You can have a great career as a software developer without a degree.

I don’t have a degree and I have had an amazing career in software development.

Today, I am going to show you how I slipped in the back door of companies whose first filtering technique is looking for a degree.

Would it of been easier with a degree?  At the start yes, but I would not have changed my career journey.

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.
– Theodore Roosevelt

Without further ado, here is my story.

My first dream job

I went to college to do my A levels with the end goal of becoming an engineering officer in the Royal Navy.

Why on else would I do maths, further maths and physics 🙂

At the end of my A levels, I went through the hardest 3 day interview of my life with 25 other young hopefuls at a Naval base in Plymouth.

Out of 25, 5 got through and the rest of us travelled home to figure out what to do next.

I came back to college and spoke to my favourite lecturer for some advice. I will always remember him as his shirt sleeves were always rolled up and he had forearms like Popeye.

He told me that it was too late to enrol in university. He knew I loved computers and recommended I did a 3 year HND in software engineering. The second year spent working at GEC Avionics.

Wow I loved it, I found a new passion for developing software and during the year at GEC Avionics I worked on –

  • Submarine tracking software for Nimrod and Sea King helicopters
  • Primary flight software for the Boeing 777 – what, you will never fly again?

A new dream

I graduated with flying colours and started work full time at GEC avionics. When I tried to buy my first dream car and could not afford the insurance, I decided that I needed a job that paid more.

I started looking at how I could get a well paid job working at a prestigious firm in the City of London. I wrote hundreds of job applications, but nothing, just lots of “we will put you on file” replies.

I finally figured out that I was not getting past the front door as I did not have a degree. I also noticed commercial employers wanted C & Windows SDK experience.

What now?

As always my fantastic mum saved the day, she met a computer consultant whilst at work and he kindly offered to help train me.

I spent the next 6 months in the evenings writing programs in C/C++ and Windows 3.1 SDK.

Yes I am that old.

After that, I looked for contract role and landed one outside London. I got a 2 week trial which turned into a year. Well I was quite good at C++ then 🙂

I spent the next few years contracting and freelancing for small companies in the area until I decided to try London again.

I landed a contract with a small company outside Cannon Street, I was getting closer to my dream.

Well in distance anyway.

Close but no cigar

I then looked for a contract role with one of the prestigious city companies I wrote to years ago. The market was crazy at the time and I got offered four roles.

I took a role on a trading floor writing software for the traders. I worked from 7am to 7pm everyday and took no holiday that year. It was exhausting, but I had gained so much experience and established a good reputation.

I them moved onto another prestigious firm in Canary Wharf as a contractor.

It was fantastic and actually got to fly to Seattle and spend some time at the Microsoft campus evaluating c# and .net for the company. Wow, what a place to work.

I also started managing a small team and continued to work long hours to build up my experience.

After a year, they asked me to turn to the dark side, they offered me a full time role. They recognised my leadership skills and wanted to invest in my career, which they could not do if I was a contractor.

The same company that was not interested in talking to me as I did not have a degree were now offering me a full time job.

I had snuck in by the back door without them noticing 🙂

14 years later, I have had the privilege to lead some the world’s software development elite in London, New York, Singapore and India.

All this without a degree.

To sum up

So you see you can excel in your software career without a degree and if I was to sum it all up from my experience. I would say –

  • Learn a set of technologies that employers are looking for. Then become the best you can be in them. Train, practice and even train others about them.
  • Work on your soft skills i.e. communication, team work, negotiation, flexibility, etc.
  • Build a reputation and create a network of trusted colleagues.
  • Work the hardest you can to get as much experience as you can.
  • Keep on learning especially from people around you.
  • Get advice from a mentor or coach.
  • Be patient and always be positive, even if things are not going to plan.
  • And don’t forget to keep reading this blog 🙂

Thats how I landed my dream job without a degree. Now it is your turn.

If you need career advice, I am always happy to help, just ping an email over to nicholas.foster@develite.com.

Categories: Personal Development