How To Get A Programming Job Without A Degree

Written By John Sonmez

Is it possible to get a programming job without a degree? This is one of the most common questions I hear from developers.

When I first started out my career as a software developer, I didn’t have a degree.

I took my first real job when I was on summer break from my first year of college. By the time the summer was up and it was time to enroll back in school, I found that the salary I was making from that summer job was about what I had expected to make when I graduated college—only I didn’t have any debt at this point—so, I dropped out and kept the job.

But, did I make the right choice?

Do you really need a university degree to be a developer?

You see, the issue is not really whether or not a particular degree has any value. The degree itself represents nothing but a cost paid and time committed. A degree can be acquired by many different methods, none of which guarantee any real learning has taken place. If you’ve ever taken a college course, you know that it is more than possible to pass that course without actually learning much at all.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you can’t learn anything in college. I’m not saying that every degree that is handed out is a fraud. I’m simply saying that the degree itself does not prove much; there is a difference between going to school and completing a degree program and actually learning something.

Should you go back and get your degree now?

In today's video I'm going to discuss why companies prefer to hire developers with a degree and what can you do to overcome being a programmer without a degree.

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Transcript Of The Video

John Sonmez: I know a lot of you out there have self-taught. You taught yourself how to become a programmer. That's great. That's awesome. I self-taught myself before I got my degree, and I got a job without a degree. I got several jobs without a degree. Some of you, maybe you've come from a coding bootcamp. Also great on you. There's a little bit of a challenge there because you don't have a degree even though you've got the skills, and a lot of times, companies won't … They'll say, “Oh, you did a coding bootcamp. It doesn't matter. It's not the same as a degree.” How do you get a programming job without a degree?

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Hey, what's up? John Sonmez here from First, I'm going to refer you to one of my other videos that I've done here, which is on how to get a programming job with no experience. You can find a link here. Click it in the card or in the description below, and while you're at it, you might as well click that Subscribe button so that you can get new videos on software development and soft skills and improving your career as a developer.

Without a degree, let's talk about, first of all, what the challenge is. A lot of companies assume that you should have a degree to be a developer, but not all companies. That, I think, is a key thing to understand is that certain companies, if you look at the bigger companies, the Microsofts, the Amazons, the Googles, the HPs, especially older companies, you think HP and IBM that are not quite hip, those are going to be more likely to require degrees or “require degrees”.

Any company that says they require a degree, not necessarily true. I can tell you a story when I was starting out in my career as a software developer. I actually was self-taught. I went to college for a year, and I basically dropped out because they were not teaching me what I needed to know. It was boring as hell, and I felt like I could learn so much better on my own, and I already had a job doing some testing that was making me pretty good about amount of money, and I already knew how to program. I ended up dropping out. I ended up actually …

I was a contractor for HP doing some testing. I basically upgraded to my own job. As a tester, I started looking at the … Well, it was post-script files, these printer files that they were giving me, and I started troubleshooting them and going beyond what my job responsibility was, and I figured out, I was writing code in order to write some automated tests, and I was deciphering some of this code, and I figured out how to really troubleshoot these problems, and pretty soon, some of the developers started to notice, and they're like, “Hey, would you like to actually do this as a job,” and so I got this job doing a little bit of coding, of coding up some of these tests, and then, eventually, I got offered a job to be a junior coder on the team writing basically printer tests officially, and that got me, my foot in the door.

A couple years later, I believe it was, I took another job in California for Xerox as a contractor, I'm making 75 bucks an hour. This was all without a degree. Eventually, what ended up happening was I ended up coming back to HP, I still didn't have my degree, and they hired me as an actual employee after I was working for a contractor, even though they don't hire people without degrees because I had gotten such good recommendations, I had done such a good job, and I had worked so hard and had basically proven myself. I actually got less pay than I should have gotten at first. They started me out on a pay scale without a degree because they didn't give me credit for that. That's another story. There is some downside to that.

My whole point in telling you this is just to give you some encouragement that, yes, you can get jobs without degrees, even for companies that say that they have to have degrees, and I had plenty of jobs making a lot of money before then.

How do you actually do this? Well, when you don't have a degree, there's a couple things that I would say first of all. The best thing to do is to focus your effort. You want to focus your effort on the companies that are likely to hire people without degrees. Yes, you can get your way into HP, like I did, or Microsoft or whatever without a degree, but those are going to be longer shots and they're going to be more difficult for you to do. I'm not saying don't apply for any of those jobs. Throw a few out there, but, for the most part, you want to narrow down your search for companies that you feel would hire or have hired people without degrees, especially jobs that say, “No degree required.” This is some pretty basic common sense here, but it's going to help you.

You need to have a really good resume. It needs to be very well written. I recommend that you hire a professional resume writer. I've got a whole chapter and section on this in my book, The Complete Software Developer's Career Guide. Yes, this is a huge, freaking book. Go check it out. There will be a link on Amazon, and you can get that.

You're going to need to be a little bit better. You're going to need to be a little bit more polished. Pay some money and hire a professional resume writer. Make sure you have a portfolio online that displays all of your work that you've done. Make sure that it looks good. If you've created some apps, if you've created … You have to market yourself to the software developer.

In sales, the biggest thing that you need to do is overcome your customer's objections, which are basically their fears, which are things like this isn't going to work. In this case, the biggest fear of any company in hiring a software developer is that this person doesn't actually know how to code. I know that sounds crazy, but, believe me, being on the side of hiring software developers, I have seen developers that we have hired, not me personally, although I've probably made the mistake at least once, that don't know how to code, really don't know how to code at all. They can do some of the jargon, but when it comes down to actually writing real code, besides just fixing a few bugs, they couldn't … They couldn't figure out how to do it at all. They were just useless as far as that goes. It's definitely a problem, and it's a fear because if you hire someone who doesn't know how to code, it's going to cost you a lot of money, and it might not be easy to get rid of them, and it's going to be a drain on your resources. It could be bad. It could be worse than hiring someone. In fact, if you hire someone who is a bad hire, it's usually worse than hiring no one at all. You get negative work done. That's what you need to overcome.

How do you overcome this? You prove that you know how to code. You prove that you're good at it, and then that's where the degree comes in is, if the company says, “Oh, this person has a CS degree or they've got a Master's degree in computer science,” they know that you have to at least have gone through the hoops of learning and a proper curriculum from an accredited school, and you should have come out of there learning how to code. You had to do some kind of projects where you had to code. You went through all of the educational requirements. You're probably … You might not be a great coder, but you're probably at least qualified. You probably have learned all of the basic things, algorithms, computer architecture, programming languages, all the kind of things that you need to know in order to be a programmer.

If you can prove this on your own, that's better. Not necessarily better, but it will fulfill that requirement. That's why it's so important if you're self-taught, if you're coding bootcamp, if you don't have that degree, to demonstrate this. The best way to demonstrate this is to have portfolio of apps that you've developed. If you put apps in the app store or you put up a website or a SaaS app, some kind of app, especially one that's paid for, you don't have to sell a lot of it, but if you have one that people actually pay money for, that lends credibility, then you can come into a job interview, and you can say, “You know, I built the app here. I have the source code of this, and we can go through this,” or you can talk about that when you apply for the job and say, “Yes, I don't have my degree, but I've been building software for X amount of years, and here's some commercial apps that I have built, and I'm selling, and I'm happy to share with you the source code for these apps so you can see what my coding style is like and how that I write code and how I unit test and all of these things.”

This is going to be something that is going to really, really help you, and I've used this before when I applied for jobs. I've come in with my laptop to a job interview, and I said, “Hey, look, got the source code for this app that I built. You can see it, and you can see this is how I write code, and this is kind of my philosophy about that.” That's really important, is that you're going to have to look a lot better than the person who has the degree in order to overcome that.

Another thing that you should do is get some experience on your resume. One one way to do that is to just form your own company, like I said, and have some apps that you've developed in that company, and then you have job experience there.

Another thing that you can do is you can offer to work for free, work on opensource projects. This applies also to getting a job without experience, in general, but if you don't have that degree, you've got a little bit of a higher level of difficulty, for sure.

The other thing that you're going to want to do is you're going to want to go and you're going to want to basically make connections with people that work at these companies. Attend MeetUp groups. Attend the user groups in your area, and religiously attend them, and become someone … This is going to be more critical now because you're credibility's going to be on the line. Become someone who gives presentations at these. Go to code camps and give presentations. Heck, you want to create a YouTube channel, create a YouTube channel and start teaching on there. Create a blog. I've got a course on how to create a blog to boost your career. Sign up for that course. The link will be in the description below, as well, and start creating a blog.

This is really critical because when people look you up, when you apply for a job, they're going to Google your name, and if a blog comes up and you're educating people, if you're writing blog posts and you're established yourself as an authority in the software developer/ment industry, if you've learned how to market yourself, there's just going to be huge value there. People are going to assume some credibility and authority and it's going to help to compensate for not having that degree because, again, remember, you're trying to basically get rid of people's fears that you don't know how to code or that they're going to hire you and you're not going to do a good job, but if you can show that, if you can demonstrate that through education, that's going to be really helpful, and that was something that really helped me a lot actually. The whole simple firm, the whole business, this whole became a huge thing, but it helped me so much in my career earlier on when I had that blog and people searched and they found my blog or people had heard of my blog and then they heard of me. It was amazing. Eventually, jobs started coming to me, and I didn't even have to look for jobs, and my hourly rate went crazy, up to over $300 an hour, but that's the things that can happen when you properly market yourself.

That's about it, that I've got for you. That's specific advice to getting a job without a degree. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below. I'll try to get to them in some later videos. Oh, and don't forget to subscribe so that you get all the videos on this channel. All right. I'll talk to you next time. Take care.