Self-Taught Developers vs. Developers With Degrees: Hiring the Right Fit

Categories: Advice for HR Professionals, IT Recruitment Advice

In today’s hiring landscape, the debate surrounding the qualifications of software developers continues to intensify. Employers find themselves at a critical crossroads, grappling with whether to enlist self-taught developers armed with coding boot camp certifications or lean towards candidates equipped with traditional computer science degrees. Each of these avenues boasts its unique advantages and drawbacks, underscoring the necessity of deeply understanding their nuances.

In this article, we will explore the strengths and weaknesses inherent in both self-taught developers and those with formal degrees and discuss what makes a good software developer. We aim to provide insights that empower you to make well-informed decisions when assembling your software development team. By customizing your recruitment strategy to align precisely with your organization’s specific needs and objectives, you will be better equipped to find and snag that perfect candidate!

The Rise of Self-Taught Developers

The tech industry has seen a significant influx of self-taught developers in recent years. These individuals often pursue coding as a passion or career change, acquiring their skills through online resources, coding boot camps, and personal projects. Let’s explore the strengths and weaknesses of self-taught developers in hiring.

Strengths of Self-Taught Developers

As we explore the strengths of self-taught developers, their diverse paths to expertise present unique advantages for employers.

Practical Experience

Self-taught developers often have hands-on experience working on real-world projects. They’ve built applications, websites, and software, giving them practical knowledge that can be applied professionally.


Self-taught developers are adaptable and quick learners. They’ve navigated a complex landscape of online tutorials and resources, honing their ability to pick up new skills and technologies quickly. This is great for when your business may have a lot of different needs to meet and you need one person who can take on a variety of work.

Diverse Backgrounds

Self-taught developers come from various backgrounds, bringing unique perspectives and problem-solving approaches. This diversity can foster innovation within your team.


Hiring self-taught developers can be cost-effective, as they often command lower salaries than their degree-holding counterparts. This is particularly appealing to startups and small businesses with budget constraints. If you are trying to stay afloat amid a recession, a self-taught developer may be the best tool in your toolbox.

Potential Weaknesses of Self-Taught Developers

However, it’s essential to recognize that alongside their strengths, self-taught developers also face specific challenges that merit consideration.

Knowledge Gaps

While self-taught developers possess practical skills, they may have knowledge gaps in computer science theory and algorithms. This could impact their ability to solve complex, algorithmic problems or contribute to more research-oriented projects.

Lack of Credentials

Some employers place a high value on formal education and degrees. Self-taught developers may need help to pass through initial resume screenings in such organizations.

Inconsistent Quality

The quality of self-taught developers can vary significantly. It’s essential to thoroughly evaluate their portfolio and proficiency to ensure they meet your organization’s standards.

Hiring Developers With Degrees

On the other side of the spectrum, developers with traditional computer science degrees have long been the cornerstone of the tech industry. They undergo rigorous academic training and acquire in-depth knowledge of computer science principles. Here’s a closer look at their strengths and weaknesses in the hiring process.

Strengths of Developers With Degrees

It’s essential to acknowledge the solid foundation that a formal web development education provides.

Firm Foundation

Developers with degrees possess a solid foundation in computer science theory, algorithms, and data structures. This knowledge equips them to tackle complex and research-oriented projects effectively.


Degrees from reputable institutions lend credibility to candidates. They often pass initial screenings based on educational qualifications alone, making hiring more straightforward for employers.

Networks and Resources

Graduates of computer science programs often have access to extensive networks of alums, professors, and resources, which can be advantageous for both personal growth and potential collaborations.

Structured Learning

Degree programs follow a structured curriculum, ensuring candidates receive comprehensive training in various topics. This structured approach can be appealing to employers looking for well-rounded individuals.

Potential Weaknesses of Developers With Degrees

Yet, developers with degrees can also present their fair share of challenges,

Limited Practical Experience

While they possess strong theoretical knowledge, some developers with degrees may need more practical experience. This is especially true if you are hiring recent graduates or developers at the beginning of their careers. They might need help to apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios effectively.

Higher Costs

Hiring developers with degrees often comes with a higher price tag due to their educational background. This can be a significant factor for smaller companies or startups with limited budgets.

Resistance to Change

Developers with degrees may be more resistant to adopting new technologies or methodologies as they are accustomed to traditional academic approaches. This can hinder innovation within a team.

Finding the Right Balance

So, how can you strike the right balance between self-taught developers and those with degrees when building your software development team? Here are some strategies to consider:

Clearly Define Your Needs

Before starting the hiring process, outline the specific skills and qualifications your team requires. Consider the nature of your projects, company culture, and long-term goals. This clarity will help you identify the suitable candidates.

Diversify Your Team

A balanced team often includes a mix of self-taught developers and degree holders. Leverage the strengths of both groups to create a dynamic and innovative work environment.

Evaluate Practical Skills

Regardless of educational background, assess candidates’ practical skills through technical interviews, coding tests, and portfolio reviews. Focus on their ability to solve real-world problems and contribute to your projects effectively.

Encourage Continuous Learning

Promote a culture of continuous learning within your organization. Encourage self-taught developers to fill knowledge gaps through online courses or workshops while motivating degree holders to stay updated on industry trends.

Leverage Trial Periods

Consider offering trial periods or internships to candidates to assess their fit within your team. This allows you to evaluate their performance in a real work environment before making a long-term commitment.

The debate between self-taught developers and those with degrees is ongoing, but it’s essential to recognize that both paths have their merits. Your choice should align with your organization’s needs and goals in the ever-evolving tech landscape.

Self-taught developers bring practical experience, adaptability, and cost-effectiveness, while developers with degrees offer a robust theoretical foundation, credibility, and structured learning.

Striking the right balance between these two groups can lead to a well-rounded and innovative software development team.

Ultimately, the key to successful hiring is a thorough evaluation process that considers practical skills and educational background. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, you can make informed decisions that benefit your organization and foster growth in the dynamic world of technology.