From a CS grad: You don’t need a CS grad

By Guest Writer

Michelle Bakels

Like most aspiring software engineers going into their first job, I had no idea what to expect.

At the time I was a Computer Science student at Florida State University, and my experience consisted of rewriting parts of the C standard library, coding MIPS instructions, and building data cache simulators. Sounds relevant, right? No.

Once hired as an entry-level developer, I struggled with how my education wasn’t directly applicable to my job. Because these two didn’t align, I needed to rewire my brain on the company clock while trying to deliver application value.

After years of grueling course work that took me away from family, friends, major life events, and put me tens of thousands of dollars into debt, nothing from my degree gave me an edge over a coding bootcamp graduate. In fact, they would have been better qualified for the role than me.

MOST COMPANIES STILL REQUIRE COLLEGE DEGREES

While we spend endless hours dedicated to building South Florida into a tech hub, we fail to recognize the ways we’re actively working against building our talent pipeline. Dropping degree requirements for developer jobs can aid in resolving three of our most common tech talent issues:

  1. We don’t have enough tech talent to fill openings, yet companies maintain job posting requirements that deny thousands of qualified candidates from entering these positions. 

With nearly five times more monthly postings for developers than hires in the Miami area according to Tech Hub South Florida¹, we need not view bootcamp graduates as substandard, but instead as explicitly trained for our development needs.

  1. We can’t find diverse talent, yet companies tend to only accept candidates through one specific leaky pipeline, where people of color and women are often excluded.

When we require degrees for developers, companies only accept applicants who’ve had the privilege of going to college, affording tuition, covering years of living expenses, and being provided the networking needed for career mentorship and job placement. While there may be exceptions, where exactly are we openly allowing for diversity to enter this model?

  1. We struggle to adopt an innovative culture in our industry, yet companies prefer hiring candidates with traditional education. Innovation relies on diversity of thought. Diversity of thought relies on the diversity of backgrounds, education, and experiences.

Google, Apple, and IBM are among several leading tech companies no longer requiring degrees from their applicants. If some of the most well known companies have dropped this requirement, then why do some South Florida companies defend it so wholeheartedly?

CODING BOOTCAMPS ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE

South Florida’s talent needs will never be fulfilled relying on universities alone.

Bootcamps take pressure off higher education to meet our hiring demands. They allow those interested in software development an alternative means of education, the opportunity to reduce potential debt, and quicker entry into the workforce.

This gets our companies the talent they need exponentially faster.

If you’re finding that bootcamps don’t fit your needs, reach out. Communicate what skills are missing from their curriculums and build a relationship together. The tech industry is built on innovative thinking and exploring new ideas. Let’s bring these values to our hiring practices and embrace candidates with alternative education.

For those Building South Florida into a Tech Hub, we’re responsible for doing our part to help us get there. This includes examining how we’re standing in the way of our progress. Together we can change the perception of bootcamp graduates, recognize the value they bring to our workforce, and accelerate our efforts in fulfilling South Florida’s tech talent needs.

Support bootcamps, support self-taught, support universities. Support South Florida Tech.

Michelle Bakels is a Lead Developer and Instructor for Boca Code. She is dedicated to creating equitable spaces and opportunities in tech and serves as the Vice Chair of Code Palm Beach, and Co-Chair of Tech Hub South Florida’s Women's Council.