Is it better to have a degree, or is it better to be self-taught? Which is more important: a formal education or on-the-job experience? This is an often-debated topic within the computer science field. In this post, I want to mention the common arguments for and against getting a formal education.

Proof of Character

Please understand that I’m not saying that people with degrees have better character or anything like that. All I’m saying is that some employers will look at a résumé that includes a college degree and will think, “This candidate finishes what he starts” or “This candidate will be able to handle a long-term project.” This is similar to the way an employer may react when she sees that an applicant used to be in the military. The employer may assume, “This applicant is disciplined.” I’m not saying that it’s an accurate assessment; I’m just saying that some people will judge you based on your education. In this way, a college degree can work in your favor. Does that make it worth spending tens of thousands of dollars on tuition costs? Maybe, and maybe not.

Lacks Real-World Experience

If you decide to take the tradition 4-year college route, this means that you will likely be out of the work force for four years while you are getting your degree. Instead of adding entry level work to your résumé, you will be adding an education. Some employers will accept one as a substitution for the other, while others will demand that you have several years of experience, regardless of your education level, before they will hire you. On the other hand, some employers will not promote you unless you have a degree.

Extraneous Information

If you check out the course catalog for any bachelor’s degree, you will see a ton of courses that have nothing to do with computers. Even if you’re looking at a computer science degree, you will still need dozens of credits in general education subjects. You will end up taking advanced math courses, learning about computer networks, and maybe learning programming languages that you will never actually use. Some people view this as a waste of time and money because not all classes will directly translate to the workplace. Others view it as an opportunity to get a well-rounded education.


Throughout the course of history, technology has changed—from the wheel to the written alphabet to computers as we know them today. The rate of growth in the computer science field is greater than in any other field.Because of this, computer science degrees can become outdated rather quickly. It’s true that this happens in other fields as well. If a doctor has been out of medical school for 30 years, he will need to catch himself up on new developments in the field. A teacher who has been teaching for decades will periodically need to learn about new methods of instruction and assessment. Likewise, after receiving a computer science degree, a person will need to be diligent about staying up to date on new technologies. Having a degree on your résumé, especially if you have been out of school for a while, is not proof that you have current knowledge.

Despite any of the arguments for and against formal education, there are opportunities for you either way. If you find that you are really not a school person, that’s okay. There are companies who will hire self-taught web designers. Just make sure that your skillset shines through. This means you will need to have a stellar résumé and an impressive portfolio.

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