Data released by Stack Overflow earlier this morning suggests that obtaining a computer science degree only translates into a modest pay bump. Stack Overflow’s 2017 Developer Ecosystem report shows those with Computer Science degrees only earn £3,000 more per annum compared to those without.
On average, developers without a university education reported earning £35,000 ($47,500) yearly. Those with a bachelors degree reported yearly average earnings of £38,000 ($51,500). For context, tuition fees in the UK typically hover around the £9,000 ($12,200) mark.
This suggests that the typical route into the software development industry might not offer the expected return-on-investment, in terms of compensation.
Of course, this doesn’t mean university degrees are worthless, or to be avoided. Should you wish to obtain a master’s degree or PHD, they’re pretty much essential. Moreover, degrees indicate to potential employers that a candidate is prepared to stick with something for the long-term, as most undergraduate courses last three or four years. That’s vital, especially if a job involves several months of training.
There’s also the argument that computer science degrees produce more rounded developers, as they expose students to a wide array of technologies and languages. That was certainly the case with my degree. I built things with C, PHP, Python, Java, and C++. I got to experiment with games development, high-performance computing, and artificial intelligence.
Crucially, I was exposed to things I probably wouldn’t have bothered with if I was left entirely to my own devices. My degree forced me to deep-dive into theoretical concepts, like algorithms, instead of just building things I was interested in, like websites. Ultimately, I feel I’m better off for having been forced to learn these things.
And speaking from my own experience, my degree gave me the time and opportunity to work on projects under my own steam. Because I had time (and, thanks to my student loan and freelance writing gig, money), I was able to built things and learn stuff outside the classroom. I even got the chance to present at PyCon UK, which was an amazing experience.
What I find most surprising is how well paid those without degrees are. I guess that makes sense though. Nowadays, there are a lot more non-traditional avenues of ingress into software development.
Some bootcamps have really impressive employment outcomes, and unlike colleges, they’re able to rapidly adjust their curriculums to account for changing trends in the software industry. For example, earlier this year, Coding Dojo, which operates bootcamps in several U.S. cities, decided to ditch Ruby On Rails in favor of a Java-based curriculum. This was because it perceived a decline in industry uptake of Rails.
For those that can’t afford to attend a bootcamp, there’s the option of learning by yourself, via MOOCs, YouTube tutorials, and good old trial-and-error. These people can then showcase what they’ve learned through Github, or sites like CodePen.
Ultimately, Stack Overflow’s research isn’t an indictment of college degrees. Rather, it shows that there’s never been a better time to be a software developer, as there are fewer gatekeepers. The industry has never been more accessible, and those that aren’t academically inclined can still get a foot in the door.