Oh, you want more than that? Let’s see…
Information Technology is an industry that is finally growing out of its infancy. IT is adapting itself to be a value-adding contributor with an eye for the overall business and not just a sunk cost. There are still people across the industry that jumped in or were pushed in to the role simply because they liked computers or were the most technically savvy in the office. Many of these people will not have a related degree or even significant experience on day 1 – they grew alongside the industry. Today’s picture is vastly different than it was just ten years ago.
IT pros do not require a degree. It is a fairly unregulated industry compared to law, medicine, and other fields. Most often, IT is a department within a business and is able to specialize in the business’s industry while trying to adhere to IT best practices or standards. Here is where certifications found their place. Industry-neutral certifications from CompTIA or specializing certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and other industry leaders are very popular.
Certifications versus experience is another popular question for those hoping to work as an IT Pro. Should you spend the time and money to study and earn a certification? Many people will tell you that experience trumps certifications. I certainly agree with that sentiment but tend to place more value in a certification than the critics. Having a certification on your resume can get your foot in the door to earn the experience. It can also provide you with the technical information needed to excel in your job.
Many people are cynical of the usefulness of certifications after they meet someone with a couple of certifications to their name but find them to be useless in doing the actual job. For me, I met that person while I was still in high school. A new computer teacher was hired and flouted his CompTIA A+ certification. As a technology assistant intern at the school under the Technology Coordinator, this teacher made a lot of work for us with really simple things. It seemed this person was one of those that studied to the test or even cheated but didn’t know a drop of application from the knowledge.
If IT did require a degree, what would the degree be in? What level of degree would be needed – an Associates, Bachelors, or Masters? Associates degrees earned from community colleges could provide you with the technical information needed to specialize in an area of IT like networking, application support, or programming. For a long time, there was no real ‘IT degree’ at the 4-year university level. You would be best off pursuing a computer science or engineering degree. Today, the Management Information Systems (MIS) program is available at many schools, often through the Business college, to create a curriculum to focus on IT and business issues.
A high school student with plans to work in IT may be asking the question – Is it worth the time and money to get a four year degree to work as an IT Professional? Tuition at even an in-state university can be expensive. Some jobs will say that they require a four year degree and if you skipped college but earned four years of experience in its place, there is nothing that says you are not the better candidate. However, HR might not move your application to the good pile just because your lack of a degree does not check a box. The same could be true for certifications. A job listing with certain certifications as ‘a plus’ or ‘preferred’ could bump somebody with experience out of the running just because they have a different piece of paper with their name on it.
I believe that lays the ground work for the issue at hand. The usefulness of a degree or a certification all comes down to a personal decision and value of the money and time invested to earn them. I went for a Bachelors degree right out of high school, taking the traditional college route, and earned my four year degree in an unrelated major and a computer science minor. While in college, I worked for the University and also added experience and practical knowledge of IT in my four years there. After I graduated, I worked full-time in IT and spent my spare time earning certifications from CompTIA for A+, Network+, Security+, and some other minor ones. I took a break from certifications and decided to pursue a Masters degree in MIS. I started getting my feet wet with a graduate certificate in IT Project Management. From there, I felt it was manageable and went for the full Masters, something I never thought I would earn. I went forward with it for two reasons: my employer was picking up the bill for tuition and I still feel a bit self-conscious about my unrelated Bachelors degree. I recently finished the Masters program and should have the degree awarded shortly.
My perception is that a person needs to mature after high school. A traditional four year degree at a university is only one route that a person might take and for some of those, it might be the best fit. It will certainly be possible to get an IT job without a degree but it might be helpful on your career track to have the degree. You could always start working and earn a degree part-time on the side but that is very easy to delay with life interruptions and it takes longer than right out of high school. A degree and certifications will never hurt your chances at your dream job and having experience and the knowledge needed to back it up is even better. If you have the means or are willing to take on the debt for college as an investment, I think it is a good path to go. No matter what you do, good technical knowledge and a strong work ethic will do the most for you but a degree can make you a well-rounded individual and help get your foot in the door.
Have any comments or experience of your own? Hit me up on Twitter @404TS.