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Caitlyn Greffly
Caitlyn Greffly

Posted on

Why Not Having a CS Degree is Awesome

I didn't know what I wanted to do for a career when I was 18, and I feel okay about that. I also shouldn't have been trusted to pick a romantic life partner at that age (sorry Steve from the pirate-themed frat party). It's wild to see so many job postings ask for a specific kind of degree. Your employer is saying that one of the requirements for the job is for you to have always wanted to do this kind of work, since you were a freshman in college and decided on your major while nursing a hangover and clutching a jar of Nutella (or was that just me?).

I got my degree in Psychology. I loved studying Psychology, and at the time it seemed like something I could do for the rest of my life. Spoiler alert: I never got a job related to my major (unless you count bartending, which I kinda do). Instead, I ended up in the beer industry and then again, at age 31, realized that wasn't a path I wanted to continue down.

At 31, knowing I wanted to buy a house and have a couple kids in the next few years, the idea of going back to get a second degree scared me. That might cost me 40k, take 2 years, or 3 if you tack on another year just to apply and be accepted somewhere. And then would I have to move if I didn't get accepted in my current city?? It felt like this option was not aligned with my life goals at all, and was quickly crossed off my list.

Enter bootcamps. A solution for employers who are having trouble hiring as many engineers as they need, and a solution for people who want a more efficient way to change careers. Win win. With a bootcamp, you get the technical skills and hands-on coding experience that you'll use on the job. You may not have all of the theoretical knowledge or know the history of binary, but I'll bet you can find a job that doesn't require you to know those.

Without a CS degree, you might not be able to explain Big O notation, but you might have great interpersonal skills. Maybe you came from being an architect and you'll be great at drawing up the flowcharts for how the front-end of the app communicates with the database. Maybe you used to be a pre-school teacher, and you'll be the go-to person for communicating the engineering team's needs to the marketing team in a way that makes sense to them. No matter what field you came from, you'll have a unique skill set you can offer your future employer.

As an employer, you know the strongest teams are the most diverse teams. If you had 100 engineers and every one of them had a CS degree and had been an engineer since the day they left college, I would argue you don't have a very strong team. No matter what kind of app or project you are working on, you are going to want diversified points of view to make sure you see all the perspectives and catch any weaknesses. You may need engineers to dive deep into the code and spend the majority of their time behind the screen, but you'll also need some who will work with the design team, and how cool would it be if you had an engineer that came from being a graphic designer?! Sounds like that person (without a CS degree) might be the ideal candidate.

If you get your education through a bootcamp, you are also going to be learning the most recent, most popular languages and frameworks. If your employer wants to transition to React, likely all of their CS employees are going to go learn React anyway, so why would they care if you also just learned React? You might be a great resource for them in that situation, and be able to point your colleagues towards relevant tutorials and documentation.

As a new developer, it can be easy to let your imposter syndrome get the best of you because you feel inferior to those with a more traditional degree. You may see job postings that say they'd prefer a candidate with a CS degree, and not even apply for those jobs. But instead, how about you march up to that employer and tell them all the awesome skills that you bring to the table because you have a different background. Don't feel bad that you majored in Basket Weaving or joined the workforce straight out of high school. 18-year-old you did what made sense at the time, and current you is older and wiser and killin' it.

Man in a suit riding a dolphin

Top comments (184)

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I feel this.

While I was out not getting a CS degree, it wasn't like I was just sitting around not getting educated, not learning about this world and developing other skills that would be crucial for software development.

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speedryder profile image
Gunslinger

True, makes for a more well rounded person.

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devpato profile image
Pato

I have a CS degree, as I wrote in one of my articles, you don't need a CS degree to become a developer BUT unfortunately a lot of companies keep asking for a degree and/or don't pay you the same as if you have one (which I agree...sorta) I say sorta, because if you are very talented then you should get compensated for your talent, not because of your level of studies. If you are just average and don't have a CS degree then sure you should get paid less since the other person has more preparation. People go to school for 4.5 years average for a CS degree and most of the bootcamps are only for a few weeks and they teach you how to build apps, but the majority of them don't teach you how to think as a programmer.

Also, going to school is a great experience to learn from other people, do networking and get very good friends (you are stuck with this peeps for several years 🤗)

Another advantage of going to college is that some companies take your studies as experience. For example if a job opening is asking for 2 years experience using JAVA and you have been using JAVA through college then you technically qualify. Some companies specify 2 years of Professional experience tho and that's when college doesn't count as expirience.

Also, getting a college degree involves more than just CS classes. I had to take 9 math classes, chemistry, OR, and physics which helped my brain to develop in certain way and being more opened to other ways of thinking.

Lastly I have seen companies not carrying about your degree after 2-3 years of professional experience, but some companies when you reach certain level they care about it again. Like, yes you could be a software engineer without a degree, but a company may not make you a manager or a software architect because you don't have a degree.

Now, would I do get master's in CS. Hell no! Waste of money haha.

I think the only downside I see for people going college is having student loans. Thank god I didn't have any.

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thecaitcode profile image
Caitlyn Greffly

There are definitely so many up sides to having a CS degree, or any degree, and I agree that you get more than just coding skills in those programs. I just love that there’s another option out there for people who can’t go to a university or don’t want to go again.

Interesting to think about pay differences for CS grads. Personally, as a non CS grad, I wouldn’t mind if a CS grad got paid more than me out of the gate, I would just think we would even out with time and years of experience eventually. But I would just hope an employer would give chances to people without CS degrees as well! Which we are definitely seeing in the workplace, one of the reasons bootcamps are so popular right now.

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devpato profile image
Pato

Yes exactly, like I said a lot of companies don't care after 2-3 about your studies so you can definitely even out after a few years if you are talented. Also people experience pay differences just by going to different schools. E.g someone from Georgia Tech usually gets pay more than someone who went to a small college.

Also, in my personal point of view, if I had another degree and wanted to get into coding I wouldn't do a "on site bootcamp". I will just grab $200 and buy the best courses for what I want to learn e.g React, NodeJS, etc. By doing this I will save a lot of money, learn at my speed, have lifetime access to the courses I bought and the majority of the courses are created by the leaders in the industry.

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mercy01 profile image
Mercy01

May I receive an advice since I graduated and I am hardly getting employed and am doing side projects for people yet the people at the end they drop me 🙆 down and I can't show case something that is hosted to employers please? How can I get a job as a graduate?

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thecaitcode profile image
Caitlyn Greffly

That’s rough if you’re doing work for employers but not able to show it off for whatever reason... I guess you would have to get some side projects going to grow your personal portfolio? Good luck!

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mercy01 profile image
Mercy01

Will they help me to be considered for a job though? It will really be nice if they consider me😥🙀🙀🙀

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giantelk profile image
Giant Elk

Yes, write your own apps, build a mini-portfolio to showcase your skills and work.

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benjamin_sixx profile image
Benjamin Furstenwerth

The "experience" of college can be gained from having any job, especially minimum wage jobs. I feel that working in food service or retail can far outrank college in every positive point you made.

Everything that you listed as a positive is not worth people going into debt for years, or life; and it's such a waste of learning potential.

If you want to learn how to think like a programmer, then do that. I did and I didn't have to get cozy with people I didn't want to associate with; I did that at Domino's and McDonald's.

I've been down in the dumps, Homeless, I've had close family murdered, including my mother. I've had wonderful things like my children being born and in my 30s meeting the woman of my dreams. Zero excuse to limit someone's potential. It can be done. Life is thinking like a programmer, no college needed.

The mentality that a college education is a net positive is consumer bias; apple products anyone? Use Linux.

Please use caution with your statements before you inadvertently put people into huge debt based on your recommendations.

Coding and understanding how to think like a programmer do not require college... Period.

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officialamrita profile image
Amrita Kohli

As much as I agree there are other hardships people can go through - I wouldn't say simply having a minimum wage job compares to a college experience at all. Being in a position where you need to earn for yourself can outweigh it but still isn't the same. College provides an academic challenge where as a CS major you could find yourself working ALL the time for no pay at all - in fact you're the one paying the tuition dollars here. So it's very very different in terms of what you learn. In college you learn how you learn. By working a minimum wage job, you learn how to get by and survive. Two different skill sets!

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benjamin_sixx profile image
Benjamin Furstenwerth

I agree, and learning to survive is vastly more important. I have "been" to college, it was unflattering to say the least. So I quit.

College aims to teach life to the lowest common denominator. Life is the greatest teacher of all. Besides, the point here is software development and the necessity of a college degree.

We can intellectually disagree on the importance of a college degree, but my point is that a college degree nor a bootcamp is even remotely needed for a happy, rewarding career in software development. The passion in coding could use more entrepreneurs and startups, but that is another story.

I also love quantum physics, biology, math, etc. I don't need to have a degree to be good at any of them... I do it because I love learning. I think that is what is missing in college. The love of learning what you are passionate about.

Never stop exploring the world

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devpato profile image
Pato • Edited on

I don't agree that a minimum wage job replaces the experience of college, in fact most of the recruiters tell you to take away irrelevant experiences like being a waiter etc from your resume but they never tell you to take college off your resume, for you may not be worth going to college for some people it is. Like I said you don't need to have a degree to be a programmer, but if you don't may not get pay the same as other one that do, and that's a fact.

Sure, no college needed to think as a programmer but they do teach you that in school, yes you can learn it somewhere else. Most of the bootcamps don't teach you this. How many developers who take a bootcamp also take the time to take logic, classes, and other things that help you think as a programmer? I guarantee you the minimum people who graduated from a bootcamp do it.

If your excuse to avoid college is getting into debt, then bootcamps shouldn't even be an option. A good bootcamp can cost you easily several thousands of dollars ( not going to school because you don't want to get into debt is a valid excuse, I hate the education system here in the USA that is so expensive). Like I mentioned in one of the comments, I will take $200 and buy the best courses online crated by the best people in the industry (something the majority of the bootcamps don't offer, a class by top shit people in the industry)

Now, to give class in college you need a Phd and most of the professors have worked in the industry, have connections and have patents. Something that makes college education valuable too.

I'm not limiting someone's potential. I spoke facts, and not because I spoke facts means I'm telling people to get in debt. I mean good salaries sometimes come with a price and not just programming. Are you going to tell the doctor to not get a doctorate because is expensive or what?

If you read the post carefully I even mention that after 2-3 years of experience companies don't care about your degree, some companies start carrying again about you having a degree when you reach upper level positions, which is a fact too.

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bdwakefield profile image
Benjamin D Wakefield

College doesn't have to be expensive. My 4 year accredited degree cost me almost nothing out of pocket. I received a full tuition scholarship. The local community college has a partnership program with universities for several degrees. I attended college, lived at home, worked part time, and took general education classes at the community college rate. I paid for books and lab fees.

I probably have less than $5k out of pocket in my degree. If I paid 100% out of pocket for my degree it would have cost less than 2 years at a traditional university living on campus.

I understand that not everyone has access to these programs -- but they are around. More and more of them are becoming fully virtual as well.

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sqram profile image
sqram • Edited on

Eeehhh...i don't fully agree here. With you and OP.

This article can be true for your typical programmer/dev role.

But for someone who wants to go beyond the typical dev, and, say, program the trajectory of a satellite, a space shuttle, or an autonomous car - "working at Domino's and think like a programmer" and a bootcamp is not going to cut it.

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lpainton profile image
Lee Painton

A colleague of mine once commented on the difference between what he called theoretical knowledge and domain knowledge. To sum it up succinctly, theory is the "why" of a thing and domain is the "how." Some mastery of both are necessary to become a strong developer.

That being said, while a CS degree should indicate strong basis in theory, it often doesn't. Conversely, not having a degree doesn't indicate a lack of understanding of underlying principles. All it takes is a driving curiosity and a commitment to mastering the profession. Whether one attended a bootcamp or a CS program is irrelevant compared to their drive and thirst for learning.

For what it's worth, I have a Master's in CS and I neither know nor care about the history of binary.

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denvercoder profile image
Tim Myers

I know a developer in his 60s that has a masters in CS and during his entire degree program he didn’t write a single line of code. Why? Because the small college in Idaho couldn’t afford one.

An extreme example of course but my point is that you can haz CS degree and not know how to code but you can’t graduate from a Bootcamp and not know how to code a lil’ bit. 🥴

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jonstrayer profile image
Jon Strayer

Wouldn't that depend on the bootcamp? These are mostly for profit institutions. One way to increase the profit is to skimp on the training.

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bradtaniguchi profile image
Brad

As an employer, you know the strongest teams are the most diverse teams. If you had 100 engineers and every one of them had a CS degree and had been an engineer since the day they left college, I would argue you don't have a very strong team.

I very much agree! Engineers build stuff for people and since people are diverse having a diverse team only makes sense. Those people could be fellow engineers, or direct consumers, but the idea is the same, build for others. 😉

But I don't know if all employers know this fact, which is one of the problems in all industries, but I believe that will change :)

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ranbash9 profile image
Ran

“Overspecialize, and you breed in weakness. It’s slow death.”

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denvercoder profile image
Tim Myers

I don’t agree in the slightest. So you know how much the programmers make that write some of the most obscure languages. Imagine you were SO specialized that you were the ONLY programmer on the entire planet that could do what you do. You’d be highly paid, considered an expert, and when people have a problem with that platform you would be the one they would call.

Now I agree with the other side of the coin. If you have 57 programming languages listed on your resume then you probably aren’t very good at any of them. 😂

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bradtaniguchi profile image
Brad

That is until what you specialize in isn't used. Its like being fluent in Latin, and all that ancient Greek texts have been migrated over to the latest version of English haha.

Regardless, I don't think the quote is suppose to be applied to a single person, most of the post, my reply and I assume this quote are organization focused.

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albertomontalesi profile image
AlbertoM

The only thing that's usually missing from self taught developer / bootcamp grads is a solid foundation of cs principles. As a self taught developer myself, I'm still learning basic concepts on a daily basis.
While it's cool that bootcamp teach you all the new stuff, they also gloss over many important others that during an engineering degree are usually covered.

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noahgibbs profile image
Noah Gibbs

I'd argue that most CS folks who graduate from a 4-year uni also miss a solid foundation in CS principles ;-)

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cosmicsausage profile image
Alexis López

I agree. I've almost graduated and I haven't learned much in uni except for Math and Physics, and I'm doing a CS degree (not in the US btw).

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noahgibbs profile image
Noah Gibbs

It varies pretty widely. I went to Carnegie Mellon, which has its own idea of how to teach comp sci. It's very effective, but... Yeah, mostly places should not want to do it that way.

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thecaitcode profile image
Caitlyn Greffly

Agreed! There’s definitely no way to cover the vast amount of material you’d get in 2-4 years of CS in 6 months, but its a nice jumping off point.

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denvercoder profile image
Tim Myers • Edited on

Yes but how long do those principles stick around? For example, I minored in math. I took Calc I, II, III and DiffEQ, and Linear Algebra and if you asked me to solve anything but the simplest diff or integral I would be hard pressed. I know about Eigenvectors and Eigenvalues and Fourier transforms but ask me to explain it to someone and I’ll rage quit. 😂

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benjamin_sixx profile image
Benjamin Furstenwerth

You still learning every day is what it is all about. You can't wrap everything into 4 months or 4 years. You will write your best software solution when you close your editor for the last time.

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yusuf992_ profile image
Yusuf Y.

I have learnt a lot from my CS degree that reflects on my daily work.
I learnt how data are structured, how to make our algorithms more efficient, how computers works and loads of other important stuff.

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thecaitcode profile image
Caitlyn Greffly

I am sure this is an incredible amount of value in a CS degree, and I didn’t mean to devalue that here. Just show that there is also value in bootcamps.

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benjamin_sixx profile image
Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community. View Code of Conduct
Benjamin Furstenwerth

I hope this is sarcasm. #learnt

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kvsm profile image
Kevin Smith 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 • Edited on
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denvercoder profile image
Tim Myers

Yeah, it’s a word...

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torianne02 profile image
Victoria Crawford

Caitlyn this is an amazing post! I have 3 college degrees, 2 bachelors and 1 masters, all of which I no longer use. I chose to go to a bootcamp because I didn't want to add to my mound of student debt by going back for ANOTHER degree.

What really urks me reading this discussion thread are all the people claiming us bootcamp grads aren't worth hiring or having as teammates. It's really discouraging as someone currently looking for my first SWE role to know there are people out there with this mindset. Am I going to be mistreated or looked down upon as inferior in my future workplace because I'm a bootcamp grad?

All of that hard work I put in over 5 years to earn 3 degrees and my 3+ years of post-graduate professional experience does not disappear just because I switched careers and went to a bootcamp instead of going for a 4th degree. I may not know everything a CS graduate knows right off the bat, but I'll work hard to get to that point.

One last thing I'll add, learning multiple languages and frameworks over a short period of time is no small feat. All bootcamp grads reading this should be proud of their accomplishments. Do not allow these negative comments get you down about yourself.

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thecaitcode profile image
Caitlyn Greffly

I 100% agree with you! Your employer is going to see that you are a super hard worker and love learning, which is so important in a field that is constantly evolving. And I also really hope these comments don't discourage people - for what it's worth I have NEVER felt this kind of negativity in person. Only in the depths of the internet 🤗

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nikiyasimpson profile image
Nikiya Simpson

I agree! I was a double major in undergrad (biology and information systems), got my master's degree, got several hours of post-graduate computer science coursework and I'm not going back to get a CS degree. I've shown I'm obviously capable of learning. If I have the projects to back up my computer science knowledge and experience, that should matter. There is no reason to go into more debt for another master's degree! Ignore everyone that tries to downplay your accomplishments!

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_ezell_ profile image
Ezell Frazier • Edited on

It's interesting that you have a degree in psychology. I say that because quite a few folks I've encountered on my journey are in IT and were psychology majors.

I wonder where the correlation is sometimes, but it may be how one is able to "get it", or "see the bigger picture", and if they can't, they'll probe until they do.

And starting a project with that perspective is big because there's nothing worse than encountering 'scope-creep' or discovering additional use-cases more than halfway through development.

If I had to guess, this is one thing a CS degree or a Bootcamp will not provide for someone. Sometimes it takes a failed project or a few missed deadlines to gain this level of insight. Others may have this trait inherently.

I can't say I'm all-in on Bootcamps or colleges, but I will say the journey to becoming a developer is hard. Very hard. So I always tip my imaginary hat to recent CS majors and Bootcamp grads, and again for those who transform them into successful careers.

However, the common thread for all devs I look up to and admire the most?

  • Big picture view (always trying to connect the dots)
  • Humility (always willing to learn)
  • Perseverance
  • Inclusivity (knowledge sharing, encouraging others)

And, some of the biggest career-traps I've spotted along the way here?

  • A Strong focus on implementation details before all-else
  • A big ego
  • Stagnation (getting too comfortable with only one solution, system, role, etc.)
  • Gate-keeping

Thanks for the great read!

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drdrwhite profile image
David R White

When I read this it just occurred to me:

I wonder where the correlation is sometimes [between Psychology and programming]

Could it be thinking about thinking? Meta-cognition, computational thinking? Analysing thought processes, etc.

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readyready15728 profile image
readyready15728

I initially majored in CS but after discovering that I was primarily good at coding per se and not the more theoretical aspects of math / CS I switched over to linguistics, on the cognitive science track. Computer science / AI is considered to be part of cognitive science. In either case (CS or linguistics) I am dealing with subjects that have at least the rudiments of a mind. We absolutely need people who are dedicated to solving problems like blocks sliding down an inclined plane but I just couldn't quite get into this sort of thing.

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nathanwonnacott profile image
NathanWonnacott

Great post. Some of the best developers I've worked with didn't have CS degrees (though many if them did have other Engineering degrees).

One word of caution though: while I've never been to a bootcamp program, my impression (which may be unfounded) is that they mostly just teach you how to code. There's a lot more to software engineering than writing code. It's a bit like a publishing company deciding that they need more authors, so they offer a spelling and typing class.

So whether you choose to get your education through a university or not, I think that what will be the most helpful would be to make sure you continue learning about all of the non-coding parts of being a software engineer. Some of the non software engineers I've worked with write code that works, but it is terrible to look at and you know they got all of their knowledge from their one programming class they needed for their mechanical engineering degree. I've worked with others who are constantly scouring the web for advice on programming principals, reading blogs, taking online courses, consulting their coworkers, etc. and they write better code than some of the classically trained software engineers.

In the end, the key is learning (and continuing to learn) the principal's, and to me, it doesn't matter how you do it.

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thecaitcode profile image
Caitlyn Greffly

It bums me out that people think I am discounting having a CS degree. If I wrote a post of the perks of not having a dog, would everyone who owned a dog come out of the woodwork to angrily tell me I’m wrong?

Also, I would not replace my psych degree. I think it adds value to my life and has made me the person I am. That does not mean I shouldn’t be able to change my mind later and go down a different path. If there was no need for engineers with the kind of skills that bootcamps provide, bootcamps would not exist. If no one was getting hired from a bootcamp, bootcamps wouldn’t exist. I’m not sorry I spent 9k (not 15-20k) instead of 40k because debt makes me uncomfortable.

Everyone is free to their opinions, but I wish trying to uplift and support one group didn’t mean people felt like I was attacking them. There is absolutely nothing negative written about people with CS degrees in this article.

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kdv24 profile image
Kelly de Vries

Caitlyn, your post was clear and non-attacking. I don’t know why it’s caused so much defensiveness and outrage. Even if someone has a different opinion, I don’t understand the anger in the responses. You’ve done an impressive job of not returning the attacks. It makes me sad that an article meant to encourage people has ended up showing an ugly side to our industry. 🙁 It’s so good you’re here.

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cosmosomosh profile image
Cosmos Omondi

Caitlyn, This post has generated balanced comments. I'm an Electrical Engineer "turning front end dev." I can't afford the time to go back to school for the languages necessary for front end dev. So I've decided to self-teach(taking courses online.) I'm just completing CSS, after HTML. I'll then do JS & React. I'm three weeks into it and I'm doing awesome because this is the best learning formula that suits me for now.

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kdv24 profile image
Kelly de Vries

It’s possible a CS degree does give an advantage. I understood Caitlyn to be saying there are good things that come out of other backgrounds too, not that a CS degree is a bad or lesser thing.

The competition I was referring to wasn’t the job application process, but rather the putting down of people who have different backgrounds; that competition is not useful. If someone wants to weigh the pros and cons of getting a CS degree or not, that’s a discussion of paths and their relative merits. That isn’t what the responses here have felt like.

 
torianne02 profile image
Victoria Crawford • Edited on

If you think about it though, we celebrate babies when they first crawl. Then we celebrate again when they take their first step. We celebrate when a child first learns to ride a bike without training wheels. We celebrate graduating high school and college.

To me, it's not really appropriate to judge and call out people on the things they choose to celebrate. We have no idea what someone has struggled with in the past. We have no idea how many road bumps that person had to move past to accomplish what they did.

I think that if we don't celebrate the small steps in life, life would be quite dull. That's my opinion though, it doesn't have to be yours. I choose to celebrate the small steps I take in life because I like focusing on progress and positivity. After celebrating, I move on to learning more. It's all part of the process of climbing that "ladder of ability". 😊

p.s. Thank you for having a civil/healthy conversation with me! I do really appreciate it.

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craser profile image
Chris Raser

Great stuff here. I often feel that I learned a lot of my most rare & valuable skills not in my CS program, but in music school. How to take a deep breath & walk on stage like you own the room, (demos, interviews), how to understand requirements & translate them into a formal spec (reading/writing sheet music), how to focus under pressure, how to break down difficult sections/features into component parts & build back up to a finished product. How to switch languages/frameworks (I played two different types of tuba, plus a little piano).

I really do feel that I learned a lot of valuable stuff in getting my CS degree, but I don't think any of it can't be self-taught. Grab the Dragon Book, or The Little Schemer, or Cracking the Coding Interview, etc. On the other hand, there really is no substitute for walking on stage & performing. (Which has helped me with pressure situations & difficult conversations my whole life.)

As an industry, tech has a serious problem recognizing great candidates & knowing what makes them great. I understand why people doing the hiring sometimes ask for a CS degree, but I think they're missing out on a lot of outstanding devs that way. I agree that it's best to have some kind of qualification, but I don't see any reason to prefer a CS degree over a bootcamp cert, a portfolio site, an example project in github, etc.

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kdv24 profile image
Kelly de Vries

Caitlyn, I totally agree with the spirit of your post. Having a CS degree doesn’t automatically make a person qualified and likely to be a good employee or team member anymore than not having one makes them the opposite. People are composites of all their experiences and traits, including education, perseverance, communication skills, etc. Someone who doesn’t have a CS degree still brings relevant and beneficial skills, knowledge, and experience.

This isn’t a competition. We want to build an industry that works together, not one where people belittle others and jockey for supremacy. I appreciate you pointing out the value of having diversity in our field.

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