The real reasons developers should get a degree

By Ray Villalobos19 Apr 2017Opinion

There’s a healthy debate raging within the ranks of developers as to whether or not you need a college degree to be a professional in the field. This debate misses the point entirely, though, because a degree isn’t exactly what you need, you need the education instead and education is always up to you. Ray Villalobos explains

Show me the stats

According to the latest survey from Stack Overflow of 64,000 developers, 76.5% of developers working in the field had at least a bachelor’s degree. More than half had concentrated their studies around Computer Science. That does mean that 30% or more are working in the industry without having attained a degree. Which proves both points that you don’t need a college degree, but that most people have it. 

Some talented developers I know have gone down the degree-less route and it has worked well for them, but others have had problems. That’s because some pretty big companies require you to have a college degree in order to even interview with them. That’s why more than 45% of developers who have gone through a bootcamp already had a college degree. Not having one will, by definition, limit your options. However, developers are in such high demand that if you’re good enough, you’ll be able to find work in the field, regardless of your college degree. Let’s talk about why you may want to consider the classic degree anyway.

When a college degree helps

A college degree gives you more options, since as I mentioned some companies won’t even interview you without one. Clearly there was a time when every career was so new that there weren't degrees even available for those, but times change and as a differentiator, a degree acts as a type of certification that you at least have some basic knowledge, can communicate in written and spoken form and can handle some level of work in the field.

A degree is more valuable if you got a great GPA (3.5 or higher). That shows that you are responsible and can maintain certain standards through different environments. Getting a good GPA is tough because you’ll be studying through a variety of courses and classes that are not strictly about development like writing, giving presentations and others. People can really relate to this, so when you interview someone who has great grades, it’s impressive.

Another underrated aspect of getting a degree is that you learn personal skills that are very important in the field. In the Stack Overflow survey developers rated communication skills and a track record for getting things done as the two most important things employers should look for when hiring developers. Not which language or what type of sorting algorithm to use. School will give you a structure and an opportunity to prove that you can handle both of those.

Another way that it helps is by helping you build contacts that will get you opportunities. In the Stack Overflow survey as well as many other surveys, the most common way developers got their job was by getting referred by a friend, family or former colleague. This is also why it’s good to do well and leave a good impression. In a way, who you know matters more than your grade or which tools you know.

It's up to you

Education is just a tool, just like online learning or bootcamps or reading documentation. Some people appreciate the structure of a school semester. It’s tough to carve out time to attend lectures, do the assignments and try to get good grades, but that’s also why it’s good. It creates a structure by which you can achieve a set of goals… oh yeah, and it can also teach you about programming and other principles. But, you’ll also have to learn to read, write and present things to others.

Of course, learning by yourself is possible and as a matter of fact, it’s expected of professional developers. 90% of all developers say they are at least partially self-taught and that includes the ones that have a degree. More than half (55.9%) say they have taken an online course and 53.4% received on the job training. Training is something that you’ll always have to do, so think about college as a focused training environment.

I’ve been teaching as an adjunct for more than 10 years and I once had a student who asked me what was the minimum amount of effort he needed to complete an assignment and I told him that if he did the minimum effort, that I would give him the minimum grade he could get, which was an F. School is like that, you get what you put into it. Some teachers are better than others and some docs maybe old, but that’s exactly how life works, so school is pretty good practice for learning to work in different environments.

So should you get a degree? Probably. Do you have to? Absolutely not. But it’s not the degree that’s the important part, it’s the education you’re interested in and the structure that it provides. The fact that it forces you to enrol and learn about things that aren’t necessarily computer science is a feature…not a bug.

Also read "Coding: The next blue collar job? Sure hope not" by Ray Villalobos and his course "Becoming a Web Developer: Full Stack vs Front End".

Ray Villalobos

Ray Villalobos

Ray Villalobos is a full-stack design/development teacher and a full-time author at His courses are focused on front-end design and development topics such as JavaScript, AngularJS, and Sass, plus frameworks like Bootstrap and tools that will make you a faster, more effective, and efficient developer. He has a clear and practical teaching style and will help you improve your skills through real-world exercises and projects.

Previously, as a director of multimedia for Entravision Communications, Ray managed a network of radio and TV station websites on the East Coast. He also designed large newspaper sites and created interactive projects/games for the Tribune network of newspapers. You can reach him through any social network @planetoftheweb or check out his personal blog at