Are We Getting to the End of the Degree?

Is the end of needing a piece of paper coming?

Two things influenced my mind on this subject. One, was this episode of Ask Noah in which he mentions someone who learned SQL on Youtube and is now making over $70K. Another is, in talking to a coworker, he mentioned how there are more and more quality lectures available online. He thinks this will lessen the need for a degree.

On the later, I’m skeptical. One reason is that many companies want a piece of paper, irregardless of if it is germane to the job posted. An example comes to mind that a company here, in a job listing, said that minimum of an associates degree is desired. The job? Lawn maintenance. You need a piece of paper to ride the mower! Another example is a guy I know that had worked for his company in manufacturing for many years. He would adjust and modify parts frequently. An engineering post was open and he inquired. He was told that he needed a degree to do what he had been doing already for years. Now, I could understand, that for one reason or another, that an engineering degree would be required. He was told to go to the local community college and get any associates degree and he could have the post. What sense does that make?

As to the former, learning online, I can see that working if you are looking to be self employed. I just don’t see a company being impressed with Youtube U.

What are your thoughts or experience?


I doubt we are likely to see the end the degree any time soon. It is true that a lot of good material is available online now. This includes lectures, presentations, papers and tests so you you can practice whatever you are trying to lean. The quality of some of this excellent some is rubbish and some of it is just wrong.

There are several problems with trying to learn online. First is knowing what you can and can not trust as being factual and of sufficient quality. A second concern is knowing what to learn: a structured course at a college, school or university sets these goals for you. It is far too easy to cherry pick if self learning and not get a good enough understanding of the fundamentals.

If we can get through these problems and for example Khan Academy is a website offering a structured maths course and there be other sites providing a similar roles in other subjects then we have the final problem. A clear point of a degree is the qualification. A man may have studied medicine for years and be an expert but if he hasn’t got a medical degree you unlikely to let him treat your kids if they are unwell. The qualification shows that a person has reached a certain level of competence in a subject. I am a chartered engineer and able to certify certain designs has being safe to sell in various parts of the world. Many of the engineers I have worked with in the past understand the safety rules and principles well enough but because they don’t have the qualification I have are not able to declare on behalf of a company that this product is safe and can now be marketed and sold in a particular country.

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You are working in a situation where, not only the name of the company is at stake, but, as you mentioned safety, people’s welfare is on the line. A properly trained and certified engineer is critical then. Not something I would be comfortable if it was online learning. I have worked with several engineers over the years. Some I could do without, groaning if I got a drawing from them. Others are a delight to work with. I must say, being able to ask for a DWG file is a wonderful thing these days.

I do wonder, if we will see more of the example of the man learning SQL from Youtube? For things like that, I would be much more comfortable with, even admiring them if they do good work. I heard on NPR a while back of a man in his 40’s, laid off work, learning networking , if my memory serves me right, being able to start his own business and got some of his laid off buddies to go with him.

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Anecdotally, I earned my Associate’s Degree in Computer Science in 1995, and am now working as a Technical Architect at SUSE, earning a damn fine income.

Speaking from my experience, when my team posts an open position, we’ve set educational requirements at a relatively low bar, and explicitly "OR"d them with experience, so as to not have HR weed out a good candidate just because they don’t have a piece of paper. Experience is a perfectly valid substitute for formal education, and the quality of your open source contributions (e.g. your github account) mean a lot more than the quality of your higher education, at least for our technical positions.

I guess I should add "these are my views and not the company’s " :wink:


Are there any apprentice programs, or something similar, at SUSE? Or are they called interns these days?

I barely graduated college with a shitty paralegal diploma. It became apparent half way through an office setting (well any sitting still for long periods of time setting) is just not for me. I finished though because I did recognize the need to have something…anything. Aside from reddit arguments, I haven’t used what I learned getting it at all. Now, the week long course I had to take to get licensed under private security and investigative services act…that has buttered my bread for years :slight_smile:


I dinged my Computing Science degree after scraping an HND college diploma. My skills, innate and learned, and my experience are what have gotten me the jobs I’ve had, and I’ve loved almost all of them.

I have no idea how useful a degree, and the education stacked behind it, are to other professions, but in my little server-bound niche of information technology, not having one has never been a detriment, nor do I think it would have improved my career (although it may have nudged it in a slightly different direction).

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Fair point, we still do have interns, although for SUSE they are mostly in Germany (where university is still largely free of tuition).

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I have a 2:1 Ba in Interactive Multimedia Communication. At the time it was all about making digital media such as CDROMs and Flash/Director websites (this was all before HTML5).

My actual degree has been utterly irrelevant to my career. I list it on my resume, but I don’t think anyone really cares. Mind you, my career path was weird: I kind of “fell into” open source by accident and through a series of odd encounters, so I don’t think I have taken the more conventional path of pursuing a career that is related to my degree.

While my degree hasn’t been helpful, my university experience was transformative. Before I went to University I was really anxious about leaving home. I was always a bit of a homebody and not massively social as a kid with people I didn’t know. As such, going to Uni was a terrifying notion, so much so that I took a year out to delay it.

When I got to uni I hated it initially but then I started to spread my wings a little and it helped me to become an adult. I met different people from different backgrounds and people who were passionate about the same things I was. It was essential in me transitioning from the homebody kid with his parents to being more independent. It was also an amazing environment to be because as I was just getting into Open Source and Linux, I could meet, share ideas, learn new skills, and more with people into the same stuff.

So, in an nutshell: the university experience is more than the paper, for sure.


I agree Uni is far more than a bit of paper. You are probably correct in thinking that your degree probably has little relevance to your career now but it probably was soon after you qualified. Today most potential employers of you, and I’m including clients because they employ your time even though being self employed you work for your self, want you because they want you. You may not be that well known outside of open source communities and community management but within those areas you are a name so to an extent your resume is irrelevant.

Back when nobody knew who you were the fact that you passed your degree said that you were self motivated and able to self research a fast moving area of technology and keep up to date. This must have helped you get your first few jobs.

I don’t want to be seen as massaging your ego, I could say similar things about @jeremy, @sil and @bryanlunduke, you are all well known in your areas of expertise, I am well known in mine and I suspect there may be others here who could say the same.


I guess maybe I should have put a little context with my coworkers comment about lectures online. He does have a BFA, but isn’t able to do much with it, working as a machinist (he has gotten a couple of commissions, but those had to do more with family or friends contacts). I don’t know if that colors his view, and I sure don’t know about it all, thus this thread hoping for discussion.

We’re not at the end of the degree any more than we’re at the end of TV because of youtube.

However, for a long time now we’ve been in a state with an artificially large demand for degrees, which causes prices to go up. Note, not a demand for education, but for degrees themselves - the piece of paper. It’s a bubble, and it’s been growing for decades.

So what we’re seeing right now is competition rise. People that get degrees in their field are paying an exorbitant amount of money for education that is often good, but also often sub par. It’s overpriced, a bad value/price ratio. If we value the education more than the degree, then supply and demand should lower the price of education while raising the quality.

Eventually, I predict that will happen. And it will happen when we change the culture to value the education more than the degree - and start offering alternative ways to compete and get that education for a better price and with less time invested.

However, schools won’t go away. When there is a high motivation for quality, educational institutions are really quite good at delivering. Doctors, lawyers, nurses, mechanics, and so forth produce significantly higher quality workers than youtube videos and late night study sessions produce.

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On a pure cost benefit analysis then, you paid for an “experience” that should have and could have been instilled into you for 1/10th of the price. You can overcome anxiety and home-sickness by living in a house with 3 other 18 year olds that all have jobs and play DnD on the weekend.

Hell, do some secular version of the mormons do, and pay a couple of thousand dollars to spend 2 years talking to people and studying. Way cheaper, and I’d be willing to bet just as effective.

When I got my degree in the UK it was free I got a study grant too. I’m not sure if that would have been the case for @jonobacon. He is younger than me and going to university today costs a fortune. My daughter is getting ready to start university, But Jono might be old enough to have got free tuition.

I’d have to agree here, the demand for degrees has been pushed as a way to reduce unemployment figures so many kids feel pushed into doing a degree who are not academically suited. Because of this many courses today are basically holding pens to delay the date when people entering the job market. This is made worse in that because more people have degrees companies are more likely to choose a degree qualified candidate over one without a degree; even if the work does not require the skills of a degree and this pushes up demand further.

I’m not saying all degrees today are worth less than they would have been in the past but many are. Some, however I still excellent.


I recall 2005 well, and felt macromedia`s shift to adobe was a massive change for Ubuntu’s team - heck its so popular I immediately looked for ebooks on the subject (the fact they’re still for sale indicates how popular they were & i guess everyone was doing the same).

given the rise of (excuse the location-popup); What is the US equivalence other than Linux academy ?

My year was one of the first when people had to pay. People were up in arms about the fees, which weighed in at around 1500GBP a year if remember right. Of course, my American friends have zero sympathy given how ludicrous education costs over here.

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I think you could say that about anything. With the benefit of hindsight there are always more efficient way to accomplish a similar outcome.

Sure, I could have left home and loved with people, but unless my parents booted me out there would be no forcing function. University did provide a forcing function…going to uni was “expected” with most people I went to school with (who didn’t leave school at 16), and my parents expected it as I would have been the first Bacon to ever go to uni.

I did 2 years of a degree in the UK before I was offered a job firmware programming in ASM. I was a top student but gave up on university at that point and went into work.

I don’t regret it. I’ve had a very good career so far (I make more than $70K, I made more than that when I worked for MySQL). I’ve led Open Source projects, I’ve developed things that are used by many people and companies. I was a Principal Engineer at HP for their Advanced Technology Group for a while.

When I hire people a degree is not very important to me, the ability to do the job is much more important. Some of the best people I have worked with have no formal qualifications. Some come via military and were trained there, some were self taught and worked their way up through the industry via Open Source projects.

A few years ago I trained a local chef who I spotted had some natural ability to program. He barely has A-Levels (16-18 year old UK qualifications). He is now a lead engineer for a software company in the nearby city.

You absolutely do not need to get a degree to get a very good job in the tech industry.

Having said that there are industries you will need a degree for (such as medical doctor). I don’t think that will change any time soon.


This depends a lot on the company. I’ve known a lot of large companies where applications are all routed through the HR department and if your resume does not list the right qualifications you don’t get to the interview stage.

If you can get past the review stage and reach an interview I find most engineering managers are more interested in your experience and ability than where you got your qualifications and what grade.

I write a lot of embedded software but have no qualifications in programming. I started by learning as much as I could from books and by trial and error then I got involved in contributing to open source and learned a lot more from people upstream taking my patch, not always accepting it but providing useful feedback either to accept my patch suggesting how I could have done it better or to explain why it had been rejected and not just say no.

My degrees are in physics B. Sc, and Electronics M. Sc.

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If a company puts qualifications before experience at an HR level then that probably isn’t a company/team you would want to work with anyway.

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