Experience vs. Education

The USA Today’s Snapshot for today indicated that the IT industry prefers to hire experience. 84% of those hired have previous IT experience, over just 16% of new college graduates. As an IT professional getting started I had the opportunity to start my career during college. Even though that really helped me overall, it took a while for me to understand what “experience” really meant.

The best career advice that I can give besides having a strong resume is to start working in the field of your choice before you graduate. While co-op programs are great, I believe you have to take your destiny into your own hands and try to get into a company doing the “grunt” work of your field while you go to college.

I still would like to stress that Education is the best way to get into the corporate world. That diploma is your passport into companies. However, experience is that elite club that will get you to the head of the line. I am careful not to say that without a diploma you cannot get into the IT business, I know a couple of people that made it in without one and are very successful, but it does make it easier to get a better pay from day one.

Speaking of pay, experience will get you better paid… but you might have to sacrifice pay while getting experience. Something that you should always keep in mind is to never step backwards in pay unless you are going to gain experience.

You might be asking yourself what is experience really? My simple answer is that it is the ability to deal with situations that someone without “real world” work experience cannot handle. A little more in depth answer is that it is the skill of being able to apply self tested solutions to problems.

Education makes you trainable, experience makes you valuable. People that go back to school to change careers later in life will tell you that most of the skills that made them great at one profession will count towards the experience in the new field. Human relationships are a huge part of experience. Learning how to deal with clients and peers are things that are hard to teach, they are things that someone just has to learn on their own.

Today when looking at someone that I would like to bring onto my team, their experience is a huge factor. However, I understand that new graduates still need an opportunity to gain that experience and I am trying to come up with ways to expedite that process. Technical knowledge can be “boot camped” however, I don’t know of a good way to cram experience into a class.

I tend to agree with the figures that USA TODAY presented. I with it was not the reality, but Education and Experience are not mutually exclusive. They complement each other well, but the most powerful candidates will always have a mixture. In the end Experience still wins.

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9 comments on “Experience vs. Education

  1. When it comes to the IT field, I think experience takes it hands-down. You are dead on with ‘boot-camped’ IT people that may know a book answer to their certification exam, but can’t solve a real computer problem if their life depended on it. I work with those useless people every day.

    The majority of my IT experience came from my field of work. In fact, I can’t even attribute any of my knowledge to school at all. Perhaps that is why I never finished. Nor does it matter, because I am still employed and can perform my IT duties better than anybody else I know. Perhaps I am better off since I don’t have trillions to pay back in student loans? Anyway, the IT field changes so quickly, how valuable is a degree in IT from ’99 gonna be in a few years? My former boss had a PhD in IT from the 70’s. A PhD!!! And he doesn’t know the first thing about modern computers!!!

    The problem with comparing education in the IT field is that the book answer, or the ‘Microsoft’ answer doesn’t always apply in the real world. Theory, diagrams, the OSI model, just don’t fly when real problems arise. Sometimes the answers come from your own experience, or from the experience of your colleages. This kind of knowledge doesn’t come from classroom experience. The other problem that I have with education is that it is also full of other crap that isn’t relavent in the real world. Classes that are general education that don’t provide any knowledge value to your field of expertise. And the fact that the majority of colleges are full of Liberal professors that pass their agenda onto the students just sickens me. Yeah, stop telling us why the corporate and Capitalist world is evil when we’re gonna be working as part of it when we graduate! Maybe if professors had a real job… Ugh.

    There is no guarantee that that expensive piece of paper will land you the job. If there is any truth in employment, it is this: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

    I guess the argument for both really depends on the job at hand. But for the IT field, if I were the employer, I’d choose experience over education every single time. It may be bias, but I am living proof.

  2. I’d argue it’s even more about who you know. I was lucky enough to strike gold when one of my many outside projects involved working with a guy that was in a position to offer me a fantastic job.

    Furthermore, comparatively to the amount I learned during personal research and projects like the one that got me the job, school was a waste of time. My coworker is an English major dropout and writes better code than I do.

  3. However, a lot of companies will not even look at you without a degree regardless of experience… mind you, that is changing and part of it is the open source world.

  4. There’s no question that when I was looking for my first job out of college, they said that the fact that I had three different internships/jobs in my field is what set me apart from the other candidates with the same major, the same type of school and the same GPA.

  5. That’s actually a fantastic point. The english major dropout I speak of was only hired because I was able to look at some of the open source code he had written and I realized he’d be a great asset to the team. This is worthy of a blog entry, but the bottom line is if you want to get hired, write something that other people can see to determine your worth.

  6. I remember coming out of school there was this dichotomy…

    They wanted a person with experience for the openings but they wanted to pay starting out wages…so they’d eliminate those of us without expereince and then those with the experience didnt’ want to take the jobs for the lower salary. I’m blessed that I have a wide variety of experience now….looking back and taking the longer view of my career (if you can call it that….I call it that wacky collection of jobs), I can see how my experience has been gained. The thing is–you also have to be open to things once you get the job. You can’t just get into your niche and hope to stay there forever….branch out, learn new things, always be learning and evoloving. Don’t make yourself indespensible in just one area..yes, it’s good to be great at your primary job, but having a variety of assetts and skills to bring to the table is a good thing. I survived a ton of layoffs at one job beause I ws good at my primary job but I was never afraid to learn more, take on more and do those with the same zeal and vigor that I did my original job…

  7. There is only so much you can learn from books. Experience gives you the extra edge to stay in the game.

  8. In my opinion, it depends on the person, whether that person will do exceptional at the position. Some get higher education for the degree, and some for the knowledge; some gain experience by doing the minimal, while some make tremendous efforts. People swindle in both categories, either by cheating on tests, or spending more time brown nosing with the boss, than learning the job. Experience can show one how to apply knowledge, but taking two equal people, the college educated person, who knows how to apply the knowledge, will advance the company further, in the long run, more than the experienced person. Think of this overly simplified example of two people at the gas station for the first time: Experienced and Educated (Ex and Ed for short.) Ex has been driving for a year now, but never has had to put gas in the company vehicle during that time; Ed just graduated from driving college. Ex looks at the prices, and decides to use diesel, because it is cheaper; even though it costs more, Ed has learned from Fuel101 (“Why did I have to take that class; it has nothing to do with driving,”) that diesel will not work in an engine designed for unleaded.

    Ex learned, through experience, using diesel has consequences in an unleaded vehicle, but because Ed understands the different fuels and their uses, Ed did not need to experience it, and waste company money on repairs. Now Ed will have a hard time first starting out on the job, until confidence in applying the class knowledge is gained; on the other hand, Ex will cost the company more headaches when using unleaded in the new diesel vehicle.

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