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Do you need a college degree to get a job as a web designer or developer?

Recently I surveyed 20 business owners and people in the web/tech industry that make hiring decisions. I asked the following question: “Would you hire someone without a college degree (any type of degree) as a web designer or web developer?”

I wasn’t surprised that some folks emphatically said YES.

“Our best are self taught.” – Matt Jaffe, Co-Founder, 303 Software

However, I was surprised that 85% of the respondents said yes, they’d hire someone without a degree.

The short answer to this burning question of  “degree or no degree:” No, you don’t need a degree to get a web design or development job.

Does that mean you should skip college altogether?

So, can you forgo four years of college and head straight into your career in web design/development? Not necessarily.

Many respondents said even though they would hire someone without a degree, they prefer prospects with a college degree.

“I'd definitely not require a design or computer science degree, but I have a strong preference for candidates with at least a 4-year degree in something.” – Corey Snipes, Founder, Twomile Heavy Industries Inc.

Okay, you don’t have a degree. What does it take to get hired?

Of the 85% of the respondents that said they’d hire someone without a college degree, the majority clarified they’d only hire someone with experience and proven expertise. If you have the portfolio and track record to prove it, then a college degree doesn’t matter.

“If they are older and have a resume that is clear they have accomplished a lot, then I don't care about the degree.” – Raelene Vining, Engagement Manager, Four Winds Interactive

And even though some said they would hire without a degree when presented with the right candidate, it’s not likely that resumes from non-degreed candidates will make it in front of the decision maker. If an employer has to sift through scores of applications, they need a way to narrow down their choices. A college degree may be one of those filtering devices.

“I don't have the time to open up positions to people without degrees and then wade through all the muck.” – Sean Curley, Deputy Chief Information Officer, City and County of Denver

What about the other 15%? Why do they prefer to hire degreed candidates?

Earning a college degree takes effort and dedication. Plus, college provides the opportunity to develop valuable experience and critical thinking skills.

“It's more about psychological development than skill acquisition for me.” – Kirsten Stoffa, Owner, Stoffa Productions

So, does the type of degree matter?

Maybe. Maybe not. Some find it preferable for hires to have a generalist degree, rather than an art degree. 

“We have found that university graduates with a general studies background and concentration in a trade are the most versatile and invaluable to our company.” – Kim Mallek, Creative Director & Co-Owner, Mighty Fudge Studios

However, for some positions, a pertinent degree will set you apart and provide certain qualifications, such as the relevant skills acquired when earning a computer science degree.

“We tend to preference interviewing candidates who have formal comp sci training for senior developer positions.” – Tynan Szvetecz, CEO, Commerce Kitchen

I’ll summarize for you.

Yes, you can get hired into a web design or web development position without a degree, as long as you have the skills and experience to prove you’re good. However, if you’re just starting out and have no track record, you’ll be at a hefty disadvantage without secondary education of some type.

Not all companies will hire you without a degree, but many – perhaps more than half – will consider you if you come via trusted recommendation and/or with a stand-out portfolio.

Currently, qualified and skilled web developers are hard to find, so if you have the chops but no degree, you may be able to make your way into a desirable position. On the other hand, in a market flooded with job seekers, a college degree can set you apart, and could be the edge you need to snag that web design or development job.

What do you think?

Have you hired someone as a web designer/developer without a degree?
Or, are you currently employed as a web designer/developer and have no college degree?

Photo Credit: John Walker


Susan Snipes's avatar

Susan Snipes

Owner and principal of Q Digital Studio

Susan Snipes is the owner and principal of Q Digital Studio. While her old nicknames of Susie Q, Miss Q or just Q may not have stuck, that infamous letter Q became the namesake for Susan's dream job: her own business. Q Digital Studio was founded on principals of sustainability and integrity, values that are near and dear to Susan's heart. Follow Susan on twitter @SusanSnipes.

Posted

6.4.2013

Categories

Business

Tags

hiring, web designer, web developer

3 comments >

What others are saying

Hector Colon

I have worked as a designer for many years without a degree. I was always against going to school because I always felt that as an artist of any sort, the portfolio should always speak for itself. It will show whether or not you can perform the work. A great portfolio coupled with a solid interview should be enough to get you hired. The truth it is not. Today many employers are giving preference to those with degrees. Hence the reason I am in school getting mine now.

Jeremiah

I agree with Hector. The job market is fierce these days. There are too many kids coming out of school knowing half of what we know, but holding the paper to compete. They have the paper and they get attention. We can get the job if we are able to get in front of the hiring manager, but these types of jobs involve too much automated filtration. My experience leads me to believe you’ll never sit in front of the hiring manager without a degree… hence the reason I’m going back to school. What a scam this is. Accumulate $50k in debt to qualify for a job you already know how to do. Who wins? The bankers, once again.

Ozzy

For me it’s almost as if the job came straight into my hands! In high school, I was taught to use dreamweaver but I felt like using an app to do web design felt like too much for me, so I learned html and css all on my own, using online tutorials and such, and I learned to make web pages from scratch. For 2 years, I never really worked on any projects. I had gone to college to study business management technology and got my associate’s. I ended up landing nothing more than a receptionist job at an accounting firm. It was there where I was able to unleash my potential. After designing a few small publications, such as brochures and postcards for the firm, I was asked to help build a full scale magazine from scratch. Seeing that I had done well, my supervisor asked me if I could design a web site, so I showed her what I had learned all these years. With that, I was promoted to Digital Media Specialist and ever since I’ve been working as a web designer, desktop publisher, aaand graphic designer all in one job.

So my point is, yes you can get a job as a web designer without a degree, but you definitely need to have a good portfolio (if not at least show them that you can do something, like maybe building a sample website to show hiring managers). Also, to stand out, develop many skills that are related to web design so that you are able to at least get hired into a job that could eventually allow you to be a web designer. Of course, degrees are very important too and they will help you stand out, but another key thing to point out is that nowadays, technology evolves so rapidly that by the time you graduate, what you have learned may already be outdated. So in some cases it might be better to learn the skills online like I did and constantly update yourself with changes in the industry. By doing so, you’re bound to get noticed by prospective employers. I know I have been offered other jobs already.


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