Why More Tech Companies Are Dropping Degree Requirements When Hiring


If you work in tech and you’re having trouble building your team, you’re not alone. Not only are people quitting left and right, but there’s also a talent shortage.

As a result, tech companies are left competing for the same talent pools. Some have shifted to remote work to try to draw people in (or encourage them to stay). But over the years, more and more companies — global companies like Apple, Google, IBM, and even Tesla — are finding that dropping degree requirements for certain positions opens them up to a much wider pool of talented people. And when you think about it, this move is really a no-brainer.

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Higher education is no longer a barrier: Knowledge is everywhere

College used to be one of the only places you could go to get the technical knowledge and skills you’d need to launch a career, but that’s no longer the case. Learning opportunities abound online, and every day, more and more people are taking their learning into their own hands.

For instance, take Giacomo S., a Codecademy learner who taught himself JavaScript to fix a client’s problem while working in marketing and ultimately discovered a passion for coding. Since then, after taking courses on web development, he’s launched a career as an engineer and worked for companies like Facebook and Deutsche Bank. And he’s not alone! Check out our Learner Stories page to find others like Giacomo.

Danny Roberts, Senior Technical Recruiter here at Codecademy, points out that self-taught developers also have an added advantage. New tech emerges all the time, and colleges rarely update their curriculum accordingly. Per Danny:

“Technical skills are constantly evolving much faster than traditional organizations can follow. So, even if a candidate has a traditional 4-year degree, they’re still most likely augmenting their learning outside the classroom to learn the latest tools and trends.”

Plus, while learning with the latest tools, they’re also creating projects to build experience — which brings us to our next point.

You can retain more knowledge when you learn by doing

Self-taught developers also have an advantage because of the immediacy of their learning.

Say you have two candidates. One is a CS grad who’s three months into their first internship. The other is a self-taught developer who spent the past year building different websites to flesh out their portfolio. Who do you go with?

Assuming they’re equally skilled, either candidate could be a great choice, but research suggests that the self-taught developer might be more familiar with the critical knowledge and skills they’ll use on the job.

Hermann Ebbinghaus was a psychologist who developed The Forgetting Curve, which illustrates how quickly we forget new information that isn’t immediately relevant. College generally involves studying one subject intensely (or not-so-intensely) for a semester, then moving on to something new. So, unless they’re immediately putting their knowledge to use, college students arguably may not retain as much knowledge as one would expect.

On the other hand, those who are self-taught usually start with a goal in mind — whether that’s finding a new job or advancing in their current one. As a result, their training is often more tailored, and they immediately put their knowledge to good use by building projects and portfolios, which helps with retention.

Of course, this isn’t to say that one way of learning is superior to another — individual people have their own learning styles. It’s just that we don’t often talk about the pros of less traditional hands-on learning, so it’s worth considering the specific benefits that come with it.

Embracing equity: The bias in degree requirements

For many roles, degree requirements only serve to exclude potential candidates — which means they lose out on opportunities while companies lose out on great talent purely because people don’t all fit into the same cookie cutter. Ultimately, unnecessary degree requirements reinforce social inequities when alternatives are just as valid. As Danny explains:

“In an era where your traditional university is increasingly out of reach for your average person from a cost perspective, it’s important to consider why that degree requirement exists. With that in mind, it’s even more important if an organization is serious about diversity. Guess who can typically afford the traditional university experience? Let’s just say it’s not often students who come from diverse backgrounds.”

In an article for NPR, Byron Auguste, economist and CEO of Opportunity@Work, sheds more light on the issue — explaining how arbitrary degree requirements “screen out 70% of African-Americans, 80% of Latinos, and 80% of rural Americans of all races.”

Dropping unnecessary degree requirements helps under-privileged groups obtain more gainful employment, and it’s a great way to demonstrate your commitment to DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). And, according to Danny, it also opens the door to valuable new perspectives.

“Particularly here at Codecademy and other learning platforms, candidates who have been on the journey of self-driven learning know the particular pain points and challenges that arise. Therefore, they can potentially really empathize with and build an outstanding experience for those in the same shoes.”

Still, embracing equity involves more than dropping degree requirements. Mindful onboarding and ongoing education helps set people up for success, and this can be achieved through upskilling and structured on-the-job mentoring opportunities.

There’s a strong case to be made for dropping degree requirements, and it’s worth considering if you’re looking to maximize your pool of candidates.

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