Self-taught programmers

Mervin on November 13, 2017

Someone said that self-taught programmers are better than educated programmers. Because they are smarter and good at coding and problem solving. And also they are so passionate on learning new technologies and languages.

So what do you think? Is it true that self-taught programmers are better?

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I think it's more about curiosity.

Self-taught programmers are, by definition, people who learned by themselves. To be that implicated, you must be passionate or at least very curious about tech; making you more efficient (because less bored and more involved in your projects).

The thing is that "educated" programmers may be people who only care about the work we ask them to do, and only learn languages they were introduced to. So they are less polyvalent and, as I said, Involved.

In my opinion that's all about this curiosity and implication about the dev.

N.B. : some self-taught programmers are only able to do a single HTML/CSS webpage and some educated programmers are people very involved in their work; I do not generalize what I said above


Full disclosure: "Formally Educated" programmer here.

If there's one thing I've learned after many years, and a variety of roles / organisations. It's that education means bugger all in terms of the quality/skill of a developer.

Formally Educated: Bad
Formally Educated: Good
Self-taught: Bad
Self-taught: Good

All of these cases exist, in abundance. Cleaving to some rule that the best developers are "x" is a bit foolish. It'll only lead you towards making poor assumptions about people and their skills. And you know what happens when you assume...

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I'm a firm believer that there are infinite paths to being great at anything. And at least 50% of those paths don't start with formal education.


If someone is self-taught or educated merely tells us how they started their career and not what important lessons they got or missed along the way. So as an indicator how good they are this information is useless.


Is it true that self-taught programmers are better?

I don't think self-taught programmers are better programmers. Those are just two different factors.

Programmers' problem solving skills are not related to how much free time they've spent on learning.

For this reason, I think non-self-taught programmers are not programmers.


It's simple, it all boils down to how much they like what they do: self-taught programmers are passionate about what they do (that's why they started learning in the first place), while some educated programmers are not passionate (they had to learn). This difference reflects in their abilities and eagerness to learn new stuff so if you're using this as an evaluation criteria, then the percentage of self-taught programmers that are good from the total self-taught programmers will be much higher than the percentage of educated programmers from total programmers and will give the illusion that self-taught programmers are better. The reality is that it doesn't matter where someone got their knowledge from.


I am self-taught and then later formally educated in CS. I have met (and might sometimes have been among) self-taught people who are brimming with confidence in very bad practices. So like others, I think self-taught is no real indicator of smarts or problem solving skills. It may be an indicator of the willingness to see something through, to not give up. (Less-technical onlookers can mistake this for skill.) But it says nothing about the maintainability, performance, or robustness of the end result. Nor whether the self-taught programmer will bother to keep improving their skills or just be satisfied having solved it once to always do it that way going forward.


I agree with Pierre. Self taught people, are passionate and self driven. But formally educated people can be just as passionate and self driven.

But, from my own experience, formal educators are really behind the times with technology. They are doing weird practices, like teaching C... but you are actually using C++ so you ignore structs. Things like that.

The damage from learning from someone who isn't actively being paid to do a good job, or isn't up to speed on latest practices, or doesn't have a diverse background - is that you pick up bad habits.

A formal education, can lead to a lack in critical thinking, if done wrong. A self-taught education can lack in fundamental understandings of how things work.

I can say something cliche and easy like "it depends on the person".

But I can also say, that I interview people on a regular basis. I seem to get farther with candidates who are self-taught than those who are coming out of an institution.

Maybe the question could be "which appears to be more successful?" instead of questioning what is better, we could focus on which ones produce results, get hired more, have higher salaries -- because the days of old where the degree dictated that, are gone.


Aren't we all self-taught, if not initially, then eventually?

What we learn in class will soon (a few years at the most) be obsolete.

Gotta keep learning, and mostly on our own.

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