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Most IT Workers Don't Have STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math) Degrees 655

McGruber writes "The Wall Street Journal's Michael Totty shares some stereotype-shattering statistics about IT workers: Most of them don't have college degrees in computer science, technology, engineering or math. About a third come to IT with degrees in business, social sciences or other nontechnical fields, while more than 40% of computer support specialists and a third of computer systems administrators don't have a college degree at all! The analysis is based upon two job categories as defined by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics: network and computer systems administrator, and computer support specialist."
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Most IT Workers Don't Have STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math) Degrees

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  • Personally (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reliable Windmill ( 2932227 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:02PM (#45191257)
    I prefer education over schooling.
    • Re:Personally (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mellon ( 7048 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:18PM (#45191471) Homepage

      In principle college ought to benefit IT workers; in practice, at least when I went, it was less useful than I would have liked, and I dropped out after a year and a half because I felt that I was wasting my money. But I haven't been forced to put my resume through an HR department in a long time; I wonder if it would be as easy now as it was a dozen years ago.

      • The really interesting (note: not necessarily useful) classes didn't start for me till the 4th semester. Prior to that, it was mostly gen ed and basic cs/math. Now I'm getting into the more advanced and interesting topics. Really though, university class content is worthless in most contexts. It serves two purposes in my mind: to entertain the intellectual and to promote the usage of the mass between our ears.
    • Re:Personally (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:26PM (#45191601) Homepage

      The HR drone hiring you prefers schooling over education.

      • Of course they do. Schooling is easy to just "check off the boxes", and even verify with a simple phone call. Education, not so much.

        Evaluating whether or not an applicant actually has the requisite knowledge and skills for the position would require them to actually do their jobs, including understanding (at least at a meta-level) exactly what the position entails and what skills are actually relevant.

    • Experience > Education > Schooling > Degrees

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:04PM (#45191295)

    Our best techs don't have degrees. Most of the people who can become skilled techs without having it force-fed down their throat at college can teach themselves, and easily grasp new technology as it becomes available. Most of the people we've hired from college were the "I-can't-do-it-unless-you-show-it-to-me-first" type, which suck to have work for you.

    • by broken_chaos ( 1188549 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:11PM (#45191389)

      Not to mention that science, math, and engineering degrees are all-but-worthless in IT, as being able to design a circuit board, or optimize a search algorithm, or sequence some DNA has little-to-nothing to do with your average IT department's concerns about practical matters. I'm not entirely sure what a "tech" degree even is (I've never seen a university offer a "bachelor of technology", for instance), so I can't say anything about that.

      IT, especially as defined by the linked article, is not programming, after all.

      • by shadowknot ( 853491 ) * on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:21PM (#45191523) Homepage Journal
        I think this [] is the closest thing I've seen to being a "tech degree" though they still call it CompSci. I think the Bachelors in Information Systems and Business IT are the closest things to preparing people for the real world of IT. Even these, in my experience of working with people fresh out of them, are far less useful than a few years working at the coal face in a first line tech support job, especially one in a large business or education institution (ironically!). I got my first job at 18 with no degree and now I'm 29, still have no degree and am working on System z mainframes and have done sysadmin, computer forensics and consultancy jobs in between. Paper means nothing in the IT world, demonstrable skill and aptitude mean everything. If someone can prove that they've been able to adapt and learn then they're the people who'll get hired.
        • by HideyoshiJP ( 1392619 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @03:08PM (#45192249)
          In all fairness, paper means one thing in the IT world - mainly getting through HR somewhere where you don't have connections.
        • by mc1138 ( 718275 )
          The Rochester Institute of Technology offers a degree program specifically in IT, which covers Database Administration, Web Programming/Design, and maybe Game Design. (assuming they haven't moved the programs around since I was there) They also have a spun off program, called Networking Security, and System Administration, which actually covers real world IT skills, though I still learned a ton more through hands on experience through internships than I did in the majority of my classes. Though there were a
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Have to agree. Self direction, initiative, mixed with curiosity and some intelligence is what makes for a good IT worker. Most IT degrees are junk anyways. (STEM) degrees are a good indicator that the person can solve problems but since IT isn't rocket science the STEM degree isn't needed.

    • by alispguru ( 72689 ) <bane AT gst DOT com> on Monday October 21, 2013 @03:13PM (#45192323) Journal

      ... were former physicists. Granted, we're mainly a NASA/NOAA contractor so the domain knowledge is very useful.

    • I have a liberal arts degree, but have always worked in IT/Project Management. You know what is more important than an IT degree? Critical thinking skills and general creativity. This is what you learn in liberal arts. The technical ins and outs? Thanks to Google, any unknown information is a couple searches away.
  • by grub ( 11606 ) <> on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:10PM (#45191365) Homepage Journal
    I graduated Grade 12 in the early 80's. Was going to go for a CS degree but put it off for a year while I worked. Then another year went by, and so on.

    Back then, the vast bulk of "nerds" loved this stuff as a hobby and could slide into a work role easy enough. Then people started going to school to 'learn teh computerz' as it seemed like an easy way to make cash. Those are the folks who were dumped during the dot-bomb.

    Fact is many of the best IT folks I know who also have excellent technical skill were self-taught.
  • by QilessQi ( 2044624 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:10PM (#45191369)

    I hold two CompSci degrees (BA, MA) from two reputable universities, and I can tell you this: some of best developers I've ever met have come from non-CompSci fields: geology, physics, and (building) architecture.

    The keys to being a good developer are much the same as in any other field: being able to learn, and being able to apply what you've learned, and giving a crap about what you do.

    • And, of course, part of "giving a crap about what you do" involves reading the Preview carefully before you post. That should say:

      ...some of the best developers...

      Sigh... Tell me again why /. doesn't have an "Edit" button?

    • I am not sure about Architecture, but Geology and Physics are STEM fields.
    • I am a developer and I hold no degrees. In anything. Every other developer or admin I know and work with has a degree. Some are good, some are bad.

      We've had some conversations about it and my general thoughts are that I was hurt a bit in communication (not knowing what "X Pattern" or "Y method" means, despite doing it for years because I thought it was good design), and they were hurt a bit when it comes to thinking outside the box. Over time, I learned the name of "X pattern" and they learned when to go outside of the "X pattern" box. Minimal difference in the end.

      It's pretty clear to anyone in the field that a CS degree really only guarantees that someone will be able to speak (perhaps outdated) office lingo. When trying to gauge someone's ability, simple enthusiasm is easy and effective to measure, and far more valuable than a degree.

      • by plover ( 150551 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @03:56PM (#45192869) Homepage Journal

        Don't dismiss the value of "the lingo". It's painfully clear to me that one of the biggest problems is the lack of a shared meaning in words between two people or areas. When I'm in meetings where there are problems between people or groups, the key to solving them lies in discovering where they differ. And that takes careful listening.

        For example, I might be in a meeting listening someone from dept A going on about unit testing their code, and someone else from dept B saying that they're not able to unit test dept A's code. So I get them both to ask each other "what do you mean by 'unit test'?" Turns out that nobody in the room knew jack about what an actual unit test was, and dept A was referring to the developer running the code in a debugger, and dept B was referring to passing the code to their testing team to run a bunch of functional tests. The start of the solution was to get them to use the right names for what each of them was doing. Once they both agreed on the terminology, we could address the real problem, which was that nobody knew shit about unit testing at all - they just thought they were doing it.

    • But they had a degree which I think is key. This is different from the "school is stupid" types who want to take the shortcut, who end up in an entry-level or junior job for decades.

      Note that the degrees you listed are all "STEM" degrees, which I don't think is necessarily a requirement as long as the school giving the degree requires a breadth of lower division classes (I see some engineering degrees that aren't good either if they don't have non-engineering related requirements). A good programmer could

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:11PM (#45191385) Journal
    It isn't...exactly... news, is it, that neither 'computer support specialists' nor 'network and computer systems administrators' are jobs that are particularly close to what a 'STEM' curriculum might teach you. You can't be afraid of computers, and the ability to bodge out some scripts when the occasion demands it is always handy; but it isn't as though you are expected (or even permitted) to break out the CS-fu and build some custom management system, or put your EE skills to work by diagnosing that malfunctioning motherboard properly rather than just shipping it back to the vendor for a replacement...
    • by doggo ( 34827 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:36PM (#45191763) Homepage

      The truth is, most "computer support specialists" & "network administrators", & "system administrators", and I am one, are technicians, not engineers. Even some of the IT guys with "engineer" in their titles are really technicians. [] []

      And that's okay. Well, except for inflating the importance of the the job by adding "engineer" to the technician's title.

      Technicians are important. Technicians keep technology running. Being a technician is a noble pursuit.

      Engineers take what the researchers have discovered and create the technology, technicians deploy the technology and maintain it.

  • Self Taught (Score:3, Insightful)

    by justcauseisjustthat ( 1150803 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:11PM (#45191387)
    I'm self taught and far better for it, institutional learning is too rigid and doesn't foster creative individuality.
    • Re:Self Taught (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Fallen Kell ( 165468 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:16PM (#45191451)
      Says someone who obviously never went to a school which fosters creativity...
    • This. I did a solid 5 years of traditional college... Majored in Architecture, Communications, and finally Business before saying "screw it" and sitting for my A+ exam after a couple of nights in a study guide book. Did a 6 month term on a corporate help desk before moving on to a municipal IT shop, where I've been for nearly 5 years, and have gained a TON of knowledge and experience. I'm simply a better learner by doing and figuring than I am by sitting in a classroom.
  • How many CEOs don't even have a degree?

    You could apply the apprentice/journeymen/expert to the IT guild as much with most any other learned trade.

  • by mark_reh ( 2015546 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:14PM (#45191423) Journal

    know what "IT" stands for?

  • by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:15PM (#45191433)

    You don't need a college degree to read a phone script.

    Just because there's a lot of 'em doesn't mean they're all good.

  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:15PM (#45191437) Homepage
    This doesn't surprise me at all. Especially when they mention "computer support specialists and a third of computer systems administrators". These aren't fields that even require a STEM degree in the first place. I'm sure if you just looked at programmers, you'd probably see a much higher percentage with a STEM degree. If I had a stem degree, and was working as a computer support specialist, I'd probably wonder what the purpose of my degree really was. Also, if you have a degree in chemistry, you technically have a STEM degree, but you're probably no more prepared for a career in IT than somebody with a business or fine arts degree

    Personally, I've always hated the fact that they even refer to certain jobs as being in the IT sector. It's so large and all encompassing, that it basically fits anybody from a minimum wage support person to a hardware engineer designing cutting edge processors, or people writing financial systems on wall street.
  • is the dominant player in corporate IT systems!

  • I don't have a STEM degree, and I am a senior programmer. I dropped out of college entirely. I couldn't deal with the bureaucracy. You have to take this class, you can't take this class, bleah bleah bleah...

    Of course, I have been programming since 1980 when as an 8 year old, I taught myself how to code. I also have self-educated myself in graduate level math, game theory, algorithms, statistics, relativistic physics, AI, and probably a half dozen other STEM type topics. I have worked in a half dozen lang
    • I hope you have a Project Management certification or the relevant learning (i.e. read the PMBOK5e published this year, some supplementary materials, maybe taken a course, whatnot). Those are the real useful skills if you're a programmer. Or sysadmin. Or anything else.
  • by acoustix ( 123925 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:18PM (#45191487)

    For many of the older people in this field college was not an option. Some of them "fell into" the job because they "knew computers".

    I have a AAS degree from a two year school because IT related studies were not offered at the 4 year schools. In fact, I was bluntly told by a department head of a four year school: if you want to learn networking then go to a two year school. So I did. Best decision ever. No college debt and got a job right out of school.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... while more than 40% of computer support specialists and a third of computer systems administrators don't have a college degree at all!

    I'm not particularly fond of statistics like these -- because the people who put them together usually insist on qualifying "college degree" as only meaning four year degrees or greater. I have an Associates degree, (and yes: it's in the IT field) but nobody seems to really care about that so-called "minimal" level of effort.

    Not that it matters to me anymore at this po

  • by HaeMaker ( 221642 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:19PM (#45191501) Homepage

    ...whatever you learned in school is already out of date, when you consider what they teach in University is 5 years old when they teach it.

    Ask BSCS grads who graduated in 2008 or earlier how much of what they learned in school is still relevant.

    Getting into management without a degree is much tougher. Common knowledge is that you are a "better person" if you spent 6 years of your life getting an MBA, rather than actually doing the job.

    • A lot of university degrees in Project Management teach that a Work Breakdown Structure is a set of tasks; in 1978, the Project Management Body of Knowledge was replaced with the PMBOK Guide (first edition), which is also called the PMBOK (oddly enough). The new PMBOK1e specified that a WBS is a deliverable-oriented breakdown of work. Since the PMBOK1e in 1978, work breakdown structures have been all about the output of work: every Work Package or Roll-up Element is a deliverable--a tangible or intangibl

    • by ImprovOmega ( 744717 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:33PM (#45191713)

      I got a BSCS degree back in 2003 and I can tell you that it is very much still relevant. You're right, the specific languages, API's, and even architectures have changed dramatically in 10 years, but the fundamentals are all still there. Learning the 2003 vintage of C++ was not so useful (except as an exercise in how to approach programming problems generally), but learning algorithm complexity analysis is timeless. And I'm sure there are more advanced process schedulers in operating systems these days, but they are still being scheduled out there in the background. And so on, and so on.

      My great "aha!" moment in my CS degree was when I realized that the specific tool they were teaching in any given class was basically irrelevant - it was just a means to teaching an important concept. Trade schools teach you tools, universities teach you how those tools work. The real value in my BSCS degree was in teaching me how to think about and solve CS problems. That has been invaluable.

    • by axl917 ( 1542205 ) <> on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:33PM (#45191715)

      ...whatever you learned in school is already out of date...

      Quite true, but as one of my professors said, "In this course, you will not learn how to code in Turbo Pascal*; you will learn how to learn to code, and then apply that to Turbo Pascal."

      A good teacher can make all the difference to impressionable 18-yr-olds.

      (*Yes, I am old)

    • by Arker ( 91948 )

      "Ask BSCS grads who graduated in 2008 or earlier how much of what they learned in school is still relevant."

      And if the answer is not most/all they got ripped off.

      College is not supposed to teach you to use the current gadgets. It's supposed to teach you to read, write, and think. Those skills do not go out of date.

  • For this profile, we mainly focused on two job categories as defined by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics: network and computer systems administrator, and computer support specialist.

    So they looked at the two lowest-paying job categories out of the 8 defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics [], and drew conclusions about the education levels of other six. Hmmm, maybe that's not the best approach...

  • Tell it to HR that some wants CS for IT / desktop / helpdesk jobs.

    I have even seen what / nice to have masters for IT jobs as well.

  • I'm degreed in the medical field, but found the tech world infinitely more exciting.

    Also the fact that I could almost always resurrect my patients played a part in my decision to go with IT.

  • by Connie_Lingus ( 317691 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:36PM (#45191773) Homepage

    i have a four-year degree (CPEE) and decided long ago to focus on software instead of hardware, and thru my 30 year professional journey I have seen *drastic* changes in the personal make-up of the shops I've worked at.

    Back in "the day" (hate that euphemism but used it anyway), programming in C, there was little room for error, as bad code could easily crash systems and cause very expensive issues. I took probably a year of working with them to *really* understand pointers. Companies simply couldn't allow just anyone to code...the potential and real costs were way too high.

    Interpreted languages like PHP, Ruby, and Python make it so that pretty much anyone can start hacking away on some code and see results that make them think "damn, I can do this a make a decent living". If they can find someone looking for inexpensive development they can get a job, for awhile at least until either they reach a level where there incompetence shows (the tech "Peter Principle" of course)

    Those with the determination and/or genetic blessing to understand coding can do even better and make a very very good living. Overall, I think this is a good thing.

    Due to very poor life choices I currently work in a low-end web shop, and the people I code with don't even *like* programming, and are almost totally clueless about OO principles, design patterns and the like...they just want to collect a decent paycheck and don't want to work at McDonalds.

    I can't say I blame them.

  • by mjwalshe ( 1680392 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:41PM (#45191859)
    Computer support specialist thats a first line helldesk role which normally doesn't require a degree
  • And it shows :( (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LostMyBeaver ( 1226054 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @02:50PM (#45191993)
    Honestly, even most IT majors can barely handle most technology since they spend years basically learning to hack around until something works. I meet hundreds of IT people every year and many function entirely based on hacking, misconception and rumor. Want an example? Ask IT pros which OS is best. Instead of choosing based on educated reasoning, research or better yet explaining that each has a purpose and you'd have to choose based on the task at hand, many will choose based on religion and mostly hearsay.

    The best IT professionals I know have studied computer science inside or out of a school. Algorithms and operating system design are core components of their knowledge. They understand how to research and study technology before choosing tools because of pretty boxes and articles on their favorite blog.

    I am glad these people exist. If it weren't for them, I'd have to install antivirus software and reinstall Windows for everyone I know.
  • Um, so? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @03:00PM (#45192145) Journal

    This a perfect example of an article that makes a statement but does not make a conclusion. I guess the conclusion -- perhaps that we should be concerned that our IT professionals don't have scientific or technical degrees -- is implied?

    > About a third come to IT with degrees in business, social sciences or other nontechnical fields, while more than 40% of computer support specialists and a third of computer systems administrators don't have a college degree at all!


    I have an engineering degree, got a job making war toys for a military contractor, needed the computer to do my work, and found that nobody was administrating the computer. In self-defense, I learned how to administer Unix, how to do backups and housecleaning and diagnose problems, all so I could get my primary job done. After several years, when I got burned out on my primary job, (designing stuff for the military is less fun than it sounds) I found that I had learned enough to carry on with systems administration full time.

    I strongly suspect that this happened to a lot of people, especially during the rise of the dot coms, and I also suspect that many of them were not originally in engineering. It happens -- people rise to the occasion, and find new career opportunities.

    Why is this a problem? Is the admin going to see a countdown someday that says "answer this question that was on the 3rd trimester final in year two of an EE curriculum in 30 seconds or the computer melts into slag"? What you learn in college, other than techniques like ways to attack and solve a problem, are going to be horribly out of date anyway. What you accomplish in the workforce is more up to your commitment and talents, (and training you've sought post-college) than the letters after your name.

    Conversely, having letters after your name does not mean you get a free ride (in most companies). You still have to show competency.

  • As a manager (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mu51c10rd ( 187182 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @03:08PM (#45192257)

    I hire/fire I.T. workers. I can tell you...the education vs lack of education is the wrong argument. The best I.T. guys I get are those who love technology and care about what they do. This holds true whether they are a C.S. grad, or someone who spent the last few years hacking away on the side. When I interview, the only weight I give to their degrees/certifications is whether they learned non-technical skills. I've worked with great I.T. guys who had degrees in completely unrelated areas, but turned out fantastic because they love the profession. I've had guys with no degrees who still were worth holding in to. And I've had guys with C.S. degrees who were successful. It all comes down to liking what you do.

  • by Theovon ( 109752 ) on Monday October 21, 2013 @04:17PM (#45193123)

    While many people learn a lot in college (I hope), the first thing that an employer learns when they find that you have a college degree is that you are likely to be able to finish something complex. There are lots of people without college degrees who can see complex and difficult things through to completion, but that is much harder to glean from glancing at a resume for two seconds. And that's all the time you get, because they go through massive numbers of resumes. And the fact is, most companies are less interested in employees who are smart than those who can follow instructions and work (however inefficiently) until they finish something.

    Back in the late 90's a friend of mine worked for a "data services" arm of a well-known communications company. They had a very successful process for developing large applications on time, on-spec, and on-budget, and it was designed around having morons do the work. A handful of people at the top did the design work, which trickled down through layers of less and less skilled worker until you go to the bottom. At the bottom, the code monkey (not necessarily their terminology) would have a stack of sheets of paper, each describing one function or procedure to write. It would describe the function name, the inputs, the outputs, and the algorithm to be coded. The algorithm was described in such detail that even the least skilled coders could do the job. And then it would be reviewed by someone else to make sure it did the job, integrated with the growing application, etc. Now, while a handful of scrappy coders could often complete projects in less time, what this big company had was predictability, so they could enter into a contract where they could be precise about the time and cost from the outset.

    Unless you understood their business model, you could find their hiring criteria to be to be counter-intuitive. But what they wanted was cheap college graduates willing to do drudge work. If you could play dumb and do the job, then you could gradually work your way up the chain. But in general, a smart 'rebel' type would never get hired there, nor would they generally want to. Linux geeks are used to thinking about computer programmers as being smart, but that's not how the business world sees them. Coders are a commodity to be bought and sold like corn (and just as lacking in useful content).

  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Tuesday October 22, 2013 @05:48AM (#45198651) Homepage Journal

    ...missing several points.

    Ask not for degrees, but whether or not they studied. The dot-com era was worst, but companies looking for IT talent have never stopped hiring people straight from university, and when you're a starving student and you're offered a really cool job for what at that time appears to be outrageously generous money, dropping out and taking the job is a serious alternative.

    I know a lot of people who dropped out, some less than a year away from their degree.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.