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Degree vs. experience

A four-year degree will almost always help you in an IT career.

Dear Molly: Do high-tech employers give any more weight to potential employees with an education from a non-profit school versus a for-profit school? Do employers really care if one has a degree as long as one has the experience and the knowledge?

Molly says: What excellent questions! I have never heard of an employer having a conscious rule that says they prefer graduates from one kind of tech school or another–I’m not sure they know which schools fall into which category.

Many do, however, know the name of an accredited four-year college when they hear it, such as Cal Tech, MIT and RIT. Would a four-year degree in IT be more impressive to them than a certification from The-School-On-The Mall PC Training School? In a word, yes.

However, if the kind of job you’re trying to get involves a very focused IT skill such as programming or network maintenance, a four-year degree may exceed the employer’s requirements or salary range. Match the education to the job requirements.

I know this sounds confusing, but here’s the bottom line: For someone in their teens and early twenties who wants to look at IT as a career in which they will work various jobs over the course of decades, the broad foundation of a four-year degree in IT is the best bet all around.

As for whether employers care about degree versus experience, a degree is easier to quantify than experience, which is why many employers insist upon an IT-related degree for IT jobs. That said, my own experience in the IT world and that of others has shown me that the longer you work in a field, the less people ask about your education. They look more at your years (and decades) of experience.

People with many years of experience have more than a few people–including former employers, colleagues, and clients–that potential employers can call for references. They also have lots of war stories that can illustrate the depth and breadth of their experience. Perhaps they’ve also accumulated more than one certification or have a track record of keeping up a single certification for a number of years.

When you’re too young or new to the field to have the experience, however, degrees win out every time. Later on in your career, experience can push the need for a degree aside, but there’s always going to be a line on the application form for your educational background.

Molly Joss also writes the monthly Career Advisor column for ComputerUser magazine. Ask a career-related question at [email protected]

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