Wednesday, Mar 02 2016

STEM Degrees: It's More About Experience

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STEM degrees its more about experience

One thing about technology: it either works or it doesn't. A fancy brand name can't make up for a program that doesn't do what it's supposed to do. That pragmatic approach applies to degrees in STEM fields, too. A recent study found that for degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math, the "brand name" of the school granting the degree had less impact on long-term salaries than for degrees in liberal arts.

Skills Matter

The reason for that is the skills that lead to success on the job are both standardized and easy to assess. Programming languages are the same whether they're learned at an Ivy League school or at a community college. And coding skills are easily evaluated through technical questions and small coding problems during the interview.

The high demand for STEM skills means even students who develop those skills in an untraditional setting find opportunity. Online courses, hackathons, and nanodegree programs provide job-oriented training outside of the college classroom. Industry finds graduates of these programs appealing because training through these programs often includes the latest programming tools that haven't been incorporated into school curriculums yet.

Experience Matters

A degree from a top school will definitely open doors, but once you start working, it's your achievements on the job that matter more in STEM fields. Managers can easily track quality metrics tied to a specific employee, such as whether features are delivered on time and how many bugs were in their work. These metrics can impact the salary increases and bonuses employees receive.

The degree is also less important when switching employers after you've been working for a few years. Because technology changes so rapidly, the specific methods and techniques you learned in school are no longer relevant. It's important to take training and continuing education classes to become familiar with the new technologies in demand. In addition, employers value the nontechnical interpersonal and leadership skills that develop after working for several years. Employees who demonstrate up-to-date technical skills plus an understanding of how to get things done in a business environment will have a solid career no matter what it says on their diploma.