Pursue a CS Degree or not? As a Front-End Developer

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I've been considering this for a while, that if I should go pursue a undergrad degree in computer science after I had self-taught myself front-end development and have been working for time for 2.5 years.

I guess it also depends on my career goals: if I want to keep doing pixel perfect performant web stuff, and then become a manager some day in the future, then I probably don't need a degree. But if I want to explore more in the programming world, or even science part of the computer world with other career options, then I probably would want to go back to school for it...

What's your experience? What do you think? 🤔

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It's not gonna hurt you, that's for sure. At Georgia Tech, they even had a program called Computational Media which was more focused on UX, HCI, and media creation in addition to some of the compsci curriculum. If I would have finished my degree, I probably would have made an additional 5k to 10k USD a year for the first five years of my career, but I am at a point where it has evened out and whenever a company refuses to consider me because of my lack of a degree, I walk away content that it was probably a really close-minded and ignorant environment.

What I missed out on in college was the connections. I was far too busy playing beer pong and popping my collar to actually take advantage of the chance to meet leading researchers in the field, network with alumni who were active in the startup scene, take classes I loved seriously, or get involved in research projects. You can meet a lot of people who can open up doors for you later in life.

I don't know what your finances are like, but if school was going to be very expensive, I wouldn't do it. When I failed out I was at least lucky enough to not owe a cent to the school. I've managed to get in enough crippling debt without student loans.

 

Thank you for your reply! I think it's a really good point that we should avoid from companies that requires a degree for anything.

And I do think going to school would open up more doors for me in my life, but not just in the sense of meeting a lot people; it could also let me explore other things that I might not even know exist. "You don't know what you don't know", as they say, I'd love to see what else I could do as there are so many different career paths you could take for writing programs.

Luckily, in terms of money, the university I'm looking at in Canada (University of Waterloo) is not that expensive. But if I don't want to relocate/commute and go to University of Toronto, I might need to pay much more.

 

As someone who has a complete CS degree (and spent a lot obtaining it) if your intention is to be a front-end dev then I'd say getting a degree is largely unnecessary and it would deter you more than helping you. However, if you want to pursue more complicated topics and maybe get into the research world and do stuff to change what's currently out there then, in that case, the degree wouldn't be as worthless as it may seem.

 

yes, I 100% agree with you that you don't need a degree for being a perfect front-end dev. But me wanting to have a degree is more like exploring what else you could do with the computers and I'm sure there are a lot. And there may be this one thing in them that I would love to pursue, but now I don't know any of those possibilities as I didn't complete a degree...

 

Here, I'm going to save you 5+ years and thousands of dollars in debt. As it is in the current tech environment you can either go the more focused in software and app development or you can go the more bare metal programming and start dealing with the hardware itself. There are several things in this space like microcontrollers, IoT, drones, autonomous cars and you can get started with Arduino or Raspberry Pi if you want to deal with the inner workings of computers.

At the pace technology is changing you will want to focus and specialize in something and there are several boot camps and online courses that can give you a hint of what could be more interesting for you to pursue. The possibilities are pretty much endless and you can get started with just a few hours and a couple of bucks to see what's out there and later when you find something that truly makes you excited, then you can get really serious with that and invest much more on that area (still saving a lot of time and money in the process).

But let's say I want to explore the possibilities in the AI world, don't I have to know all the math, algorithm, optimization stuff to start? And as I agree that the tech or more specifically the application tech is indeed changing very fast, there are fundamental things that don't change. I'm always under the assumption that there are certain things you need to know in order to move forward into these fields.

 

A good reason (that's not mentioned very often) to get a degree is... visas :-) If you want to work around the world, many countries have point systems and make it harder for people without a formal degree to be sponsored for a work visa.

You can totally be a developer without a formal degree though.

 

I did have a harder time when I was trying to apply for permanent residency in Canada, but now since I will be staying in Canada for a while, this wouldn't be a decision factor for me. But it's a valid point for other peeps landing on this page. Thanks a lot!

 

TL;DR
I don’t have a degree. Not ‘stuck’ pushing pixels. Rarely value companies that require a degree. If I had to do it all again I’d probably get a degree for the hell of it.

I would say it really depends on what you know, what you wanna know, and how dedicated you are to getting there.

I am self-taught and free of student loans. I quit going to college so quickly I’m not sure it even counts as going, but I can tell you that when I got hired at my current position I was the only applicant without a CS degree. That isn’t to say I am special, rather I was able to spend my time learning the tech I knew would help me land a great opportunity.

I am even in the process of becoming an instructor at a University Boot Camp.

Work hard. That’s it.

 

Thank you for writing your first piece on dev.to haha!

I agree with you that a degree is not a must, especially for work; but (I think) I actually want to learn those things they teach in university: like the computational thinking we mentioned above...

And I'm also hoping it would open up more doors/directions/possibilities for me that I didn't know was there.

 

Great topic – thanks for posting!

The way it worked out for me is the reverse of most people – rather than doing a degree first then getting work, I got work first and then started doing a degree.

I can't speak for those who did their degree first, but the advantages I think I gained from doing work first are:

  • Earning and saving money early, resulting in holding my investments longer.
  • Learning early on what kind of work I enjoy and steering my career in that direction.
  • By knowing more about myself and the market, then being able to choose degree subjects that interested me and led me down the right path.
  • Having my life more "together" when I started the degree helped me get better marks.
  • Having several years of experience, I could qualify for more advanced masters-level subjects.
  • Working and studying simultaneously can create a great synergy, where you get to learn and then immediately apply knowledge in the real world. Employers/clients often love this and even contribute to course expenses and/or allow flexible work hours to accommodate learning.
  • Some countries (mine included) have special tax discounts for study that is directly related to your work, so you pay less than you would if you were studying without a job.

I haven't finished my degree yet, and may not finish it for a few years yet, as I'm only studying part-time.

As @rhymes mentioned, one downside to deferring the degree is that it's trickier to qualify for visas in certain countries without a full degree.

 

I think I'm in the first half of your situation: I'm working first now and really enjoying my job; after knowing more about myself and the market, I'm interested in learning more about the science of it: that's why I'm considering.

And I think it's a really good point that working and studying simultaneously can create a synergy, and also it could reduce the finance stress compared to going to school full-time.

Lastly and luckily, yes! In Canada, you could claim some tax credit with the paid tuition. :D

 

Although our answer may vary country to country, for the most part, we'd almost always recommend to not go for the CS degree.

Chances are, you can land work without it - and you can spend time focusing on two, three or four really consistently hired-for languages or frameworks rather than spreading your knowledge too thinly.

You can always go back and get the CS degree, but why not get real-world experience and build some proper portfolio websites using modern tech, get an actual job (or internship - get paid to learn!) before potentially racking up unnecessary debt.

We might seem biased because we're a boot camp company, but we'd challenge you that anyone who messaged us to ask what was best in this situation - 99% of the time we're outlining free or low-cost paths outside of our own business, because you just need to know a few fundamentals about what makes you "hireable" to know what to learn and what to aim for in the next couple of years.

If you're talking non-traditional programming (science, security) - the answer may vary - our best suggestion would be to hit up people in the profession you really want to go for via LinkedIn and ask them what the best route would be. Ask 10 of them and look for a theme. You might be surprised - maybe there's an odd middle ground we hadn't thought of!

Hope this helps!

 

thanks! I get what you are saying, but I think I'm in the second part where "you could always go back and get the CS degree" since I already have work (a pretty good one I'd say).

But I would say I'm just touching a very shallow part of the computer world, and I'd love to know more and deeper to see what else is possible in this world that might be even more interesting for me.

 

Hi! I think you should get a CS degree if you really feel curiosity and passion about this world, but imho your career will not heavily influenced with or without it. I have a CS B.Sc degree and I would do it again, thousand times, because it changed my way of thinking, abstracting things, stuff like that! And I loved it :)
Think also about combining studying and working, it's not really easy imho! So as I said, your feeling and your passion will guide you to the right choice.

Good luck!

 

thank you! I definitely have the passion in the field, and what you talked about is exactly what I want from a degree: the way of thinking things computationally, in addition to also exploring possibilities and directions that I didn't know exist.

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