The Third Degree: Education Vs. Experience

November 10th, 2010 | Hiring Resources | No Comments »


It’s an ongoing, fiery debate, and it probably always will be. But the question of education and experience, and which one is more important, maintains its significance, especially as hiring in the IT industry picks up and the technology ball in general gains more momentum than ever.

Curious as to the current status of the debate, I recently sought some answers to the famous question from a number of IT Directors and hiring managers. As expected, opinions, requirements, and preferences vary far and wide. But while a conclusion to this battle is near impossible to reach, the answers are insightful and may prompt you to take a closer look at your own hiring process and your education and experience requirements.

“In IT, experience trumps education. In my 20 years managing technology staff, I have found that the BEST technologists usually come to technology in a sideways fashion. They pursue it because of passion and a skill for solving problems, using technology as a tool. Experience is always the best teacher. However, it depends upon who’s doing the hiring, as many non-technologists place more value upon certifications and education.” ~Chuck G.

“The advantage of experience is in its application to the nitty gritty details of a field. The liability of experience is that it can transfer poorly or not at all to different fields. The advantage of professional qualifications is opposite – its advantage is that it is multi-deployable in a variety of fields. Its disadvantage is that subtle details can easily be missed due to the abstractions that give it the generality of application across many fields.” ~Richard G.

“When I hire, it’s based off their experience. I like to see work samples to show what they are capable of accomplishing. We are a smaller company, and only one out of four programmers has a degree in programming.” ~Yancy V.

“Degrees and Certificates have weight with me if the person is very young in the IT world. The less experience they have then the more heavily I weight the education and training. Because technology is constantly changing I want someone who won’t mind keeping pace with it.” ~Shelly J.

“Individuals with degrees are up and coming in the industry, and these degrees show a drive and determination to succeed. However, it’s not an A versus B thing. A million other things come into play when hiring. If it comes down to one person with a degree and one without, I go with my gut feeling as to which one would work best overall in my organization.” ~Jon L.

“It’s a combination of education and experience – I like to look at the whole package. At our company, employees with a degree can easily apply what they learn in school, but without the experience, they often get lost if they have to think on their feet and make a new path to complete a project.” ~Howard R.

“It really depends on the level of opportunity that I’m hiring for. In our company, many seasoned experts do not have a degree while many entry level IT professionals do. Overall, I look for the experience level and general knowledge whether or not they have a degree.” ~Peter J.

“I think the most important thing is the desire to learn.” ~Alessandro L.

“When I am interviewing candidates for Technical positions the degree is less important as long as they have one. I look at the degree as a mile marker in a person’s life, showing they’ve finished something and it taught them how to learn and deal with certain situations.” ~Bob A.

Clearly, the debate between education and experience depends on multiple factors. And while many people may be willing to agree that the real answer is a combination of both, the exact make-up of that combination will continue to be disputed.  As a more highly educated generation starts entering the workforce en masse, the dynamic of the debate may definitely shift, and many companies may have to evaluate their experience and education requirements in the hiring process.

by Jenny Laspesa