Information technology: Education versus experience

By Robert Half on 8 January 2014

It can be a hard decision working out whether you pursue extensive study or go out and get a job in the field, which provides real-life experience.

When it comes to education versus experience, ideally the best situation is to have a mix of both qualifications and experience.


Degrees and certifications are important as they show you have the dedication and intelligence to pass and complete subjects and exams. Formal education also helps prevent being “thrown in the deep end” as a candidate has a foundation of knowledge from which to grow – which is rarely taught in industry.

Often people who have no university experience and exposure to the basics find it hard to learn these skills from scratch, as they are already used to certain habits.

However, just because someone has an abundance of degrees and certifications it doesn't necessarily mean they can solve "on the job" problems. Nor does it teach them to prioritise tasks, issues, deal with people or the internal politics of an organisation.


Real-life experience is always valuable, especially with a reputable company.

For example, a 22 year old with four years IT work experience will receive a higher salary than a candidate straight out of university. It could take the graduate a number of years to catch up to the same work experience level.

People who have been challenged with day-to-day problems are the ones that will solve them quicker. Some of the most sought after IT professionals did not excel academically, but have still gone on to become highly regarded in their fields.

Education versus experience?

When discussing education versus experience, ultimately there are merits to both, and it all depends on striking the right balance.

For high school students looking to get into the IT industry, a suggestion would be to work while studying. Look to gain a degree and/or other IT certifications and work in the field… as opposed to a part-time job pulling pints. There is no shortage of courses available online or part time, such as with Open Universities.

What does the industry look for?

Unfortunately there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to education versus experience. It depends on the organisation, hiring manager and at the end of the day – their opinion on the subject.

A job specification may ask for candidates who have experience, skills; and with a degree or specific certificates as “nice to have”. However, others will state degrees and specific certificates as a “requirement”. Some companies are also financially rewarded by vendors for having their staff qualified with their certifications, so applying with qualifications to these companies will carry more weight.

For more information on the career opportunities available to you as an IT professional, contact your local Robert Half office.

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