Do You Need a Degree to Work for a Big Tech Company Like Google?

Perhaps you want to work for a big tech company like Apple or Microsoft, but you’re worried that you lack the educational qualifications. Do these tech giants want you to have a degree? Can you land a job with just your skills?

That’s a pressing question for many technologists, and one that Emsi Burning Glass (which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country) and Harvard Business School recently tried to answer in a big study. The bottom line: You still need a degree for many jobs, but things are also changing pretty rapidly at some companies.

At companies such as Oracle, some 90 percent of job postings still require a degree. But at Google and Apple, the percentage of those jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher has dipped over the past few years. At Apple, the percentage of postings requiring a bachelor’s degree declined from 88 percent to 72 percent between 2017 and 2021; at Google, it’s down from 93 percent to 77 percent during the same period. IBM claims it’s stripped bachelor’s degree requirements from more than half of its job openings. 

Other tech giants (notably Microsoft, Intel, and Meta/Facebook) have announced a relaxing of degree requirements, but haven’t yet followed through in their actual job postings. “These firms have not materially reduced the number of actual positions requiring [a] degree,” the report added. “In fact, Intel has seen a material increase in its reliance on degree-based hiring, with the percentage of IT postings specifying a bachelor’s degree or above now up to 96 percent versus 87 percent in 2017.”

That gap “suggests a lag between corporate rhetoric and practical implementation of skills-based hiring strategies,” the report added. “There appears to be a significant opportunity for more companies in the technology sector to follow through on implementing broad policy changes that revise the requirements for specific positions.” 

Companies have long disregarded degree requirements for technologists who’ve mastered in-demand skills. In early 2020, for instance, Elon Musk announced that he wanted A.I. developers and researchers to join Tesla—and educational background was “irrelevant” so long as candidates could pass a “hardcore coding test.” And in 2019, Apple CEO Tim Cook said he was “proud” of the fact that half of Apple employees don’t have a degree. Companies’ need for these kinds of skills is often just too great for hiring managers to wait for a candidate who checks off every box. 

Bottom line: If you want a job at a big tech company, having a degree opens more job opportunities. But lacking a degree also doesn’t shut the door completely—so long as you have the right skills. 

2 Responses to “Do You Need a Degree to Work for a Big Tech Company Like Google?”

  1. jake_leone

    When I came on board, at my current company, having a degree wasn’t the dividing line. Then, with a new director from India, it became the dividing line. But I was able to stay on, because I had proven my worth.
    Whether or not you need a degree is dependent on who runs things. I suspect, at Google, under Eric Schmidt, the degree became critical. Google never even looked at my resume, despite the fact that I was doing very similar work at my current company. I had the chance to interview candidates from Google, and found many were completely incompetent at basic Unix skills and java programming.
    On one board I had read that Google was preferring candidates from UC Berkeley and Stanford. When a company is in demand by job seekers, degrees count immensely in your ability to get past the HR triage.
    Of course, HR knows nothing about development work, so keywords are critical to their assessment.
    This preference for degrees leads to a whirlwind of degree-only need apply candidates, as already hired people are looking to hire their friends out of college.
    You could see this pattern, even at my company. When I started we were pre-IPO. We went IPO, had a relatively successful IPO, and so we were in-demand by job seekers (for a while). So upper management could then demand more requirements. Later, we started taking non-degreed people again.
    As a post-IPO company matures, they start realizing, here and there, people with experience are critical, and many non-degreed people, with experience in start-ups or other smaller businesses are let in the door for interviews.
    My question for HR has to be, why are you holding back profitability of so many companies just because you are too lazy to actually read a resume and consider options? Why are companies setting themselves up for massive attrition, when the degree holders all fly the coup (as many did at my company) to start competing businesses (that worried us for a while but all eventually failed to compete with us)?

  2. David

    MY experience is that degrees just make it simpler for HR to reduce the number of CVs to read and people to interview. They can’t filter on protected characteristics- e.g. none of “We only take people 6 foot or higher”, so a degree or lack of one is the easiest way to bin those applications. The actual degree is almost irrelevant.