Career Ceiling?

Hi Everyone,

I started fcc very recently hoping to transition into software development from a completely different field. From my research, it seems reasonable that with enough time and grit, landing a junior developer position is quite possible.

However, for those of you who have managed to pull off this amazing feat, what are the career prospects moving forward? Presuming one continues to upgrade his/her skills and knowledge, can one indefinitely advance in the ranks? Is there a certain point or ceiling at which employers (even if just as a formality) will start asking for evidence of a CS degree?

Thanks in advance for the insight!

I made my living coding for almost 15 years, starting as a self-taught junior developer and eventually earning six and (briefly, results probably not typical) seven figures with what I’d learned mostly through experience. Advancement in this field is almost entirely driven by various capabilities. And I have to say, that by today’s standards I was a mediocre programmer at best. The only ceiling I ever really hit was my own fatigue.

In my experience only certain types of employers, notably governments and government contractors, ever get tied up in knots over whether you have a degree ‘in the field’. I’ve also been the position of hiring programmers and, personally when it comes to spending my own money, I am always more concerned with what a person can do than how exactly they learned to do it.

Mine is just one point of view, from experience, I’m very interested to hear what others have encountered.

1 Like


So are you saying that a degree is “nice to have, but not really necessary,” or more like “eh, don’t bother?”

@P1xt, what do you think?

More like the first one. Education, if gone about in the right way, can help you gain capabilities and be rewarding in its own right. If anything I like to see degrees that show breadth as much as specialization. For example, I took two degrees in business because everything is a business one way or another.

But there is a big exception to what I’m preaching and that is of course when a certain degree is required to be licensed in a certain professional path. Nurses, lawyers, doctors, professional engineers, etc. And this can always intersect with software development. When I worked at Johns Hopkins Medicine as many as half the programmers on some projects were also registered nurses.

So–long and short–I think it can really depend a lot on what kind of career you are charting for yourself.

But I would never say don’t bother. Degrees are worthwhile --they just shouldn’t be looked at purely as job training, IMO.

I would distinguish between education and credentialization. Especially today in the programming field writ large, with such vast free resources available, it seems like it should be a possible for an intelligent and determined person to become a highly competent software engineer without a credential. Conversely, by picking the “right institution” and the “right courses,” it is certainly possible to get a degree without knowing much of anything useful.

Of course I totally agree that knowledge is worthwhile for non-financial reasons–but again, there is no special reason that knowledge of poetry, arts, literature, history, mathematics, etc need to be gained specifically in a college setting, paying many thousands of dollars per course.

The question wasn’t “is education worthwhile,” but “is the particular form of credential known as a college/university degree worthwhile?”

1 Like

I don’t disagree, though the gist of my answer to either question would be what I wrote above. :slight_smile:

@P1xt, @tdreid, it seems to me like we’re all really in the same mindset about this, although you both of course have far more tech knowledge and industry experience than I do. Namely, that you can go far with or without a degree, provided you put in mountains of work and become really really good.

  1. I do think that a traditional degree is valuable and that some of that value is specific to that experience.
  2. I do not think that a traditional degree is necessary to a successful career.

You asked about a ceiling. From my observations, it seems to be the opposite. The further along you get, the less relevant your original education matters. If you look at job postings for entry level positions you will often see a requirement along the lines of “B.S. in Computer Science related field or 5 years experience”. So how can you get that “5 years experience”? That’s where @P1xt’s advice comes in. Starting out, you have to be able to prove that you have practical knowledge and experience that is at least as valuable as a traditional degree.

1 Like