Without A 4-Year Degree, What Does IT Talent Look Like?

Along with the rise of new, innovative technology trends come more and more IT professionals who are constantly redefining the definition of talent in an ever-changing field.  While many employers may insist on hiring professionals who hold a 4-year degree, these skills hardly require it anymore.  After all, many of the world’s technology leaders are famously college dropouts, including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg.  “Because these leaders in Silicon Valley know that a college degree isn’t directly correlated to success, they are focused on hiring professionals who are high performers rather than just highly educated,” says John Carey, a Director at ES Technology, a division of The Execu|Search Group.  “As a result, more startups and tech companies are following suit hiring people in an entirely new pool of talent.  Those organizations that don’t get on board with this trend are missing out on a lot of high quality candidates.”

As more IT professionals opt out of a 4-year college degree, their share of the job market continues to grow.  “I see a fairly mixed amount of candidates with and without a degree—all of whom are very talented,” says John.  “If you require a degree when hiring for a role, you’re severely limiting your options.”  As technology continues to grow at an exponential rate, it is highly unlikely that this trend will disappear.  As a result, those organizations looking for IT talent may want to consider widening their search to include this growing pool of professionals.

If you’re thinking about expanding your search for some IT positions, John recommends starting with specialized roles, as you’re more likely to be missing out on quality candidates in those areas.  “For roles like Web Developers, Software Engineers, and Mobile Engineers, considering candidates without a degree can significantly change the amount of talented professionals who are qualified for such roles,” says John.  “While you may want to continue to require a degree for higher-level management positions, making these small changes in your hiring process can help you keep up with Silicon Valley.”

But how do you identify a talented IT professional when they don’t have a degree?  John has a couple of suggestions:

Focus on experience

When reviewing a candidate’s credentials, even younger IT professionals can come equipped with years of valuable experience that they gained instead of going to college.  “It really doesn’t matter how a developer learned to code,” says John.  “It matters what they’ve been able to create with that skill—and many IT professionals will have that body of work ready to show you.”  These days, when you simply look at what an IT professional can create, it may be difficult to tell which candidate has the degree and which does not.

Look for specialized skill sets

When assessing a candidate’s background, it can be difficult to understand the full breadth of their knowledge when they don’t have a degree.  However, when you’re filling specialized roles like a back-end developer, John recommends finding a candidate who is truly specialized in that area, rather than someone who is more of a generalist.  “For example, a back-end developer should be fluent in coding languages like PHP, Ruby, Python, and Java,” notes John.  “As a result, you might prefer a candidate who is focused primarily on these skill sets rather than someone who might market themselves as a full-stack developer, or a jack of all trades.”