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A New Kind of Tech Job Emphasizes Skills, Not a College Degree (nytimes.com) 218

Steve Lohr, writing for the New York Times: A few years ago, Sean Bridges lived with his mother, Linda, in Wiley Ford, W.Va. Their only income was her monthly Social Security disability check. He applied for work at Walmart and Burger King, but they were not hiring. Yet while Mr. Bridges had no work history, he had certain skills. He had built and sold some stripped-down personal computers, and he had studied information technology at a community college. When Mr. Bridges heard IBM was hiring at a nearby operations center in 2013, he applied and demonstrated those skills. Now Mr. Bridges, 25, is a computer security analyst, making $45,000 a year. In a struggling Appalachian economy, that is enough to provide him with his own apartment, a car, spending money -- and career ambitions. "I got one big break," he said. "That's what I needed." Mr. Bridges represents a new but promising category in the American labor market: people working in so-called new-collar or middle-skill jobs. As the United States struggles with how to match good jobs to the two-thirds of adults who do not have a four-year college degree, his experience shows how a worker's skills can be emphasized over traditional hiring filters like college degrees, work history and personal references. [...] On Wednesday, the approach received a strong corporate endorsement from Microsoft, which announced a grant of more than $25 million to help Skillful, a program to foster skills-oriented hiring, training and education. The initiative, led by the Markle Foundation, began last year in Colorado, and Microsoft's grant will be used to expand it there and move it into other states. "We need new approaches, or we're going to leave more and more people behind in our economy," said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft.
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A New Kind of Tech Job Emphasizes Skills, Not a College Degree

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 28, 2017 @01:13PM (#54706209)

    Universities are a HUGE business, if they had their way you'd need a PhD to flip burgers.

  • but you still need to fake it to get pass HR/Taleo.

    And for an 80-150K piece of paper loaded with skill gaps.

  • that's sorta the trouble. Everybody's gunning for those one big breaks. Life in general, just basic life, has gotten intensely competitive as we fight among ourselves for scraps. I see it with my kid's college. She's Rockin' a 4.0 and will still have to interview to see if she gets into her 300 level courses.
    • If you lack the education to back up your experience, every time you hunt for a job you will need that "One big break" again not to start off at entry level and work your way back up. Seen too many people drop out of college with maybe a year to go to graduate. Some make good money and work for a few years, but they are always at a disadvantage when the job markets tightens up and they find themselves looking for a new job.

      • by ranton ( 36917 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2017 @02:37PM (#54706909)

        Seen too many people drop out of college with maybe a year to go to graduate. Some make good money and work for a few years, but they are always at a disadvantage when the job markets tightens up and they find themselves looking for a new job.

        This is the important part most people don't consider when they give advice based on their past experience. When I talk with someone in IT with no degree, their opinion about how useful a degree is is generally dependent on if they were out of work sometime around 2001 or 2008. This is when the degree is most important. Sure it isn't too hard to find an IT job without a degree in 2017 when the economy has been doing great for 5+ years. But once the next recession hits you'll find HR departments filtering inbound resumes based on degree real quick.

        It is a significant risk to work in a knowledge based industry without a college degree. Some people never get burned, and they'll probably attribute that to skill and hard work instead of dumb luck. But there is always another recession down the road to potentially bring them down to reality.

        • by Bigbutt ( 65939 )

          It might depend on experience as well. I moved half way across country in 2004 and idled about for several months, living off of the sale of my house, until I hunted for and got a job with IBM. Then in 2007 I changed jobs again. But I don't know if 2001 and 2008 are real specific dates. I know in 2008 we were having all kinds of trouble finding Unix admins and the few who did apply were woefully lacking in skills. One guy claimed to be "afraid" of soft links and never used them. One woman said she worked in

        • It's skill alright, but it's not IT skill. I never get burned because I interview well. I'm the guy who can pass a multiple-choice knowledge test on any subject, even if it's one I've never even heard of. When you get into subjects I actually understand, I have an answer for everything.

          I flubbed one interview, hard. Phone interview. Two senior techs basically told me to start talking, with no direction. I was like, "...about what?" I have an answer for everything; I don't have a prepared speech for

    • It's always been like that, although it used to be worse. We expand our population to carry capacity, which means our population grows rapidly when we feel like we live in a comfortable world of vast abundance and more-slowly when we feel like jobs are hard to come by and money's tight.

      Remember the baby boomers from the tech growth in the 1970s? What about the boomer generation during the California Gold Rush? What about every single economic growth event in history that resulted in lots of work, lots

  • the college degree cost / loans are a turn off for smart people as well. Do you really want to spend 4-5 years and 80K+ to work at starbucks?? with an wage the does not cover the cost of the loans?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 28, 2017 @01:18PM (#54706267)
      As soon as the government got into the college loan business, costs started skyrocketing and have never slowed down. Much like everything else the government touches, it became a money pit and completely ruined the supply/demand curve.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        As I understand the problem, the abuse of for profit "schools" taking advantage of government funded education loans was almost "allowed" to happen.
        Meaning, as long as the trough was full the pigs would come to slurp it up.
        An entire industry sprouted up to take advantage of it...

        The problem isn't the loans, it's that there was no oversight or accountability.
        But whenever oversight or accountability are mentioned, "free market" types will shriek in horror.

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        Ohh gees give it a rest. The US government is owned and controlled by US corproations. Private industry is running the country, pretending the government is at fault is stupidly crazy. A hand full of corporations created this chaos by buying and owning corrupt politicians, basically the majority of Republicans and Democrats. Blamming the puppets is stupid, what ever major corporations touches turns to shit as they play pillage the planet to feed their isane psychopathic egos.

        You can start talking about you

    • by al0ha ( 1262684 )
      Absolutely. Lucky for me I figured out the pay-to-play society that was being set up and decided against leveraging myself to get a stupid degree. All any degree other than a PhD shows is that you are good at jumping through hoops.
      • I don't know many people who can do electrical engineering without a degree. So there is another thing that it shows.
    • It's going to cost about $160k to get my kid through college. She'll make somewhere between $2-$4 million more over the course of her lifetime as a result (no, I'm not exaggerating). The question is who's gonna pay for that? If you're parents aren't like me and a) have a good job and b) willing to sacrifice for 6-10 years taking on debt then you're just SOL. The amounts of money involved are so huge you can't work your way though college. You can't even borrow enough money to pay for it unless your parents
      • It's going to cost about $160k to get my kid through college. She'll make somewhere between $2-$4 million more over the course of her lifetime as a result

        Assuming her career is lasts 40 years, you're basically getting about a 7-8% annual return on your investment. And that is a pretty big assumption that she gets a six figure salary within a few years of graduating.

        • by Shotgun ( 30919 )

          You're also assuming she gets a job that has something to do with her major, and that she keeps it. No guarantee of any sort for that.

      • by chill ( 34294 )

        You're doing it wrong.

        If you're talking about a B.S. degree, then $160K is way overkill. The only degrees that should cost that much are M.D. (plus Dental and Vet variants) and J.D.. WTF else costs that unless you've bought the lie that she needs to go to a top private university for 4 full years?

        Community College for the first 2 years, focusing on your core classes, then transfer to wherever to finish up. Even a top notch private school will only run $80K or so -- and you should be able to either get a dis

        • by Shotgun ( 30919 )

          Tried to get my son to go this route, but he wanted the "college experience". As I was trying to keep my home out of foreclosure during the 2008 downturn, I didn't have the money for him to party for a year. He borrowed $6K from family for two semesters, and promptly flunked out.

        • schools don't like transferring stuff as it hurts there profits so they come up with BS to block classes from transferring

          • by chill ( 34294 )

            An AA from a State CC will transfer to a 4-year State U in the same State. That is what they are designed to do.

            The Univ won't give you a B.S. with their name on it unless you take a full 2 years from their school, but it is 2 and not 4.

            Private schools on the other hand...

      • It's going to cost about $160k to get my kid through college

        Put away the silver spoon if you don't like the costs.

        The bulk of universities in the US charge around $8K-$12K per year. Google's top result says the average was $9650 for the 2016-2017 academic year, and $33480 average at private universities. It's even cheaper to start at a community college then transfer to a bigger school after the associate's degree. Don't complain about the $160K for-profit private school when there is the $40K option that can be paid with scholarships, grants, and subsidized loans.

  • New? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Toddlerbob ( 705732 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2017 @01:16PM (#54706245)

    It seems strange to call this "new" since a few decades ago, it seems like there were lots of people like this in tech, including my high school buddy who never went to college yet did quite well designing computer printers.

    • It seems strange to call this "new" since a few decades ago, it seems like there were lots of people like this in tech, including my high school buddy who never went to college yet did quite well designing computer printers.

      That's how it used to be. I started my career with a AA in CS. And some of my classmates were running software programming one-man-shop businesses with only a HS degree (but also studying towards a AA and BS degree.) That was in the early 90's.

      But by then we were all seeing the change, the progressive change in academic requirements in job postings. There were people at my first job who wanted me out because I only had a AA degree (regardless of how well I was performing.) So many of us kept studying, g

    • It's definitely not new. Decades ago, computer experts were all hired based on their skills rather than the CS degrees, because CS wasn't really a major yet. I've had a whole career in IT without a CS degree, and in fact without any formal training or certifications at all. When I've hired people, I've never hired based on certs or majors.

      The focus on official certifications (including college degrees) is much more common among large companies, particularly when the candidate search is being performed b

    • It's not new and it's not unique to tech.

      Any business is going to want to hire you if you can demonstrate to them that you have the skills and experience to help them make money.

      • Any business is going to want to hire you if you can demonstrate to them that you have the skills and experience to help them make money.

        Did you see this in a dream? Some kind of drug fueled visionquest? In reality CEOs don't come by your house to see how awesome your skills are despite having no degree or experience.

        Instead they hire HR drones who couldn't give a fuck about your skills, but do care about not getting fired. They don't schedule interviews with clearly unqualified candidates because as I said they don't want to get fired. They don't care if you have an IQ of 180 and can write more optimized compilers than Intel in your sleep.

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      My sibling graduated high school several years before me. Many at the time were able to get married and live a comfortable middle class life working for construction, for about a decade. By the time I graduated high school, the economy was in the worst shape of my short life. I however got a computer job nearly immediately, making about $20 an hour in todays dollars. This was not a typical as many of friends made the same or better money. Many of them quit college to work full time, making nearly six fi
  • by MyrddinBach ( 1138089 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2017 @01:16PM (#54706251)
    Self studied and then paid a modest amount for some classes to obtain my first IT Certification in 1999.

    Used that to get a support position in 2000.

    Continued working my way up the ladder in IT jobs for the next 17 years.

    Now making a 6 figure income

    At least half the people I work with have gone a similar route and the company I work for even has an apprenticeship program for paid work/study position for one year and then advance them into an actual position and they will even take people with no computer skills as long as they have the right personality and drive to succeed in IT.
    • Self studied and then paid a modest amount for some classes to obtain my first IT Certification in 1999. Used that to get a support position in 2000. Continued working my way up the ladder in IT jobs for the next 17 years. Now making a 6 figure income At least half the people I work with have gone a similar route and the company I work for even has an apprenticeship program for paid work/study position for one year and then advance them into an actual position and they will even take people with no computer skills as long as they have the right personality and drive to succeed in IT.

      Congrats on your personal success. Regarding your company's program, this is the way it should be for technical positions that demand a constant refresh of training and skills to keep up with technology.

      An accountant who obtained training 20 years ago can still find value and use most of those skills today. That is not the case for those in IT, and more people outside of IT need to understand that instead of looking down upon the highly skilled IT professional who can still provide great value without bei

      • by XopherMV ( 575514 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2017 @02:40PM (#54706929) Journal

        An accountant who obtained training 20 years ago can still find value and use most of those skills today. That is not the case for those in IT, and more people outside of IT need to understand that instead of looking down upon the highly skilled IT professional who can still provide great value without being a ringknocker with a sheepskin under their belt.

        This statement might be true for lower-end IT jobs, but it's bullshit for development work.

        A computer science degree from a decent school teaches students a number of things including data structures, algorithms, hardware architecture, project management, etc. Lists, sets, and maps haven't fundamentally changed in decades. Algorithms don't change either. Dijkstra's algorithm were first published in 1959. Hardware architecture hasn't changed all that much over the years. As for project management, the main significant change in that time is that agile processes have become popular. Agile isn't exactly hard to pick up. All of this knowledge I've personally used in my years since graduation and plan to continue to use in the future. In fact, having this base level of knowledge helps me pick up and understand new technologies, which come and go.

        Developers definitely benefit from computer science degrees. That's true even 20 years after the fact. Frankly, I wouldn't hire a developer without a degree. Yeah sure, maybe I might miss out on that diamond in the rough. I'd rather not deal with the uncertainty. With a degree, a developer shows that they've been exposed to a basic set of information and persevered through difficult circumstances.

        • by Tesen ( 858022 )

          Developers definitely benefit from computer science degrees. That's true even 20 years after the fact. Frankly, I wouldn't hire a developer without a degree. Yeah sure, maybe I might miss out on that diamond in the rough. I'd rather not deal with the uncertainty. With a degree, a developer shows that they've been exposed to a basic set of information and persevered through difficult circumstances

          And I am not sure I would hire you as a manager with a statement like that. While I value education, I have hired developers with no degree or college experience that can run circles around experienced college grads with the same workplace experience. How do we filter them out? The same way we filter out college grads during the interview process. You are measuring ability and intellect. Code proficiency is easily demonstrated during the interview process, their ability to answer questions about data struct

    • 17 years to earn six figures? From what I hear that's what good programmers make right out of school these days.

  • by Zero__Kelvin ( 151819 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2017 @01:20PM (#54706285) Homepage
    This reminds me of a time in the 1990s when I overheard one teenager ask another if he had heard of that new band Aerosmith.

    There is nothing new about this, and in fact it used to be the standard. Indeed, the techies without a degree that really know their shit have always been the best. We don't need hand holding to learn, have a passion not seen in most with a degree, and are experienced in a much more diverse way.
  • I would hardly call people with 4 year college degrees highly skilled. You can already be happy if they can code their way out of a wet paper bag. And that's for a technical or scientific 4 years degree.
    • I would hardly call people with 4 year college degrees highly skilled. You can already be happy if they can code their way out of a wet paper bag. And that's for a technical or scientific 4 years degree.

      Highly skilled? Not highly skilled? We are making these assessments with respect to what? What's the reference point? I'm sorry, but someone who did a 4-year degree (and who just didn't collect 2.0 grades) will be highly skilled. Highly skilled relative to the general population who did not achieve the same level of education. Highly skilled in their branches of study relative to other educated individuals that studied a different career path, etc.

      Sure there are exceptional individuals that do not fit t

      • You are correct and I definitely see it that way too. The 8 o'clock news and politics will consider no HS diploma lowly-skilled and college degree highly skilled.
        But I don't like the fact that people who manage to learn highly specific software engineering skills on their own or the job "middle skilled". I've seen "lesser" CS degree people being able to adjust very rapidly and learn new skills; and PhDs that needed hand holding all day long. You don't learn in college how to tweak an Oracle or postgresql d
  • "Rimmer, I'm going to pass me exams and become an officer by actually KNOWING things" - Dave Lister
  • by zerofoo ( 262795 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2017 @01:34PM (#54706399)

    The ability to build a computer, but not understand things like von neumann architecture or how a stack machine works is essentially trade work.

    I've seen guys build networks with only a rudimentary understanding of subnetting and routing and no knowledge of the OSI model.

    And all of that is OK.

    Do you think the guy servicing your car understands the metallurgy behind the castings that make up the block and heads? Probably not.

    IT needs a formal apprentice/journeyman type of arrangement for the jobs that simply do not require collegiate level knowledge. An IT union for these jobs probably wouldn't be a bad idea either.

    This model works well for many other skilled trades - it could also work well for IT jobs.

    • more job need an apprentice/trade school system vs the old college system.

      the 2-4-6+ year blocks are a poor fit for some rolls and some jobs need hands on learning.

      CS is a real mixed bag some schools are loaded with theory other have a good amount of hands on work.

      Now the ITT's and devry's used to be good but over time they got roped into the the degree system leading to a bit of a bad HR rep.
      Now they do have less fluff and filler classes but they can be better off by just being an trade school not tied to

    • IT is also a moving target. So while there's merit to the idea of a apprentice/journeyman path, it's kind of difficult when the entire IT environment changes with entire paradigm shifts. IT is NOT like plumbing, electrical, masonry, dental, legal, medical, or engineering where you can build of institutional knowledge. Even us seasoned IT folks have effectively shed new skin in this field multiple times already. Really, the industry is just that damned dynamic!

  • by zifn4b ( 1040588 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2017 @01:35PM (#54706405)

    I don't have a college degree either but I got into this field in 1997 in the same way. I did attend college for almost 3 years though. I had been programming since a child and had been messing around with computer hardware as well. This is not a new thing. I have friends who did the same a LONG time ago.

    The other thing is, this person's ability to tinker with computer assembly and a community college information technology course has little or no application to a role of Computer Security Analyst. I know about this, I've been in nearly every IT and Software Development role there is. When I was a Computer Science major there were also Information Technology roles and the like and those were for people who can't hack it in full on Computer Science. I have a close friend that was like this. He fully admits he couldn't hack it. Brilliant at Physics, not so much at Computer Science. So, he switched to Information Technology.

    The other thing is, this problem of not hiring people has nothing to do with people lacking education credentials. People with Computer Science degrees can't find jobs. Today, many companies require ridiculous amounts of experience sometimes they even ask for more years of experience than a particular technology has existed. I do believe in many cases they make the requirements ridiculous just so they can whine and say they can't find "qualified candidates" and have to turn to H1-B Visa.

    If we are going to talk about how to make more economic opportunity for people in this field, two things will make the most positive impact in this situation: 1) Companies revive the philosophy to hire smart people and provide on the job training that they might be missing for the company's particular technology preferences and 2) Shut down the unethical H1-B visa game by instituting better criteria and increasing oversight. For #1, I mean I don't understand. Let's take the NFL for example. Bill Parcells would go coach the worst team in the NFL, unlock their true potential and then make them Super Bowl winners. Why can't we do the same thing in this field and why shouldn't we?

    • Same here and about the same timeframe. I would say about half of the people I worked with over the years have the same background. The funny thing is I've always appreciated the college educated for their perspective and it's always been a good symbiotic relationship.
      • by zifn4b ( 1040588 )

        The funny thing is I've always appreciated the college educated for their perspective and it's always been a good symbiotic relationship.

        It depends. Learning theory in a college course and practicing the actual trade are two different things. I think a lot of the more modern college courses work this into their curriculums better but when I was at a large university they sure didn't. That was okay for me, I had already programmed in all the languages they were teaching so what it did for me was fill in some knowledge gaps because we didn't have Google and Code School back in ye olden days. We had libraries that were limited. A lot of ti

    • People with Computer Science degrees can't find jobs.

      I really don't understand why I keep hearing people say this. I'm guessing you don't live near a major metropolis?

      Move to one of the tech hubs and you'll have no problem finding work. I'm in Chicago and there's more openings than people to fill them. We just interviewed a Java programmer for a Python job because there's a shortage of developers.

      However, a computer science degree isn't enough, you actually have to be able to program, be proficient with version control systems, be able to write tests, et

  • HR is the problem. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2017 @01:35PM (#54706407)

    The real problem here is that HR is not interested in hiring based on skills, even if you provide them with the opportunity. Their interest is purely on a resume of checkboxes for the position. These checkboxes always include "X years job experience or a degree in XYZ" and then a list of software you may work with no matter how little. The problem with this is that you cannot get experience if nobody will hire you, so you are stuck with "must have a degree" for entering the the field. HR always insists on the perfect candidate and until you retrain/fire those fools, you won't solve this problem.

    • by Shotgun ( 30919 )

      The real problem here is that HR is not not able to hire based on skills,

      FTFY.

      HR drones come from the party schools, where they majored in socialization. They have no idea how software engineering is actually done, so how would they know what to look for in a candidate?

    • If you're sending your resume to the H.R. department, you're doing it wrong.

      • If the system requires you do anything else like say fuck the CEOs daughter just to get a job interview then it is painfully obvious that the system is badly broken. And that is my point. It is clearly badly broken, but people already in the system like it because it limits competition and keeps wages higher.

        If I were hiring I'd be looking for a balance of IQ and testable knowledge and if they seem like they would work hard or enjoy the job. A degree and work experience are nice but there is no substitute f

  • My career started in a similar manner back in the mid-1990s. When I graduated from high school and started community college, my experience with computers and networking was limited to the skills I developed at home with my PC, and a couple of ROP classes that I took through high school on Novell. When I started college, I was able to leverage those skills and knowledge to get a part time job doing IT support.

    Twenty years later, I'm an IT architect helping to set strategic direction for a publicly traded

  • Whenever I applied at a fast food restaurant, grocery store or a move theater, the questionnaire/skill test always implied that EMPLOYEES will STEAL from their EMPLOYERS.

  • Anyone else remember when the emergence of a skills-based tech market was news? This article is hilariously out of date. When was the last time a real tech recruiter asked you about your college degree? (Hint: real tech recruiters don't ask about college degrees.)

  • I know this dates me, but I remember a time when I had been working as a computer tech (were no teachers of it in my day as you learned by tearing apart a computer that couldn't be opened) so you could figure out what was wrong with it, and then when the world wide web came around, I started designing web pages. I remember an older company was in need of a web designer and I applied, but then realized they wanted seven years of web page design experience. They didn't seem all that cooperative when I explain
  • I'm a fan of the apprenticeship concept, basically for any IT or development job. Start with a baseline of knowledge, or give that knowledge in parallel to on the job training, just like the other skilled trades and professions do. In states with strong unions, it's not uncommon to have people come out of high school and do a union-sponsored internship. THe union sets them up with a total newbie job, pairing them with someone more experienced. At the same time, they run classes to teach the theory needed to

  • like a mechanic? You don't say.
  • This is a perfect example of what IBM has been doing. Hire minimally skilled employees, replacing experienced employees. I'm not saying that you have to have a college degree, but I have no doubt that this tactic is being used to depress wages. In a few years, he will move on to something better, but at the same time without a degree he will still have troubles.
  • This is all well and good for jobs that only require basic technical skills, but all that does is increase the pool of available people for jobs that only require basic technical skills.

    And really, this has *always* been true for pretty much *any* company who isn't divorced from reality and think they need a PhD graduate with 20 years of experience for a junor java position.

    However, this will be a massive problem if people blindly try to apply the same technique to higher skilled jobs that require not just

  • So they are finding more ways to cut up tech jobs and get low skilled or low educated people on payroll to help drive down their costs. Reminds me of the training at ITT which was a sham I hear. To the educated and highly trained/skilled out there, this sounds like a big problem. Outsourcing wasn't enough I guess.

    Doctors and lawyers did a good job of putting up hurdles to keep their ranks lean, so more pay and power to them. Tech is a different beast. For one Tech workers tend to like to share info and enco

  • In the world of IT, only really serious programming jobs really require a degree. There are good reasons for that. When I say programming, I am not referring to the current coding fad. There is a gulf of difference between a programmer and coder. As far as the rest of IT goes, from tech support to misc. server administration and everything in between, the majority of people I have encountered (including myself) have nothing even close to college or trade school completion under their belts. These are the be
  • I never finished college (money problems)....

    But I'm self taught and now I earn big money solving the most complex system and network traffic issues... highest level support for 3 companies running now (25 + in IT and systems)

    But if I tried to apply to a job today with any large company that uses online forms that collect your info for those government stats, I would never get an interview because I don't check the box for 'Bacherlors degree'. Thus I never make it through the SQL query from HR to pull

    • Thus I never make it through the SQL query from HR to pull applicants for any position.'

      It's easy to get past that form. Instead of putting a check mark in that box, write in ' OR 1=1

      You could also just change your name to Bobby Tables.
      https://xkcd.com/327/ [xkcd.com]

  • Just in time for me to reach retirement age in about 5 years...

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