Don't Go Back to College to Get a Degree in Tech
Should you go back to college if you want to land a software developer job?
4 min read
Short Answer (TLDR)
Much of what I'm saying here is in the context of the Philippines, but may also apply in other countries.
There's no career-shifter question that I vehemently say "NO" to other than "should I go back to college to get an IT/CS diploma?" Of course, if you're already set on enrolling, nothing I say will convince you anymore, so you should probably stop reading now. But if you're still on the fence, hear me out.
Roughly four to five years of grueling academic work, and hundreds of thousands of pesos in payments... the opportunity cost of going back to college is just immense. And at the end of it all, even if you get the degree, there's still no guarantee that you'll land a job in tech. Just look at the number of fresh grads who were hoping to land a job in the tech industry right after college, but didn't get "lucky". Some of them even enroll in coding boot camps after graduation, which adds at least another 6 months to their tech journey!
Those 4-5 years are better spent self-studying, networking, building concrete projects for a portfolio, and applying for jobs. Those hundreds of thousands of pesos are better spent on quality tech books, cheap courses on Udemy/Coursera/edX (which you can even get for free by applying for financial aid), web/cloud hosting for your projects and portfolio (if needed), building your brand and online presence, etc.
In lieu of a tech college degree or any relevant tech experience, what you need to impress interviewers and hopefully land a software development job is proof of work and skill. Projects and a portfolio will do that for you.
How about Data Structures and Algorithms (DSA) tech exams? Those can be gamed (i.e. the skill can be built) by enrolling in free online programming & algorithms courses (see list below), buying algorithms books (recommend: "Cracking the Coding Interview" by McDowell) and spending time on Leetcode exercises. You don't need college for that.
An Algorithms Roadmap
Harvard CS50 on edX (FREE, but you may choose to pay for a certificate if you're into that): Gotta be the single most popular computer science class in the world. Not focused on algorithms but introduces you to C, which will help you understand more how computer functions, especially in terms of memory management (i.e. data structures).
Princeton Algorithms Part I & Part II on Coursera (FREE!): Solid algorithms course. This also forces you to learn Java, and consequently OOP. The course won't teach you Java though, so you'll need to find other resources.
MIT OCW Discrete Mathematics Class Recordings on Youtube (FREE): Discrete math is the language of computers. To understand the mathematical analysis behind algorithms, discrete math is the key.
Stanford Algorithms Specialization on Coursera (paid, but can be FREE by applying for financial aid): This complements Princeton Algorithms, as this dives into the mathematical analysis and theories of algorithms. Needless to say, you'd need #4.
BONUS: Find a study buddy/group, or even better, a mentor!
You can probably get by with just nos. 1-3. Heck, I got a job just by going through #1. And even then, the first tech job I landed didn't even make me take an algorithms exam during the interview. The CTO just asked me common JS questions, all of which were Google-able.
Mileage will vary, of course, and it won't hurt for you to take all 5 although I'd say it's overkill. I took #2 & #3 AFTER I'd already broken into tech. I'm currently taking #5. I should've taken #4 before #5 but... oh well. LOL
But all I can say is once you finish #1 & #2, start applying for jobs already! You can do the rest simultaneously with your job hunt.
Take programming and algorithms courses and exercises, add a portfolio, and develop an incessant drive to just continue applying despite being constantly rejected, and you'll put yourself in a better position than a fresh graduate who's just relying solely on his diploma to carry him through.
Of course, if you're already in tech, you're free to go back to college if you want to. Just don't do it if your sole purpose is to land a job in tech. The commitment and investment in time, effort, and money are just too great.
I, myself, am planning to apply for admission to an MS Computer Science program towards the end of the year. Not much for career progression, but more for the joy of learning. (I'll be sharing my experience about it if I get in, so if that interests you, please subscribe to my newsletter so you won't miss it.)
Good luck on your journey!
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