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Entry Level Jobs for a Non-degree Programmer?

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So, I guess I hit that ole fork in the road where I need to figure out how to reach a decent living as a programmer. I'm currently out of school because I'm working a minimum wage job for three years now trying to pay them back before I can even register for classes again. Being out of school has been hell for me because I use to do so damn good before I went to college, and now I'm stuck not getting an education because school is so expensive. I'm very close to finishing paying off that debt, but I'm 25, and I need to use my time to actually start a life. Between those three years, I have been using my time to self teach myself more of what I would have been learning. I've been a proficient programmer since high school, so the early computer science courses were easy once I got to college. However, without a degree, most jobs probably won't even look at me considering a lot of requirements is someone with a bachelors. It's a sad reality, and really makes someone like me undermining. It's quite depressing, and makes me wonder where I can even go from here. I can't get any junior software development jobs without a bachelor's, so I'm essentially stuck career-wise. I'm not saying I'm a great programmer, but I'm decent.

What would be good advice for this situation? Just wait around some more trying to steadily get back into school? Edited by Zido_Z

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Which programming languages do you know? There's not just game development, people need programmers in the metal and oil industry too, among other fields.

You could potentially get into game development the side door. A lot of top game developers report such cases. Edited by DrMadolite

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Don't just wait around, apply for as many jobs as you can, even if they "require" a degree (the listed requirements are really just a wishlist), contact the companies you apply at directly if possible, work on your portfolio in your spare time.
Register a company and do freelance work, knowing people in various industries help (Even if they're not software related, everyone needs software), you can use your customers as references when applying for a job. (Having a company makes freelancing easier as the customer won't have the same obligations as if they employed you)

Yes, getting a job without a degree is alot harder but its not impossible, if a company doesn't have too many applicants you can still get an interview and get a chance at showing them what you can do, do your best to pad your resume and keep trying, go back to school if/when you can afford it (unless you get a good job first). Edited by SimonForsman

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@Madolite: C++ mostly, having stepped up from Java and C years ago. I have heard that those industries do want programmers, especially one in Houston TX.

@Simon: I've done that a few times, but never got any word back from anyone. Not to mention, a portfolio of programs is harder to evaluate than having working experience at a company. That's why degrees are more desired: it's a proven stable that I was able to understand the minimum computer science-related subjects that they give you. But it seems at the moment being freelance is probably my best bet. It's probably also because of my location. I don't live in industry-heavy areas such as Austin, California, and Seattle. And moving to such is clearly out of my capabilities at the moment.

But I respect your advice, and will continue to push myself out there until someone bites.

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Do you have solid knowledge of standard Methodology, Paradigms, Abstractions, etc? I think Simon says it best, but I thought I'd ask because those can at least give you a greater perspective on things. There's a lot of bad habit traps that you can risk falling into as completely self-taught.

Anyways, it's not impossible as Simon says (lol did I just... o.O). I'd definitely look deeper into the range of relevant industries, if I were you - and then combine that with proper education. Freelance is also good. Build your economy. Edited by DrMadolite

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I like to think I do. Good thing about being next to my college is I still have access to their extensive computer science and engineering library. I like to choose a book close to my subject every month and study it. I make test programs to apply what I learn to help me better understand it, much like school does. The funny thing is, I've heard that all Bachelor's programs do is just have students dabble in different areas of computer science. So far, all the ones I've been through have been just easy. But these are sophmore level courses I've experienced. The more advanced courses might be harder, but from friends and from researching the programs, they teach what I already dabbled in and likely can learn in a couple of months, if not less.

I usually think that because someone like me is in high demand, it wouldn't be so hard, but these people do want competence. And I'm just a sole guy working a part time job trying to get back into school so I can get a better job that I enjoy and make more money in. But I'll try networking through my engineering department as much as I can. Not being a student, they don't really concern themselves much with me, but I can still apply for internships and such.

Thank you for at least getting me thinking about the alternatives.

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A friend of mine got into programming with no degree. He wasn't even that good at programming, he just kept applying to jobs and turning up in person to ask for work and saying he was willing to do menial tasks in a hope to move up. I think he started out doing basic computer maintenance at a company and they actually helped him to learn to program, which he was expected to do in his own free time.

He's a developer now :)

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Let me tell you my personal history and then let me give my advice.

[b]Personal History[/b]:
I dropped out of high school and never got a degree. I have never worked in America (my home town) and instead have been working in France, Thailand, Japan, all over the world. I got a GED from a 2-year vocational college, which lasted only 1 year. My student loan went ignored for almost 6 years.
That about sums up myself.

[b]My Advice[/b]:
I never advise a lack of education. I am not going to tell anyone to drop out.
But that is not what is needed here. Someone here has a messed-up educational background, for reasons outside of his or her control (or so we assume).
The message here is that education is not everything.

What I have is a [i]diploma[/i]. Most people get that when they graduate high school. I couldn’t manage that, so I had to get one through a 2-year vocational college.
Of course, neither way matters to an employer, since they are all looking for degrees, right?


You think too much. That is my advice.
There are people in my company who have bachelor’s degrees and make half my salary.
There are people who have no degrees at all and make-
-probably half my salary—but they do have a job.
I happen to know of one in particular who has no degree specifically because that person is 20 years old and still in a University.

The company has basically decided that said person is either still studying or made a legitimate attempt at studying, and should be given a chance.

Considering how much leniency the company has given me (unlike Zynga, not only do they allow me to make my own spare-time next-generation engine which might compete with theirs, they even make jokes about me stealing their technology for my engine—as long as I give back anything I learn in my spare time all is good) I know that my case is not the world-wide standard, but then again it would seem that my primary skill is in dodging bullets, because somehow I keep finding companies with the same mindset.

Every single company for which I have worked has had a similar policy, and that suggests to me that companies willing to understand a person’s educational background are fairly common.

I would not suggest jumping into one of the major 10 companies right away, since they generally are pickier, what with having the budget to be choosy and all.
But since more down-to-earth and understanding companies outnumber the major corporates by no less than a factor of 10, it is fairly safe to assume you can get a job.


[b]How? [/b]
Check [url="http://gamedevmap.com/"]GameDev Mao[/url] for openings both in and out of your area. If you recount my own history, I had a GED. That alone is enough to work in any country in the world including Japan, which was my personal goal. That means if you want the world to be your oyster you only need a 2-year vocational degree, not a 4-year diploma that my ex-boss considered having only the meaning that you expect a lot of money even though you don’t have a lot of skills. Sad but true. High degrees hinder your growth. I have recently read on this very site a lot of people suggesting [b]not[/b] to get a PhD. You will never get hired once you have one of those. My experience confirms this. Even I myself had strange feelings interviewing a PhD. Also, he passed the interview but did not get the job due to having asked for too much. I guess the boss was right.
Yes you can get into Morgan Stanley with a PhD, but then again [i]I[/i] got into Morgan Stanley after dropping out of high school and getting a GED. Why use more effort than is necessary? Frankly my experience tells me that a degree has absolutely no value in this industry. Programmers are lucky. Most places have enough sense to hire on actual skill, not on educational background.

If you think you need you need papers (IE: you want to live overseas (let me tell you it is a blast; I will never go back)) then you can get a student loan and take a 2-year vocational course to get the papers. The student loan doesn’t need to be paid back right away, if money is your issue. I did pay mine, but 6 years later, when I actually had a job in the industry.

Otherwise you have a perfectly legitimate shot at the industry in your current condition. Don’t fret the small stuff. Generally employers will be understanding, at least if you apply at companies not run by corporate. That means small and sometimes medium companies, not companies who think about nothing but money, such as Zynga.
Of course, if your goal is to work at a major company that cares about only money, never fear. Work experience makes up for it all.
Nothing is more valuable to a future employer than having seen the fact that you had previously been working for several years at a company where you felt you were being held back, and the chance of growth just wasn’t there.

Of course you will ultimately find out that the chance of growth is highest in those smaller companies, but I don’t want to spoil the whole surprise.


L. Spiro

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