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Andy Leonard

Andy Leonard is CSO of Linchpin People and SQLPeople, an SSIS Trainer, Consultant, and developer; a Business Intelligence Markup Language (Biml) developer; SQL Server database and data warehouse developer, community mentor, engineer, and farmer. He is a co-author of SQL Server 2012 Integration Services Design Patterns. His background includes web application architecture and development, VB, and ASP. Andy loves the SQL Server Community!
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My Name is Andy and I Have an Associates of Applied Science Degree

Introduction

This post is the forty-first part of a ramble-rant about the software business. The current posts in this series can be found on the series landing page.

This post is about the education requirements for job listings.

Bachelor’s Degree Required

I’m not qualified for any job that requires a bachelor’s degree because I don’t have one.

I regularly receive email from recruiters asking if I’m available and interested in a position they have open, or a position they’ve been asked to fill that someone else has open. Sometimes they send along the position responsibilities and  qualifications, sometimes they wait until I request more information before sending them along. I respond to most of these requests; thanking them for contacting me and promising to forward the email and their information to anyone I encounter or know who is qualified and seeking a new job.

Almost all of the qualifications include the phrase “Bachelor’s Degree Required”.

Paper MCSE’s

There was a time, not long ago, when achieving the certification Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) meant more than it currently means. The certification went through an amazing cycle:

First, there were very few MCSE’s. Those that were certified did great work, word got out, and certified people were in high demand. This meant the certification was also in high demand. Training companies picked up on this and started MCSE boot camps that not only promised you could pass the tests after a week or two of their training, they guaranteed it.

The result? There were more MCSE’s on the market, but many of them lacked experience. Once again, word got out, and the value of the MCSE certification decreased.

Is the bachelor’s degree taking the same route? Bachelor’s degrees used to be sparse and meant the student had achieved something relatively few could achieve. A minority of people entering the job market had bachelor’s degree’s when I entered the job market out of high school back in 1981. Nowadays, it seems almost everyone has one. Maybe that’s why they’re required to get most jobs.

Is the bachelor’s degree in danger of going the same route as the MCSE certification? Is it at risk of losing value in the marketplace as it becomes more common?

Which Brings Me to Some More Questions…

Why is a bachelor’s degree required?

Am I truly unqualified to be a Lead SSIS Developer for an enterprise building a data warehouse because I lack a bachelor’s degree? Really? I have some experience using SSIS to build ETL solutions. I’ve built data warehouses in several verticals – medical, finance, insurance, etc. But I only have a Associate’s of Applied Science Degree in Electronics Engineering Technology – and it took me six years at John Tyler Community College to achieve that.

I don’t have a bachelor’s degree.

Should I return to school – at almost 48 years old – and get a bachelor’s degree? What would that cost me these days? I’ve checked around, and it looks like a bachelor’s degree would probably cost me about $100,000 USD. Is a bachelor’s degree worth $100,000 to me?

Conclusion

I’d like to know your thoughts on this topic.

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Published Monday, June 27, 2011 8:00 AM by andyleonard

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GrumpyOldDBA said:

In the UK we have the Open University, this allows you you to study at home to gain a degree. I started down this route for a similar reason to yourself but only completed one third as I got the job(s) I needed by having on my cv that I was following an OU degree. ( I'd also done some certifications in programming languages in evening classes too.) Now I'm an independant DBA and as far as I know I'm viewed on my client list rather than qualifications, I don't hold any SQL qualifications anyway, I do keep with technology, attending events and seminars where I can and I have certifcations from SNIA and in Disaster Recovery. So do I thing you need a degree? No - but I know how you feel, it's one good reason for being an independant. Good Luck.

June 27, 2011 8:08 AM
 

Dan said:

Hi Andy,

I've decided I only believe the degree is relevant to your first 'career' job. (IE, not the burger-flipping one.) Even then, the only value it offers is to demonstrate you can see something through to the end.

Once you are ready to move on to your next job, the degree should be relegated to a 'nice to mention', but if the employer is hung up on it (unless it's in a highly academic role), they are just using the degree in place of actually evaluating you for your demonstrated abilities. I'd like to know what someone has designed or built or maintained, rather than their GPA, etc.

(BTW, I have a two-year degree also. Not sure if I feel this way because of that, or if I didn't pursue a higher degree because I feel this way. Oh well.)

June 27, 2011 8:15 AM
 

AllenMWhite said:

Andy, in 2005, when my company split into two companies, I was worried about my prospects. At the time I also had an Associate in Applied Science (in Data Processing) from a local community college.  I started taking classes at Baldwin-Wallace College where, after 3 years, and much less than $100K (and with the help of their Prior Learning Assessment program - http://www.bw.edu/lifelearn/current/explearn/pla/) I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Information Systems.  It hasn't made a difference for me in getting a job because while I was studying there I also was awarded the MVP, and that had a greater affect on my career, but it was a great learning experience.  Did I mention that I graduated at age 54?

June 27, 2011 8:23 AM
 

Gary Mazzone said:

I disreard the educational requirement most times.  If a recruiter contacts me with a requirement like that I ensure I tell them I only have an Accosiates must times it doesn't matter.  If it does (and I have heard from some that a 4 year English degree bets 20 years experience), then I guess they are out of luck.

June 27, 2011 8:36 AM
 

Peter Schott said:

Never understood that myself. I have a BS in Optical Engineering, but 15 years of experience w/ SQL Server and Windows/Server OS. My Bachelor's degree has little to say except that I stuck through 4 years of college and found in my Senior year that my leanings were not as much towards Optics as I'd thought. :(  However, I did get my first job _because_ I'd stuck through those 4 years. After that, experience and proof of my skill has meant more than the degree.

Even knowing that the degree helped me, it bothers me when I see that requirement as a "must have" and when the HR pre-screening kicks people out because they don't have the degree, even when their experience and skills put them pretty high in their field. I try to encourage our job postings to list something like "or equivalent experience" so we don't lose otherwise qualified candidates.

June 27, 2011 9:06 AM
 

Armando Prato said:

I've seen a fair amount of listings that say "Bachelor's Degree required; Master's degree preferred".   It's a comfort factor for a lot of hiring companies.   That said, I'd rather work with someone who is competent and get things done rather than someone who has a lot of credentials but can't finish or follow through (i.e. "idea guys").

I will say that I have a Master's degree and it has definitely helped me, personally.

June 27, 2011 9:45 AM
 

David Hay said:

My name is David, and I have no degree whatsoever.

Like you I get e-mails and calls from recruiters on a weekly basis.  I have worked for only 4 companies since I got started working after high school in the early 80's as well, which seems to be quite contrary to what most of the people in IT have on their resumes these days. It all began with dBase, then up to Access, then Oracle and MS SQL with some DB2 thrown in along the way.

I have been lucky in that the places I have worked were not sticklers for degrees, even though the requirements for the last 2 positions did have it as a requirement.  I believe that it is more of an HR requirement that an actual business requirement.  Once I got into the interview process and the discussion of education came up, the working managers almost seemed to scoff at the Bachelors requirement.  What I gathered was what they wanted most was someone who could work in thier unique culture and business environment.  Everyone thinks they are special and unique.  They wanted someone who could deal with other people, with the politics, and with technical skills secondary to those.  

So would I at 48 years old spend 100K on an IT degree, not in a million years.  I would suggest some courses on human psychology and behavior though, if I had not spent the last 20+ years living it, I would invest in that!

My 2 cents,

David Hay

June 27, 2011 10:19 AM
 

K. Brian Kelley said:

I think the bachelor's degree requirement is pretty silly. The reason being is that it's a checklist item and many of us don't have degrees in Comp Sci. Mine are close, physics and mathematics, but I didn't take a single computer science course in college. And I can wholeheartedly say that none of my courses covered programming, much less databases, in any of the related fields I did study in.

June 27, 2011 11:16 AM
 

Stefan Krzywicki said:

Yes, it is on the "requirements", but it is never checked. I have a BA in history, most of the requirements I see say "BS in Computer Science" and it has never been a deal breaker. In fact, it has never stopped me from getting an interview and never comes up during the interviews unless I bring it up as a conversational device. I think it is part of the boilerplate from HR departments and no-one thinks to take it out.

I'm a consultant so I see a lot of job reqs and have been on a lot of interviews, it really never comes up. I know a few people with BS degrees in Computer Science. I don't think they'd be interested in any of the business programming jobs I've had, they'd all be bored out of their minds. It is an example of HR not really knowing what is needed because they don't understand the field.

June 27, 2011 11:19 AM
 

Steve said:

Thankfully most of the business world ultimately wants to get their data recording, reporting, and workflow problems solved and doesn't care if their employees/contractors have degrees or not - they care if their employees/contractors solve problems. Having a bachelor's degree just doesn't matter in the business IT world. If you think it does then you are a snob. If you are a manager and you think that - then you are limiting your talent pool and are less capable than your competitors.

I have a brother and sister-in-law that are both graduates of one of the Ivys. They aren't in IT but they both work in Manhatten and have said they wouldn't even look at a resume unless it were from Yale, Harvard, or Princeton - even some of their fellow Ivy schools are inadequate. How insane is that level of snobbery? In the long run you severely limit your talent pool. All we have to do is look at the outstanding job the idiots from the Harvards, Yales, and Princetons have done to this country's financial industry to see how valuable their degrees are. I will take my state school degree which I don't really need/use on my job and keep making good money.

2 of the best developer's I have had a chance to work with don't have degrees.

At my current job I sit in on the interviews for hiring new contractors. Do I care where they got their degree from or if they even have a degree? I couldn't care less. I want to know what experience they have with the technologies we are using, how much overall experience in databases and software development do they have, how much experience do they have in the business domain, can they learn fast or not, are they assholes or not, etc?

Andy, any company, manager, recruiter that excludes you from a position because you don't have a bachelor's degree is either an idiot or is working for a company that has an idiot policy. You don't want the position any ways. Move on and good riddance.

June 27, 2011 11:38 AM
 

jonmcrawford said:

Currently working on my bachelors online, purely for the sake of avoiding a limiting factor. I am learning good stuff, but am under no delusions of the degree taking me to great heights. Worry every day about the debt I'm racking up as I go, despite the tuition reimbursement from work.

June 27, 2011 11:40 AM
 

robert matthew cook said:

Like you, I did not acquire a bachelor’s degree before entering into the IT career field.  I have since completed it.  My motivation was to show perseverance in a long term goal, belief in education and willingness to adapt.  To clarify that last item you should know that I do not feel a degree is a major differentiator in assessing a person’s job qualifications.  Whether or not you agree with an employer's requirements you still need to meet them to remain or to become an employee.  My assumptions of the employer's motivation for requiring degrees are not very positive so I will stop here.  It is a great question that is not asked often enough and hopefully there will be plenty of discussion.

June 27, 2011 12:29 PM
 

Anon said:

Your experience counts far more than the piece of paper. No employer will even check (unless you're being vetted for an executive position) as long as you have a couple bullet points with a history of successful projects.

June 27, 2011 1:04 PM
 

Ralph Wilson said:

I do have a bachelor's degree . . . a BA in Math.  Yup, that's an "A" at the end of it . . . the University of Oklahoma (when I was attending at least ;-) determined whether it was a BS or a BA based upon your _minor_ . . . and mine was Economics, which is (at best) an Art.

I had one company that initially "corrected" my resume to reflect a BS in Math and then, when I told them that, yes, mine is a BA, they informed me that, because I did not have a "BS", I was not qualified for the position.  I decided I hadn't really missed out on anything. ;-)

I have also been turned down because I didn't have a degree in Computer Science . . . even though I had about 15 years experience at the time.  I tried to point out that a CS degree didn't exist when I was in school but the 20-something recruiter wouldn't believe that. :-D

June 27, 2011 2:42 PM
 

Nicholas Cain said:

I've not done a day in college and have no degree. I have an High School Diploma equivalent (given that my education was not in the US).

I've not found it to be a barrier for jobs, although I always find myself the least educated person in any cube row. I do feel that I missed out somewhere down the line and there are things that I would like to improve (such as my writing skills) but I just can't see myself forking out a great deal of money to get that education at this juncture (although not yet 40). Frankly, if a business has made the decision that I need to have some piece of paper for something that would have happened 20 years ago in a (probably) completely unrelated field I would figure that place is out of touch with the real world and wouldn't want to work there anyway.

June 28, 2011 12:14 AM
 

Lisa said:

At 48 is that the best ROI for 100k?  Time is $$ too.  Can you afford that?  I really think our educational system in this country is watered down.  With the high availability of student loans pretty much anyone can get a degree.  To me all that degree proves is an individual can follow through on a committment and operate within a defined box.  With two kids in college, I've come to the conclusion that the defined box is not even based in the reality of most of our worlds.  Our universities aren't the great wealth of knowledge they think they are.  Most of my kids grades have been based on test taking.  To me, a test is not a measure of retained knowledge, it is a measure of how much can be memorized in a short period of time.  At least computer science is hands on, so it offeres a greater ability to retain knowledge.  I do have a BS in computer science.  However, I've been working for myself since the day I graduated.  So the degree really wasn't necessary.  Both of my kids are going to school to become psychologists, so the degrees are necessary.  Are you truely passing up opportunites from recruiters because you don't have a BS?  I hope not.  I would persue opportunites that are appealing irregardless of what they say they are looking for.  If they are open-minded, they'll consider you.  If they are closed-minded the likelihood of of their job being a big pain is pretty great.  How you feel about your skillset is far more important to your success than any piece of paper.    

June 29, 2011 8:07 AM
 

Kathi Kellenberger said:

Any company who would not hire Andy Leonard to lead a team of SSIS developers is crazy!!!!  Academia is kind of crazy, too.

Seriously, when I started on my Master's degree 10 years ago there were several pre-requisites like statistics and calculus that I didn't have to take because I took the classes back in the late 70s. I had barely thought about those topics in years. Yet, even though I had been a VB programmer for 5 years, and had the MCSD cert, they wanted me to take an intro to VB class. Experience doesn't count, but taking a class does. I kept arguing until they finally let me skip that class.

June 29, 2011 3:25 PM
 

Chuck Rummel said:

With so much HR and job application functions being put online, "BS/MS required" have been reduced to filter criteria.  This is especially true when trying to hire overseas, where there is a much larger pool of candidates with advanced degrees.  It of course doesn't say much for what their experience or capabilities are.  When it comes to databases though, I have yet to see someone fresh out of school with either a BS or an MS that can talk intelligently about a database without experience.  The same can be said even for those with entry-level certifications.  Book learning vs. experience.  As Mark Twain said, "Never let book learnin' get in the way of a good education." :)

July 1, 2011 7:39 AM
 

erussell said:

"Bachelor’s Degree Required" doesn't always mean a Bachelor’s degree is actually required. However, not having that degree may very well prevent you from moving up in management. On the other hand, most IT people are more interested in managing databases than we are managing other people.

July 5, 2011 10:24 AM
 

Peter Maloof said:

I think today's Bachelor degree is yesterday's high school diploma, and today's Masters degree is yesterday's Bachelor degree.

I once had a phone interview with Oracle. The interview was going really well, until the question, "You have a Bachelor's degree, right?". Never mind that I was 3 (non-computer) classes shy, a four-year degree was required.

I didn't get the job, but I did finish the degree.

July 6, 2011 10:04 AM
 

G D Milner said:

I have been a SQL Server DBA for 11 years now (Access programmer before that) and I, too, have an AAS -- in Photography!

Cheers.

July 6, 2011 11:22 AM
 

cfradenburg said:

A bachelors can do a lot as far as broadening how someone thinks and what they know about.  That doesn't have a direct affect on quality of work but it does help you in many other ways so there is worth that comes out of a degree that working with the technology doesn't get you.  However, that doesn't mean that there aren't other ways to broaden your knowledge because there are many other ways.  College is a good way but not the only one.  I'll bypass the fact that it's also possible to get through some programs without picking up a lot.

I'm not entirely sure that a degree should be worth as much as it currently costs.  It's true that having a college degree will result in a much higher income and, when talking about everyone without degrees as a whole, there's no way around that.  However, when comparing those with college degrees to those with specialized skills that don't require degrees (mechanic, electrician, etc.) or those that technically require degrees but experience works just as well (DBA, etc) the difference should be much less.

July 6, 2011 12:38 PM
 

Greg Low said:

One of the biggest issues is that degrees are also changing. They are now being targeted at a much lower type of entrant than was the case when I was a teen. The thing that's driven that has been the push for universities to become self-funding.

So, instead of a Masters degree being something that you did after a Masters qualifying year, after an undergrad degree in the same subject area, it's become something that you can do in 18 months with an undergrad degree in another area, as long as you can pay the fees...

One of the reasons that I left academia many years ago, was that in examiners meetings, we started discussing people's visa situations, shame for their parents, etc. rather than their academic performance.

In your case Andy, I'd suggest looking into an option like a Masters degree from Charles Sturt University in Australia. They have IT masters degrees that are half Microsoft certification, half academic subjects. They don't seem to take long to achieve, they are geared up to deliver internationally online, they'll cost you way less than what you're talking about, and they'll take into account your experience as well as your undergrad study for entry. If you are interested, info here: http://www.itmasters.edu.au/contacts/international-contacts/

then ping Martin Hale (martin.hale@itmasters.com.au) and tell him that Greg sent you :-)

In all seriousness, that should lead you to a better outcome than where you are, and take advantage of your existing knowledge and experience.

September 8, 2013 10:50 PM

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