It’s a hotly debated topic on IT forums; whether a degree is necessary to work in IT, or if you only need the correct certifications. Certainly all you need to technically do a job is the correct certifications and an understanding of any programs and work that might relate to your field. However, many employers are looking for more than just the ability to do the job.
The choice is partially financial. If you can afford to do a full time degree program, then it’s probably advisable, as a degree gives you a qualification that benchmarks salary and increases your earning potential as you go through life. There are also a lot of benefits to being in an academic environment for that long a time.
You’ll not only learn about your subject, but you will be given the chance to explore other talents that may be useful to you in the future. University is also often the place you make your first business contacts. Many people get their first jobs, or further business, through these contacts, and they can’t be underestimated. Beyond that, the academic experience is a formative one, and many emerge from university more rounded and mature as a result of their experiences there.
If you can’t afford a degree, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with an IT certification, and it will undoubtedly help you get a job as they tend to be recognised worldwide. But it would be worth considering either going back to school or studying part time once you have some more money and stability, for the reasons stated above. A degree just gives you bullets in your gun when it comes to negotiating your salary, and also broadens your contact list beyond that which you may have accumulated gaining your certification.
There are a lot of reports online talking about degree vs certification that emphasise the ‘other skills’ which university and the process of getting a degree gives you that you might otherwise miss out on if you don’t go to university. However, none of them really list what those skills are, or how to go about developing them, so here’s a quick hotlist of skills you should get some practice with/develop so that you can bring them in in your CV and during interview.
While studying for a degree you meet all sorts of people. You’re not going to like all of them, but it’s important to still be able to work with and get along with them. This is an essential skill in the workplace, so employers will want to see that you can integrate into a working environment without being a disruption or source of displeasure to your workmates. There are all sorts of ways you can show that you have good people skills, volunteering at different events, or even taking a part time job can often be enough. Joining a sports team can also be a good option if you’re that way inclined, especially because it highlights another skill that employers are on the lookout for, team skills.
IT departments are often made up of multiple people, so it’s important to show that you can not only take your place within a team, but also that you can step up to lead it if necessary. Universities often implement this with group work, but it’s no replacement for practical experience and is something you should play up if it’s a strength.
Organisation and Reliability
Hitting deadlines is a big part of university life, and your ability to hit those deadlines shows that you can be relied on to complete a project on schedule. Employers don’t want to be the first people to give you a chance to hit a deadline, so make sure they know that you’re a proven quantity. A good way to do this is to get involved with community IT or computing projects. These projects are often casually run, but still provide you with deadlines to hit and gain experience working towards.
This isn’t a skill per-se, but it is something that people get out of a long spell at university. However, it’s by no means the only way to build connections. If you’re currently working, be friendly, get to know the people in power that are working in the sectors you’re interested in. Ask your friends and family if they know anyone in IT whose brains you can pick for half an hour or check in with every other month.
Make yourself known to those people you think might be important in the future, and keep the conversations going. In this age of social media, particularly Twitter and LinkedIn, it’s very easy to keep in touch without appearing invasive or clingy, and those connections may prove to be of tremendous use when applying for a job or during an interview.
As you work towards your certifications, make sure that you’re keeping yourself busy. You want your CV to have a clear timeline that potential employers can track. If there’s a year gap in there, they’re going to ask what you were up to, and you should have a good answer ready. If you have a degree, ‘I was at university’ is enough, but if you don’t, you want to show that you were keeping yourself busy. Often this question is a great opportunity for you to bring up any of the previous skills mentioned above.
It’s Up To You
Realistically, both paths offer keen workers a route to employment, but degree qualifications offer job and wage security which certifications often don’t. In the long run, workers should look to get a degree for themselves, but nobody with a certification should feel like they are second-string to graduates. Certifications in the IT world are generally vendor-related (think Microsoft, Cisco, CompTIA, for example) and so have a lot to offer as far as respected qualifications go. As long as you demonstrate the skills mentioned above, you should find yourself competing with graduates for the job you want, and hopefully win out as a result.
Image: Computer Training Centres