no degree impedes climbing the ladder, was Re: mysql issue

Henry Paul henry at
Thu Feb 9 20:36:29 MST 2012

On 02/09/2012 09:22 AM, Steve Alligood wrote:
> I find this topic fascinating, because I think it is entirely 
> dependent on the shop, often to the shop's detriment.
> I have been doing sysadmin work for 15 years now, and most of the 
> shops I have worked for have ended up with several dozen admins, most 
> of whom do not have degrees.  In fact, usually only about 10% have 
> degrees, and those shops have paid fairly well to anyone with the 
> skills and can-do attitude, and do not care about that 
> not-quite-worthless paper.
> I have also worked with several shops that think the degree is more 
> important than the ability/experience of the admin.  They tend to be 
> really large companies with really large bureaucracies, and usually 
> have a very mediocre admin staff, with one or two good admins that 
> carry the team.
> There are limited options in those shops.  As I see them, they are 1) 
> go to your manager and have a frank discussion about what you need to 
> do to get the raises, then do it.  Sometimes this even works, though 
> usually at the 5% annual raises.  2) stay quiet and do what you 
> currently do and stay at what you are at.  This is sometimes the best 
> if you need specific benefits, or your skills are specific to the 
> company you are at.  3) go looking and see if you can convince someone 
> else that you are worth more.  It is a hard market right now for 
> companies to find good talent, so it may be a good time to shop around.
> All three options suck in their own way.  I wish you luck on whichever 
> you choose.
> -Steve

I've been on both sides of the fence on this one: with a degree and 
without, good economic times and bad. Here is my observation:

First, there is no substitute for experience in a technical field. If 
you know your stuff and can back it up, that's what counts in the long 
run. If you CAN hack it and you're being scrutinized over not having the 
degree, get out and go somewhere that will value you. The other option 
of course is to get a degree I suppose.

In good economic times, education matters most to those doing the hiring 
that have or value it. If the team lead has or believes in having 
technical certs, certs will be valued in that position. The same thing 
goes for a degree. My current employer is not small, but they are not 
large either. We have roughly 800 servers I think across our various 
brands and affiliates. My boss and his boss both have degrees. The 
person who hired me is Redhat certified. I have an MIS degree and was 
able to negotiate a really nice salary because of it. That is not always 
the case though.

In tough economic times, the degree can be the difference between 
getting hired or not or dodging a lay off. In an employer's market 
against equal experience and skills education tends to be the deciding 
factor, at least for a lot of the places that I have worked.

I did interview at one place where education was definitely not desired. 
I interviewed in front of a panel of punk admins, none of whom had any 
post high-school education, who saw my credentials on my resume, and 
assuming I didn't know anything, thought it fun to grill me for 90 
minutes over purely technical jargon, as if I was interviewing for tech 
support or something. If I had known in advance I wouldn't have spent so 
much time learning about the company, their products, and their customer 
base - while trying to anticipate conversation about current technical 
challenges they may be facing regarding the infrastructure. Needless to 
say, I would have turned down an offer there had I received one, I doubt 
it is a pleasant place to work.

One final note on education - Vendor certs for technical skills, and a 
degree for higher learning / soft skills. You don't go to college for 
technical skills but to gain thinking skills and a broad view of the 
environment, I think that is a good contrast for a university education 
vs. a vocational school.

I found the MIS degree to be a good fit, because it combined some 
technical skills with a brief study in accounting, business 
communication, project management, and public speaking. It gave me the 
ability to understand management and the business side of things in 
addition to all things technical.

I hope that helps. Don't ever feel down on yourself because you don't 
have a degree. Even graduates have to gain the skills and experience 
before they can be taken seriously.


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