22

Does going to a less famous University that might not be terribly selective necessarily preclude someone from being considered from the elite software companies, i.e. Google or Microsoft regardless of my actual abilities? Furthermore how often do you find your alumni places a factor when looking for a job?

Thanks again for the responses.

24 accepted

You might find that you have to go to a lot more effort to get the initial interview at bigger places if you didn't go to a "name" school (for example, I know Google heavily recruits from Stanford). Once you get the interview, however, those places are pretty good at spotting talent. If you think you have what it takes to work for a Google or Amazon, then I say go for it.

20

I would say that your chances at getting a job straight out of school at the Microsofts, Googles, and Fog Creeks of the world would be significantly impacted by going to a less selective, potentially less rigorous school (especially in the case of Fog Creek, Joel isn't bashful about being a college snob ;-).

However:

As you gain more experience, you will be judged more and more on the body of work you have produced, and less and less on the degree you have. The importance will never drop to 0, especially if you want to go into management, but it gets to be less of a factor once you can point to a significant portfolio of previous work.

For college hires, having gone to a selective university is helpful to your prospective employer, in that your university went through the legwork of sifting through lots of applications, and they chose yours. Having made it through that selective process, and doing relatively well as far as coursework and grades, gives a company some basis for thinking that you might also make it through their selective hiring process, and makes it easier for them to justify spending time and money evaluating your application and recruiting you. In other words, it's not pure snobbery, it's using the college admissions process as a data point, and if everyone who applies to your college is accepted, that data point is essentially meaningless.

16

Something my dad taught me that seems to still be true - "The only thing your diploma does is get you in the first door, what you do after you get in the door determines your career from there".

I think that's still true. In a big, big company, hiring tech managers can't easily redirect the massive HR department to recruit from smaller schools. Its a numbers game and the recruiters go back to schools that have produced good hires in the past. Having tried to get new schools into the mix, I have found it isn't easy.

That said, I'd like to point out that the concept of "prestigious" is different list for tech work than it is for ?other work?. While people love to cite the Ivy League as the pinnacle for college graduation recruitment - I don't find that true when it comes to hiring engineers. Of the Ivy League (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale), only a few produce grads that are enticing as programmers, and none of the list are hotly recruited colleges for my company.

In comparison, I'd say the prestigious schools for engineering are the various institutes of tech, and polytechnic institutes. Our listing for great schools is fairly regional - in Boston, we find it easiest to recruit from the Boston schools - so BU, BC, WPI, NorthEastern are our favorites. Plus RIT, Rensselaer once and a while.

The focus for me, as a manager, is to look for students with a hands on background. I don't really care what school the diploma says, I look for a program that has:

  • at least one killer course - typically an operating system course where you had to program a great deal of an operating system. Sometimes I hear of a compiler course that has similar challenges (like writing a compiler, or delving seriously into how languages are compiled). I'm open to other Killer Courses, but I have to be able to figure out that the student had to face several "what the heck is that??? This is too hard!!!" problems in the span of the term, and overcome them, preferably with team work.
  • software engineering course - don't care what it's called, but it made students do a project from requirements through system test, where they had to intuit vague requirements from a clueless "customer".
  • a college that actively encouraged work in the field - I don't really care whether the student had to get credits for it, but to know that the college prepped students for an internship, and that student actually did an an intership is a big huge win.
  • Work in a heavy duty language - a student has to go above and beyond if he hasn't done anything but high level languages. I want to see something like C, C++, Assembly, (LISP is a plus), or something else that is closer to the bare bones of the hardware.

If I see these basic elements, plus a sound grounding in general language concepts that are fairly standard for CS programs - I'm not going to turn down the applicant, provided they seem Smart and Able to Get Things Done.

8

The importance of Where you got your degree is inversely proportional to the number of years since you've graduated. If you're still hustling your ivy league CS degree in your 40's and don't have a bad ass CV to match, then on your career ladder you're a few rungs below a college dropout who has written his own compilers and 3D games.

7

Going to an Ivy League university is likely to get your CV nearer to the top of the pile, I'd say. I would hope that's justified, too - that the course is tougher and teaches you more. If, on the other hand, there's a "less generally prestigious but better for CS" university which is an option, I'd probably go for that. Microsoft and Google are likely to have smart enough recruiters to know which are the decent universities.

5

Let me relay an anecdote: I was once in a meeting where this topic came up. A colleague, who is in the top 3 engineers I've ever been lucky enough to work with, said, "it's stupid to worry about degrees, I don't have one!" Another colleague -- another insanely smart guy -- said, "well, yeah, but it's kind of like drafting a 5'8" point guard... you're pretty special, so your lack of degree doesn't matter so much."

So it doesn't preclude anything, if you're good enough to not let it.

3

I think each aspect of your education is simply a little piece of your resume: if you find yourself competing against other candidates that are similar in many ways, then it may be a factor, and you might also get a small boost if you get a degree from a very strong CS program, or a small penalty if you went through an unknown program, but it shouldn't preclude you from being considered for most positions if you're a good candidate.

And honestly, if a company would shoot you down simply because you didn't go to a school they liked, it's probably not a place you'd want to work anyway.

2

More so I know some guys who don't have a degree of any sort that can sling some great code. So no, education != skill.

2

It really doesn't matter.

I'm in a similar boat as you. I went to a less-prestigious (and less selective) school to get my degree. However, I had plenty of experience, so I wasn't being picky either; I wanted the path of least resistance to get a degree.

When I've looked for a job, most potential employers ask me where I went to school almost as an afterthought... usually not until the second interview even. The experience I have (about 7 years of it) overrides whatever school I went to; the fact that I went is enough for them.

Also... people you interview with may very well have gone to the same school as you (have interviewed with three people in the past month that went to the school I went to, and we chatted quite a bit about teachers, classes, etc), so that may even give you a leg up at some places. Remember, just because someone hires people now doesn't mean they went to Harvard. Lots of hiring managers made exactly the same choices prior to their careers as you did.

1

It'll open some doors (and could close some, perhaps) if you picked school A over school B based on it being better known.

If you know your stuff, however, it shouldn't matter. And 10 years out, nobody's going to care. I haven't the foggiest where some of the guys in my shop went to school but I know they can sling some great code.

1

I went to work for a small company when I graduated from college, and they barely noticed I had gone to school, let alone which one.

I worked with folks who were going back for their bachelor's degrees, and some folks who hadn't finished high school. The entire team performed well.

Personally, I wish I had gone to a more 'rigorous' school because I learned next to nothing at the college I finished my four-year degree from. But that had nothing to do with my ability to be hired.

1

So the real question is how much more will you actually have to make once you get the job to pay off the extra student loan debt that the big name school costs.

1

That's a tough question.

I think if it matters, it matters primarily for your first job.

One issue is that more interesting companies tend to recruit (with events and career fairs) and such at the top tech schools and rarely ever venture elsewhere. This means that whereas students in those schools would have the option of meeting company folks, going to information sessions, having on campus interviews, etc. If you go to another school, you have to go through the impersonal HR process which is less effective.

A second issue is that internships at tech companies are much easier to come by if you are in a top school. Employees who want an intern have an easier time justifying it if the person's from a top school.

Being from a school that's considered a party school rather than a serious one could be a problem, though honestly, if you have a CS degree, that plays in your favour.

In general, being from a good school can attract employers (just like a high GPA or class ranking) but can also scare some (e.g., they may think you're a snob or that you'd want more money or that you have no reason to be involved with their company).

I think I'm encountering the latter situation in my case (an MS and a PhD from a top-4), where most companies I approach wonder why I'm even applying for a hands-on position.

1

Your initial social network is likely to be based on your school. (Yes, online community also forms a network.)
I can't generalize, but in my case attending an elite engineering school meant that I met a lot of people who could introduce me to other interesting people. It also meant I was in a culture that valued engineering way more than looks, ability to get drunk, or charm. And it also meant I was surrounded by people way smarter than me, so I could learn from the students, too.
And finally, yes, having the brand name on the resume has meant that people paid a little more attention to me.

0

I'd say it can affect your potential career path, but not as much as with other disciplines.

Say you go to a less famous university that doesn't have quite as good an employability rating due to various factors. Large corporations and companies would therefore be less enticed by your degree meaning you will need to have more weight behind your work experience and portfolio pieces. It sucks to think that way and that other graduates will have a slightly easier time, but once you've been out in the world of work for a few years your degree means very little anyway (experience trumps education :))

0

The only place it really matters (assuming you aren't thinking of grad school) is in getting the first interviews. Once you land the first job and get some industry experience the school no longer matters, which is why education goes beneath experience on resumes. A great school may give you some better networks when you get out, and may open some immediate doors, especially at large institutions, but a good reference will mean much more after a couple years.

0

As with anything you can put on a resume, 90% of the time all it does is get someone to tilt there head and say, "Interesting, let's call them." If you happen to have an extremely interesting, related project on your resume that too can pique a hiring manager's interest.

I went to a state school here in Florida, the University of Central Florida. We aren't an Ivy League school, but the Computer Science and Engineering departments are well known for their achievements. A lesser known fact is that they filter the Comp Sci students, well, I say filter but really its a learning checkpoint. They have a test called the Foundation Exam for Computer Science which basically tests all the Comp Sci basics. This ensures that you will not only finish the program, but that you're foundation is solid.

Little things like that can really make a difference. As can honors programs, and ACM recognitions. Just remember, everything counts. Grades, achievements, club memberships, school & work projects etc.

0

The good news is you will have a degree. That opens so many doors.

0

Speaking from experience, I have two things to say about CS degrees.

Most freshly minted CS grads have to be retrained before they're useful in a commercial organization. CS programs often don't emphasize what is really needed to get work done: testing, integration, documentation, refactoring, databases, version control, estimation, encapsulation, naming and communication skills are often lacking. I'm always astonished how many grad students aren't even aware that version control exists. If I want someone to write fancy algorithms I'll look for a CS grad, but for everything else I'm looking for practical experience.

Like an artist, a good programmer should have a portfolio of their work. A good employer should ask for a sample of the programmer's work. You can tell heaps more about how will work by looking at their past work (surprise!) then by where (or if) they got their degree. In fact, once you've got a good sample of their code the interview is really a matter of getting to know if their personality will be a good fit and if they have any applicable side-skills. Open Source projects are great for that, and show enthusiasm for programming outside of just 9 to 5.

I realize hiring practices aren't rational like that, but at least if I'm doing the hiring a CS degree isn't going to by you much. (It is worth noting my bias, I have no degree. I failed out of the one of the finest computer engineering schools in the world).

0

Actually having a CS degree at all seems to have set me apart in most of the places I've worked. On top of that, I'd worry about the general rep of the college more than its rep in the CS world. It's rare that I have ever been interviewed or worked for someone with an actual CS educational background.

I will say that our newer hires seem to be more likely to have CS degrees, but all of them from state schools so small I'd never even heard of them before.

Having attended Tulane on occasion does seem to impress people who are used to seeing state colledge grads. The down side is that when Katrina hit New Orleans, one of the casualties was my CS department, so I no longer have that behind me.

0

I think for 99% of the developer jobs out there, as long as it is a reputable university or college, it doesn't matter. I think some places would probably look down on a community college degree, but a lot of places wouldn't even know that it was or wasn't one.

I got my degree from a large state university who's program usually is in the top 40 or 50. But believe me, no one ever interviewing me knows that. I suppose if you went to an impressive school like MIT, that never hurts, but I think for most places, if your degree says "University of __________", you're fine.

0

I got my BS degree in Lviv, Ukraine. Had no problems getting good jobs in Moscow and Norway. In Norway they asked my diploma translated ;)

0

Don't choose a school based on its name panache. Instead, choose a school that has a curriculum that you'd enjoy with professors and a student body to support you. Combine that with the region where you'd like to ultimately live and work, and you're golden.

I went to the University of Texas at Austin for those two reasons: it has an awesome environment for an education (both scholastic and life), and I lived in Texas. It was also cheap and I paid off the whole thing in less than 10 years.

0

My anecdotal experience is that it depends more on what you've done and your ability to communicate it than your degree.

I got precisely one bit of negative feedback on my degree (BA in CS from Oberlin College) during an interview - I was asked to explain why I thought it was realistic to apply for a programming job with an arts degree. I believe in the value of breadth of education and chose a liberal arts college for that breadth. I seem to recall that that interview got a lot easier after I was asked to write Towers of Hanoi and my response was "recursive or non-recursive?"

0

I would say not, but only if you do the right things. I go to a small private college in Pennsylvania and am graduating in May. I have had interviews at some of the largest defense contractors and, in addition to those companies, I recently have been invited for a second round of interviews at Microsoft (as far as I know, I am the second person from my college to ever interview at Microsoft).

I would say that if you work hard to get good grades and perform one or two very interesting internships you will gather enough experience to work pretty anywhere as a software engineer.

I currently have an internship with the Navy, but I have done projects (for class and outside the internship) with companies in Pennsylvania and companies in North Carolina. The name of the college really doesn't matter, as long as you get good experience and a good education.

0

I think you'll find that the only thing a degree from a prestigious university does is it helps you get that "first job".

When you're looking for that first job, your CV is not going to have a lot on it, and people are just going to use the school as some indication of your ability, only because of the limited information on your CV.

Even if you go to a top-flight school, work experience can have a tremendous impact on your chances of getting an interview/job. So, if you're not going to MIT, you can offset that "disadvantage" with things like internships, open source work, etc.

As you get farther away from your time in school, the educational background becomes a lot less important than your work experience. At a certain point, it's just irrelevant, since you should have enough information on your resume that education is just another small data point.

I know that when I look at resumes, I'm looking more for evidence of technical acumen, growth, and fit, and not necessarily "ooh, this person went to ".

0

I recently talked to a recruiter about a position. And she said to me, quoting her actual email:

"I don?t think that they have ever hired anyone without a 4 yr degree from a top tier school, but from your description, You may be a good fit."

This is the first time I have ever encountered this.

0

Straight out of school it really matters. Most medium-sized companies I have worked for only recruit within a few nearby states and the top schools only there.

0

I know of jobs and companies where pedigree matters much more than skill. The real question is whether you really want to work at a place that rewards appearance more than achievement.

One of the smartest engineers I've ever known, went to a community college. Another has no degree whatsoever. Both taught me a fair amount.

To quote Mark Twain, "never let your schooling interfere with your education". Focus on what fascinates you, constantly be building and learning, and I guarantee you good things will eventually come your way. You'll make your own luck.

-1

CS Degree? I don't need no stinking CS degree!

I'm an English major, dammit! I can code AND write readable comments.