Is It Possible To Be A Software Engineer Without a Degree?

Working as a software engineer without a degree turns out to be indeed possible, as the same holds true with other branches of engineering.
Christopher McFadden

Engineering is an ancient and venerable discipline, but do you need a degree to be an engineer? In most cases, you will, but for some fields like software engineering, you might not need a degree.

Whilst this might sound like a myth, it is actually true. With the rising costs of student debt, you might be wondering if a degree is actually worth the financial cost in the long run.

In the following article, we'll take a look at how this is possible and point you in the direction of actually doing it. 


Do I need a degree to be an engineer?

Whether you need a degree or not depends on the industry and engineering field. If you want to become a civil engineer, for example, you will need one.

engineering degree necassary
Source: DaveBleasedale/Flickr

But for other fields, like software engineering, you might not need to. In fact, there are many high-profile software engineers who have done just that.

It can still be possible to land a job without an official software engineering degree, so long as you have the coding skills and experience. But it won't be easy.

That being said, there are some companies out there who are more than happy to hire engineers without degrees.

Making a transition from another industry to software engineering is also quite a savvy one. 

engineer without degree
Some engineering fields, like Civils, do need a degree. Source: NAVFAC / Flickr

According to sources like US News, software developers have a median salary of $95,510 per year. The industry also has an unemployment rate of just 2.5%, making it one of the most lucrative technology careers.

Additionally, the profession offers above-average work-life balance; at least in theory.

It is also set to be one of the fastest growing employment opportunities over the next 5 years or so. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they project that employment opportunities should experience something like a 17% growth by 2024.

Despite this apparent wealth of opportunity, very few undergraduates are currently studying relevant degrees. This will likely lead to a severe undersupply of degree-qualified labor in the not too distant future.

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If this sounds of interest to you, here are a few jobs you can do without an official computing degree, and here is another good source for actually doing it.

What qualifications do you need to be an engineer?

For most engineering disciplines you will need a relevant degree on the subject. For some roles like Electrical or Mechanical engineering, this is pretty straightforward a process. 

But it will be a very taxing, yet rewarding, process. 

Some engineering jobs don't require specific engineering discipline related degrees, and will simply require you to have an engineering degree in general.  But, for things like civil engineering, you will need a civil engineering degree.

For others, like software engineering, whilst you can enroll in an official university course, it's not absolutely necessary to do so. But you will have a tougher time landing a great position.

In most cases, your journey to becoming an engineer will start long before you reach University. You will need to concentrate on studying physical sciences and maths in school, for example. 

For the higher tier Universities, like Oxford or MIT, you will need to also make sure you excel in these subjects prior to applying. They tend to want the best of the best.

But for other universities, the main emphasis will be on ensuring you have a good grounding in the sciences and mathematics. 

It is possible to convert from non-engineering degrees to engineering ones but in most cases, a conversion course or other professional qualification is usually needed. 

Can I call myself an engineer?

The term engineer tends to be tagged onto the end of many job titles. Most, whilst sounding impressive, seem to be a gross misapplication of the term in hindsight.

This raises an interesting question, "when can you actually call yourself an engineer?"

engineering without degree possible
Source: IFA teched/Flickr

In most cases, the answer is pretty straightforward. For disciplines like civil, electrical or mechanical engineering, no one would doubt the fact the practitioner is indeed an engineer.

But what about something like software engineering or sound engineering?

This is actually a hotly debated subject, and one you may well have experienced for yourself.

On one side of the argument are 'qualification purists' who insist that a 'real' engineer is only someone who has an official degree and may, or may not, be a formal member of an engineering professional body like the Royal Academy of Engineers.

On the other side of the argument are those who believe that so long as you create or build something, you have the right to use the term engineer to describe what you do. 

This is an interesting and quasi-philosophical debate at its core and not an easy one to answer definitively. But we are sure you will have your own opinion on the subject.

Can you be called an engineer without a degree?

Engineering is one of the oldest 'jobs' in history. We have been designing and building things since our species first evolved

Famous engineers from history like Archimedes, Vitruvius or Isambard Kingdom Brunel were undoubtedly engineers but did they have any official qualifications? Brunel, for example, did not have an engineering degree but completed an apprenticeship as a clockmaker and horologist.

In fact, most engineers in history undertook apprenticeships under experienced engineers, rather than partake in prolonged academic study, just like Brunel. 

It can, therefore, be argued that most engineers in history have been 'unqualified' in the modern sense of the word. But we would not doubt their engineering credentials today. 

engineering without a degree 1
Source: Pixabay  

But you don't need to go that far back in history for some examples around us today. Some of the richest 'engineers' in the world today dropped out of college altogether.

From Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg, there are plenty of examples of software engineers who've succeeded in engineering without having the official credentials. Of course, these are particularly talented and dedicated individuals, but it is possible for anyone else to do the same.

You just need to passion and drive to do so. Of course, a little capital and connections help too. And perhaps a little luck.

Ultimately this debate is one that will split opinion very easily. We will let you decide.

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