18th April 2014

How do Self taught skills rank up against University learnt knowledge?

An Introduction

When I started learning about the web and developing my new skill base last year, I often wondered how my skills are valued by an employer. I have been brought up in a family where university education was the preferred route to employment, but that didn’t work out for me. I came out of University and fell into a low paid unskilled job in retail and got a little stuck. Knowing that the grass was greener on the other side, I attended night courses at AUB and worked on my technical skills at Treehouse, before leaving earlier this year to do freelance full time – Its all on the About page.

So I can now build (fairly good) websites using a variety of different technologies but I still wonder if I would have been better getting a computer science degree. A recent article on the Treehouse blog dug deeper into this topic.

The computing sector is a rapidly growing field but worldwide there aren’t enough graduates to fill the jobs. This leaves a gap, which can be huge, where employers are looking for people to fill skilled vacancies but there aren’t enough graduates in the market. I should point out that this is in stark contrast to the environmental sector, which is over saturated with graduates, often having hundreds of applicants for a single job.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs in computer science fields will be some of the fastest growing over the next five years. But the BLS also predicted a large gap — as large as 39 percent — between the number of students earning computer science degrees and the number of projected annual computer science-related jobs (Treehouse).

To fill this gap, employers are using other avenues for recruitment. Github and Behance are places where designers and developers can showcase their skills, be seen by large audiences and get feedback on their work.

“People without degrees but [who] have good portfolios, good references, and good open source work are definitely in the running,” Cherniak says. “Having a Github profile with code examples is a really great way to show off what you can do. I’ve seen tons of people without CS degrees who are already, or have become, great developers and engineers.” – (Treehouse).

Theres no doubt that going it alone and learning a skill from scratch takes alot of hard work and dedication. Programming is a skill that takes time and practice. And to be a good programmer takes work. A portfolio is one of the most valuable assets in a designer or developers arsenal. But this can’t be just completed once and left. It has to be continuously developed and improved upon, showcasing what makes you worth what your charging.

My Experience

I recently attended an interview for a web developer vacancy at a small creative agency here in Bournemouth. I looked at it more of networking and research instead of an interview. I wanted to know what an interview for a job in the creative field was like and how it compared to my previous experience in trying to get a job in the environmental sector. It was a good chance to see the insides of a creative agency and ask a few questions while I was there, one being the value of my self taught skills verses someone who had gone to university and read for a degree.

Throughout university I had been told that having a Linkedin profile was a good idea, and to try to keep it up to date. I saw it as a place I could showcase my skills and experience, similar to an online CV. So out of the blue I get an email from the agency director asking if I wanted a full time position. I wasn’t actively looking for full time work but I’m open to the opportunity. I came to the conclusion that I’d go for the interview with the mindset of ‘If I get the job I’ll take it and if I don’t then it doesn’t matter as I have freelance work to do. Either way its experience’.  Even getting the interview was one step further than I’d ever gotten with any of my geography applications.

For me to get an interview in a field that 15 months ago I knew nothing about, was an achievement in itself.

The interview was more like a chat than a formal interview,  which as quite nice. I presented my small portfolio of websites that I had worked on, including this one, and showed how they worked on both front and backend. Then he showed me what his company produced and explained what would be expected of me if I worked there. Some of the the stuff that was expected was fairly advanced, for example he showed me the bespoke CMS(Content Management System) they had produced for one of their clients, which is something I have no experience of but could probably do at some point in the near future. It was clear that if I worked as part of this agency, they were going to push me and my skills, which is something I wanted. I like the idea of being put out of my comfort zone as it develops new skills and gives me experience in new things.

I  asked how he, as an employer, viewed self taught skills against those learnt from a university degree. He said he wanted to know I could do the job over and above where I learned the skills. My portfolio was a bigger asset than a degree as it shows what I am capable of and what I am willing to do. This correlates to what I have read in magazines and on the internet. I am actively developing my portfolio, adding more challenging  projects as I increase my skill set.

Its been well over 2 weeks since the interview so I’m fairly sure that i haven’t got the job. It did provide me work an interesting viewpoint on my skills an also some inspiration of where I should be taking my skills. I’m currently trying to deepen my knowledge of php and javascript which will allow me to create advanced web pages and applications. And I will continue to develop my portfolio.