TITLE: (No) Degree Required? AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: August 09, 2011 8:35 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I ran across an ad today for a part-time position to help promote a local private school. The ad ended, "Marketing degree required." As surprising as it may seem for a university professor, my first thought was, "Why require a university degree? What you need is a person with interesting ideas and a plan." I quickly realized that I was being a little rash. There is certainly value in holding a degree, for knowledge and practices learned while completing it. Maybe I was being unfair to marketing in particular? Having studied accounting as well as CS as an undergrad, I took a little marketing, too, and wasn't all that impressed. But that is surely the assessment of someone who is mostly ignorant about the deep content of that discipline. (I do, however, know enough to think that the biggest part of a marketing degree ought to be based in psychology, both of individuals and groups.) Would I have reacted the same way if the ad had said, "Computer Science degree required"? Actually, I think so. Over the last few years, I have grown increasingly cynical about the almost unthinking use of university degrees as credentials. As department head and as teacher, I frequently run into non-traditional students who are coming back from the tech industry to earn the CS degrees they don't have but need to advance in their careers, or even to switch jobs or companies in lateral moves. They are far more experienced than our new graduates, and often more ready for any job than our traditional students. A degree can, in fact, be useful for most of these students. They are missing the CS theory that lies at the foundation of the discipline, and often they lack the overarching perspective that ties it all together. An undergrad degree in CS can give them that and help them appreciate the knowledge they already have even more. But should they really need an undergraduate degree to get a programming job after 10, 15, even 25 years in the field? In the end, it's about what you can do, not what you know. Some of these folks can do plenty -- and know plenty, to boot. They just don't have a degree. I figure that, all other things being equal, our grads ought to have a big advantage when applying for a job in our field, whether the job requires a degree or not. Unless a job demands a skill we can't or won't give them, say, x years experience in a particular industry language, then our grads should be ready to tackle almost any job in the industry with a solid background and an ability to learn new languages, skills, and practices quickly and well. If not, then we in the university are doing something wrong. -----