Many web developers you’ll meet probably have a degree in information technology or computer science, or relevant courses where programming is involved. At least up until a decade ago this was the norm, to study in a university, earn a degree, and land a job in a tech company. Self-taught developers were as rare as unicorns.
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Such is not the case anymore. There is a growing number of people who are self-taught when it comes to mobile and web development. But why so? Isn’t having a degree not that important anymore?
On one hand, you can’t be a nurse if you don’t have a degree in nursing, same goes for becoming an engineer, accountant, and many other fields. However, for IT skill-based jobs, like learning web design and web development, getting a degree doesn’t have much importance, and in the write-up that follows, I will tell you just why is it so.
1. Thousands of free learning resources online
There are hundreds of self-taught web developers who, before starting, had absolutely no knowledge about how web development works. I personally know a high school graduate who never went to college and just straight up started learning the basics on Codecademy.com. I am certain that you know someone like that too.
In fact, one of the reasons why this blog exists is to teach everyone about different techniques and methodologies in web design and development – that too, absolutely free. Itching to get started? Check the Design and Dev category to get started – note that if you are absolutely new to all of these, you’ll need to learn the basics first.
2. A lot of companies simply don’t care
Well, if you are aiming to climb the corporate world, having a degree does fuel the promotion. But there is a growing number of startups that simply don’t care if you have a degree or not.
Nowadays you can be a registered nurse and still work as a web developer for a company that is halfway around the world from you (I know one). All they really care about, like everyone else, are results. If you can deliver high quality work on time that’s all that matters.
In fact, on 99% of online job boards education is not even a required field and holds no actual bearing on how clients and employers will see you. The emphasis is always on the portfolio and experience, which is something anyone can acquire without having to go through college.
3. Standardized teaching and testing is terrible
People learn at their own pace, some faster than others, some learn better hands-on and others by learning the theories first. But schools don’t distinguish among these different learners. Everyone studies at the same pace, is taught using the same methods and is graded using a standard model.
But if you learn on your own with books and online resource, it will be faster and much more economical (read: free). If you choose to earn a degree in IT or Computer Science just to become a web developer, that would be much more expensive and you’ll be subject to their teaching methods that may or may not work for you.
The only downside, however, is that you would need to learn how to motivate yourself. It’s a common pitfall for self-learners to procrastinate and just not do what they are supposed to be doing, so you need to find your source of motivation to learn by yourself.
4. Technology updates faster than the school’s curriculum
If you study for two years for an associate degree or four years for a bachelor’s degree, a lot of things that you learned during your first year will already be obsolete by the time you’ll pass out of college.
The rate at which technology and methodologies are updated is fast. Things can change in just a week, a month, or a year, while the academic curriculum often remains outdated.
For example, since I myself earned my degree in college, by the time I graduated almost no company in and around the city I was living in, was hiring ASP.net developers. I can hear you thinking "well, you should have studied online instead of opting for college" and my answer is "exactly!".
Web development requires constant learning and application, but in school it is mostly the learning part without the application of it, and that’s where the problem arises. You can get left behind easily by new standards and practices.
5. Degree doesn’t vouch for a fat paycheck
Unlike the corporate world where people with multiple degrees tend to start off with higher salaries because of their qualifications, web development doesn’t depend on your degree to be highly rewarding, especially when it comes to working as a freelancer. I know that it’s an overused term, but the earning potential is based on the quality of your work, and how many clients you can find.
Another thing here is if you will work from home, getting hired by a startup or finding clients from across the globe is practically easy. This means that if you live in a country with lower GDP per capita, you can get a job from a country with a higher GDP per capita and earn as much as the people who live there. You can be someone who has never stepped in college, learned web development on your own, and still earns $100,000 per year.
When is a Degree Useful?
Let’s face it, as businesses realize that they need to "be online" the demand for web designers and developers also increased, and that’s good. But at the same time the market is being oversaturated by people who want to start developing sites for a living, thus competition rises.
In this case, (and this is already happening to developers in real life) it is becoming unsustainable for many to work as freelance web developers. In this case, having a degree is useful if you wish to work in a corporate scene where money is more stable.
Another thing to keep note is that while getting a degree in web development is expensive and, as pointed above, basically "useless", there are many other skills that you can pick up such as principles in design that professors may know about and business ethics and on how to deal with people – something that can be learned in theory, but very different when it comes to application.