Do You Need a Degree to Become a Developer?

Do you need a degree to become a developer?

The short answer is “no.” Many developers without a college degree continue to thrive in the tech industry.

However, obtaining a degree is certainly something that many tech pros do. According to Stack Overflow’s recent developer survey, some 47.7 percent of professional developers have a bachelor’s degree, while 23.2 percent have a master’s. Contrast that with the 12.1 percent who have some college under their belts (but no degree), and the 8.2 percent who have a high school degree.

“It is not that rare to find accomplished professional developers who have not completed a degree,” Stack Overflow added in the report accompanying the survey data. Of those professional developers who made it through college, some 64.4 percent majored in computer science, computer engineering, or software engineering; another 8.5 percent chose an engineering discipline such as civil, electrical, or mechanical; and 8.3 percent pursued a degree in information systems, information technology, or system administration.

Indeed, many developers prefer to teach themselves new languages and frameworks without taking a formal course; when they do pursue some new avenue of learning, they often opt for online courses (i.e., MOOCs) where they can absorb knowledge at their own pace. Many employers also offer some kind of on-the-job training, especially if the necessary skills are somewhat esoteric (such as machine learning or A.I. frameworks).

According to Stack Overflow’s data, relatively few professional developers (10.5 percent) participate in full-time developer training programs or bootcamps, which makes sense—those involve considerable expense and time.

Other, smaller studies have backed up the idea that a sizable percentage of developers don’t hold a formal degree. Clearly, many tech companies are more interested in what a prospective employee can do, rather than the degree they might have in a desk drawer (there are exceptions, of course; a number of firms are sticklers for formal schooling).

If you want to pursue a career as a developer, but don’t have the resources or inclination to pursue a degree, you’re going to have to educate yourself. Many developers start with the official documentation for the technologies they want to pursue; if they have questions, they usually head online to forums and developer communities. But knowledge is just one part; if you want to land a gig, you need to demonstrate that you can perform the necessary tasks.

And how do you demonstrate that competency? Just as you pursued education on your own, you need to have self-directed work to show off. Contribute to open-source projects (and make sure those contributions are documented somewhere, such as Github) or build one (or more) apps. If you can walk into a job interview with a solid portfolio of work, that can put a hiring manager at ease about your ability to wrangle a workflow, no matter what your education.