Maybe It's Your Hiring

June 16, 2017

Ok, I promised I’d get back to the odd dichotomy of technology companies that only hire people with higher education degrees and the ones that never hire those people…

In the first case…

Only Hiring People with degrees

To be perfectly blunt, that’s just crazy.

Crazy - doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.

I’m pretty sure I understand why you do this. It ensures a certain level of common skills & knowledge across your workforce. And there is another level of certainty that these people “know how to stick to a job”, because they managed acquire a degree, which implies they worked hard for several years at their education. But none of that implies they would be the “best” person for the job.

The best person for the job is … the one who has the skills required to achieve the desired outcome, and the passion to make it happen. Sometimes that skill is learning new things fast. Sometimes it’s being a designated expert already. Maybe it’s a person with deep domain knowledge in your problem space.

Just imagine hiring a person with all the right skills, and the perfect university degree, but who doesn’t believe in your product, or has absolutely zero domain knowledge. How do you think that will work out for you and your business? If you passed on the person without a degree, who believes passionately in your product, imagining they were somehow incapable of acquiring the necessary knowledge through hard work and experience … well, let me just say (1) your loss and (2) your privilege is showing. This is mostly definitely one of the diversity failures your organization is suffering from. And it’s a pervasive failure. As I mentioned in my previous post, university/college education is both expensive and elitist. How could this NOT be a diversity problem?!? And how could your company fail to recognize it?

And the flip side…

Never hiring people with degrees

You already know what I’m going to say, don’t you? Yes, by defining a policy of refusing to hire people with degrees, your company’s hiring practices are crazy, too. And you also have a diversity problem. That’s not much of a reach, since almost every tech company HAS a diversity problem, but it does nail down a particular vector for your business.

I can even make some additional assumptions. You probably hire for “culture fit”. If you refuse to hire people with degrees, then you also probably have a stable full of young, single, mostly white men, banging out code for 16 hrs a day, while you shovel pizza under the door. You probably also have fun games & fridge full of beer in your office. Am I being too cynical? Perhaps.

By refusing to hire a person with a degree, you are certainly filtering out a lot of women. 57% of 2015 bachelor degree recipients were women, and that percentage is growing.

You are also filtering out experience. While I have certainly encountered degreed developers who are inflexible, I have to say, those are the ones who don’t tend to stay developers for very long. Inflexibility means they won’t take kindly to the idea they have to start from scratch in a new technology every 7-10 years. At that point in their careers, those inflexible types tend to transition out of developer roles and into project, product, and managerial roles. So who’s left after that? …older developers. Older developers who are flexible and smart and have embraced the philosophy of Always Be Learning. Yup, you also have an ageist diversity problem.

Diversity. Diversity. Diversity.

So what’s the point of bringing all this up? Tech has a well-deserved reputation for lack of diversity. By enshrining policies of “only hire people with degrees” or the flip side “never hire people with degrees”, all your company is doing is applying what seems to be a logical filter on new-hires, but what in practice gets applied in ways that seriously limit your diversity.

If you have a diversity problem, and you are following either of the above hiring policies, you might consider what a little bit more flexibility could achieve when trying to improve those diversity statistics.