Are university degrees important when looking for work?
Honestly, we’d be lying if we said yes. Millennials and Gen X grew up with our parents and relatives telling us how important it was to go to university to get a good job that would pay well and offer us regular hours. You might have also heard the horror stories of what might happen to people who didn’t get degrees: financial struggles and the inability to move up in the workforce.
The thing is, we know now that it wasn’t as important as we’ve been told throughout childhood and early adulthood. We see people with impressive experience in software engineering, but they have degrees in Russian literature, design, or biology. They learned to code through bootcamps and online courses, and most people wouldn’t know they don’t have a degree in computer science if they hadn’t mentioned it.
The same holds true for other professions, so we hire people with relevant experience instead of hiring based on university degrees or education. This is true for all of our teams. It just simply doesn’t make sense only to hire people who have a degree when the skills needed for a job can be acquired elsewhere.
Our decision not to require degrees for open positions
When we look at a resume, it’s important that someone can prove that they have the ability to get things done. Maybe they publish short stories online and can show a portfolio of their work. That proves that they’re motivated, ambitious, and know how to accomplish their goals.
From the beginning, we didn’t require a degree for positions. And, after hiring a few people who had relevant experience, we realized we were right. They had gained their experience through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), bootcamps, and workshops, which they could translate into smaller projects. This wouldn’t have been possible back in the 90s, when knowledge was still inaccessible.
The shift towards internet-based learning has enabled people to gain skills without spending time and money on a degree where they might be limited in their capacity to work or unable to finance the tuition. Online courses give you everything you need for a comparatively small fee (or even free) and on your own time without the hassle and expense of university.
If you accept people without degrees, have you hired people without one?
Yes, our founders started Feather knowing that academia (while beneficial for some) isn’t going to do more than prove someone can accomplish goals they set for themselves. Our team has a few people who either don’t have a degree, never finished university, or have a degree that’s irrelevant to what they’re currently doing. And, no one really notices.
In terms of hiring, our thought process goes a bit like this: For junior positions, ambition and the basics of the work they’d be doing are generally enough for us to find them a mentor. For some positions like backend engineering, where someone could easily break something pretty important, we require more hands-on experience in the field (and generally hire mid- and senior-level positions for this).
We do want to mention that universities are an important part of society. They help us expand our current scope of knowledge and provide people with the opportunity to explore their identity. At university, you’re given the chance to explore different fields and paths for yourself, which is pretty invaluable. Still, it’s unfair to say this experience is a requirement when university still remains inaccessible to many.
The world is changing, and academic certifications are becoming less important
Our co-founder and CTO Vincent Audoire has been in software engineering for over 10 years and has seen the hiring process change quite dramatically in the tech industry. Before, and it still sometimes happens at outdated companies, the interviews were more like a test on technical knowledge than actual skills.
There were a lot of academic questions about things like “what’s a stack overflow” or about the “infamous binary tree inversion.” This was often paired with pair programming, where you’d be asked to write code without using standard industry tools like GitHub or code you’d already written and tested before.
At Feather, our interview process is more focused around architecture, if the person is a good communicator, and their personality fits well within the current team structure. If they’re not on the same wavelength as the rest of the team, even if they’re amazing at what they do, no one is going to be happy. In terms of our other positions outside of engineering, two years of experience in the field is plenty.
If degrees are really not that important, why do companies still require them?
There could be a few different reasons for this – one of them being that it’s just standard practice, so no one really has a reason to stop. If you’ve never hired someone without a degree, then you’ve never experienced how little it means to have a degree or not.
Another reason could be that it feels safe to hire someone with a degree. It’s almost like a “stamp of approval” for the person in front of you. This is getting to be very problematic, though. After the pandemic hit, the market drastically changed, which ended up taking power from the people hiring and putting it in the hands of those applying. If companies don’t recognize this shift and don’t start hiring more inclusive candidates based on actual experience, then they could find themselves in a situation where they can’t fill positions.
We’ve asked our CEO Rob Schumacher (who has a Ph.D. in mathematics), and he says, “I think the value of education is overhyped, and there is just a lot of merit signaling going on here. The actual value of education is quite low. If someone didn’t have the chance to go to university but is a driven person that learns fast – that’s the most important thing. Those people tend to have great ‘trajectories’ on their CVs, even though the last section on education might look less impressive, it’s about the steps that had to happen to get them to where they are now.”
What does the future look like for academic requirements?
University used to be the gateway into the middle and upper class, but with MOOC, remote working environments, and more information online, this will likely change in the next 50 years.
If someone is born into a situation where they cannot afford to study at a university, they can still work to access a computer and internet to learn from the same free MOOC as someone born into better circumstances. While unequal access to technology is also a problem we face, tearing down the barrier of a degree is a good start.
To say the person who worked to learn from free online classes should be barred from applying to jobs because of their circumstances is not only unfair, but it’s unrealistic. Both a university student and a self-taught person would need to teach themselves the standard tools being used in the industry, even if the person who went to university had access to professors, internships, etc.
Like how we think?
Then you should check out our career page. We’re currently expanding and looking to hire for a number of different positions (with or without degrees – to be honest, we only scan the first part of your experience, so we wouldn’t notice anyways).
Just one last piece of advice from us at Feather: if you’re looking for a job but don’t meet all of the qualifications, just apply for it. Often times, companies are looking for the right personality to fit the position and have seniors who can fill knowledge gaps. The worst thing that can happen is that you’re denied, but that’s just another part of the job application process.
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