systems Engineer (SAN & ESX) at a large Australian hosting company. I started out as a Level 1 phone tech at an ISP, switched after a year to the hosting company as a Level 2 and after about 2 years went for my current role. You can get a Sysadmin job without a Uni degree but: - You'll have to work your way up vs going straight in after Uni - It's probably easier at the same company provided you keep a good rep for hard work without drama - You learn outside of the role eg. setup a home ESX cluster from old comps, this doesn't have to be training with a piece of paper (though it helps) but just to show you really know your subject matter

No. (1)

pacroon (846604) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940805)

It is not physically possible.

No degree worked for me (2, Interesting)

il dus (244149) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940807)

I've dropped out of college six or so times (depends on how you count) and still don't have a degree. Nevertheless I'm holding a very technical and highly challenging and enjoyable programming position and absolutely no one I work with cares in the least about my interrupted education. What they do care about is my technical ability and I wouldn't have been hired if I hadn't been able to impress the engineers I interviewed with.

That said, the company I work for isn't too large, and I was referred by a friend, so I was able to clear the first hurdle of just getting noticed. It's unfortunate, but with larger companies especially, a decidedly non-technical person (or an equivalent SQL query) will be reviewing your resume and will only be looking for certain magic keywords. My advice is to make sure you're solid technically (which you should be anyways), then either try at smaller companies where you're more likely to be noticed, or impress someone and have them bring your resume in. There are, I'm sure, other ways to go about this, but that's my experience. Good luck.

Certainly (1)

BigBuckHunter (722855) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940817)

Getting an SA/SE/NE job without a degree is fairly easy. The degree is only useful in passing the initial HR education check. I recommend that you bypass this check by having an insider get you an interview. Once you have your first job and foundation for a resume, finding other/better jobs becomes much easier. Passing the phone screen and interview will be entirely on you. Make sure your fundamental skills are sharp. Look over the job listing and invest 72 hours reviewing your weak spots. I conduct a number of phone screening and p2p interviews. I have a list of general questions ranging from basic to complex. For SAs, I usually start with the following.

In pseudo script (any language, bash, dos, etc)do the following:

copy a file from dir A to Dir B
copy a file from server A dir A to server B dir B
copy all/only xml files from server A dir A to server B dir B
copy all files except xml files from Server A directory A (recursively) to servers B, C, D, E

As you see, the questions range from "are you retarted", to "are you useless" to "are you actually able to use what you know to solve something". I really don't care if the candidate is 100% syntactically correct on the phone. What I do care about is "how" they think. Do they use a for loop and find combo (for foo in `find . -name *xml` ; do scp dirA/${foo} user@serverb:/dirb/ ; done ), or are they using ls/grep/xargs, or do they not know scp, ftp, or windows UNC path utilization and shouldn't be interviewing for an SA position. I have a set of questions for pretty much evey dicsipline that a job at my company would require (regex, sql, etc), and let the candidate use the language /commands that they are most comfortable with. I could care less if they know the intricacies of windows/unix/linux chattr/chown/chmod, I just need them to understand the concepts and be able to read, interpret, and implement the information in a man page. I've ended up converting a fair number of MCSEs to actual SAs this way.

IMHO. No, you do not. (1)

Kooty-Sentinel (1291050) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940821)

YMMV but I don't even have a High School Diploma, and have a well paying job in IT as a Systems Engineer/Admin. I get to go overseas to work with an expense account that pays for most everything. If you have a good outgoing personality, and have a real interest in what you do, you will succeed. I see too many drones that have Diplomas up the ying-yang, that got into the industry because "they thought IT was a good career choice" while absolutely having no interest whatsoever.

Actually, the most well paid (well into 6 figures) buddy I have doesn't have a High School diploma. On average everyone I know that doesn't have a Uni Diploma makes MORE than the ones that do. Again, YMMV.

PhD from India is Cheaper (1)

Macrat (638047) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940829)

No degree?

Shipping in a PhD is more cost effective than hiring you.

I sold my effort cheap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940831)

Ten years ago I had no diplomas but I wanted to get money from playing with linuxes. At first I helped school sysadmin for free. The guy gave paper saying that I was possibly worth to try.

Next I got my first real job as a technical sales support for small company selling software and some hardware. Pay was minimum that law made possible. After staying year there I applied to telco and said that minimum wage is ok. At the end it took about three or four years to get same salary as other. On the other hand I've always done what I've wanted.

Be warned. This method requires lots of effort. You will need to teach things to yourself. It will take lots of time and as long your skills are not good pay is lousy.

Without education, you'll be a poor computer tech (3, Insightful)

Morgaine (4316) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940851)

Qualifications aren't just for show, they mean that you've extended your knowledge in the area and that someone has verified it.

There's a lot more to computing than writing a few programs that do something useful without crashing. That's important too, but it barely figures on the wider scale of merit of a computing professional.

What a CompSci education gives you is tons and tons of theory and context: theory so that you have a large portfolio of logically sound techniques upon which to draw instead of reinventing them and doing so badly, and context so that you understand why you're doing something, why you should not do something else, and how your solutions fit in with all the other methods and systems in the subject area.

Without an education in this field, you won't even know when you're making a mistake, owing to lack of theory and context. Your boss may like you because you'll always be saying "Yes" (until everything falls apart), but nobody else will appreciate it, not even you yourself in time. And you'll feel dumb every time that you come into contact with other computer people, as well as getting a bad rep because you can't hide ignorance in tech.

Just don't.

Take the time and make the effort to get yourself a proper CompSci education. You won't regret it.

Re:Without education, you'll be a poor computer te (4, Informative)

wmbetts (1306001) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940967)

You can have a proper understanding of computers with out going to a University. It just takes more dedication and willingness then the average person has.

I've had conversations with people that have a "proper CompSci education" and they couldn't hold an intelligent conversation about programming with a monkey.

Papers Are Everything! (2, Interesting)

NiteRiderXP (750309) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940855)

Getting a job in IT without a degree is extremely challenging.

Without a degree you may be able to get a Hell Desk job at most. From there depending on the company and your performance, you might be able to climb the ladder.

To get yourself promoted, take on projects outside of your normal duties, making sure you can succeed at them. Nobody gets promoted simply by keeping clientele at bay on a daily basis.

In order to receive pay raises, you may need to switch companies. Companies rarely notice (salary wise) how much experience an employee has gained over the years.

In the end though, you may be out of luck. The company I work for did not give me a decent paycheck until three months before I got my BS. I had a two year degree already, which is probably what allowed me to get my foot in the door.

Consider getting at least a two year degree from a reputable community college. Avoid private technical colleges like the plague, nobody takes them seriously. Load up on credits that you can transfer to a four year public university, and get a BS degree in something.

A degree might take five years, but that five years will last a lifetime. However, five years of job experience may only last a decade.

No degree needed, but Projects and Certs a must (1)

nulled (1169845) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940865)

A computer science BS degree is four years long? Or more? Although, the cases are much greater that you will convince recruiters and interviewers, that you have the skills to make the business want to hire you. You do not necessary need such a BS degree. What I did was take Certificate courses at University of Washington for C, C++ and JAVA. Each langauge coonsisted of 3 classes. Beginning C, Intermidate C and finally C Advanced. So, for a total of 9 classes for the 3 languages. At about 500 dollars a class, this aproach is WAY WAY less than a full blown 4 year commitment to a BS degree. The final BILL and resulting student loans may take years and years to pay off. What you need to do, is build web sites. Write software, even if the software is already commmon and written. Have code and working programs as proof you can code. If you are in Networking, write articles and Subnet masks, how they work, and post them to as many blog and tutorials HOWTO sites as you can. making sure your Full real name is credited with their submission and prove they are authentic. Finally, make friends on the Internet, by chatting in Forums and collecting a 'contacts list'. Meeting people already in the field, I have been offered many jobs, even to goto London to work for someone there. What you may end up finding you will only know. until you try. Dont expect to find anything, just do it and see what happened. Have a portfolio of your work, that with Certs in your specific fields of interest (even able to be taken ONLINE) is the most efficient way through pricy college fees.

Education vs Skills (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940867)


IÂm not exactly IT guy, but IÂve done tech support and sysadmin stuff in a small scale. My primary job is 3d graphic designer.

I donÂt have any degrees on these fields. In fact, my studied profession is social educator.

The good thing with degrees is that employer has better idea of your competence beforehand. Degree also shows that you can dedicate many years of your life to something. Third, it shows that you are able to learn new stuff.

But if you are able to impress employer face to face, then it probably is not a problem, at least in the private sector.

Of course it is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940883)

I only have my high school diploma but i always managed to get very good payed jobs (That's why i never finished my college)

If you are autodidact and learn new stuff instead of playing stupid games, and if you can prove you're better than everybody else in a interview, then it's easy.

i'm just 28, i'm now a project manager and my salary is over 100k.

But if possible, to back to school.

IT is not CS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940897)

IT obviously uses a lot of CS, but it is not CS, and is certainly not nuclear physics or medicine. For working in the real world, there are pile of things that are just as important, if not more so, than your educational background. Are you willing to work hard? Long hours? Stay up to date on new technology (if only to let your bosses know that you don't need it)? Deal with fickle and often unreasonable management? Deal with so-so pay and/or benefits? Do you have good communication skills? The ability to translate loose/abstract/unclear requirements into concrete ones? Do you have good networking skills? Are you a lifelong self-learner (college stops, your learning never does or can in this industry)?

This is just a starting point. A degree will get you in the door, but a straight A student who is unwilling or unable to navigate the often unforgiving and highly capricious real world will fail every bit as badly as the hard-working know-nothing.

If you want to write software for NASA, or the DoD, you may be out of luck. If you want to design chips for Intel, you may be out of your league. If, however, you just want to be a systems administrator or developer - especially for a small or medium size organization - your hard work, self study, and tolerance for abuse will go far.

No hope! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25940905)

As long as interviews will be held by non technical people.
From the technical point of view I would say it's more important that you do have technical skills at the proper level than how you got them.
I do have BS, but rarely used those skills, by the way!

Yes, but not from Monster, jobbank, et al. (2, Insightful)

B5_geek (638928) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940913)

As with most places it is who you know, not what you know. Applying for a job online you need to compete with MANY x10 applicants who do have letters after their names.

If you are applying for a local job where you know people or cn network with people who do know, then you have a chance.

Depends on the job market... (1)

Colz Grigor (126123) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940915)

The answer to this question really depends on the economics of the job market.

If there is an excess supply of degreed Systems Administrators and a limited number of available positions, much like now, getting a Systems Administration job without a degree is nigh-on impossible.

Alternatively, if there is a high demand and limited supply of degreed Systems Administrators, it's a piece of cake to get a Systems Administration position without a degree. The role may be a junior position, however it's a foot in the door and it will lead to the experience one needs to stay in the Systems Administration game without a degree even during difficult times.

If you're trying to get your first job now, reconsider whether it might make more sense to try to get a degree first. You can probably work a crap job part-time and live with the parents for a few years now in order for a pay-off in a few years.

If you must get a job now, and without a degree, set your expectations very low. You won't be doing much of the fun stuff.

A degree might get you an interview (1)

zonky (1153039) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940927)

It won't get you a job.

Raghavendra (1)

raghubetter (1403651) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940937)

Getting job is one side of coin, the second side is getting safe job means you are sure for no reason related to academics you will be sacked, so getting job is easy without degree because working is directly proportional to competency & skills but staying and getting up in the verticals. seems tougher without a degree.... i myself started working in IT company before i was out of my grad school.

Communities (networking in newspeak) (1)

RichiH (749257) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940941)

While I don't need to find new a job, I could instantly work in half a dozen places all around the world. Solely because I know people who work in the field with those people knowing that I am good. Similarly, there are several people I know which would get a job offer from where I work if they ever need one.

You need to be good at stuff, know people who are also good at stuff and then make sure they know you are good at stuff.

Places to start this process (yes, it takes time and you must not expect quick results) are your local LUGs, IRC, mailing lists and FLOSS projects. LUGs having the advantage of consisting of people who are close to where you live.

And yes, this is a long-term investment.

Party like it's 1999 (1)

techmuse (160085) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940945)

You could do that during the .com boom. Then everything went boom, and so did those jobs.

Absolutely (1)

willrj.marshall (1084747) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940947)


I was offered my first job as a web developer when I was 17. I'd been studying English Literature at Otago University (New Zealand) until then, but had been doing casual front-end web development on the side.

Now I'm still on this first job, although I've been there well over a year. I'm earning above the average (New Zealand) salary, I've plenty of future prospects, I'm involved in some fairly interesting projects and I'm having a good time.

I don't see my lack of degree as being any problem in the future. Once you've got experience and can show previous work you've done you shouldn't have any problems. As other comments have said; getting your foot in the door is the hardest part.

(Oh. And shameless plug. My latest project was www.digitalnz.org [digitalnz.org]

Became a CIO without a degree (2, Insightful)

dma1965 (744783) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940953)

I dropped out of college, worked as a chef for 17 years, started using a computer in 1998, and was the CIO of 2 companies (owned by the same person) by 2005. I did it because I was willing to work my ass off when the guys with degrees decided to jack their dicks for a living.

I was making 6 figures and then left to start my own company, and I still make 6 figures.

Someone once told me this, and it is true. It takes 2 things to be a success. One is intelligence, and the other is drive. Someone with a lot of intelligence and no drive will find it very hard to succeed. Someone with a lot of intelligence and a lot of drive will find it fairly easy to succeed. Someone with a lot of drive and little intelligence WILL SUCCEED.

All things being equal, execution is what it takes to win.

Sure, but... (1)

Shag (3737) | more than 6 years ago | (#25940959)

It's by no means guaranteed. A lot of companies take what they think is the safe way out by hiring people whose papers are in order. Of course, the fact that someone has a degree, or has an MCSE, or whatever, is no guarantee that they know jack. (Especially in the case of MCSEs. ;)

If you don't have a degree, though, you're going to have to offer them something else - like quantifiable hands-on experience with the OS, demonstrable skill, and, ideally, freakishly inhuman quick-learner stuff.

I've been there; I've done that; I've said things like "Give me the AOS/VS manual and the Fortran 77 manual, and I'll be up to speed in a couple days" and delivered. It's not a career path for the faint of heart, nor, I suspect, for the sane.

By the way, this also applies to other fields - in my case, astronomy, environmental policy and foreign affairs. The PhDs know I'm not a PhD, but they generally figure I must just have a Master's. ;)

(Applying for grad school soon, in hopes of fixing that.)

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