The Four-Year Degree Vs. Hands-On Learning Programs

A four-year college degree has been the norm for technology workers in the United States for decades. People graduate from high school and move on to a college, where they focus on the interests they want to make a tech career of. However, hands-on skills and hands-on learning are slowly moving into the spotlight.

College can be inaccessible or too expensive for some. Other times, it won’t cover the specific fields you need for your dream job. Sometimes you can learn what you need right on the internet at a much more affordable price.

These factors then raise the question — is a four-year degree necessary for tech or cyber jobs anymore? As big tech companies are shifting away from requiring diplomas, it appears that the times are breaking free from tradition.

Forgoing the Degree

A bachelor’s degree from a college may no longer be a necessity when it comes to getting a job in the tech world. Plenty of leaders in the field like IBM, Google, and Apple, have taken steps away from requiring these kinds of degrees. If you’re applying for a tech job, you may see a degree listed as “preferred” instead of “required.”

Encouraging this conversation, Tesla CEO Elon Musk stated recently that a four-year degree isn’t a requirement to work at his automotive company. Instead, he placed emphasis on hands-on skills and experience.

Towards the end of 2016, IBM also began its push for a new era of hiring talent. The CEO, Ginni Rometty, stated that this new era should focus less on requiring a degree and more on knowledge — the two are not inherently linked.

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A male student on his computer in a classroom where they emphasize hands-on learning.

A new kind of accessibility for knowledge and learning is behind such reasoning. With hands-on learning accessible on the internet, you can acquire coding skills, for instance, within a few weeks. Professional work development programs, like bootcamps, empower learners with the resources and flexibility they need to pursue a career in this industry. The Cybint Cybersecurity Bootcamp, for example, can be completed within three to six months and connects you to the professionals in the cybersecurity industry post-graduation.

Other big tech companies, including Apple and Google, are also changing the way they hire — you’ll find listings for these companies without bachelor’s degree requirements.

A Changing Society

The overall shift away from degrees comes from a few primary sources. First and foremost, a lack of a degree does not indicate skill levels. You can gain all the insight and knowledge of the tech industry by learning from online courses.

Second, the pandemic caused a record-high spike in unemployment in April 2020. People who were laid off may not have the time or resources to get a degree and apply to their ideal jobs in the technology or cybersecurity industry.

Last, getting a degree is expensive. For some, it doesn’t make sense to accrue student loans and debt when you could learn the ins and outs of machine learning and every other tech field online.

Thus, a cultural shift is currently happening. Coding languages, graphic design, app programming, SEO, software, social media, and general computer knowledge — these fields are easier than ever to learn, and cheaper than ever, too, thanks to the internet.

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In fact, Indeed lists several jobs in the six-figure range that don’t require degrees. Now that big tech companies are bringing light to how the industry has overlooked on-premises talent development and hands-on learning for years, it’s time for those with hands-on skills to shine.

Row of students at university on their laptops focusing on hands-on learning and hands-on skills.

Marketing Yourself Right

Ultimately, the specific job you’re applying for requires the right marketing. This degree change is still coming into its full form, so it may be a bit of a challenge to find the right jobs. However, you can market the hands-on learning skills you have, plus your adaptability and your growth mindset.

Continue to learn the latest tech skills and research what you need to know for each job. Then, you’ll be set to achieve a wide range of tech jobs without a degree.

How Educational Institutions Can Keep Up

In these changing times, the most important thing that colleges and universities can do is adapt. If the career market is changing and focusing more on individuals with hands-on skills, educational institutions should focus more on hands-on learning programs. That being said, it is not always easy to build a program from scratch and it is expensive to buy.

To meet learners where they are in terms of flexibility and cost, and also empower your own community, partner with a bootcamp provider. The Cybint Cybersecurity Bootcamp is a turnkey, career accelerated program designed to land learners the job. To find out more about bootcamps in general, download our Ultimate Cybersecurity Bootcamp Guide. To give your institution a competitive advantage – partner with Cybint.

Shannon Flynn

Shannon Flynn is a technology writer and Managing Editor at ReHack.com. She's written for sites such as Finovate, Innovation & Tech Today, Smart City Hub, and more. Shannon aims to write articles that help businesses and organizations mitigate cybersecurity threats to keep at-risk individuals safe.