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I don't have a CS degree and I'm terrified

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Entry-Level Software Engineer at Shopify7 months ago

I'm not going to sugar coat it, not having a CS degree is inducing a lot of anxiety right now. I know companies like Shopify (especially) don't really care about your degree, but when I see loads of job postings with a bachelors in CS as a minimum requirement, it terrifies me. I live in Toronto as well and the number of job postings are a lot lower than the US. Should I drop everything to try and get a masters? Or do you think it's better to continue gaining experience first?

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(4 comments)
  • 8
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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    7 months ago

    Once you get your first job, the importance of your degree (or lack thereof) starts to diminish.

    So the question for you would be, what experience have you already been able to find?

    Since a degree is expensive both in terms of time and money, it's worth spending a few weeks to explore alternative paths.

    • If you have any kind of internship or contracting job, use that network to get interviews.
    • If you don't have experience, create your own by building apps or open-source contributions, and then getting feedback (from the Taro community or otherwise) if those projects are meaningful enough to get you an interview.

    See also the great answers about the necessity of a MS CS degree here: "Do I need to do masters in Computer Science to move ahead in career?"

  • 9
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    Senior SWE, Manager at Google
    6 months ago

    It seems you already have a job at Shopify as a SWE, so that should more or less cover for a lack of a degree. Very few companies in tech actually cares about your degree since most of our learnings happens on the job. Therefore, there's no material benefit to doing a CS masters.

    But, you wrote that you have anxieties around not having a CS degree. Sometimes our fears are irrational (my personal fave is "I'm not technical enough") but we need to address them in some way to be our best selves. If doing, say, a part-time degree ameliorates your anxiety, it could be worth it! But before you commit to something as time consuming as a masters degree, at least do some self-reflection to see where your fear is really coming from and whether there are other things you can do to help ameliorate it.

  • 9
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    Founder of Expanded Skills • Former Head of Engineering
    6 months ago

    Hey there, fellow non-CS background also in Toronto here.

    If we take a step back, a CS degree is merely a proxy for knowing certain things that may or may not be useful to being a competent SWE. Unless it's pin-pointing to something specific that is holding your back or your intrinsically care about knowing more/getting better at, ignore it.

    In practical terms, I haven't seen a case where having a CS degree turn a "no" into a "yes" in the recruiting lifecycle (CV or interview stage) for when I did hiring and the other cases I've observed. Anyone who bases a hiring decision based on this is either downright lazy or an unclear thinker, which you should look to avoid if possible (I get the fact that there's a non-zero chance recruiters may screen this way).

    This last part is more personal (and perhaps controversial), but I'm even MORE impressed by someone who knows their stuff in a technical domain in spite of not having a CS degree. It at least proves that they can learn things without being forced to do so in an academic setting.

  • 6
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    5 months ago

    Short answer: No.

    Longer answer: Noooooooooooooo.

    CS degrees are very valuable for SWEs, but not in the way most people think, especially folks from non-traditional backgrounds without them.

    There's this perception that these elite institutions charging you tens of thousands of $$$ across 4+ years must be teaching some amazing software fundamentals that can't be attainable anywhere else. This is simply not true. Schools are ironically pretty terrible at teaching when it comes to software engineering due to the mismatch between academia (traditional, slow) and tech (bold, fast).

    The real value of school from what I've seen over and over is the community, solidarity, and network, particularly the career fairs (and to some extent hackathons). This can be reproduced outside of a university setting, but it's hard as universities are full of people of similar age from similar geographies (people tend to go to schools close to them) studying the same thing.

    Since you work at Shopify (a top-tier tech company), the benefit of a degree is even smaller for you (pretty much 0 IMHO). Your experience at Shopify gives me 100x more signal on your ability to actually build and land impact compared to a degree.

    Source: I went to UCLA (a top 15-20 CS school) and 90% of what I learned there was useless for my career.

    For career advancement, here's some better options to consider:

    • Transfer to a US-based Shopify branch
    • Get promoted to mid-level/senior at Shopify
    • Build side projects and make open-source contributions

    Here's some other good resources to look through:

Shopify Inc. is a Canadian multinational e-commerce company headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario. Shopify is the name of its proprietary e-commerce platform for online stores and retail point-of-sale systems.
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