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Skip The Degree For A Career In Code

We Got Coders bootcamp students over £100k better off after three years


Why do a degree?

Every year school-leavers face the question, should I go to uni or get a job? For many it’s a logical choice: go to uni because you need a degree to get a good job in tech. Or do you?

Daniel Steele is one coder who made the other choice – bypassing uni in favour of a code camp, he’s now six months into his first post-study role and already in charge of full-stack development and earning more than £30k a year.

Most people in the industry agree that this is a great time to get into tech: in the US the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that web developer employment will grow 20% from 2012 to 2022 – faster than any other role.

The UK Government recognises there’s a skills shortage and has created Degree Apprenticeships, with the first ones being launched in the digital sector. The scheme enables students to get a degree alongside being employed in a related job.

But do employers in tech really expect you to have a degree? According to a survey by Stack Overflow, there is now almost parity between full-stack developers having a computer science or similar degree, and those who’ve only had on-the-job training. And in the wider recruitment market, blue chip firms including EY and PricewaterhouseCoopers are not even looking for degrees any more.

Dan Garland, founder of code school We Got Coders says, “Most CTOs (Chief Technology Officers) I speak to aren't putting degrees on their job descriptions. It's only HR or recruiters in slower-moving corporates who stipulate them. Instead, employers really want to see GitHub profiles as proof of capability”.

Add to this the fact that computer science graduates consistently have the highest rate of unemployment of any subject, currently 11.4% compared to the average of all subjects which is 6.3%. (Another survey puts it at 15%.) There is also a relatively high proportion (10.2%) of IT and computing graduates currently working as retail, catering, waiting and bar staff.

With all this in mind, a tech degree starts to look obsolete.


Daniel's Story

Daniel Steele, a trained pilot, was all set to begin in a degree in aeronautical engineering until a summer job gave him a introduction to coding.

“I landed what was supposed to be a temporary job helping a company with software repairs, and slowly got introduced to code – things like tweaking company email signatures. More and more programmes came up that had a coding element, and after seven weeks I could really see myself doing this,” says Daniel.

He decided to reject his degree offer and then spent 18 months at the company as a systems developer. But when the rest of the dev team was made redundant, Daniel was left struggling at the deep end. “I applied for some other jobs and in one interview I did a technical test – I didn’t even understand the premise of some of the questions, let alone know the answer, so I knew I needed to train.”

Daniel signed up for a three-month code bootcamp at We Got Coders, a residential course in rural Bedfordshire where students live and breathe code. “It’s the most intense thing I’ve ever done,” says Daniel. “We’re up at 8am and coding through till 11am seven days a week, but living on-site means there’s a great team mentality and you can always get help with a problem you’re working on.”

The vocational aspect was critical: “Throughout the entire programme there’s a definite emphasis on employability. From day one you’re taught to be able to stand up in a meeting and talk about the code you’re working on. As a result, by the end of the course you can be dropped in as a useful member of any dev team.”

It worked. Post-bootcamp, Daniel is in his first role, the only full-stack dev at Earlymarket, an incubation and seed capital company that coincidentally has an aeronautical focus – the MD is also a pilot. “In a very small business, we don't have the time or resources to take on trainees.  Hence, We Got Coders was a way to get someone keen and with the right attitude,” says Paddy Wills, MD of Earlymarket. “We give Dan a lot of autonomy which he likes and which means he has a high level of responsibility,” he continues. 

Having been an official employee at Earlymarket for just two months, Daniel is now hiring a junior dev to train.

But he’s not looking to hire any computer science graduates anytime soon.


Q + A

Why did you choose not to do a degree?

I had an offer, but a summer job gave me a chance introduction to code, and I decided I wanted to do that instead. I stayed at the same company for 18 months, but a round of redundancies left me as the only dev and I was really struggling. To get another job I knew I had to train quickly. I think if I’d gone down the uni route, I’d be 5-6 years behind where I am now

What’s been the highlight of your dev career so far?

Since I started my current role I’ve tried to be active in the wider Ruby community on GitHub, and I’ve actually managed to get a bit of code I wrote into Ruby on Rails. That was a big deal.

How does your experience compare to graduates you’ve worked with?

A computer science student was meant to come and work for me over the summer, and it was eye-opening how little he knew about programming. It’s a very theoretical course, lots on maths and algorithms, whereas in real life writing algorithms is not typical for devs.

What’s your advice to aspiring devs? Uni or not?

I’d say if you want to go into a data-oriented computer position, using big data, algorithms, anything theoretical, then go to uni. But if you want to do programming, don’t. There’s zero barrier to entry in coding. Spend 3 months studying Ruby in your own time, and you’d find a junior developer position in a company ready to train you and pay as you learn.

The Numbers

Degree We Got Coders bootcamp
3 years 3 months
£27k tuition fees £8k tuition fees
Average starting salary post-graduation £22,311* Average starting salary post-qualification £30k
Zero earnings after three years Average £90k earnings after three years
After 3 years, around £27k in debt After 3 years, around £115k better off
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