7 tips for landing your dream tech job without a degree

7 Tips for landing your dream tech job without a degree

Decades ago, life was simple after high school; you either went to work in the factories or went to college. Today, things aren’t so straightforward, as the digital world has made learning new skills without going to college possible.

This ability to learn outside the classroom has somewhat eroded the concept that a degree is the only way to get a high-paying position in a field you love. The IT field is an excellent example of this, as many IT professionals are self-taught and continue their education on the job.

Below are seven tips for landing your dream tech job without a degree. First, let’s look at some of the myths surrounding IT and a degree.

The myth of the degree in IT

It’s common in virtually any advanced field to hear whispers about degree requirements to get into the field. Whether you’re an aspiring editor, write, Java engineer, programmer, network engineer or others, folks in and around the industry may feed you a line that you need a degree to get in.

The IT field is no secret club that requires a piece of paper to get into. Not to sell those with degrees short, but according to nonprofit trade association Computing Technology Industry Association, it just isn’t necessary.

CompTIA polled a wide range of IT workers, spoke to numerous IT hiring manager and analyzed IT job postings to determine a degree is great to have, but it is but not a requirement. According to its research, CompTIA found 49% of IT job postings did not list a four-year degree as a requirement.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data agrees. Its research showed that roughly 26% of IT workers in the U.S. lacked a four-year degree, and nearly 20% had no degree at all as of 2017.

So, while many in the industry will say you need to follow the same path they did by getting a degree, nearly one of every five IT workers will have a different stance on the topic.

Tips to landing that IT career without a degree

Great, there are plenty of IT professionals without a degree, but how can you get to that point. Here are some key tips to landing that IT job without getting a degree.

1. Get transferrable skills

When you go to college, you gain tons of skills that transfer well into many careers. No, we’re not talking about advanced trigonometry or humanities of the east. Instead, we’re talking about the ability to learn new topics and the ability to work within a group.

You get these skills at college by working on projects in groups and taking courses that challenge you, but you can also gain these skills on the job.

Taking on jobs that build these types of skills will prove instrumental in your move to an IT job. Some positions that can help you build these critical skills include being a part of a sales team, a shift supervisor, a team lead, or any other role that involves critical thinking and working as a team toward a common goal.

If you are looking at coding or something more on the creative side, a job that gets the creative side of your brain working can be a big help. Working for a printing company that designs and prints signs is one job that would translate well.

2. Boot camp instead of the classroom

Sure, you can sit in a college classroom and learn all you need to know about IT theory and practical application, but you can also get the same education in a boot camp setting.

Boot camps are often run by folks working in the field you want to work in and teach you all the latest happenings. Plus, they generally include a lot more hands-on work, which gives you a better feel of what you will experience on the job.

What also makes boot camps favorable is their timeframe. Many boot camps last only a few weeks. A college course can be several months long. By the time you complete the class, you may have already forgotten some of the fundamentals you gained in the class’ earlier stages.

3. Get certified

While a prospective employer may be impressed by the 10 boot camps you attended in the past year, the hiring manager may need more proof you are prepared for the job. You can show off your ability to do the job with a few certifications.

These IT certifications validate what you’ve learned from boot camp and give a prospective employer the confidence to hire you despite your lack of a degree.

Some great IT certifications for entry-level folks include:

  • Cisco certified entry networking technician (CCENT)
  • Cisco certified technician (CCT)
  • CompTIA IT fundamentals+ (ITF+)
  • CompTIA A+
  • Microsoft technology associate (MTA)

These are just a handful of the certificates for some of the more common entry-level IT positions. A quick search online will offer tons more. You can also look at our list of the best tech certificates to see if any meet your needs.

4. Networking

It is a common misconception that IT workers prefer to sit alone in a dark closet and have minimal human interaction. In truth, being in IT almost requires constant interaction, as you will not only work within a team environment, but you may also end up face to face with many of clients.

Some of these clients may be coworkers, and others may be folks from outside your company. Regardless of who you’re helping, they need an IT professional who’s not afraid to communicate.

This leads us to yet another key to breaking into the IT industry without a degree, and that is networking. You’ll want to surround yourself with professionals in the field. This helps you a few ways.

First, surrounding yourself with successful IT professionals is the best way to learn about the industry. Second, this builds your network in the industry, giving you connections that could help you land your first gig down the road. Third, it teaches you to come out of your shell and communicate.

5. Practice your skills

While searching for the perfect role in IT without a degree, you’ve got to keep your brain limber, so make sure to apply your skills. If you are an aspiring developer, continue building webpages or software so you don’t lose any of the knowledge you’ve gained.

If you aspire to work on the hardware side, it may be a little harder to apply your skills in a practice setting, but there are ways.

Maybe pick up a side gig building or repairing hardware. Does your uncle need his house wired for fiberoptic cable? Offer to help. Does your Aunt’s Wi-Fi signal not reach the garage? Help set up a repeater network that gives her full signal throughout the house.

These small tasks may not be what you’ll be doing at your future job, but they keep those hardware juices flowing.

This brings us to a big piece of the job-hunting pie.

6. Build a killer portfolio

While practicing, take the best of the best you’ve built and create an incredible portfolio you can share with hiring managers. The best way to prove you’re the IT pro for the job by showing the hiring manager what you can do.

If you’re a developer, write a great application or design a few websites with the latest functions and features to market yourself. If you are a hardware person, your portfolio may include digital images of the fiber you ran in your uncle’s house or that intricate repeater network that ensured Aunt Sally’s 8,000-square-foot house had full Wi-Fi coverage.

Whatever your dream IT role is, put it to good use and put the best examples of your practical application in this portfolio. As you get deeper into your career, you will start filling your portfolio with larger projects from your job.

7. Market yourself

Lots of staff assembling in a large open meeting room

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Finally, don’t sit back and wait for employers to find you. Get out there and actively market yourself. Apply to every position you feel you’re realistically qualified for.

Even if it lists a degree as a requirement, apply for it anyway. Many times, HR folks automatically put a degree requirement in a job posting when it is actually more of a nice-to-have than a requirement.

Also, attend seminars and mingle with IT professionals – One of them may be in the market for someone with your skills.

Ready to get started applying for a no-degree-required tech job? Check out this list of the top tech companies to work for. They could be a good jumping-off point for submitting your resume.