Tech Pros Teach Themselves New Skills: Stack Overflow

If you want something done right, learn the technology behind it yourself. “Teach yourself” seems to be the guiding ethos of developers around the world, according to the latest Stack Overflow Developer Survey.

When it came to education, some 85.5 percent of respondents said that they had taught themselves a new language, framework, or tool without taking a formal course; some 41 percent said they had contributed to an open-source project; and 39.3 percent indicated that they’d received some kind of on-the-job development training. (The percentages add up to more than 100 percent because respondents could select more than one option.)

Sizable percentages also indicated they’d educated themselves via hackathons, bootcamps, or industry certification programs. “Developers are lifelong learners; almost 90 percent of all developers say they have taught themselves a new language, framework, or tool outside of their formal education,” Stack Overflow noted. “Among professional developers, about 60 percent say they took an online course like a MOOC (up significantly from last year), and about a quarter have participated in a hackathon.”

Over the past few years, tech firms have drifted away from demanding that tech pros possess formal degrees in their areas of expertise. For example, at the most recent American Workforce Policy Advisory Board Meeting, Cook pointed out that roughly half of Apple employees don’t have a degree, and the company is “proud of that.” He also suggested that coding is a skill that one can master without a formal degree, even as he advocated that K-12 schools teach it: “We believe strongly that it should be a requirement in the United States for every kid to have coding before they graduate.”

And at IBM, which long maintained a strict degree requirement for employees, has focused increasingly on hiring the self-taught. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year, CEO Ginny Rometty said: “I think businesses have to believe I’ll hire for skills, not just their degrees or their diplomas. Because otherwise we’ll never bridge this gap.”

In other words, those developers who have opted to teach themselves a particular skill—rather than pursue a formal degree program—don’t have to live in fear that they’ll never land a job that emphasizes that skill. For those kinds of tech pros, it’s important to use your résumé, CV, and online profiles to highlight the projects you’ve worked on and the skillsets you’ve acquired.

(Stack Overflow says its developer survey drew 90,000 responses, which makes it pretty comprehensive.)