I’ve been a bit lucky in my career. I graduated in 1981 and quickly got a job creating software at Price Waterhouse. Apart from a couple of layoffs, including six companies going out of business, I’ve spent the last three decades writing software for banking, finance, accounting, and game programming and design companies, as well as working as a software engineer. But over those years, as the technology and job market has continued to change, I’ve noticed that credentialism — the excessive reliance on degrees in determining hiring, promotion and status — is increasing across the board.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, it was possible to get a programming job with an ordinary degree. Now, despite my 31 years of experience, which includes an impressive skill-set, I can no longer apply for many of the jobs offered because they require a higher degree than mine. These days you won’t get past the recruiter without surmounting that ever rising bar.
Over the last couple of years, there has been a flood of online programs for those of us who are looking to sharpen our skills. The best of the free online courses are offered by Coursera, Udacity, Edx and Codeacademy. There’s also the University of the People, a nonprofit organization that offers accredited courses for a small membership fee and exam fees of $100 per course. They offer Associate and Bachelor degrees in Computer Science and Business Administration.
I’ve made the online learning leap. I’m currently taking Python for Games programming with Coursera, and I’m really enjoying it. The class takes 7-8 hours a week, over eight weeks and includes an hour of videos, two quizzes and an assigned program to write each week. The program uses their online IDE which runs Python in a browser.
I’d also like to give those of you considering online learning a hot tip. Next year Udacity will be running a course on high performance HTML5 game development. The class is being created and run by Google staff and should fill early.
There’s a plethora of free courses available. Some aren’t that great, so do your research. The biggest issue is that while many of these classes offer in-demand skills, they don’t offer credentials, which may leave you no nearer to getting a job. That’s credentialism in action, as well as a sad irony. Employers say they can’t get enough experienced staff and need more H1B visas to bring in foreign graduates. However, there’s a growing pool of job seekers who may be well qualified for the work and have attained a high level of expertise through their online adventures. It would be a prudent business decision if recruiters and employers would relax their credential standards, acknowledge the advances in online learning and look closer to home.