Anyone interested in a career in web development or software engineering would love to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. Wouldn’t you love his millions? And wouldn’t you love to say you got there without graduating from an elite college – or from any college? Well, sure. But here’s the cold, hard, truth: He (and those like him) are not good representatives of the future of the average college drop out. Mark Zuckerberg is not the norm – he’s an outlier. But his story, and the stories of those of the same ilk – Bill Gates, for example – are so tempting. If they can do it – and do it in a big way, why can’t you? Their rags to riches, college drop out to zillionaire or tech genius stories are seductive and, therefore, dangerous.
Can you really follow in their footsteps? Yes. Absolutely. But it’s a hard slog – most definitely not an easy path. The reality is that there are thousands of open software engineering and web development jobs and a big skills gap, so there aren’t enough people to fill them, so if you make the right learning choices, apply yourself, and get the experience you need, yes, there’s a good chance you’ll land a decent job. One vital point to remember is that everyone’s circumstances differ, each of us learns better in different settings, and our financial situation and risk level varies. Therefore, there’s no one clear-cut answer to the question “which is better? A 4-year degree, a coding bootcamp, or self-learning.” But we’ve put together this guide to help you find out which is the best educational route for you.
A 4-year degree is a smart choice if you’ve got the time and the money. Most employers look favorably on applicants with a degree under their belts. It doesn’t have to be a computer science degree or software engineering degree, though. If you’ve already started college or obtained a degree, you’ve already proven that you’ve got the brains and the discipline necessary to succeed. Quincy Larson, founder of Free Code Camp, has this to say on the subject: “If you already have a 4-year degree, I would not recommend going back to school.”
Most employers will consider a degree in a related field, such as mathematics, a science, or engineering, as long as you’ve got a decent portfolio and some demonstrable experience. And there are plenty of other employers out there who don’t require a degree at all – but may look favorably on those who have a degree of some kind.
Computer Science vs. Software Engineering
Computer science degrees are more common than software engineering degrees, although more and more institutions are starting to offer software engineering programs as the job market continues to expand. Computer science degrees are more theoretical. They give you a really solid foundation in how a computer works and why it behaves in such a manner. You’ll spend a great deal of time working with algorithms and such and learning the theory and science behind development.
If you opt for a software engineering degree, you’ll obviously learn some theory, too, but you’ll be studying a much more applied program. You’ll focus less on the “why” and more on the “how,” and you’ll engage in builds and problem sets with varying degrees of difficulty.
Who is a 4-Year Degree Suitable For?
Both degrees are relevant and worthwhile – if you have four years of full-time study to commit and if you have the funds to pay for your degree and to support yourself while you learn. You’ll graduate pretty much job-ready (although you may want to get an internship and you should definitely have been tinkering with learning and perfecting your grasp of one or two programming languages and building an awesome portfolio while studying).
If you’re someone who likes structure and group study, a degree will benefit you, as the curriculum is tightly controlled and well-defined. A degree is a great choice for young people with no family (low risk) to support who are toward the beginning of their career or professionals with significant savings who want to leave the workplace to study and change careers. It’s not the best choice for those who have a family to support (high risk) or who simply don’t have the funds to pay for study and support themselves for four years.