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Is a university education really worth it for a good programmer?

I'm currently looking for a job as a web developer, and I have ~3 years experience in the field and know PHP and Ruby on Rails fairly well, and HTML/CSS like the back of my hand. I'm also well-versed in jQuery. I'm self-taught in all of these disciplines and I am a voracious learner.

I've found several jobs which I think might be good fits, but they all list a BS in Computer Science as a prerequisite to applying, which I don't have. I have a BA in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing. I consider this an asset--not a hindrance--but I'm worried that I won't even be considered since I don't have a BS in CS.

How important is a BS in CS when applying for a job for which that is the only prerequisite I don't satisfy? How can I sell myself to these positions not having a BS?

  • 2
    Not wishing to sound arrogant - but do people really look for a CS degree for a web designer? Apr 4, 2011 at 17:51
  • @neezer - might want to retitle it "importance of a CS degree for web developer" otherwise it looks like an argument between schools that give a BA (eg Oxbridge) vs a BSc for a CS degree Apr 4, 2011 at 17:55
  • @Martin It would be based on Location,Supply and Demand.
    – Aditya P
    Apr 4, 2011 at 18:04
  • @Martin I believe he is referring to a Web Developer position. There's a distinction in my locale, maybe not everywhere though.
    – agradl
    Apr 4, 2011 at 19:14
  • @Martin: no, for web designer BA in visual arts is fine. But the question is about "development jobs".
    – vartec
    Apr 4, 2011 at 20:44

9 Answers 9


I am in a very similar situation. I have a BA in History and 3 years .NET experience.

I'd say its hit or miss on whether the requirement matters. On my resume I don't specify what my degree is in and also list relevant course work (i took some programming in college). Most of the time I've been able to land an interview with someone who has a tech background before the question of education comes up. A couple points that might help.

  • Entering the field with no degree and experience required a strong commitment to personal growth, especially in your free time
  • A degree in the language arts puts a lot of stress on effective communication.
  • An example goes a long way. You'd be surprised how many people find jobs without even providing evidence of their experiences.

In the end if they do not budge on this being a requirement they either have a very good reason for doing so or none at all. Either way you probably don't want the job.

  • Good tips on applying for the job. To help convince yourself that you are right for the job, remember that many people don't end up using the degree they received in college. If having the "correct" degree is absolutely required, then we'd see this number decrease. Additionally technologies change constantly, so (echoing the commitment to personal growth) showing that you are able and willing to learn new technologies should help.
    – Jonathan
    Apr 4, 2011 at 18:12

I have a BA in English, and I am about to enter my 20th year as a professional software engineer. During those two decades, I have met and worked with countless top-notch engineers who have degrees that are unrelated to CS. I have never felt that my "non-traditional" degree was a barrier.

Moreover, a great deal of what is written in job postings is utter crap; often they ask for things that are not even possible. Ten years of Ruby on Rails? No sweat!

Submit your resume. Be you own rocking self and the smart companies that you'd want to work for in the first place will call you in for in-persons.


It's important enough for companies to list it as a requirement for a job.

If you want a career in web development you must get involved as much as you can in projects related to the area you are interested.

You need to have more practical experience than fresh graduates (BSc) for a company to notice you. Remember that those people spent 4 years (and something) in the field, while you spent 4 years doing something that wasn't related.

  • actually, most Bachelor's programs would have you spending 2 years or less in your actual field, the rest is general education just like everyone else Mar 4, 2012 at 19:47
  • and by actual field in my school it mean learning outdated java, and assembly..then to top it of it cal 3. Aug 28, 2014 at 0:10

My guess would that it depends on the company and what kind of process would your resume go through. If an HR person or automated system is looking for that BS and doesn't find it, then you may go nowhere fast.

Assuming that the company is good enough that you still want the job and don't meet that requirement, I'd suggest getting to know developers or managers in the company that may be able to get your application around some of the hurdles in the process. Just don't forget that there is that assumption as some may see companies that are rather militant about requirements may not be good workplaces in some cases.

Course I hold a B. Math so I'd also be in among those without a BS even though one of my majors was Computer Science.


It depends on the company of course, some will care, some just want to see a college diploma, some couldnt care less. You have a good deal of actual working experience, so that should trump any undergrad degree requirement. If you see a job you want to apply for, apply. Dont worry if you only meet some of the requirements, the company is listing their 'dream candidate'.

That being said, consider that if a company does blindly require a specific degree regardless of your actual work experience, the company culture may not be a good fit for you.


I'd suggest applying anyway. If your resume gets kicked out by HR drones, you likely didn't want to work there anyway.

A lot of job requirements aren't solid, in my experience, and resumes that are close usually are passed on to people who really don't care what your degree was in.

This doesn't apply if you lack a bachelor's degree entirely; if a BS is listed as a requirement non-college grads will probably not be considered.


If I were you, I will apply for those jobs with references to your work, if you can site them. It doesn't hurt to apply for a job if you think you can do what the job description and responsibilities specify. If you get a call for to interview, its great. Otherwise, its just the time spent in sending the application and reviewing your resume for this job. Either way you stand to gain. Good luck.


As one who has worked in this field with and without a CS degree, I can honestly say that holding a CS degree does make a difference in the long term.


Blizzard (Starcraft, Diablo, Warcraft) job requirements for developers are usually "BS in CS or equivalent".

I'm not a hiring manager, so I have a limited perspective... but - If you don't have a CS degree, I will throw you questions about algorithms and parsing to see how much you are able to learn. I would expect you to have a good handle on context free and regular grammars, as well as ad-hoc algorithm analysis. I would also delve into some of the finer points of language implementations (you know, the points that cause bugs from misunderstanding). I would grill you harder on these points than someone with a CS degree, who I would presume would know them.

my 2c.

  • I interviewed a CS grad once who I presumed would know to reverse an array in-place... but he didn't ;-)
    – quant_dev
    Apr 5, 2011 at 5:51
  • @quant_dev: sigh. Apr 5, 2011 at 15:54

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