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College Degrees: The Incomplete Picture

Pros and Cons to Consider Before Screening for Your Contract Needs
When a company finds itself in need of an IT pro, hiring managers and IT recruiters begin Collegesifting through a variety of resumes – weeding out candidates based on predetermined requirements for the role they are hoping to fill. In the past, one such requirement has been a consultant’s acquisition of a 4-year degree. However, many new initiatives and developments in the world of IT have necessitated a change in that mode of thinking. While we certainly wouldn’t turn this prerequisite on its head (screening for IT pros without a college degree) in many cases it has become an outdated mode of elimination. So before beginning the search to fill your upcoming contract needs, consider these positives and negatives to an IT pro having or not having a diploma. Doing so can help you make an educated decision about what you’re REALLY looking for, and can help you find the best resource for your needs.
Unique Attributes of Both Groups
A College Degree Can Lead to Well-Rounded IT Pros
The reasons hiring managers screen for a college degree are simple: a college degree shows that an IT pro has been committed to learning and following an IT career path for at least four years, and that he or she has acquired the skills necessary to complete the job. Without doubt these are great reasons – they tell a hiring manger up front about a candidate’s character and qualifications. A degree also tells hiring mangers that the IT pro in question has learned soft skills – like writing, analytical thinking, and cultural awareness – which, while not the primary function of a specific position, are important for an IT pro’s successful implementation of the position’s responsibilities. For this reason, half of entry level IT positions require a college degree, and this trend has also extended to many higher level IT opportunities. Ultimately, degrees are widely valued in the IT industry today because they have proven to produce great consultants, and that isn’t likely to change any time soon.
IT Pros Without Degrees Are Independent Learners
Despite the emphasis placed on degrees, hiring managers are equally likely to appreciate the value that IT pros without degrees can bring to a contract opening. It’s important to consider that, often times, such applicants chose not to go to college, because they felt that they had already acquired the skills necessary to succeed on the job. These folks may have even been experienced coders by the time they entered high school – as is the case for nearly 38% of current web developers. The fact that they were able to figure out and master tech languages without the support of formal education bodes well for non-degreed IT pros, and proves that they are capable of troubleshooting and problem solving even when faced with unique challenges. At the same time, a lack of formal education does not necessarily infer a lack of formal training. Many of these pros have undergone IT trainings, such as those offered due to the TechHire Initiative, which gives IT pros cutting-edge training through non-traditional programs. Participation in such trainings means that these professionals are highly skilled, despite their lack-of degree.
Pitfalls to Making an Offer Based on a Degree
Outdated Programs Can Negate Degrees
While some hiring managers have adjusted to the idea that a college degree isn’t always necessary to fill a position, many don’t realize that there can actually be negatives associated with a consultant holding a degree; the greatest being that it doesn’t guarantee an IT pro’s proficiency with using certain technologies, or verify their acquisition of the skills needed to succeed in a contract position. This gap between the classroom and the workplace has been acknowledged as a problem by more than one computer science professor, and sadly (with a few exceptions) the bottom line is that collegiate programs are not teaching their students new, cutting-edge, or experimental technology trends. Many students are blissfully unaware of the gap, and the ways technology is evolving even during their four years in school, and might miss out on learning skills that could be required of them as future consultants.
No Degree May Mean Underdeveloped Soft Skills
On the flip side, even pros with a long list of nontraditional credentials may be lacking essential skills that will help them succeed on the job. Despite all of their technical skills, these IT pros may not have learned the aforementioned “soft skills,” such as working with a team, abstract thinking, communication, etc. that are generally learned during time spent in a four-year program. They also may not possess the background knowledge about technology systems (i.e. history, basic functions, why they do what they do) as they may have skipped over it in their learning, experimenting, and specialized trainings. Additionally, when degrees aren’t listed on IT resumes, it’s hard for hiring managers to get a sense of their applicants’ levels of dedication, determination, and achievement. If they don’t highlight other features of their resume to display their possession of such qualities, you may be forced to pass them up for candidates who seem more grounded.
Ask Questions About Skills and Work Ethic For Your Best Fit 
The Journey is More Important Than the Diploma
Ask not about the degree, but instead focus on what the IT pro learned during his or her time in school. Find out if your pros selected a specific track or concentration for their undergrad; ask about the classes they took that you feel would have taught them directly applicable skills to your open IT contract position; and learn what internship and networking opportunities they took advantage of. This information will tell you more about their qualifications by focusing on acquired knowledge and skills, as opposed to an acquired diploma in general. Sometimes these pros have education coupled with experience and self-teaching, and may be your top candidates; other times their educational accomplishments do not make up for their lack of experience. It is up to you to do the digging, ask the right questions, and peruse their resumes carefully.
“No Degree” Does Not Mean “No Learning”
As mentioned, IT pros without degrees thrive off of their non-traditional trainings and previous experience. Don’t be afraid to ask them what applicable training or education they have undergone that could benefit your team– they are likely to have a great answer! As President Obama himself said “It does not matter where you learn to code, it should matter how good you are at writing code.” Your job as a hiring manager is to find out exactly that, and to ask questions that will tell you more about their character, and help you make a fairer assessment of their work ethic and other qualities.
 
Ultimately every company is different, and you will need to make the best choice to fit your IT needs: factoring in your company culture, personal hiring preferences, and pool of IT consultants to choose from. But considering the differences – both positive and negative – that having a college degree can make will help you in your initial stages to screen candidates and find your best fit. And who knows, trying a new approach to your hiring strategy by adjusting your candidate expectations may just lead you to finding the perfect IT pro to work with your team.