How degree-centric requirements can harm your tech hiring strategy.

The requirements listed in a developer job description vary, but generally have a few overlapping asks in common:

  • a specified number of years of working experience 
  • a specified number of years working with related technologies 
  • degree in in Computer Science (CS) or related field 

But when it comes to evaluating developers for technical roles, it’s their technical skills — not their education or professional background — that ultimately determines fit. So why do so many organizations require a Computer Science degree as a prerequisite to applying?

Degree requirements can inadvertently disqualify high quality candidates, and technical candidates without degrees — like bootcamp grads, self-taught developers, and the like — can be a valuable pool of talent for your organization. 

CS degrees aren’t representative of developer skills. 

Understanding the impact of degree requirements starts with understanding how degrees impact developer learning. And more specifically, how they impact developer skills.

By and large, self-teaching is the norm when it comes to developer learning. Rapidly changing trends in languages, frameworks and libraries mean that developers regularly have to teach themselves new skills in order to stay current. 

Most developers consider themselves to be self-taught.

That’s why 74% of professional developers say they’re at least partially self-taught. And students are no exception: more than half identify as at least partially self-taught. So, even for those enrolled in degree programs, not all learning happens within the walls of a classroom. 

Randstad Sourceright HackerRank How do students learn to code?

Are you excluding developers with alternate educational backgrounds? 

Alternate forms of coding education are starting to pick up speed. Take, for example, coding bootcamps, which have consistently grown in popularity generation over generation. 

That’s especially true for the newest generation of developers: Gen Z. They’re more likely than any other generation before them to seek coding education outside of universities, including coding bootcamps. Sixteen percent (16%) of Gen Z developers say they’ve leveraged bootcamp training to learn to code. 

Randstad Sourceright HackerRank coding bootcamp by generation
But large organizations, especially, favor developers with degrees.

For better or worse, most companies tend to favor developers with formal university degrees. Of the 116k+ developers polled in HackerRank’s 2020 Developer Skills Report research, 80% reported that they had a bachelor’s degree or higher, while the remaining 20% did not.

But by and large, developers with degrees are favored by employers — especially when it comes to larger organizations. The larger the company, the more likely they are to employ developers with degrees. 

Randstad Sourceright HackerRank level of education and company size

That trend is most pronounced in companies with 10,000+ employees. For companies of that size, 91% of developers have a bachelor’s degree or higher. On the flip side, only 9% have less than a 4-year degree. 

On this front, small companies (1-49 employees) lead the pack on blended hiring. They employ the largest percentage of developers without degrees — more than four times the number that large companies (10,000+ employees) do. 

Tap into underutilized talent pools. 

Especially in developer roles, degree requirements are widespread. One research report from Georgetown Public Policy Institute estimated that 84% of all software engineering jobs require a bachelor’s degree or more. 

And ultimately, that may be to employers’ detriment. After all, limiting the candidates to only those that have 4-year degrees can prematurely shrink your potential talent pool for in-demand skills. 

It’s not to say that developers with 4-year degrees are by any means lacking in technical skill, but limiting the talent pool based on degree requirements — instead of proven ability — could disqualify equally skilled candidates before they even get a phone call.

Coding bootcamps are hidden gems in plain sight.

Since the first bootcamps appeared in 2011, they’ve been booming in popularity, with attendance rising 11 times over the last decade. One study estimated that more than 23,000 students graduated from U.S. and Canadian coding bootcamps in 2019 alone.

But despite explosive growth, only 1 in 3 hiring managers have hired a bootcamp graduate. The majority (49%) have never hired a developer that learned their skills from a bootcamp. 

Randstad Sourceright HackerRank hiring managers that hired a bootcamp developer

But hiring managers that do bring on bootcamp grads seem to benefit. A total 72% of hiring managers that have hired bootcamp grads say they’re equally or better equipped for the job than their traditionally educated peers. They’re also more likely to know high-demand languages like JavaScript, and more likely to be inclusive of underrepresented groups

According to engineering managers, the main benefits bootcamp grads bring are:

  1. the ability to learn new technologies quickly 
  2. strong practical experience
  3. eagerness to take on new responsibilities 

It’s a clear signal that bootcamp grads have the skills necessary to succeed in technical roles. But with CS degree requirements in place, developers from bootcamps and other non-traditional education sources might be sorted out of the hiring process before they have a chance to showcase their skills. Dropping that requirement could be the key to unlocking new, but equally skilled pools of talent. 

The shifting landscape of degree requirements

Slowly but surely, the argument for dropping degree requirements is picking up steam. Tech giants like Apple, Google, and Tesla have famously dropped their 4-year degree requirements for roles across their organizations. 

The underlying message: it’s skills, not educational background that defines a developer’s capability for success. By setting up hiring processes that focus on vetting for technical abilities — not pedigree — you can design a more objective, more effective hiring process. 

About the Author

Vivek Ravisankar

Vivek Ravisankar is the Co-Founder and CEO at HackerRank, the world's leading developer skills platform, and the first company from India to be accepted by Y Combinator.

Visit Website More Content by Vivek Ravisankar
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