Strength in Educational Diversity

How the Varied Backgrounds of Our Devs Make Us Stronger

One of the bigger debates in tech in recent years has revolved around the various educational paths software developers have to choose from on their way to becoming professionals. Like many tech debates, it’s become a religious one, the front lines led by those who believe their particular experience is superior to their counterparts’.

But that’s OK. Here at Helpful Human, we consider ourselves agnostic — or perhaps Swiss-style neutrals, depending on which metaphor you prefer.

And we’re not just saying that to avoid the heated argument. Our small team consists of the full spectrum of self-taught, university educated comp-sci degree holders, and “hacker school” grads. We’d like to offer the story of our experience as, well, just that. Our experience. Our anecdote. Feel free to use it in your argument. It’s MIT licensed.

Our Experience with Educational Diversity

To provide some context, we’re a small client services business, but our clients aren’t necessarily small. We build digital products for a variety of businesses, and our bread-and-butter is in web and native applications. We may not be on the cutting edge of hardware or AI, but we do keep up with the latest trends in the open-source community and contribute to it as well. Because of the breadth of clients we serve, we’ve had to stay nimble enough to solve problems with a variety of languages and platforms. We ain’t no one-trick ponies.

Our team is co-founded and led by a self-taught-since-childhood full-stack developer. He’s a workhorse and has enough experience to lead us calmly through every challenge we’ve ever faced. We also have UW comp-sci degree holders who weren’t provided with much web-dev experience during their education but are expert learners and excel at picking up whatever language we throw at them. We employ multiple hacker-school grads. We’ve even educated interns from the ground up.

We’ve found out the hard way that having such a team means that not everyone comes from the same coding perspective or can handle the same challenges. And regardless of anyone’s aptitude, their education may not have provided adequate depth in a given area. Like everything else in the world, experience trumps education.

But these same differences are also our strengths. It’s incredibly powerful to have these different perspectives when we encounter a blocker or challenge we haven’t seen. It’s made us more versatile as a team and allows us to consider a wider range of projects. And since this industry is all about continuing one’s education, we’re able to educate each other via our own varied backgrounds.

We recently performed the task of surveying our team on the subject of ideal dev skills & traits to reference when hiring. Believe it or not, not a single dev, including the CS grads, suggested an ideal dev of any level have a CS degree. That should not be interpreted to mean they don’t recommend that path (the CS grads all do) but it’s telling that it’s not seen as a requirement.

What we all agreed was a need, more than any specific program, was a passion for the grind. Someone who loves to dig in on solving meaningful problems with technology. Someone who spends free time hacking not because they’re workaholics but because they have side projects, are dedicated to a life of learning and are inspired rather than intimidated by difficult problems. We believe these people can come from any educational background because our team proves it.

So when we’re ready to make our next hire, you certainly won’t see specific education requirements in our job posting because we’re more concerned with where a candidate is going rather than where they’re from. And once they’ve joined the team, we expect them to share their experience, push themselves and their colleagues, and have a strong passion for the craft. We do, and we know that’s what makes our team great.