Should you hire a developer without a degree?

When it comes to hiring developers, one of the traditional ways to filter the ‘good’ candidates from the ‘bad’ ones was by determining whether they have a programming degree or not.

Several high-profile companies, such as Google, used to require all candidates to have a bachelor’s degree in computer science. But over the last couple of years this rule has been relaxed, to the point where Google now has an FAQ specifically addressing the issue on their careers page. Why the sudden change of heart?

Identifying the top candidates to fill your development team roles is no easy task. Over the last decade, we have seen a significant evolution in traditional software development techniques. Opening up new avenues of learning and development, it’s those routes that are providing the top talent for businesses to recruit.

Hiring teams previously considered a university degree as the top way to identify potential candidates. But now, the waging war between experience vs. education has created a new battleground for businesses looking to add to their team, posing the question: is a degree worth more than experience or a portfolio of work? Should you hire a developer without a degree?

Can you become a developer without a degree?

Unfortunately, this question doesn’t have a simple yes or no answer. There are many factors that contribute to both sides of the argument, and whichever side your business sits on, your points are just as valid.

Changes to the industry as a whole, including new technologies and languages, have altered the mindset of hiring managers. Numerous new roles are being created in the IT industry and, for some businesses, choosing the right developer still hangs on whether a person holds a degree.

But in this new era of development, it’s been widely identified that partnering self-learning and academic education can provide a business with a more well-rounded developer that will suit their business needs.

Obtaining a degree is an achievement in itself, and it can be used to identify a specific skillset. However, during the hiring process, your business will also need to recognise that the continuation of learning is a vital part of software development and, if you wish to continue expanding your team, it’s an aspect that should be encouraged.

Alex Laing, CEO of Leasefetcher, is an advocate of expanding your skills on top of your education. “A degree gives developers a three- or four-year window in which to access excellent resources, learn skills and develop their all-around development game,” says Alex. “It’s hugely beneficial, and it’s not surprising that graduates find it much easier to land a job than non-graduates.”

But when making hiring decisions, it’s vital to recognise that taking the time to gain an academic qualification is a luxury, and when selecting the right person, you’ll need a vast knowledge of non-degree courses, including self-paced and online bootcamps.

“You can also learn through informal, self-directed study,” continues Alex. “I suppose that’s how I got started. I watched YouTube videos, read online articles and experimented until I mastered skills and techniques.”

Combining software development experience and knowledge

If you’re looking to add to your development team, one aspect a degree can give candidates is a strong background in theory. But when selecting the right people to fill those roles, you should be aware that this theoretical knowledge won’t translate to the ongoing issues they’ll encounter in business.

Finding the people with the right combination of relevant hands-on experience and knowledge of development to solve these scenarios can be tricky. Jon Ostler is the CEO of Finder, and acknowledges that while a degree isn’t always a factor in this process, it can offer employers a few insights into someone’s ability.

“As an employer, it’s easier to assess a candidate if they went to a good university and achieved a high grade in computer science, as it ticks off the programming concepts and discipline requirements,” says Jon.

However, in your business, you may also use other methods to test developers’ skills including practical tests, which can showcase the talent of a logical thinker.

So while a degree does provide a good start point for selecting candidates, the added experience of working in a reputable company known for the quality of its software development processes is something Jon also champions.

The changing route to hiring a software developer

Previously, the most common route for a software developer to enter the business fold was to achieve a degree. However, there are many new routes available into the sector that have altered the pre-requisites of the role, as many software engineers are now self-taught.

This new method of learning has completely altered the recruitment process within a business, and to fill the new roles that become available, you may choose to offer in-house training. This allows you to enhance the capability of internal candidates.

Introducing these new routes into your recruitment process can see staff currently working within less technical areas of your business make a move into development. For example, you may have a technical support staff member who can move into quality assurance, and then take the final step towards securing a role as a developer.

While looking to add new team members, a degree can still carry significant weight when it comes to entry-level developer jobs. But as observed by Audrey Limey, Managing Director of LY Corp, everyone can now obtain the skills that were once only available on university courses.

“A big number of developers perform in highly successful roles without having a programming degree to back up their skill set,” says Audrey. “Some began their careers in completely different backgrounds and developed their coding skills in hands-on projects over the years, while others have been coding since their early years and are skilled, sought-after developers.”

When recruiting for developers who fit in the category of high demand, you’ll probably find that while contractors and freelancers tend to charge a higher rate, they can be the best fit for the skills you require.

But whichever route your business chooses to take when recruiting, Audrey points outs that not all developers go down the traditional path, which is getting a degree and entering the professional world. “Experience now goes a long way, with IT skills in increasing demand,” she continues. “If candidates applying for a role can demonstrate their programming abilities, they are likely to be considered for the position.”

do software developers need a degree to be a successful coder?

Coding is a big part of the role

Technology is continuously evolving, and as a business, this ever-changing nature is something you’ll have to adapt to, both with your current developers and when adding new members to your team.

When hiring junior developers, it’s worth noting that they will be at a significant disadvantage to their professional counterparts, who have already prepared for the future by gaining extra certifications. But this can be addressed if your team is willing to put the hours in and learn new coding techniques together.

To keep your organisation running smoothly throughout the learning process, the last scenario you’ll want to encounter is a developer who is unable to code well, as the ability to code to a high standard is fast becoming vital in both academia and business environments.

It’s a fact that the industry needs developers who can code, and as a business, it is one skill you should value higher than any other. It’s also something Ethar Alali, CEO of Axelisys, regards highly, as it’s something that can allow developers to stand out from the crowd.

“In reality,” says Ethar. “Developers will earn the same wage in the industry with or without a degree, and the demand and costs don’t offer the advantages they once did. The case for a degree is getting weaker every year.”

However, when selecting candidates, you need to remember that those who do hold a degree also have a deep level of skill, and having those people coming into your business is allowing the industry to evolve at the right speed.

Make sure you select a well-rounded developer

As your business expands its search for developers, you’ll come across suitable members for your team who began their career outside the sphere of software development. Selecting a  rounded software engineer is never without complications, as it can take years for a developer to become fully proficient in coding, even if they do possess the right logical mind and mathematical prowess.

If you’re looking to hire a new developer, you’ll need to remember that the course of finding the right person won’t run smoothly. Your business may have their heart set on a specific role type, but one thing you’ll need to keep in mind throughout the entire process is that choosing the right person for the job can be more lucrative.

Identifying whether a candidate has the right skills should be a vital part of the interview process when recruiting a developer. The further you delve into their past, you may find their passion for development was sparked by something as simple as learning to use a word processor, a route similar to James Blackman, managing partner of Cocoonfxmedia Limited.

“Once I mastered HTML, I started to learn MySQL and PHP, and then I started to build databases, members areas and blogs. I’ve also dabbled in a little Javascript,” says James.

It’s also vital to remember that learning a new programming language isn’t as complex as it once was. When looking to add any new members to your team, it’s important you become familiar with the latest online and offline courses on websites such as Codecademy, as these portals open up new areas of learning for those wishing to expand their knowledge.

But a degree can still hold substantial value, and it’s something James wishes he’d been able to do to advance his career prospects further. “If I’d learned to code in a more structured way I would be a better and more advanced programmer,” he adds.

Select the right developer not the most qualified

The industry of software development remains open for those who wish to enter, and when adding new members to your team, you’ll encounter many candidates who are university graduates, don’t have a degree, or are looking for a complete career change.

In fact, if someone can demonstrate an enthusiasm for coding and is willing to adapt and learn quickly, then they could be the perfect fit for your software development team even if they don’t meet the exact remit.

Your organisation may use a specific language to perform all software development tasks. If you specialise in web development, then Java, PHP or an adapted version is standard practice, and you may require a developer who works with that particular language.

However, if you utilise a language that is less mainstream, it can be harder to pinpoint suitable developers to fill those roles, so to secure a software engineer it’s good practice to look for those who have a keen ability to learn.

If a developer is willing to take the time to learn a new language from scratch either inside or outside of office hours, they’re probably a keeper, especially if they’re happy to continue their education and gain a certification in the language.

When hiring developers in the past, you may have stuck to a checklist of requirements that included a degree. But with so many young software engineers showcasing an eagerness to learn and gain the latest certifications, expanding your view can help you identify top hidden talent.

Ensure your developers continue to grow

Whether the developers currently in your team or new members you choose to recruit have university degrees or are self-taught, your business will need to make sure their personal growth is maintained. If not, you could lose the talent you’ve nurtured or the business could end up behind on the development curve.

Selecting the right courses and certifications for your team can often come down to the direction you wish to take a project, and there are a number that you can encourage your team to undertake even if they already have a degree.

If you’re a little unsure of which certifications can help your business, below we’ve listed some of the top qualifications that can help your team grow.

Java certifications

A highly functional language that already has a high industry use percentage, certifying your team in Java can open up a number of development routes. Oracle, of course, offers the most recognisable certification, and we’ve brought together all the information you’ll need in this handy Java certification guide, which highlights the key modules you’ll learn in each course, the cost, and the examination details.

PHP certifications

There is some identifiable crossover between Java and PHP, and allowing your team to become accomplished in both can open further development opportunities. While PHP does have its certifications, Zend comes as the most highly recommended.

Used as a benchmark to identify top industry talent, the certification will allow members of your team to learn the language from scratch. For some that are already proficient in PHP, it will enable them to learn added tips and tricks

Accompanying frameworks

While having Zend certifications can aid the growth of your development team, it’s also worth noting they’ll also need a firm grasp of PHP frameworks.

Laravel is the most notable framework, and has been identified as the best option to aid agile development. It offers a specialised certification that, when partnered with Zend, will provide comprehensive knowledge of both technologies as a whole.

As a business, when choosing to recruit a developer, new recruitment techniques support the fact that a degree isn’t a necessary remit in the selection process. Continuing to embrace this train of thought when adding new software engineers will allow you to remain at the forefront of the sector while increasing business growth, but will also aid the expansion of the software development as a whole.

If you’re looking for the best available developers in the market, our free Candidate Search allows you to create your own shortlist of contract or permanent programmers. If you need a more bespoke approach, contact us and we can discuss how we can help you find your next hire.