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Is a degree really essential to work at a leading tech company?

By Victoria Fellows


Over 80% of Airbnb’s workforce is educated to degree standard or higher, and at Snap Inc, over 90% of their employees have taken the decision to stay on in education after college and get that degree. But, are these businesses reflective of the market as a whole?

We spoke to a couple of our leading consultants to find out.

Principal Consultant, Chris Wyatt, says ‘100% yes: If you want to work in AI Software or research, a degree is a must. The state of the market means it’s virtually impossible to get a job without the academic credentials.’

Chris deals with the recruitment of technical software candidates. He explained that online courses alone are never enough. ‘AI is a fascinating industry because we’re making breakthroughs literally every single day, so the vertical is very appealing to candidates’.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are seen as dynamic industries that are changing the world, and who doesn’t want to be a part of something that’s got the potential to change the world for the better?

This makes the market for computer scientists very competitive and if the requirements of a job fall under the broad spectrum of AI, even more so.

In an industry that’s changing so rapidly, a company’s ability to succeed is determined by its ability to innovate. Therefore, when looking to recruit, 98% of our clients want the best of the best to ensure they are the ones who are making those elusive firsts within a dramatically changing AI vertical.

If the client is in a good location, they will get to cherry-pick the very best from a batch of great candidates. With very few exceptions, if you don’t have a MSc or PhD you won’t be at the top of their pile.’

Matt Andrews, Principal consultant for web and mobile development has an opposing view.

‘In the web dev market, I’m seeing a trend towards less emphasis on the significance of redbrick and traditional degrees. Instead, we are definitely seeing a wave of successful candidates coming through who have the ability, without the academics.’

Matt says; ‘I think with larger organisations and established companies there is often still a preference towards candidates with a relevant degree, and in most cases, if there were two candidates at final stage, both very similar in quality, then the one with a degree is likely to be chosen over the candidate without.

However, the UK is in the top 5 globally for start-ups being established, and the search for the very best talent is becoming increasingly competitive. We’re seeing technology start-ups using coding tests and other methods to vet skills, in place of traditional qualification vetting, displaying more of a focus on ability than on academic credentials.’

It isn’t just the permanent market. The contract market is also very strong and is placing an emphasis on candidates with relevant experience who can hit the ground running, rather than those with the academics but not necessarily the industry experience.

It seems, from both of our consultants, that the technology market is competitive. There’s more of a focus on academic qualifications for technical roles but it’s likely that, as demand for highly skilled candidates outstrips the availability of those with relevant degrees, the industry will need to consider new ways to vet for talent and become less dependent on paper qualifications.

However, for the moment, it appears that, whilst having a sound degree in a related technical area isn’t essential, it certainly won’t damage your chances when it comes to getting your next job.

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