Yes, A College Degree is Still Worth It

In my last career I flew airplanes for a number of companies culminating in making captain for a small airline on Maui where I made a whopping $28,000/year. One of the attractions to the company, at least for some, was that they didn’t require a degree. It was rare in an industry where interviews demanded a business suit and really any big airline job wouldn’t look at you for an interview without a 4 year degree for jobs that, at the time, often paid less than $20,000/year.

It wasn’t so much that the college courses we took were something we used every day, though with an undergraduate degree in Aviation Management I would say I used my degree a bit more than most. It was that a degree was an easy way to weed out people who couldn’t finish something. In a job where there could be dozens of applicants for every position a degree was a sign that you were willing to go the extra mile.

When I quit flying I went back to my alma mater for a job that promised me a captain’s salary, $28,000/year, to work in tech. Even at the time it was lower than many tech salaries but it included a bonus in that I could work on another degree for free. At 28 years old I knew I was already old for the tech world so I took it and earned a master’s degree in computer science which immediately paid off with my first job and has continued to almost 10 years after graduating.

Today there are many in tech who believe a degree isn’t just unnecessary but often a detriment to a career in tech. I was once even berated for having a degree by a CTO who couldn’t understand why I “didn’t like money” and would “waste my time” in college. He had no idea what he was talking about as do most who don’t understand the value of an education.

Yes, there is enough money sloshing around that you can find a job without a degree. The difference is, at a bigger organization where you’re working with people who have been formally trained in the discipline, the lack of such education shows.

Whether it is the fundamentals of the craft or the details of the organization, folks with a degree have a distinct, and deserved, advantage over those who do not.

For me my degree has directly meant faster career growth and jobs such as teaching others that I could not have gotten otherwise. Even at the orgs where a degree is no longer required I’ve been told more than once that my graduate degree has helped bring my resume to the top.

I’m often still asked if getting a degree is worth it. In almost all such conversations I reply with “absolutely” and list some of the jobs, both as a developer and teacher, that I couldn’t have had without it.

If you’re on the fence about it, and have the ability to get a degree without breaking the bank, it absolutely will make a difference in your career in some obvious ways and some less obvious ways.

One comment

  1. All education is valuable whether you use it every day or not. I barely use anything from my BSEE degree but what I use daily is from writing engineering papers. I can’t remember if I used APA format back in the 1980s. If you write with headings, a clear hierarchy and use pre-defined formats for the entire paper you can easily create an index, copy and paste content into a page or blog without worrying about extra formatting coming with it. Another thing I use every day is my typing skills. A class which I considered “vocational” in high school has served me very well in college and beyond. Finally the engineering curriculum for the BSEE program at the Coast Guard Academy including an emphasis on presentation skills. Those skills still come in handy today.

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