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IT Job Without a Degree? 1123

Posted by kdawson
from the killing-oneself-by-degrees dept.
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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IT Job Without a Degree?

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  • by FoolishBluntman (880780) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:25AM (#25940631)
    Since, there are lots of people who have the degree, I think that you will be in bad shape to compete against them.
    • by neko6 (1313451) on Monday December 01, 2008 @05:36AM (#25941349)

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

      My problem is the inverse one. I have a BSc and an MSc in Computer Science from a respectable scientific institute (app. 10% of our MSc graduates are recruited by Google each year), but I can't find a Software Developer position. Alas, nobody wants to take in someone without experience in this economy - nobody wants to invest in the shaky future. I've seen many job listings with "Bachelor's degree a plus", but the experience dominates.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tyresyas (826753)
        Try doing this with a PhD =p
        • by j-cloth (862412) on Monday December 01, 2008 @11:01AM (#25944095)
          This shouldn't be modded funny... In my time hiring, especially for junior or entry level positions I have looked at PhDs and discarded them because they're overqualified. I've tried to talk several people I know out of going directly for their PhD* in without getting work experience first. *If your goal is to be an academic then go for the PhD. If your goal is to get a high paying job, get a BSc, work for a while, then go back to grad school
          • by cayenne8 (626475) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:00PM (#25949069) Homepage Journal
            Actually....I find you don't have to have a degree in CS....just a degree.

            Experience goes a LONG way....and of course, the oldest, but most important factor I know of...who you know!!

            My degree is BS in Biochem...although I never really used it (just missed med school admission a couple times). I fell into CS doing databases while doing medical research, while trying to get in med school...and taking grad courses in comp. sci to try to raise my GPA (I had a LOT of fun at LSU).

            Anyway....ended up doing this, and now pretty successful at contracting. I find that just having SOME degree helps, but, experience...and knowing the importance of making lots and lots and lots of quality contacts in the business is what gets you in the door.

            Having a personality, and a little ability to BS works too. I've beaten out people for jobs that were MUCH more qualified than I...due in large part to being able to talk to people and present myself well as a normally socially interactive person.

            Also....when interviewing, DO NOT be afraid of asking for too much money!! Many people are just geared to think that if it costs more, it is worth more and better quality. Employers are consumers of a type....and you can always negotiate down if you wish. Also..try to get THEM to state what they want to pay...you don't do it first!

      • by evilbessie (873633) on Monday December 01, 2008 @06:04AM (#25941505)

        If you are smart you don't need the piece of paper to indicate such. It may take you a little longer to get moving upwards but experience is really what they want and you only get that by doing. If however you are not able to convince others you have a brain then get a piece of paper as this will help you.

        I don't have a degree (in fact dropped out during my second year), but now work for the IT department of the university I went to, and I like to think my prospects for the future are good. But it did take a little while in a shitty job to get some experience to get this far.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by GhaleonStrife (916215)
          If you know their head of IT, it's even easier. That's how I landed my job. High School degree and 2 years of college with nothing to show for it. (Dropped out.) I met with their head of IT (unknowingly) at a couple of Megadeth concerts. He'd always bring a Linux mag or something to read in the car, so we'd talk about it. Before I knew it, I was offered a job.
      • by Rysc (136391) * <sorpigal@gmail.com> on Monday December 01, 2008 @08:44AM (#25942437) Homepage Journal

        It's all about who you know.

        They call it "networking" but I dislike this term as it has a well defined technical meaning.

        I got my first job because I knew a guy who recommended it to me and mentioned me to those who later interviewed me.

        I got my next job because a co-worker from my first job told me about a position, handed over my resume and gave me a nice talking-up to the people doing the hiring.

        He got his job there because someone he knew in school recommended him.

        Do you see a pattern here? In an uncertain world it's hard to know what to believe. I've seen people with great resumes, claiming experience AND education, who couldn't do the jobs they were hired to do. I've seen people with no degrees and no experience excel. How do you tell the difference between the two when you're doing the hiring? You rely on the advice and recommendations of people you trust, i.e. people you've already worked with. In this down economy the tendency to go with the safe bet will be even higher.

        Knowing people helps you get a job. It's not absolutely essential but it really, really helps.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Disoculated (534967)

          This needs to get modded up. If you don't have a degree, you can't get past the filter system that HR puts in front of managers at most corporations. HR doesn't care/know if you can do the job, they just have a list of checkboxes that need to be filled before they pass the resume to anyone hiring, and a degree is almost always on that list of checkboxes.

          But if you KNOW the managers, or someone who works with them, you can get your resume past the HR filter. Also, if someone the manager trusts 'vouches' f

    • by iwan-nl (832236) on Monday December 01, 2008 @05:41AM (#25941373) Homepage

      Where I come from (Holland), experience is valued much higher than education. I started out as a junior webdesigner about 10 years ago. Then I landed a job as a sysop for a large scale J2EE platform. Now I design and implement service oriented integration solutions.

      You might think that all sounds a bit "enterprisy", and you'd be right. If I could have it my way I would be writing Haskell or Python for a living. But never the less, I get to work on big, complicated, mostly interesting engineering projects without any kind of degree, and I don't think the job well is going to dry up any time soon, despite economic unrest.

      The bad economy might even give you a competitive edge since you don't have large student loans to pay back, and can afford to work for a slightly lower wage.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Hal_Porter (817932)

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

      I look for sneaky, greedy little shits. I find University dulls humanity's natural feral instincts.

      That said, I've met some wonderfully devious graduates so I don't discriminate.

      You need to look into their eyes for glintiness if their CV turns out to be genuine.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bernywork (57298)

      BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

      I don't have a single piece of paper since I left high school. I do have 12 years work experience though. What you are saying is complete and utter crap. I work in Europe now, having started in Australia. I know people from the US that would hire me in a heartbeat if I ever even suggested that I would be interested in coming over there. Degree or not, they don't care.

      So, quite simply, yes, it's possible to get a great job in this industry without one, you just have to have the work experien

  • Experiance (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iVasto (829426) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:26AM (#25940633) Homepage
    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 (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jimmypw (895344) on Monday December 01, 2008 @04:14AM (#25940907)

      Exactly,

      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 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rev. DeFiLEZ (203323) on Monday December 01, 2008 @05:53AM (#25941441) Homepage

      I actually prefer non-university grads when I am hiring. I Got burned too many times with grads that tooks computers because of there is money in IT but they are not actually interested in computers (and therefore not interested in learning more )

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by elrous0 (869638) *
        God, there is nothing worse than someone in the IT field who just stops learning new things at some point (worked with a few of these guys over the years). Within a matter of a few years, they can go from valuable asset to completely worthless. It's like flushing a long-term investment right down the drain.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by drinkypoo (153816)

          It's much worse than that, they go from being completely worthless to being a serious impediment. I developed an ipsec solution for someone whose systems administrator wasn't smart enough to figure it out, and he got in my way because I had to interface with him in getting the job done. This is a case in which the hired, effectively tenured (fucking unions) employee actually made it harder to make the system (with personal data including SSNs for literally thousands of people) secure, thus presenting a seri

  • dead. end. job. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:27AM (#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. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by afidel (530433) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:37AM (#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.
      • Re:dead. end. job. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tyresyas (826753) <rtharper@[ ]eret ... k ['aft' in gap]> on Monday December 01, 2008 @06:21AM (#25941595)

        Well, you would make more if you were in the workforce longer. If your only goal by getting a university degree is "to get a job" and "make money", it's quite obvious you can do it without that. Personally, I don't care how much I would make, I find network admin extremely unsatisfying and would dread waking up each morning to do that.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by giorgist (1208992)
        Read my lips ...

        anecdotal evidence does not qualify as scientific evidence

        If you are very good, you will excel without Uni. Half the reason you go to Uni is to make your mind work in a certain way. It's like doing lateral thinking questions of trivia. After a while you get good at it.

        You do math questions your brain conditions it self to think in a particular way. You cannot replace that by reading C++ in 24h

        There are exceptions, but the rule is ... go to UNI. You will meet inspiring people, you will learn
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:30AM (#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.

    Augustus

  • start small (Score:5, Insightful)

    by splatterhead (1420865) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:31AM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dunkelfalke (91624) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:51AM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Fallingcow (213461) on Monday December 01, 2008 @04:44AM (#25941061) Homepage

        Personally, I think that 90+% of "IT" jobs (not even counting help desk) are more of a trade than a science.

        I'm never, ever going to be writing deep, math-theory-heavy code. I just won't. I don't want to, and there are other people who would be better at it, even if I studied it pretty damn hard. "Computer Science" is a wasted concept on me and on the vast majority of coders.

        What I do have is a feel for problems. I know what's broken before other people, and I know what do to (or, more often, where to find what to do) to fix it. I write clean code. I learn new systems quickly. These are the skills that are truly useful to most people in IT. I'll probably never have to do a do a Fourier transform, or implement my own sort algorithm. I do need to be able to grok new libraries, languages, and technologies quickly.

        I'm not saying that there's not any overlap between what's taught in a CS program and these skills--I am saying that it's inefficient to put as many people as we do through that program, when we could do much more useful things with those 4 years.

        That said, I take an interest in math and computer science. I read on those topics, and seek to make myself better at mathematical thinking. I do so, however, knowing that only a tiny fraction of what I read will ever be useful to me in a money-making sense, and none of it will ever go on a resumé. I treat it the same way as I do reading classical literature: valuable to me in a personal sense, but of little worth otherwise.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by msimm (580077)
      Agreed. Get all the paper you can. And then instead of going at some large flashy company look at smaller shops. You'll find the pay might be a little bit lower and you'll probably work harder and be given more responsibility then you would otherwise. With a little luck this can also be a get in early strategy, but in the current economic climate I wouldn't bank on it being anything more then experience; but that's real-life, job applicable experience probably with a title that (and responsibilities) a few
  • by Splab (574204) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:33AM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by afidel (530433) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:33AM (#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.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Mista2 (1093071)

      Another great trait is to be Lazy. This does not man to be slack, but to not want to have to do a job twice.
      Anything that can be done the same way twice can be done by a computer. Scripting is your friend, and invest the extra 10% effort required to make sure that when you are attending some disaster at 2:00am that you have everything you need done ahead of time.
      Also study and use more than one OS. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and any system can be set up poorly if you don't under stand why

  • Yes, very much so. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by riflemann (190895) <riflemann@bb.cacti i . n et> on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:33AM (#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: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Mista2 (1093071)

      The other route these days, Buy a Mac, invest tin he iPhone dev kit, study hard, write a killer iPhone game, ....... profit. 8)

  • by alanfairless (1420869) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:35AM (#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]

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:37AM (#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.

    • by mooingyak (720677) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:46AM (#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.

  • by putaro (235078) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:38AM (#25940703) Journal

    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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TheMCP (121589)
      The lack of a degree is more of a problem at lower level jobs. For junior employees, employers need something to tell them whether the candidate is any good or not, and for a candidate that doesn't have years of experience, that means a degree.

      For a candidate who has a lot of experience and references, it's less of an issue.

      I advise that the best thing to do if you don't have a degree is not to list your college level education at all. If you list that you have some higher education but didn't complete it,
  • by GrpA (691294) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:44AM (#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.

    GrpA

  • by vinn (4370) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:44AM (#25940735) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by nut (19435) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:44AM (#25940739) Homepage

    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. :(

  • Yes... maybe. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bziman (223162) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:46AM (#25940747) Homepage Journal

    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!

    --brian

  • Volunteer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BrainInAJar (584756) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:47AM (#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
  • by Morgaine (4316) on Monday December 01, 2008 @04:04AM (#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.

  • by B5_geek (638928) on Monday December 01, 2008 @04:15AM (#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.

  • Temp Jobs? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by polyp2000 (444682) on Monday December 01, 2008 @04:35AM (#25941023) Homepage Journal

    Get temp jobs doing computer type jobs for small companies. Show that you shine and youll be the "Whizz Kid". Even if its data entry or something. Your first few jobs might be a bit boring but the cunning plan is how you write your CV/Resume. That data entry job suddenly becomes

    "Worked in the IT Department assisting with data collection systems and acted as first point of call for members of staff requiring support".

    That'll act as a stepping stone for your next career move and before you know it you will be away!

    N.

  • by Ka D'Argo (857749) on Monday December 01, 2008 @04:48AM (#25941085) Homepage
    I'm in the same boat as the article poster, in a similar manner.

    I couldn't really afford an ivy league 4 year college, and I had to leave community college before my first year was done due to an illness in the family. A few years later I went to a local trade school, that was accredited, in the tech and IT field. I learned a good deal, even though I knew a certain amount already of what they were teaching.

    They offered a Associates Degree program you could do, after you graduated, online. This was not covered in your initial tuition cost or factored into any student loans you got, so if you wanted the degree program it would come straight out of your pocket. Long story short, I couldn't afford this program, still can't.

    As for certifications, I trained in what they called the C.E.T program (computer electronics technology). Not really IT (that was a different class path) but focused on hardware repair, PC repair, etc basically all the shit you need to be the local tech support in an office or "The Geek Squad". So I could get by with just the A+ and if I really wanted to look good on paper, the Net+. On the plus side, I aced the course that taught you about the A+ cert, so I got a voucher for one-free attempt at taking the test (it's like what, $150-200 normally?) Needless to say I still have the voucher. Why? Well the A+ textbook they gave us to study is a huge book, and as the professor explained not all the stuff we covered in class and other classes would be on the A+. For example we stuck with Windows 2000 mainly as the OS of learning. We never covered XP, Server, etc which were the big thing at the time (2003-2004). So I never took the test. If I failed, I'm out the one and only free voucher. If I fail and attempt it later, that's money out of my pocket. Money I don't have, at all.

    So after I graduate I got six months to find a job before I gotta start paying student loans back. The school had a job placement option which was practically guaranteed. They never found me a job. I looked myself. Locally all places want a degree, or 3-5 years experience even on Entry Level jobs.

    4 years later I'm still unemployed, and my student loans that were $3,500 I owed in summer of 2003, are now over $15,000 due to interest rate and non payment.

    Yea if it were bad enough a normal person would break down and take a shit job at Walmart or your local McDonalds. Sadly I am not able to stand on my feet for more than an hour or so without getting extreme pain in my lower back, ankles and feet. Not just pain that makes you think "damn this is sore, but I gotta tough it out for 8 hours then go home". It's pain that is like "holy fuck, if I don't sit down in a minute I feel like my bones in my feet are going to shatter". (Let's not get into seeing a doctor, that's something for a whole other discussion).

    So while I could easily work say, an office IT/tech job where I'm not on my feet for 8 hours minus a lunch break, I can't fill store shelves at Walmart, even part time, without the absolute need to sit down and rest every hour or so.

    Luckily I have family to fall back on, other wise I'd be homeless, starving and not posting on /.

    I knew going in, degrees matter. Sure they don't really mean squat in the "real world" but when it comes to a job, the more good stuff you have about you on paper, matters. Sadly, I just could not afford to get a degree. Couldn't pay for it out of my pocket and couldn't get any more student loans at the time (long before my dues went from 3k to 15k).

    Get a degree if you can. It's a hassle, it's just a piece of paper, but that piece of paper can make the difference between you saying "So, your cd rom drive is acting up?" and "Would you like fries with that?"
  • by falcon5768 (629591) <Falcon5768@comca ... t minus caffeine> on Monday December 01, 2008 @06:07AM (#25941523) Journal
    But you damn well better have your certifications in line, and some experience under your belt. I really dont get where this idea of EVERY job needs a degree to function came from. I would easily say that a good 60% of jobs out there SHOULD be done by people without higher ed experience. Leave higher end for who it matters for, science/math geeks, buisness jerks, and fine arts. IT is a trade job for all purposes, I know a lot of IT people who really had that designation but its true, as a person WITH a degree in technology and currently in IT, I see no reason to surgar coat the simple fact that we are 21 century plumbers and electricians.
  • by AK Marc (707885) on Monday December 01, 2008 @06:09AM (#25941543)
    I worked in the IT field for 8 years before moving. When looking for a job after moving, I was willing to take a wide variety. I applied for a front-line tech support position, and was denied to be considered because I didn't have a degree in CS. I had done support my first year out of college (I got a non-technical degree). I since moved on to other things, had my MCSE and CCNA and such at the time. And with 8 years experience and an MCSE, the HR department refused to forward on the application to the hiring department because it didn't meet the minimum requirements. That's why it's required. So many places will not even consider you without it, and there's nothing you could do to change their minds because the people making the initial filtering selections have no idea what is required for the position, nor what the words on a resume mean.

    However, I'm still working in IT 5+ years after that, and have been working in a variety of fields (with specific expertise that well exceeds any that can be gained in college). I went back and got an MBA as well, so whenever I get tired of working for a living, I can move into management (I've had management-level positions and supervised people, but have avoided taking the actual management positions because that's not my personal preference now). If that ever occurs, I will have worked my way up from the begining ($20k per year crap support job) through varying technical positions into management wihout ever having a degree in anything technical. So it isn't necessary to succeed. However, it is quite hard to take that path, because even now when I look at positions, people seem to expect a technical degree.
  • No Worries (Score:3, Insightful)

    by StealthyRoid (1019620) * on Monday December 01, 2008 @06:55AM (#25941781) Homepage
    The question of un-degreed workers in IT is actually an awesome example of labor economics (I'm excluding engineers and chip designers and such from this, because I know nothing about that field). Large companies, which tend to be successful and have their behavior emulated by their smaller competitors, use a college degree as a way to immediately cut the size of the applicant pool for any given job. Sorting through applicants takes the time of HR people, which costs money, and makes it take longer to fill the position, so a college degree provides a pretty useful brightline. It makes economic sense for them to do so, because they don't need to worry about finding diamonds in the un-degreed rough, and their experience has told them that, in general, a degreed applicant, while costing more, has better productivity returns than a non-degreed applicant.

    Smaller companies have, in the past, emulated this behavior. However, as time has passed, as a way to gain a competitive edge, more and more have begun to take long, hard looks at un-degreed candidates for a couple of reasons:
    1. IT is an industry that is particularly accessible to those without formal training and, especially with the variety of open source projects out there, people can have a wealth of experience before they ever get their first job. This increases the chance that there's a very high-value employee without a degree.
    2. You can pay entry level people without a degree less than you would pay someone with a degree, while at the same time, getting a lot of hard work out of them, at little to no loss in quality. Employers are _always_ looking to save money on staff, and small businesses have enough of an incentive to take small risks in return for a potential high productivity payout.

      The lower pay level is temporary, so don't go thinking that just because you don't have a degree, you're gonna get jizzed for the rest of your life. Non-degreed employees experience an initial loss of income, but over time, likely within 5 or 10 years, the value of experience plus your own ability to negotiate your employment contracts will normalize your income.
    3. A degree doesn't really mean that much anymore. Liberal arts especially, but even many CS degrees are losing their practical relevance to employers. How many hours does a CS student spend in classes that are relevant to web development, or system administration? How many jobs are there that require you to write a compiler? CS students can go their entire college careers without programming in anything but C and Java, and never even looking at a command line. Yes, there are some principles that you learn in a CS course that are useful down the road, but that's knowledge that can easily be duplicated outside of a college environment.

    Myself, I don't have a degree, and I've held lead developer and system administrator jobs that have paid me competitive rates. I'm now the owner of a small development shop, and the lack of college degree doesn't matter one bit. My advice, if you're going to roll without a degree, is to not stop looking for that first, entry-level job, and to work your ass off at it. Put in extra hours, be a fucking superstar, and put on as many hats as you can. If you're a developer, learn systems stuff. If you're a systems guy, learn to do development, or design, or SOMETHING. Without a degree, you are your major selling point, and the more you know how to do, the more attractive you are to employers.

  • Sure but..... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RichMeatyTaste (519596) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:25AM (#25942849)

    The first question would be what type of sysadmin do you want to be and do you have any good contacts? I did consulting for a number of years (small to mid size companies) and the lack of degree never hurt me.

    But wait; now you are getting bored. You realize that you are lucky to roll out one server every two years and 80% of your time is patches/account maintenance/backups. The more you think about it, the more you realize that you could be replaced tomorrow because your boss/his boss thinks that all you do is push buttons. If you are wise you spent all that sysadmin free time (you have free time right? All good sysadmins should) learning about what interests you and getting certs as those are what it will take to "move up" if you don't have contacts and/or a degree.

    Once you get to a higher level getting asked about what you need (ie: "The Budget") the ability to understand the relationship between IT and the business is critical to your continued growth within the organization. I had to do a business case/presentation for a data dedupe solution that I wanted and I can say without a doubt that the writing and research skills I gained during my bachelors (and now masters) courses helped me a more than just a bit when it came to getting the purchase approved.

    At the bare minimum I would say that you need to start earning certs and building your business contacts. Join local user groups or even Infragard (if IT security interests you). Set up a Linked In profile and join a bunch of groups (on that site). A degree can always come later should you feel that it will help you further advance your career. I can tell you that when it comes to many larger companies a degree figures in what your pay will be. Fair or not it is just the way things are.

  • by Brad Eleven (165911) <brad.eleven@gmail.com> on Monday December 01, 2008 @10:07AM (#25943339) Homepage Journal

    I see absolutely no correlation between a university degree and the ability to support anything, whether it's some leftover turnkey application that runs on SCO or 1000+ servers.

    I have a degree, but I became a sysadmin as an intern. I happened to enjoy the courses leading up to the degree, but the subject matter has very, very little to do with any of the work I've ever done as a sysadmin, or even as a systems architect. I got practical experience on the job, including how to drive an API, and a wealth of other experience that simply was not available in school.

    Granted, there is a distinct advantage to understanding programming paradigms. I probably could have learnt the basics on my own, but it doesn't seem likely that I'd have entered the market with them. OTOH, I was hired out of school for systems support, then moved to software engineering when some idiot manager thought it would be a good idea to decimate the support staff. I found it to be utterly soul-crushing, but to be fair, it was a very customised system, e.g., they'd rolled their own network transport and DBMS.

    That is, working alone or on a small development team is rewarding beyond description. Being a cog in a large software development corporation is a slow roast.

    The enduring lessons I learned at university are critical reading and writing (handy with most manuals), the value of re-reading (manuals), and the value of project completion. The single most valuable lesson, which I use daily, is the confidence that I can tackle any subject matter, even when it seems impossible at first, with careful reading and asking questions. That alone is worth the time and money spent, because I know the difference between my own shortcomings and those of computing products.

    Simply put, college provided enough trial and error for me to convince myself that I really grok computers. You may not need this for yourself, and it's too bad that most hiring managers don't have the same luxury of trial and error. They're probably going to be stuck with whomever they hire, so the degree is very attractive to them.

  • by sam0737 (648914) <sam@@@chowchi...com> on Monday December 01, 2008 @10:24AM (#25943525)

    For people with zero experience. Degree, Certs are the tickets to pass the screening and interviews.
    Say two people, one with degree and one without. Both have zero experience, and I only have time to interview one...you do the math.

    But if you get some experiences, like self employ, or volunteer, or some recommendations and connections that can bring you to the Interview room, degree is not a must. As long as you get the ticket...

    The interview would play an important role. Make sure you are prepared. Don't try to play smart and think the interviewer is stupid, that just says that you can't work in teamwork and can't communicate. Try your best to demostrate that your are passionate in the field, and is a quick learner.
    Knowledge does play a role but not a top factor. People are most likely looking for those who can communicate well, and quick learners that can upgrade oneself from time to time, especially in IT field where speed of technology changes are blazing fast.

    After you get the job. The degree and cert is a past. No one cares about your past history.

    Some people learn a lot in the degree (say they might have participated in extra-curriculum activates, or simply means they learned how to interact with people and do teamwork), some people learn nothing and wasted 4-years just on WoW. The HR and interviewers all know this fact, but if it's still better than nothing.

  • Windows or Other? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JTorres176 (842422) on Monday December 01, 2008 @10:26AM (#25943545) Homepage

    If you want a position for sysadmin in the Microsoft world, you're going to have to spend a few thousand getting certifications. You'll need those whether you have a degree or not.

    If you're going for a position with Linux or Unix, check out a local LUG (Linux Users Group) for some great resources and job leads.

    Don't stop there though. I got my last SysAdmin job from a guy I played Battlefield 1942 with who was a fellow Linux enthusiast. You never know when opportunities pop up and where, so keep your eyes open.

  • I did (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fished (574624) <amphigory@ g m ail.com> on Monday December 01, 2008 @10:26AM (#25943559)

    I actually got a job as a sysadmin and was making 6 figures without ever making a degree in any related field... however, it all depends on what you know and (pardon me for saying it) how good you are. I was able to pull it off because I grew up in a household where my father worked in the computer industry (as a Salesman) and literally brought minicomputers home for me to play with. I spent my whole childhood programming, fiddling, and hacking, and developed an incredible intuitive grasp for computers and what makes them tick. I followed that up by going to college and flunking out of everything by spending all my time in the computer lab learning everything I could about UNIX and Networking back in the early nineties, just before the Internet hit big.

    However, even then it took a lucky break--I was working in the college computer center as an assistant to the chief systems engineer on campus when he got fired. Since I was the only hand on deck who could do his job, I got to do the job (for peanuts) while this state institution tried to hire someone. After three search committees failed to find someone qualified willing to work for what the university was willing to pay, they gave me the job officially.

    For what it's worth, I did eventually get a degree... a B.A. in Philosophy concentrating in Religious Studies, followed up with a Masters in Theological Studies. But that was for me, and hasn't had any impact on my job prospects.

    So... I guess the short answer is, it's possible, but you'll need a lucky break at some point. And I wouldn't recommend trying it unless you've got the skills to make everybody ignore your lack of degree.

  • by ReadParse (38517) <john AT funnycow DOT com> on Monday December 01, 2008 @10:29AM (#25943591) Homepage

    The degree requirement is there for a couple of reasons. It weeds out the people who are truly and completely unqualified and it demonstrates a minimum requirement for someone with little or no experience in the actual work force.

    Every job I've had for the past decade "required" a degree that I don't have. If you bring the experience to the table, the degree requirement isn't even discussed.

    Now, having said that, I do wish I had a degree and I encourage anyone who has the time and wherewithal to get one -- not necessarily in CS or engineering -- even history or literature. Because I do feel like I have missed out by not having gone through that experience. Every now and then I'll hear somebody mention something and I have to go wiki it and get a quick primer and then, if it sounds interesting enough, I can learn more about it on my own. A solid university education gives you a nice broad exposure to a lot of things that you don't have time to get to in the work force.

    I did the military instead and I swear I don't know how anybody grows up without either college or the military.

  • by HikingStick (878216) <z01riemer&hotmail,com> on Monday December 01, 2008 @10:30AM (#25943603)
    It is still possible, but it might take a while to obtain. The gatekeepers use the degree requirement as a way to weed through the multitude of applicants they get. They figure that a degree (in almost anything) shows that the applicant is able to apply him-/herself for at least four years. While I'll agree with many who say degrees are overrated, I will say this: they tell me that the applicant should have a basic body of knowledge. Experience is what lets us take book knowledge and make it work in the enterprise, so I'll favor experience any day. Sadly, I've seen both degreed and experienced people who simply can't make things happen in an enterprise. I'll assume you wouldn't fall into that categeory.

    Unless you are well connected (a good network), it will be difficult to jump into a sysadmin position without a degree or significant prior experience. You may need to start in an entry level job and pray that you move through the ranks quickly. Alternately, and perhaps a better way for the enthusiast, would be to document all of the significant projects on which you've worked, and then seek out volunteer positions with non-profits. The non-profits will (most often) be more concerned about your skills, and since you won't be paid, they have less to lose in taking a chance on a non-degreed person. The non-profits will then give you those experience items on your resume (like a list of jobs--people perspective employers may call for references).

    In any case, be sure to structure your resume to focus on your technical expertise, rather than your employment history. Start with a list of major projects and IT skills, then employment history, and finally education (if you have any degrees or certifications of any type). When preparing to interview, be sure to have stories and illustrations ready that demonstrate your level of skill, and the complexity of the environments in which you have served.

    I landed my first two full-time IT gigs without a degree, but I started in support positions. Over time, I went back to school and earned a degree (in business management with an IT emphasis), mostly as a "just in case" degree--in case I ever needed to apply for another job, since degrees were starting to become a litmus test. In time, that degree served me well, and helped me to parley my way into some better positions.

    So, it can be done, but it can be a long road.
  • Entrepreneurship (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wikinerd (809585) on Monday December 01, 2008 @11:26AM (#25944621) Journal
    Just start your own business. You don't need an employer if you already have a computer. Just start writing an interesting program or start offering some sysadmin service, you alone or with friends. No degree needed. No investment needed other than your own effort and time. I really cannot understand why everyone skips entrepreneurship as something remote or utopian and only thinks of becoming an employee when realising that they need some income. I can understand that you would prefer to become an employee if your specialty is about aerospace engineering because the tools of your job are more readily found in companies rather than at home, but with computers you already have anything you need to start producing. You only need creativity and intelligence.
  • by lewp (95638) on Monday December 01, 2008 @11:53AM (#25945215) Journal

    If you're not going to go get the degree, you have to compensate for it by being more competent than you otherwise would have to be to get the same job. When I walk into a job interview people look at my resume, and bang, strike one. I have to make up for that by being better than their other candidates by enough to overcome the bias. You say you're an enthusiast, but almost everybody trying to get an entry level position at any decent company in this industry is to some extent. The question becomes, are you better than most enthusiasts with degrees?

    If I had it to do over again, I'd just get a degree. With the economy in the crapper, now's the perfect time to do it. If I didn't love my job and have a mortgage to pay I'd probably do it myself.

    By the way, there's always the tech support route. It's real easy to get a tech support job without a degree. Sure, the work sucks, but you get your foot in the door somewhere. If you're good, you can move out of there into a "real" job. The flip side to that is that a resume with nothing but tech support on it might actually be worse than no resume at all. There have been "Ask Slashdots" about that before.

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