If you want to get into tech, you might have heard that you need a computer science degree. Well, maybe not…
I teach web development courses at a state university.
I am also a full-time developer. I am adjunct (part-time) faculty for a couple of web development courses per semester.
You may be conditioned to think a college degree is an essential part of a good career. Your parents or the world in general may have drilled these thoughts into you.
And a degree CAN be the beginning of a good career, but I do not think a degree is the only path to success.
There is nothing wrong with being a self-taught developer.
Let me repeat that: There is nothing wrong with being a self-taught developer.
There are more resources freely available than ever before. If you have the focus and discipline to plan out your own learning path and the determination to stick to it, you can succeed.
In fact, I believe the developer community is very supportive and many enjoy sharing their knowledge on sites like freeCodeCamp, Twitter, and Youtube. The process of teaching helps all of us learn.
I started my own YouTube channel featuring Web Development and Programming Tutorials with this goal in mind.
What to Know if You Are Considering a CS Degree
You should be focused on what you want to do. Have a plan and turn that into a degree plan if you attend a university.
If you aren’t focused on what you want to do, you may waste money and time (which is even more valuable) attending classes you aren’t interested in and going into debt. What do you want to do? Do you know?
I’m not asking what your parents think you should do.
I attended college immediately after high school because my parents insisted. I ended up changing majors multiple times over 4 and a half years because I was lost. I wanted to be a musician on the road with a band and not a student. My parents needed to let me find myself.
Self-discovery has value
Likewise, I think going to college to discover yourself and your interests through trial and error is not affordable for most. Ask those you know who have completed a degree if they were focused or changed majors one or more times. Ask them what they would do differently now.
To the dismay of my parents, I quit college and went on as a full-time musician. Within 3 months, I knew I wanted to go back to school. This time it was different. It was my decision. My grades improved. Now I had the desire to learn.
Ownership of your own path has value
If you are focused and know you want to be a web developer or software engineer, a traditional education may still not be right for you.
How focused and disciplined are you?
A traditional education provides a learning path for you as well as a strict schedule. Some students need this accountability to stay on track. Some struggle more with remote learning than others, too.
It is really about identifying what helps you learn and succeed as a student.
My oldest son is a full-time developer. He quit college in his first year. He did not like the general education courses required for a traditional degree. He focused on learning to code and is self-taught.
His skill and expertise have kept him consistently employed. He realized what worked best for him and followed that learning path.
Will a degree open some doors and position considerations? Yes.
Is it mandatory to work in the field? No.
What to Know if You Are Changing Careers
I did not major in computer science. A web development major didn’t exist when I was earning my graduate degree. I learned the skills I now teach after – not while – completing a graduate degree. I am self-taught.
I am qualified to teach university courses due to significant experience in the field and earning a higher degree. I have continued to learn every year. I am now working on a PhD in Information Systems which leads me to an important point:
You must be a life-long learner.
The days of keeping one job for your entire career are mostly gone. Developers are constantly learning new skills – especially in computer science and web development – to keep up with the pace of the industry.
The tech I teach now didn’t even exist at the time I graduated.
What I still hold with me to this day from my time on campus are the friendships I made and the discovery of a world view that was outside of my own little bubble.
These are the things I still value the most as an instructor. I have made friends with colleagues that are from opposite sides of the world. I have taught students from all over the world that have gone on to their own careers. I now value their friendship and contacts as well.
Get out of your comfort zone and constantly grow your network.
Do I regret earning a degree?
Not at all! In fact, I’m still a student working part-time towards a PhD in Information Systems. For me, “this is the way”.
So what should you do?
That’s really up to you! The ancient Greek maxim is “Know Thyself”.
Today, we just say “You do you”.
If you have the focus, discipline, and desire to be a software engineer or developer, you will succeed no matter the path you choose.
I wish you the best!
I’ll leave you with a video tutorial I made about starting your coding journey: