More Tech Employers Want the ‘Right’ College Degree

MIT CampusTech employers are becoming much more particular about a candidate’s education, often requiring degrees from top-flight schools and high GPAs. “Employers are looking for the best of the best,” says Sheila Robinson, a technical recruiter at Atlanta staffing firm Agile.

This doesn’t mean job seekers who aren’t graduates of elite schools can’t apply to such companies. But it does mean they’ll have to focus on demonstrating they’ve got the same characteristics of the those with company’s preferred background.

Candidates without degrees from elite schools can focus on ways to demonstrate the assets employers seek from those top-flight candidates—or launch their own startups, as Gates and Zuckerberg did.

Employer Preferences

In Atlanta, degrees from state universities or the area’s small colleges are more highly valued than those from online schools and technical colleges such as DeVry or ITT Tech. “People can go get a gaming certificate or something like that, but at the end of the day, a computer science degree from a state school or a technology institute like MIT will carry a lot more weight,” Robinson says.

Employers know that at schools like Georgia Tech, students get internships or do project work. And despite the dramatic rise in online classes, employers still think that people who go to online schools don’t get that same level of experience with hands-on development.

Bill Scott, senior director of user interface engineering at PayPal, says he’s open to hiring candidates who don’t have degrees — but they must have projects to demonstrate their skills.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

“If I’m looking for someone straight out of college, I’m looking for someone with some mix of human-computer interaction and an engineering discipline or computer science discipline. And the schools that foster a startup mindset. Folks from Georgia Tech, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford are good candidates for those skills,” Scott says.

Indeed, a recent survey focused on the entrepreneurial impact of Stanford alums found that if they were their own country, they’d be the world’s 10th-largest economy, according to

Scott says that sometimes employers focus on hiring from a certain school simply because that’s where they went and have their biggest network of contacts.

At the same time, some startups and high-growth companies have become laser-focused on candidates’ alma maters since their exit strategy is “acqu-hire,” according to David Chie, chief operating officer at Palo Alto Staffing Services. That means the founders want a bigger player to buy them out and take them on, as well as their staffs.

“If you’re thinking about exiting with the most money, what’s the most attractive thing here? It’s the talent,” Chie says. “So the startups have gotten very picky. They only want Stanford grads or Harvard grads or MIT grads.”

‘Soft skills,’ Too

Candidates for roles such as business analyst, project manager and statistician almost certainly will be required to have a degree. Even if a job listing says “degree preferred, but not required,” those with more education will be interviewed first. Brent Hamilton, senior resource manager at Signature Consultants in Charlotte, N.C., says employers believe they’re gaining more than tech skills by hiring candidates from top-flight schools.

The thinking is “the better the school, the better the chance that those people have better people skills and better written and verbal communication skills, he says. “Those candidates had to use written and verbal communication skills to be accepted there. But I always try to sell around that to the client when you have a client who has a history of accomplishments and good references.”

9 Responses to “More Tech Employers Want the ‘Right’ College Degree”

  1. Tech is dead. It was once a wonderful field to work in now it’s considered a notch above the secretarial pool. As the UNIX manual reads in fflush(3), jiggle the handle before you fflush().

  2. Here is the current state of tech hiring

    1) employers only want grads from top notch schools.

    2) top grads want to work at top companies

    3) low prestige companies can’t find anyone they ‘want’ and whine about a shortage

  3. Come on adam. now every recruiter in this country knows the american computer science graduate is worth less than the turd in the bottom of the toilet and there fore it will clog the system on the way down. better go out to the hog wallow and hope the hogs get them….

  4. I don’t have a degree and have been a lead DBA and never unemployed. What this writer fails to mention is the 100k Plus debt an MIT degree comes with. If your Oracle or MS SQL server certified, that’s all you need and I don’t even have those certs but I do possess a proven and lengthy track record of success that more than convey my skills and ability to produce.

  5. I’ve been in IT over 25 years. The trend I have noticed is that younger IT workers do not have basic trouble shooting skills no matter what training they have had and must learn on the job quickly or get left behind. They often do have updated software skills us older workers may not have but when things go wrong they get that deer in the headlights look and tend to make fast and poor decisions. The other thing is that employers continue to run IT workers into the gound as exempt workers and no overtime pay. They just treat IT employees like machines and want free labor in the off hours. So when you see IT people acting like they are not very dedicated they are probably just reflecting how managment is treating them. The companies highlighted in the news where people are treated nice are extremely rare, which is why they are in the news.

    • Glen Smith

      I’ve been in IT for about 25 years also and its not a recent trend. Entry-level workers have always needed to learn the work. The learning you do after you graduate represents about 90% of what you need to know to do the job. Going to the ‘right’ college and having the ‘right’ GPA are filters that may get you the opportunity to learn and give some indication of whether you are capable of learning.

  6. The truth is that when it comes to technology, most schools do not teach even the minimal. Most what we do in software ends up being learned on the job, thus it becomes neccessary to apply a criteria that goes beyond what school you come from. That criteria should include level of intelligence and adaptability as well as the candidate’s ability to work well with others, for a good deal of his/her time will be spent dealing with personal preferences and personal views. So, throw away the notion that Harvard will always give you the best suited worker and start working toward devising a test or strategy that will help us identify people who can truly make programs do what is best for your company. It takes a smart, dedicated, team-oriented individual to accomplish things in software engineer.