Degree (Not) Required: A Tale

Degree (Not) Required: A Tale

Sep 1, 2020ยท

11 min read

DISCLAIMER: This article was written specifically for the tech field and may not apply for all areas of expertise.

A debut ๐ŸŽŠ

Hurray! This is the first-ever article that I am writing to publish online! Any feedback is well appreciated, and please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or any other way you can find.

It is sort of a long one, but I had so much to put out there all at once.

Why listen to me? ๐Ÿ‘‚

Being straight to the point, I myself have in my possession a 5-year degree in Software Engineering making me a Master on the subject (whatever that's worth). That is why, after all the hard work I had to output in order to obtain it, I'm here to tell you:

You probably DON'T need a degree.

Sure it can open many doors for you, and each college is itself and will teach you differently. But, in my experience, it is not what kind of paper you have under your belt with a seal of trust, but the sort of work you put out on a given subject.

Well, everyone is getting one so... ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™‚๏ธ

This is very hard to understand by those coming straight out of high-school (like it was for me) since all they are taught during those formative years is:

"Stay in school, get good grades, land a nice job and that's it".

The fear of failure in life settles in and they feel pressured to achieve what they have been told, at all costs, some paving their way to stress and anxiety.

I'll tell you my story to put everything into context when I give you the final conclusions.

My story ๐Ÿ“–

I come from a small group of 9 islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean which I can call a small paradise on Earth, but not exactly the land of opportunity, the Azores, a Portuguese archipelago.

The normal flow of education is to complete the 12 mandatory years of basic education and then apply for colleges abroad (one of the two islands that have faculties or mainland Portugal) and so I did, or at least tried to.

I was an average student and managed to finish the final year (or graduate high-school, in more American terms) with a score of 15/20. All that was left now was to take the admission exams and apply to universities.

I failed.

With 6/20 in the Math exam, I could not apply to any degree that would interest me. I could have taken the 2nd phase exam and join uni a month later, but instead, I made the dreadful choice of calling it quits (go figure). This was around summertime, and when the summer holidays were over, I had no more school to go to and had to find a job and start living the adult life.

Construction Supplier to Bread Distributor/Guitar Player/Part-time Student ๐Ÿฅ–

My adult life began with working at a construction materials supplier during the hot sun of summer. It was a straight underpaid 9-to-5 job that consisted of carrying heavy loads pretty much all day long. I started to re-think my life choices and it was easy to conclude:

"I need to finish my studies, retake the admission exam (Math), and go to university."

With the help of a relative, I was able to find a physically less demanding job as a bread distributor. I would get up between 4 AM and 5 AM and drive a van full of bread around the island delivering to customers. I'd wrap it up around 1 PM, get some lunch and head up to my cousin's place to have band practice.

I've always loved to play the guitar ๐ŸŽธ

We were not the greatest showmen in town but we did have a lot of fun! We managed to book some summer gigs getting some extra cash in that would be much needed once I took off to uni.

The rest of the afternoon/evening I would go to my room and study as much as I could in preparation for the exam.

This was my routine for a few months until the day arrived. I woke up, headed to school, and took the exam. The grades would take a couple of weeks to be given so I kept on working and playing music.

I did it.

I score 16/20 in the individual Math's admission exam and was qualified to apply for colleges! I already knew I wanted to pursue Software Engineering so I applied to the same degree in several different places. I ended up being accepted into my first choice, which was a five-year integrated Masters at a top engineering college in the country (through a special island-guy program, but still). I packed my bags, got on the plane, thought "the hardest part is done".

The next level ๐ŸŽ“

Oh boy, was I in for a treat. I knew uni wouldn't be easy, but it was actually extremely hard! Countless sleepless nights, unfinished projects, and stressful weeks. Nevertheless, I was plowing through the adversities.

When it came to my fifth and final year, I started applying for jobs. The semesters were starting to ease in work and the last of them all was dedicated to writing the dissertation. I felt that I could manage a full-time job along with these tasks.

I was neither wrong nor right ๐Ÿ˜…

Job applications ๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ’ป (no degree)

I did a few interviews for several companies looking for full-stack developers. At this point, I was still a student with no degree just randomly applying to jump-start my career.

The credentials did not matter.

I know I still hadn't finished the 5-year course but I thought the other 4 would at least raise some important discussion points.

I was wrong.

All that was asked in reference to the degree I was obtaining was mainly what I had learned in terms of teamwork and deadline management. There was some talk regarding used technologies, but most came from my own personal projects that were created with tech I chose to learn outside school hours! It didn't matter which classes I took, it didn't matter what score was I averaging at the moment! I took some code challenges in-person and after a couple of weeks I was in ๐Ÿ˜Ž

Working environment ๐Ÿ’ผ

We, developers, have a very interesting field of business. All the fancy offices, tasty snacks, and ice-cold beer at our disposal. I was lucky to have landed a job in such a place that was so heavily fantasied. I couldn't be happier, but also hit by the all-famous imposter syndrome.

"What am I doing here, am I even qualified? I don't have a degree!"

The days were passing, I was managing the balance the final stage of my degree with my full-time job. The more I spoke to my fellow coworkers, the more I realized an unexpected truth:

Most of them had no degree whatsoever. Self-taught!

Many of those incredible professionals surrounding me, filled with knowledge and eager to share it, had not gone to school to obtain a specific degree in order to execute the functions (pun intended!) they were at that moment. They got to where they were by having an incredible passion for programming and building their ideas and nothing else. Sure they had a lot of hours of coding and tutorial hell under their belt, but:

Those who do it with passion do it effortlessly.

Takeaways โœ…

  • There might be special cases where the pursuit of a degree is the only way out (like me), but every day is released more and more free content online that can get you to where you really want to be. The only thing between the present you and your ideal you is yourself (there was a lot of 'you' referencing on this sentence).
  • I am now a certified Master in Software Engineering and I still learn from my coworkers each and every single day and I will continue to do so and pursue that knowledge.
  • It does not matter what a seal-marked paper tells about you, but your actions and self-initiative do.

As always, if you enjoyed reading this and want to reach out to me, let's connect! @igorasilveira.

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