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Is it really true you don’t need a degree to work at Apple or Google?

I have been studying performance indicators in education and their validity as variables capable of predicting success in a professional career for many years.

Technology companies are considered the most attractive employers and are the most sought after by students of higher education institutions, bucking a decades-long trend for investment banking or consulting.

These companies no longer believe a degree is an essential qualification and are looking in other institutions with different study programs, questioning the validity of those indicators.

In 2013, the then VP of People Operations at Google, Laszlo Bock, commented in an interview in The New York Times that after many years of looking for the best grades when hiring, it had come to the conclusion that there was no link between professional success and grades, or the results of interview tests. Bock suggested that academic institutions generated artificial environments that trained students to give predetermined answers to problems, when what professional environments required were precisely people capable of solving problems for which there was no obvious answer. His comments were interesting for institutions like business schools, which have been working along those lines for decades, trying to develop common sense problem-solving skills “without recipes”, but it posed a problem that the schools themselves already understood: the validity of the exam system. Business schools do not work on the basis of lectures, notes or memory tests, and instead focus on practical work, projects and other tasks that seek to reflect the real world of business. Undoubtedly, the reforms still facing traditional education to educate the so-called Google generation by focusing on developing critical thinking instead of simply providing access to text-book-based “knowledge” have been reasonably assimilated by business schools, or at least by the most advanced.

But scores are still important to colleges and universities. A growing number of institutions employ their own access tests and systems in addition to traditional GMAT, GRE or other standardized tests in an attempt to find correlations between metrics and performance. The effects of different qualification systems— traditional, curve adjusted or based on learning standards — have been questioned on numerous occasions, and there is even a trend to look for alternative systems. I firmly believe that technology can be an exceptional ally in this regard, which would allow teachers to evaluate more indicators without creating a huge workload, providing traceability and reducing randomness.

That said, the idea “you don’t need a degree to succeed in business” is unrealistic: companies accepting candidates without a diploma or looking for talent in less conventional places, is the exception and will remain so. This doesn’t mean there is no need to take a degree or a Masters, but instead there are many ways to learn. In fact, recent studies show that technology companies hire more employees with Masters or Ph.Ds than other industries, and that for each person who joins one of these companies without a degree, there are thousands of who didn’t make it onto the long list. Sure, the labor market will reinterpret some aspects of what constitutes talent, but for most mortals, post-graduate education remains essential when looking for a good job, in any sector.

Educational institutions should interpret these trends as proof that the indicators we’ve used since time immemorial, albeit with slight tweaks, urgently need a rethink and an overhaul.

(En español, aquí)