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Kaleb McKinney
Kaleb McKinney

Posted on

Be a software developer with an associate's degree?

While I'm still in high school, I'm looking ahead as to what I'm going to to.

Because of the TN Promise program, and some scholarships, I can get an associate's degree for just about free. Local community colleges offer an AAS Programming degree. Has anyone gone this route? How did it go? Would you recommend it? Also, if you're the one hiring, would you consider someone with an AAS?

Discussion (2)

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kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman • Edited on

To answer the title question, Yes you can be a software developer with an associates degree or no degree or an unrelated degree. I certainly would hire a person with those credentials if I felt they were good to work with.

The main places where it will be more difficult will be government work or large famous companies. Government jobs often use academic achievement instead of bothering to examine a person's ability to perform the job. And to work at Google, you probably need to get an expensive education or have already created a wildly popular web library. In general you might sometimes get unfairly pre-screened by recruiters if they are getting a lot of other candidates with more experience or a higher degree. (Eventually, that problem solves itself as you get more experience.)

But I think a lot of places are just interested in your ability to do the work. I have both hired and worked in other places that hired people with associates degrees (or no degree or unrelated degree).

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Shawn Sommer

Hi Kaleb.

First off, I want to commend you for thinking about your future and weighing your options.

I graduated with an AAS in Programming in 2014 and I have no regrets getting my degree. It was hard confusing work at times, but also very rewarding. I felt like I was struggling in my first semester but I pushed through and managed a 4.0 GPA. It was a lot of hours of head-scratching turned ah-ha moments. I continued with self-study over the following summer and pretty much breezed through the remainder of my degree. Make no mistake, it was a lot of hours of learning that summer but well worth the effort. By the time the following fall rolled around I was ahead of the curve enough that I could refine skills rather than learning them wholly through classes, this enabled me to also help my peers with things they were stuck over the remainder of my time in school.

I believe that the graduating class for my program was about 10 or 12 people. I kept contact with a few of my fellow students on LinkedIn after graduation and from what I have seen maybe half of us ended up in actual development positions, others worked in roles adjacent to development (QA, PM, etc...), and some ended up in roles completely outside the industry.

My experience has been that it can be more difficult to get into larger companies without an advanced degree but smaller companies are more willing to take a chance. I started off as a QA intern in my final year of school in a very small company of about 20 employees. When my internship was over my role grew into a developer role with the same company. When I was asked to take on the development role I suggested one of my classmates for the position I was vacating. He also got the role (this is just a testament to the power of networking with your peers). When I was ready to move on from that role after about 3 1/2 years I had some difficulty finding a new role but eventually found one with an early-stage startup. Unfortunately, the role was not a good fit and I ended up leaving the company after a few months.

Really, I think that a lot of it comes down to tenacity. School isn't going to teach you everything you need to know to be successful, it's quite literally impossible for them to do that so you have to take it upon yourself to push on your own learning while you are in school and to continue learning once you graduate. The good news is that if you are tenacious enough to push yourself in school that tenacity transfers over to the job search.

Ultimately, an AAS will give you some knowledge but it will be incomplete. I can't speak to your exact curriculum because it varies between schools. The good news is that you're young and if you decide that you want to go further in schooling and get a BS you can do that later since many technical/community college credits will transfer in some regard to universities. Conversely, if you find that you don't like programming the experience will still give you useful and transferrable skills while you continue to look for something more suitable to your tastes.