What matters more than a college degree in the IT industry?

As an IT professional, you've likely spent time, effort and money educating yourself on technologies, systems and solutions with the intention of getting hired thanks to those learned skills and abilities. Therefore, it makes complete sense to add your education history to your resume, as this demonstrates that you're smart, you're talented and you know what you're talking about. After all, a college education is mandatory. Right?

Of course, a degree matters, but it really isn't everything. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, contributor and Dittach CEO Daniel Gelernter explained that he doesn't hire job applicants simply because they have majored in computer science. His reasoning is that what students are taught is often not what's cutting-edge in the field, and therefore, many courses are irrelevant to the real world, as they don't cover the appropriate skills. Instead, Gelernter believes there should be more of a focus on learning practical talents and abilities – he gives mobile app development as an example.

A similar idea is echoed by the Young Entrepreneur Council's recent article for Forbes, as the association asserted that regardless of the tech role, hiring managers should choose a job applicant with experience. The gist of the YEC's argument is that you should only be hired if you're familiar with the technologies and industry that are associated with the open position.

"You are expected to have a vast skill set in emergent technologies."

The common thread leading these assertions is that the tech industry evolves rapidly. You already know this, and it makes professional development very important in IT sectors, regardless of the roles, because you are expected to have a firm grasp of and a vast skill​ set pertaining to emergent technologies, programming languages and systems. This is especially true when applying to a new job – you need to be able to convey to hiring managers that you have experience in certain areas of interest.

Explaining your experience
Gelernter explained that the best indication of skill is when a job applicant for a developer position has a "longtime love of coding." In that sense, you should always demonstrate an eagerness to explore your industry further, as well as prove that your skills and talents are hobbies, not money-making tools (even if they are actually just that). That means highlighting interesting side projects on your resume, bringing in a portfolio of work that you've completed in the past and actively showing excitement when talking about your abilities and the associated technologies.

With hiring managers, the industry jargon could be confusing, but if you're talking to a fellow IT professional, speak like you know what you're talking about and be specific about what skills and experience you have. For example, Network Computing contributor Lee Badman told a story about a job applicant who had high ambitions and applied at a larger enterprise. To woo his interviewer, the individual used clear and specific statements about work history, Badman explained, and it worked. Instead of saying, "I set up office Wi-Fi" or "I worked on the corporate VPN," get more granular, Badman recommended.

Don't be too cool for school
Another great way to demonstrate your technical prowess and certain abilities is with certifications and courses. These are a fantastic way to develop existing skills, as well as learn and become certified in new ones. Subhash Tantry, president of Mettl​, told IT Business Edge contributor Don Tennant that certifications are critical in IT, especially since systems and technologies constantly evolve. Tantry posited that hiring managers will be more keen on tech certifications in the near future because someone with modern accreditation is clearly up-to-date on the latest industry trends and techniques.

Get certified in new tech and solutions to demonstrate your capabilities.Get certified in new tech and solutions to demonstrate your capabilities.

In regard to what you should get certified in, it's recommended you learn a particular technology or talent before exploring more creative options. According to a Glassdoor survey, 72 percent of employees said that training courses for "specific skills" are worth more than a college education. So, take a deep dive into your job sector and identify one or two talents that you'll most likely need in the next two years, and take some courses on that technology, technique, system or programming language.

As a final note, perhaps the most important suggestion for professional development is to never discount the benefits of networking. Whether it's in-person at events and conferences or on LinkedIn, you need to connect with people in the industry and discuss technology trends with them. These individuals can back up your skills with an endorsement on LinkedIn or they can be references on resumes. Simply put, the more people who know you in your sector, the bigger the chance of someone sticking up for your experiences and abilities.

Long story short, a college degree isn't the only thing you can rest on in this industry. As an IT professional, you know that technology evolves too rapidly for many to keep up with. So, if you can harness new skills and develop your talents in step with the industry's evolution, you'll stand out on paper and in interviews.

What matters more than a college degree in the IT industry?
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