It’s interesting that this seems to also be true of programmers as it is in my field (IT infrastructure design and implementation/network design and implementation).
In fact, in my experience, people with computer science degrees are not the best programmers. That’s because computer science isn’t really about programming.
As I said, having hired quite a few people I’ve noticed the same in my own specialties in IT.
Having a degree in some IT-related field often means that the candidate is behind the times 10-15 years, and is also often very theory-focused without any real experience or knowledge, and most often they don’t know how to do anything.
It’s not that I won’t hire a person with a college degree in my field; I will and I have.
It’s that I have to be extra-careful to make sure they actually know anything at all, or at least can learn it. Often they do not and can not.
But when I see someone who has been working in the trenches of IT for many years, who started on Novell 3 or Windows NT 3.5, who remembers when Cisco was barely a name anyone knew, who can still rattle off DOS or even TRS-80 commands – I know I’ve gotten someone who’s real IT.
Perhaps I’m just hiring people who are like me, but I think it’s more than that.
To work at the level that I do, you have to have seen a lot. A whole lot. You have to be passionate about it. You have to have fought with recalcitrant routers in the middle of the night and put things into debug mode and then stared despairingly at the output for eight hours until epiphany struck.
You have to have read the 800 page official product manual and then know and have researched enough to conclude that the manual is wrong and then re-write part of it.*
People with college degrees urged on them by their guidance counselors, who have no real affinity for the field – even if they’ve been in the field for 10+ years – well, they are not going to have that.
I’m sure that’s just as true of programmers at is in my arena.
Again, I am not saying that all IT people with college degrees are bad in their field. My partner is a CS major and she’s a crackerjack programmer. I’d trust her to do anything and to do it right.
But given the choice in my field of someone who can look at a router and say, “Oh yeah, I remember this model had this bug I researched and figured out it wasn’t present in version 12.1 of the OS” as compared to the, “Well, I’ve seen a router before, I think, but I have a college degree and a certification in Cisco gear,” needless to say I’m going to choose the salty old vet every time, even if he or she didn’t graduate 8th grade.
I know I’m making it seem like it’s about experience, but it’s not. For instance at one job I worked, there was a 23-year-old guy, eight years younger than me. He had no degree. But he was incredibly good. He was absolutely passionate about the field, and knew everything there was to know about Microsoft products.
And he had a GED. And a list of certifications a mile long.
*I have done all of these things. All real-life examples.