University Degrees for Technology Professionals

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Technology is influencing most industries and education is no different. With technology jobs evolving at a fast pace, and new technologies being introduced continually, the question gets asked ‘what’s the value in a degree that could be outdated by the time I graduate?

On my podcast Newy Tech People, I ask all my guests their opinion on the value of formal education, their experiences and views on it’s importance in the career of a technology professional.

Below is an overview of their answers.

What are your experiences with university degrees? What do you think the value is? 

Mathew Finch, Head of Emerging Technology at NIB Health Funds: I did six months of Uni, really the first four years of my career was just slogging it out in jobs, tech jobs, my first job that I got in the States was fixing computers at a retail store….

I sort of look at the four years I could’ve spent at uni I spent doing entry level tech work. After that four/five year mark, I was probably equivalent to people that had a uni degree anyway, but I had four/five years of experience. This probably got me the job, sometimes over people that may have come out with a degree, but didn’t have any experience.

I think that’s pretty unique to tech though, I don’t wanna bag out degrees entirely. I think in the tech world, you can sort of make your career based on experience a lot of the time. Degrees teach you really good fundamentals, so there were a lot of gaps I had to fill and I’ve had pretty good support along the way from my managers and leaders where I sort of identify I’ve got a gap here, I wouldn’t mind going on a course to fill that gap, or give me a bit more theoretical knowledge in that area.

Anthony Molinia, Chief Information Officer at the University of Newcastle: I think times are changing. It’s not a one size fits all and it should never be one size fits all. Traditionally, higher education has delivered a monolith education set and we are now much more about consumptive or an applied, if you will, economy.

So we need to break things down. Look at it from the perspective of how people use their mobile phones. If they download an app and they don’t like it they just download another one. I look at anything the same way, whether it be buying a consumer product, staying in a hotel or whether it be getting a taxi ride. If I don’t like it, I’ll just switch, so education in my mind needs to be the same way. It’s going to become more competitive.

What I would say is that degrees today serve a purpose and deliver an outcome. However, like I was saying in reference to the blockchain, they need to be chunked up a little bit more. There needs to be a little bit more flexibility and nuances to individuals. I think we’re in an interesting time of change where technology degrees in particular will become part of a lot of degrees because the separation of technology and other functions is becoming a lot more grey. If you think of the notion of cybersecurity for example, is it unreasonable to think that everyone should do CyberSecurity101?

Everyone should be made aware of the risks of cyber security. Maybe that’s something that’s worth considering. In which case technology degrees or technology courses actually become a part of a person’s natural learning journey. I see technology as an enabler. I think technology degrees should be enabling other outcomes not just degrees in their own right. Obviously we still need developers and we still need professionals but again I think they will be a catenation of a lot of learning as opposed to single learning focuses in one area.

Emma Levine, Local Area Marketing & Engagement at Many Rivers: I enjoyed my degree but I didn’t just do three years of an undergrad degree and that was it. I did quite a few internships and volunteered quite a lot through my degree, so I got a lot of professional experience. Some of that was encouraged through my degree, but a lot of it was really just people around me, my brother, just telling me, ‘get out there, go get some experience’.

So, I think that university is great. It’s great for learning how to learn, it’s great for making connections, it’s great for exercising your brain and learning some of these theories. Being a university student actually gave me an excuse to go up to organisations that I was interested in or causes and go, ‘hey can I work for you?’.

Wayne Ingram, Executive Manager, Technology at Mine Super: My opinion has changed over time. So, when I went through high school, no intention of going to university. I left school and went and did a computer course in Melbourne and my intention was go to get a job and that’s the end of it. I picked up a job at a local council, they had a junior role and one of the requirements was you had to do some education. My hand was forced and so I picked a program at Monash University. I was doing that at the same time I was doing full time work.

I spent the next couple years flying all over the world to sites to do I.T work and I kept up the university side. In hindsight, I probably would have went to university straight up and got that out of the way. It sort of took me 6 or 7 years to get that done in between jobs.

Jessica Vandenbruggen Digital Optimisation Manager at NIB Health Funds: I went down to Melbourne and studied information systems and technology down there and I enjoyed it. It really helped me understand what I was into, what I wasn’t into and, gave me a broad understanding of technology that I think has helped me achieve as much as I have. There are different levels of understanding that I think have been really great that have come out of things I’ve had to do as part of my degree.

David Boyd CTO at Mudbath Digital: University thumbs up, that’s the short version. I really like the idea, or what’s missing I find with a lot of especially people who haven’t gone through formal education, is the idea around there’s fundamentals that you need. It also teaches you to think, which is sort of a cliche that university teaches you to think, but it actually does.

I don’t think you have to go to university to do what I do, you can definitely learn it. It’s just that it gives you a head start. It opens the world to computer science…. and here’s a world of how you apply it and it’s very cool to learn.

QUESTION Do you think degrees are a necessity to be a quality technology professional? 

Joshua Leask, Finactly Founder & IoT Architect: Short answer no. In terms of being a quality tech professional, but yes to getting hired. There’s still the old world thinking and every HR person sorts of puts it on the ads “minimums comp sci or equivalent”, and it’s kind of like the minimum bar that they set.

You could be the best coder in the world and you still won’t get through HR…… but, to the point now where there are online courses. You can actually now just do an online course and get the technical proficiency you need without a certification.

Jonathan Milgate, CTO at Camplify: In terms of what you learn at university, it’s much better to learn about how to do things and the history of things and the theory behind it, whereas the actual hands-on technical things as we said, technology is transient, it will change. I learned Java when I was at uni, no one uses Java, (well that’s not true, people use Java).

I’ve never written a line of code of Java in the real world in my life but I did four years of it at university. What I learned was how to write code, how to build systems and that’s what’s really driven me to where I am today. I don’t think it’s a necessity if you’ve got the knack for it, if you’ve got passion for it, and if you can teach yourself how to do it, then go for it. You don’t need university for that sort of thing to an extent.

David Williams, IT Manager at BMT Tax Depreciation Quantity Surveyors: You know, I don’t think it’s a necessity. After a few years of working, I’d imagine I’d still have my degree on my resume but people are looking for your experience and what you’ve done and this is, the view I take as well, ultimately experience trumps education.

Education is wonderful by all means and helps you get the initial foot in the door but after you’ve been working for a few years, in my view, it’s about what you’ve done and so I think education is great but I don’t see it as a necessity.

– more answers to come –

I will publish a second version of the answers with our latest guests in the coming months.

Personally, my opinion as it current stands (it has changed over time) is best described by Adam Grant: “The mark of higher education isn’t the knowledge you accumulate in your head. It’s the skills you gain about how to learn”.

You can find all episodes of The Newy Tech People Podcast on our website www.newytechpeople.com.au. There you can access the show notes for each episode, ways to stream the podcast, full video versions and details of events happening in Newcastle. To follow us on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, just search Newy Tech People.

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