Do You Need a Computer Science Degree to Become a Successful Web Developer?
Or is it enough to be self-taught?
I graduated from university three years ago with a computer science degree. It was one of the most difficult challenges I have taken on in my life. I was 47, so I understand what is involved in getting to the finishing line. Computer science degrees are awesome and I for one am happy that I finished it. It was a proud moment, however, one question gets asked a lot within development circles and that is whether it is worth it. Let's look at the pros and cons of taking a computer science degree.
- Ability to get a foot in the door at job interviews
For some developers, this is the only reason why they would take a computer science degree. A lot of jobs require one as a prerequisite to getting an interview. Regardless of what you thought of how your degree went, this piece of paper will go a long way to getting you started as a junior developer.
- Fundamentals of programming foundation
To gain a computer science degree, you may have to complete up to 20 modules over the length of the course. This alone will give you a good foundation of knowledge that will help you hit the ground running when you land that first job. From year two you can opt to go a more specialized route such as web developer, web designer, a software engineer.
- Placement year
A placement year increases a degree to four years. Before doing your last year at university, you would take a year out to gain experience in a real-life working environment. This is gold as it may get you a job to walk into before the course is over. The experience gained would put you in a great position to land a job quickly. You may not get paid but this year will gain you a lot of credits that would allow you a greater chance of getting an honours degree.
- Confidence Building
A lot of programmers are introverts by nature and although they love to code it can be difficult putting themselves out there when it comes to looking for work and to ace that job interview. University covers a lot of soft skill-building. The assignments alone will put you outside of your comfort zone. After three or four years your confidence will only improve and prepare you more for what's to come.
- High Cost
Make no mistake, a degree will cost a lot and you may well be paying it back for the rest of your life. Depending on the University it could cost anywhere from £25,000+. This may be something you can’t afford even though there are earnings thresholds here in the UK of £26,575 per year before you need to start paying any of the fees back.
- Irrelevant Modules
On my degree, there were subjects that just didn’t interest me. In my case, it was media technology. I thought the subject was dry and taught poorly. I just wanted to learn how to build websites and not be distracted or waste time learning something that would not help me post-university. This will happen and is something we just have to smile about and put up with to get the final award.
- No Guarantees
Even if you worked hard and got an honours degree, there is no guarantee that you will land your dream job or any job at all. This is just a fact of life. Many universities talk a lot about employment rates for postgrads but often leave out the fact that this is for any job and not just a tech one. Be careful what university you go to and make sure it is the right one for you. Research is everything.
- Outdated Teaching
The Self Taught Route
If you don’t think university is for you then you can teach yourself how to code. You could just spend three years building up your own portfolio. I know many developers who never went to university and have landed good jobs in the industry because of the quality of their portfolios. Often all that an employer cares about is whether you can demonstrate that you can already do the job or be very easy to teach because you have demonstrated the skills.
If you are an active learner and not a passive one then the self-taught route can be far more rewarding. You can keep up with cutting edge technologies and techniques that are constantly changing in this industry just by following YouTube, Twitter, Udemy and some top books. You can also target your learning to what is most relevant for your goals.
There is also the freelancer career path which requires no degree because you don't really have anyone to impress or prove to. For this, it is more about being able to deliver to a client or not. If you have self-taught and worked hard at it then there will certainly be no need for a degree. Once you have freelanced for a couple of years you will then have the experience to walk into any job anyway.
The choice is yours on what route to take. Both can be very rewarding. The main thing with modern-day development is to never stop learning and keeping up with the ever-changing world that development it. With that said, going forwards into your career you will have to maintain a certain amount of self-teaching anyway.