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Is it Possible to Land an IT Job without a Degree?

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There’s an interesting discussion on Slashdot about whether those without an IT-related degree can find a job in the sector. Several replies to the initial query say yes, others say no. The majority agree that it’s experience that should count most.

IT and Computer Science degrees are a tricky issue, because if you think about it, the professors giving lectures in universities today are not likely to have degrees in the fields they teach. For instance, Ian, the man I go crying to whenever my code doesn’t work, doesn’t have a degree at all. He was a hippy who happened to like computers and was one of the first people to do web design on a professional level in the UK. He’s now a lecturer, and he still doesn’t have any IT-related qualifications (and he’s rubbish at mathematics).

In all of the offices I’ve ever worked in, the most senior IT staff have been self-taught, or have learned their skills on the job. Out of all the people I went to school and university with who are now working in IT, only two actually took Computer Science as a degree. Myself, I’ve always loved anything to do with computers, and also went through a period where I dated five techies one after the other. So it is obviously possible to work in IT without a related degree; the question is, it is possible in Kenya?

If you look through the job listings in the newspapers, there is a clear bias to graduates. It’s not unusual to be asked for a Master’s degree¬† in addition to a specific degree, from a certain calibre of university. Essentially, Kenyan employers have got degree-blindness: they imagine that the best employee for a post will have trained specifically to secure the job they’re offering, and can’t imagine anyone else being qualified.

Now, this is not a bad thing if we’re talking about medicine, the law or accountancy. But with all of the different technologies and programming languages involved in IT, there is no guarantee that someone with a related degree will be able to do a particular job. Don’t ask me to do graphic design, for instance; it’s just something I don’t do. Employers everywhere would be far better off looking for somebody who could demonstrate the skills that are needed, rather than examining pieces of paper with fancy lettering.

Will Kenyan employers pick up on this? Possibly, but at the moment, I do believe there is still too much focus on academic qualifications rather than real-world experience. What needs to happen is a change in philosophy on the part of both employers and jobseekers. Those looking to fill a post need to value experience more highly than paper qualifications, while those looking for employement need to build up a body of work where they can show off their skills. It may mean doing some projects for very little money or even in the short term, but it will more than pay off in the future, if bosses can stop focusing on the letters after our names.

[Image by AllyRose18]

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