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I work in automated materials handling, mainly in high level computer controls. Java applications, oracle databases and such; but also down to mechanical and controllers to a lesser extent.

For various reasons, I never bothered to finish a degree as most of this a motivated person can learn on their own and living in my city is expensive.

Company I work for hired another international company to build this massive material handling system, and I ended up learning how it works by reverse engineering better than their own software engineers with access to documentation and their own software house.

To that end they offered me a job in L3 support, above their own L2. But the odd thing is, the maximum rate of pay (By talking to staff, lots of friends there) for somebody without a degree is right in line with what the entry level L2 staff are earning.

Puts me in an odd position for salary negotiations. In your experiences, would you consider such things to be flexible? I'd be happy to put on the table, tuition in exchange for years of service, they have done that for others. Offers them some surety, and motivates me to actually go finish it. But it would still leave me earning the same as those working under me.

Anybody have any advice on this? Where to start? I have to put a number on the table to start with.

  • How many years experience do you have? And let's say you can transfer/apply some of your coursework, how long to finish the degree? – mkennedy Aug 28 '17 at 0:06
  • 15 years in the industry, 9 years in the direct field as a superuser and 3 years hands on with the high level stuff. Could probably finish the degree in 2 years, but with the workload I'd expect from them 3 - 3.5 is more realistic. – ArchieMoses Aug 28 '17 at 5:48
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    I think you might get more responses on a question like this at workplace.stackexchange.com – Grade 'Eh' Bacon Aug 28 '17 at 13:17
  • What country are you in? Laws vary from country to country. – Michael Aug 28 '17 at 13:57
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Assuming you have a few years of professional experience (2+), price yourself as though you have a degree. In software development, one's educational background is not as relevant as many other fields. They may try to use your lack of degree against you in the salary negotiation. Don't let them.

Check your city for average developer salary for someone with your years of experience and base your assumptions from there. Adjust based on your best reasonable estimate as to whether you're an above or below average developer regardless of educational background.

  • Agree in principle, but I find your estimate of how many years' experience is equivalent to a degree a bit on the low side. – Nuclear Wang Aug 28 '17 at 13:59
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    In reality, it depends on the experience. Two years at the right place is worth more than an entire career at the wrong place. – Glen Pierce Aug 28 '17 at 15:30
  • agreed - in software, education is more likely a detriment to your abilities. Experience, experience, experience is all the companies should care about. Only large companies with entrenched policies give weight to education. I know, always exceptions.... – rocketman Aug 28 '17 at 16:20
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    @NuclearWang Perhaps I'm being pedantic but I wouldn't say that a certain amount of experience is equivalent to a degree but rather that once you have some experience having a degree simply no longer matters. Two years (minimum) sounds reasonable within a consultancy. – Lilienthal Aug 28 '17 at 18:01
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It all depends on the company. Some companies have hard education requirements. Some do not have a reason for this other do. For example if a company does government contracting. When working with the government, for most positions, a masters can be billed out at a higher rate than one with a bachelors or no degree. While your functional area may not deal with the government the policies may be propagated throughout the company.

Other companies are totally different, they will promote based totally on skill and not just education.

All that being said, those without degrees tend to make less than those with degrees. I would advise you to do what you can to complete a degree as quickly and inexpensively as possible. It does not have to be a technology degree, but one should be completed. Once there, that argument against you is off the table.

  • Yes, once people have the level of experience the OP has, a degree is just a box to be ticked. And, as you say, some companies have hard-and-fast rules about it. – Peter K. Aug 28 '17 at 13:58
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As both a software developer and someone who has hired many software developers, I can attest that the following are true:

  1. I have interviewed software developers that did not have a college degree, and some were great and some weren't, and I hired one who ended up being excellent. I paid the same rate I would anyone else based on ability and experience, regardless of not having the degree.
  2. I have interviewed many software developers that had degrees (this is the majority, btw) and some were good and some were't.
  3. Among those that have degrees, the school they got the degree from sometimes matters. Certain schools have a reputation of being more theoretical, and others are more applicable with hands on experience. If I am hiring a contractor and considering those just out of school, I would prefer to hire the latter as they can possibly hit the ground running (as best a junior programmer can), but if I am hiring a long-term employee I would prefer the former with a more theoretical background as they tend to have a better foundation for learning different technologies and languages every few years. That is an over-generalization though, I don't feel the school you go to defines you, but a top performing student from a theoretical school is probably a bonus.
  4. One of my clients who I staffed developers at have 4-year degree minimum requirements for employees, but not for contractors. One good candidate that did not have a college degree was ineligible for a contract-to-hire position, but was eligible for a straight contract position.

As an employer, I do not care if someone has a degree, however, all other things being equal (which is virtually impossible), a degree from a good school would be preferred. In fact, I've seen some managers who admitted to me that a self taught person might be preferred over a bachelors degree from a "diploma factory" for-profit school.

For me, 90% of my decision is going to based on the technical interview and the in-person coding exercise. But there are still plenty of managers out there that prefer the CS degree.

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