November, 2021
By Irine Gamkrelidze

Self-taught Programming vs Degree

Self-taught Programming vs Degree

As we know it today, programming became popular in the early ’50s, even though the profession has even deeper roots, reaching all the way back to the 19th century. It’s also a common misconception that programmers are usually men. In reality, the first people to trailblaze this profession were primarily female! The legacy began with Ada Lovelace, whom many refer to as the first developer, continued by Grace Hopper. She is referred to as a trailblazer whose “contributions to computer programming, software development, and the design and implementation of programming languages are indispensable”. By the way, this lady was the one that coined the terms Bug and Debug. Thank you, Grace; you’re the real MVP. Nonetheless, the most pressing question for programmers, along with companies, remains the same: Who’s a better programmer, a self-taught professional, or someone who has an actual computer science degree? Please read below to find out what we’ve gathered to be true.

Why does a degree matter (or doesn’t)?

Education has always had a high value in a professional society; a few decades ago, you couldn’t go far without some sort of degree to your name. For example, no one will hire you as a marine biologist if you don’t have at least a bachelor’s degree in the related field. This scenario was also actual for programmers, web developers, designers, etc. 

To this day, a degree is “proof of knowledge” to show off at your job interview, with a prideful look on your face, but in the 21-st century, something has shifted. The degree didn’t matter when it came to the portfolio. If rock-paper-scissors were real life, the degree would be the rock, but the portfolio would be the paper. Paper covers rock, according to Human Resource specialists. We’ve asked the people who do the hiring whether a degree mattered when they interviewed candidates, and this is one conclusion we can give you:

A degree is essential when hiring for positions for which they cannot quickly double-check. For example, someone cannot be a self-taught psychologist or, as I’ve previously mentioned, a marine biologist. The HR team cannot be sure what the person’s knowledge is without a degree. When we’ve inquired about programmers, in particular, they all had the same answer: Completed projects and tests. When one of our clients came to us, he said something interesting: When hiring an outsourced programmer for a project, I always check their previous jobs and if they are still active or ongoing. I’ve decided to go with you guys because your other outsourced development projects are still very active and thriving.

Degree vs Self-taught

There’s a massive con to having either a degree and no self-education or being self-taught with no university level-knowledge. When you’re studying computer science in university, you’re gathering knowledge, the basics, the history and even some basic actions, but generally, don’t get your hopes up. A computer science degree almost always excludes programming languages. It doesn’t teach you Python or Ruby on rails, maybe a little here and a little bit there, but the rest is up to you to learn.

Here’s where self-taught programmers come in with their online free classes or self-written small widgets and codes. That, of course, gives you the advantage over someone who has a degree but no experience. That’s not where the competition ends though, listen to this:

How about a computer science graduate who taught himself how to code. I guess there is your answer - If you can get a degree, don’t hold back on it, but if you are relying on a degree alone, you won’t get far in life.

The conclusion is, both formal education and self-learning is a great advantage. Two of them together are unbeatable. At LavaPi, we’ve hired completely self-taught programmers, who, after finishing their training and studying under our senior developers, have now gone on to handle our outsource programming projects solo.


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