This week’s reader question Tuesday is a look at how to get a programming job without a degree. It’s probably a good one for me to hold forth on. In my book, Developer Hegemony, I argue that, in spite of my own two CS degrees, I probably wouldn’t recommend that course of action to prospective programmers nowadays. It’d be hard to justify ROI on it, especially at expensive schools.
So if you don’t get the degree, then what? Here’s the reader question.
How do I get a job without a CS degree? The only entry level postings I see require a CS degree. When I look for how to get a job without a CS degree I see lots of information on education. They say to read books and write code and that’s great. I’ve done all that. I know how to code. Now where do I apply? I don’t see anyone hiring entry level without a degree.
First Things First: Why Don’t Companies Make This Hire?
You might think that companies would at least give you a crack at the entry level via the interview. You tell them you can code and you understand if they don’t simply take your word for it. Isn’t that what the interview is for? To allow you to prove it? And, wouldn’t this be doubly true since the demand for programmers far outpaces the supply?
This makes sense at sort of a macroeconomic level. But it actually breaks down a bit when you look at any individual company. Yes, an individual company probably needs more programmers than it has at any given moment. And yes, the the interview process, theoretically, should give any potentially qualified candidates the chance to prove themselves.
But individual companies are optimizing far more to avoid false positives than they are false negatives.
Companies Avoid Brillant Paulas
The job interview is, frankly, a terrible way to find talent. It consists of strangers seeing how generous they can be with the truth without technically lying to each other followed by gut feels, snap impulses, and other assorted non-scientific things.
And, while all companies like to kid themselves into thinking they’re good at this, on some level they know they aren’t. They know that, for all of their efforts, they’re going to whiff occasionally and hire a Paula.
Hiring Paula is embarrassing. So the candidate search process has evolved to optimize to minimize complete whiffs and make them understandable if they happen. If you hire someone with 2 “senior software engineer” titles on his resume and 10 years of experience, how were you to know? Likewise, if you’re hiring at the entry level, and you hire someone with a CS degree… how were you to know?
But if you hire someone with no experience and no degree and they turn out to be Paula, well, then you look pretty silly.
So our mission here today is to figure out you can minimize the degree to which hiring you could look silly. That’s what gets you interviews and eventually offers.