Too often, I can see that there are many viable programmers without college degrees in Computer Science, Informatics, etc.

Now that I've been reading more articles about underperforming education and the insignificance of college degrees (especially as a programmer), will a college degree ever hurt my employability? (Also accounting for four years from now when I do graduate)

P.S. I'm going to UC Irvine; would the school itself matter in the significance of the degree?

  • 6
    You might be overqualified for things. I believe this is not what you are concerned about.
    – user1249
    May 23, 2011 at 6:06
  • 4
    Sounds to me like you're looking for an excuse to drop out or change majors. May 23, 2011 at 6:19
  • 36
    It may 'hurt' your tolerance of beeing employed to work on Projects that make all the errors you have been taught to avoid in University and with teammates that defend those stupidities as 'design'.
    – keppla
    May 23, 2011 at 6:50
  • 1
    @keppla - definitely so, +1.
    – Jas
    May 23, 2011 at 7:22
  • 1
    I've never been under the impression that my degree was a hindrance. I have wished I spent more of my free time in college contributing to open source projects or gotten a masters degree. May 24, 2011 at 13:32

16 Answers 16



The reason it seems like quite a few self-taught programmers "make it big without a degree" is the same as the reason why it seems like all people who make it to 120 lived on cigarettes and bacon and drank a bottle of whiskey every day: exceptions draw a lot of attention.

Good self-taught/self-made programmers are actually quite rare. I've inherited codebases in the past that were built by self-taught programmers. Needless to say, atrocities such as hash tables being used as arrays abounded. You don't hear about it because it's pretty much what can be expected - it's only when you see work in real life that was done by people without formal Computer Science knowledge that you can see how much they're missing. Of course, it's a sliding scale (in other words, look at it through a pair of 80/20 goggles), and individually some people can be great - but on the whole - everything else being the same - the smart money is on the person with a degree.

  • 36
    "the smart money is on the person with a degree." Not in my experience. In my experience the smart money is on the smart people, which is orthogonal to having a degree. May 23, 2011 at 7:15
  • 12
    @Bobby tweren't so long ago that nearly all programmers were self-taught... The smart money is on the person with a track record of success ;-) May 23, 2011 at 7:56
  • 31
    It's true, good programmers without a CS degree are rare. But in my experience, good programmers with a CS degree are equally rare.
    – nikie
    May 23, 2011 at 9:17
  • 16
    +1: Does Degree = Good developer? No. But Degree + Good Developer = Great Developer. If you have the stones to be 'Good' or 'Great' then a formal education will lift you up a level. So Good becomes Great, and Great becomes Truly exceptional. May 23, 2011 at 11:05
  • 12
    Many people with CS degree cannot program either.
    – Job
    May 23, 2011 at 14:33

The degree is going to open a bunch of doors for you (Recruiters use this as a base line. You have to be a star programmer to be selected for interviews, if you don't have a CS degree/ come with a pedigree). Also the community aspect of a degree is very important too - your current class mates are gonna be future hiring managers / peers / interviewers.

Get the degree!

  • Agreed, and I would add that while there are examples of self-taught programmers without CS degrees, there are far fewer with no degree whatsoever.
    – agradl
    Aug 5, 2011 at 13:33

No, even tho employers like to spread such BS around, so as to make enough of undereducated talent pool available for underpaid & "exciting" code-monkey work.

Go for that degree NOW.


All of things being equal, having a degree will improve you job prospects and not having one will significantly limit the jobs that are available to you.

First, there are a number of companies (typically Fortune 1000) that will generally not higher internal software developers unless they have at least a Bachelors degree. You might be able to get in and work there as a contract on the grounds of you skills alone, but the internal policies might prevent you from getting a job if they say you must have a degree.

Second, companies do filter applicants automatically on the basis of what they applicants say on their CV and you may have to do more leg work in order to get your CV in front of a person whom can bring you in for an interview.

Third, it can be used as an excuse to pay you less money once you get a job. This will generally only apply to large companies as smaller companies will understand that some really good developers do not have a degree. However, a number of companies will pay on you the basis of what the "market rates" are and in generally, a person with a degree will make more money than someone without a degree.

Fourth, it helps in regards to office politics. Again, this is likely more of an issue with big companies than with smaller ones, but in fields where a degree is more or less expected, there is an expectation that your supervisor will have at least the same degree as yourself, thus, once you have been in industry for awhile you may encounter office politics if you do not have a degree but are supervising people that have degrees or advanced degrees. Likewise, this is part of the reason why you see people go back for an Masters or an MBA after being in industry for a couple of years - they are trying to move up the career ladder and the extra degrees are unofficially mandatory for the movement.

Now for the disclaimer: there are exceptions to every rule and you will encounter developers that do not have a degree but are doing extremely well, but for every story like this there are developers that go back to school so they can get the "check box item" taken care of and start advancing their careers. Additionally, more often than not, where you go to school does not matter so much as just getting the degree, there are some limited cases where having a degree from a given school might get you head hunted, but once you get that initial job you are going to find that most people don't care.

  • Great response. +1
    – Adam Arold
    May 24, 2011 at 8:23

In my experience, employers look for two qualities in a potential hire:

  • Intelligence
  • Achievement

and not necessarily in that order. Have you made anything that people use? Are you driven, self-motivation, a team player? Graduating with a degree and a decent GPA demonstrates some of the above; if you can also get some relevant experience, that will fill in the gaps.

In any case, finishing what you start is commendable and no employer (who you'd actually want to work for) would penalise you for finishing - or praise you for dropping out.

  • 2
    +1 for Achievement. Getting a degree is that, and it shows that you can actually go through with something. Not that it's too hard to slack one's way through college, but getting it done and getting proper grades (or oterhwise have something to show for it) is a good thing.
    – Macke
    May 23, 2011 at 12:27

It wont hurt your employability in a related field. Whether having a comp sci degree helps or not depends on the nature of the jobs you apply for, particular HR people reading your resume, the quality of education, and a whole bunch of other factors. But rarely would actually having a degree be a drawback.


Do you want to program all your life? A CompSci degree covers more than just programming; a good deal more of life in IT outside just programming. In many ways, it's a door opener to things you may not have considered, and certainly, were you to look at moving around the industry a bit, it equips you better than a Teach Yourself FANTASTICCODINGLANGUAGE in a worryingly brief time frame for a career in the industry rather than as a programmer.

DoInterest - I don't have a CompSci degree - I have a postgrad dip in information technology built on some other stuff - but I'm assuming your interest in asking this question is whether to complete college at all rather than take a slightly circuitous route to where you're going.

I realise - also - that there are factors concerning college education in the US - because of the cost associated it - which may colour your decision. However, I'd be in favour of getting the degree if you can because not only does it broaden your mind a lot, it may well be a useful networking off point. If there are financial considerations, what are your options for part time?



Among other things, the BSCS is a filter for lots of places. If you don't have it, you're not in the running for the job.

The BSCS provides you with an decent discussion of theory and history of computer science, which otherwise you would have had to know how to self-direct. If you don't know what you don't know, it's hard to learn it.

In my opinion, it is impossible to learn some things without a teacher. In particular, higher-level mathematics, which turn out to be a big deal if you want interesting jobs.

College also provides a level of acculturation into the white-collar culture (which can be a big deal for some students).

If someone won't hire you because you have a degree, walk away glad that you didn't get a job there.


Practicality > Idealness

Let's say you're an employer.

Let's say you have LOTS of applications and that it's IMPOSSIBLE for you to read all of them carefully

Whose app will you throw out first?

Of course, the one with a low GPA or no degree. Why? I don't know, why not? Do you know of a better option?


The smart developer isn't going to let his degree get in the way of being a great developer. University can teach you some really bad things (I once had a professor tell me my boss wouldn't be happy if I could make my firm's software run twice as fast. Word for word.) A smart developer knows how to filter the wisdom he can use in the real world from the junk from the academics who went to grad school after failing at holding down a real job for six months and never went back. (Call me cynical, but I find most of the academic 'research' in our field to be abysmally lacking in real world application.)

So, if you're a smart developer, your degree won't be in your way.

If you're not a smart developer, you have a lot more to worry about than a degree slowing you down.

In either case, it's not going to be your biggest concern.

  • +1. Very true. Interestingly, I've seen senior lifers in industry say some pretty insane things too. I guess the common theme is not having to develop adaptability. eg "Business programming begins and ends with COBOL." I guess if that's all you know and you will retire soon maintaining COBOL code, it doesn't matter. May 24, 2011 at 0:09

On the contrary, computer science degree programs only make you more marketable and add to your current skill-set. In fact, as asserted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the salaries for Computer Science majors are among the highest right now, averaging at $63,017.

Even if you already possess the skills and expertise required by a computer programmer, the stamp of a computer science degree from an accredited college will give you something to show for it.


A computer science degree is almost certainly a big plus for lots of reasons.

If you're saying "I have a nice job offer based on my existing experience, should I accept and not do a degree" then it's a toss-up: it'll be harder to get jobs without a degree, but there will hopefully be some jobs that will value four years of commercial experience more than a degree.

If you're saying "I want to do a maths or science degree, not computer science", then that's probably fine (depending on your location): most jobs I see want a good degree and don't insist on it being computer science.

But if you're not sure, a computer science degree is, I think, becoming more and more normal. (And they definitely vary, some being pretty much pure theory, others being "how to learn Java in four years" and different people will value different ones more. I'm can't speak universally, unfortunately.)


I can't tell if this is even a serious question.

Now that I've been reading more articles about underperforming education and the insignificance of college degrees (especially as a programmer), will a college degree ever hurt my employability? (Also accounting for four years from now when I do graduate)

The simple answer to this question is: No

The college degree you are working towards covers a great deal of knowlege. Some of it you will use every single day, some other stuff depending where you end up in 4-5 years will be important, the most important stuff is the general education requirements.

Employeers want somebody hows can read and write and the general education requirements prove you at least have a basic understanding. A simple B.S. degree goes a long way.


I'm going to say "yes" to your question, on the basis of the use of the word ever. Currently having a certificate in something, like Microsoft Certified Professional for example, can hurt your chances. If you were good at your job, why would you need that, etc?

So if things keep going the way they are, then within a few decades, people will wonder why you went to college. Surely, you should have been coding since you were 6, made your first million-user web-app by the time you were 12, have a massive portfolio by the time you finished high school (will there still be high school?), etc, and not needed to go to college. So going to college will correlate with lack of coding ability.

Could happen. But not yet. Stay in school.


It won't hurt. It may or may not help.

IMO, your chances of getting a generic programming job (especially entry-level) are better with the degree than without it, simply because most positions list it as a requirement. You simply won't be considered a candidate for the position without one unless you know people who know people or have a finished product you can point to.

It also helps if the degree is from a program that's known to be pretty good; I know nothing about UC Irvine, so I can't comment on that.

However, if you want to work as a programmer in a specific application domain like biotech, you may be better served getting a degree in the relevant field (biology) and learn programming on the side. The risk is that your skills may not transfer very well; I've seen code that worked well enough for the specific domain, but fell far below industry standards.


The only person that can hurt your employability with a CS degree is you

It's sure going to help, but i know 4.0 honor students who are still looking for a job, why? They cheated their way through college. They don't know anything and failed to actually get the big picture. They cant get through an interview.

Some people can't socialize their way out of a paper bag let alone program out of one! You need to be able to speak well and confidently.

Some people can't program or demonstrate they actually wrote code in college. The language matters not, the skills are what you need.

There a multitude of reasons why people are unemployable and most of them want to blame it on something other than themselves.

P.S. I'm going to UC Irvine; would the school itself matter in the significance of the degree?

I went to Cal State Northridge, trust me, work your ass off, learn fundamentals, do your work, expose yourself and you will do fine with a CS degree. You get one shot in life to do college, make it count. There is no way a degree can hurt your employability.

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