Help Me Level Up My Tech Credentials
September 15, 2014 12:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm a self-taught web applications programmer/sysadmin. How can I make myself more attractive to prospective employers? What certs/education should I pursue?

I've worked at the same company for 10 years, was promised a promotion to management several years ago, and was then passed over for promotion. My seniority at this company has netted me a pretty good paycheque, and while I think I can probably find something similar to what I've for now, I'd like to aim higher.

The work I've done for my current employer includes:
Database design
Report tools (aggregating/summarizing data)
Web application programming (PHP/JS/Node)
Server configuration (writing scripts, apache, mysql, postfix, iptables, etc. Mostly on Ubuntu)
Automated backups (rsync)
Some work with Amazon EC2 deployment
Workflow automation/paper elimination
Administration (e-mail accounts, database accounts, etc)
Wordpress site maintenance
Purchasing (desktop computers, printers, and related office equipment)

Not having any kind of education beyond my high school diploma has meant a lot of closed doors in the job search. I'm wondering if I should buckle down and try to get some kind of computer science degree (sounds expensive!) or if I could open just as many closed doors with a certification or two... problem is, I'm really not sure what kind of certs to go for. There are a lot! Employers don't seem to seek certs specifically very often - more often they want experience (which at least I have some of) or a degree - so it's hard to know what certs would be worth my time and/or money. Can someone who's been in a similar situation advise? Many thanks.
posted by signsofrain to Work & Money (2 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience as somebody who occasionally interviews people for programming jobs, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with not having a CS degree. However, if somebody without a degree turns out to be unsuitable for the job, a common reason is that the candidate lacks certain knowledge or skills that they would have learned had they gone through some sort of formal CS education. This usually comes out when we ask a candidate to solve whiteboard problems and they don't seem to have a solid grasp on objected-oriented programming, they produce poorly-structured code, or their solutions are just plain bizarre. We reject candidates like this because nobody wants to maintain code like that. Engineering is very often a group effort, so your work needs to be easily understandable (and maintainable) by your peers. This doesn't preclude people without degrees from getting hired (I know some strong software engineers that didn't major in CS or didn't even go to college), but it means that if you don't have a degree, you'll need to prove that you're facile with the conventions that you would have learned in school.

My perspective is from somebody that's spent most of his career in the San Francisco Bay Area, though, where I think it's more acceptable for software engineers to be self-taught or crossovers from other fields. If you're located somewhere more conservative or work in a more formal industry, the lack of a CS degree may be a very real barrier to career advancement. I have a friend that worked for in IT at a large pharmaceutical company and when they were bought by a larger European pharmaceutical giant, he was more or less forced to take night classes to get a CS degree in order to keep on doing the job he had been doing for years (though they did also pay for his classes).
posted by strangecargo at 2:21 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

One guy I know had a background just like yours. He got into internal production development at a large software company (dashboards, QA databases, and the like written in Rails), which he then leveraged into a senior engineer position working on production code at Apple. It took relentless self-promotion and a lot of chutzpah but the lack of a CS degree turned out not to be a handicap at all.

Another guy I know took a couple of CS classes part time (far short of a degree), and just says University of X, 2005-2007, Computer Science on his resume. That seems to get him past whatever automatic filters HR departments use to weed out candidates. Obviously he would never lie if asked directly about his education, but it's sort of creative lying by omission.

Anything in software sales and marketing is totally degree agnostic, many people have no education post high school or have online degrees in unrelated subjects.
posted by miyabo at 3:27 PM on September 15, 2014

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