Salary Survey Extra is a series of dispatches that give added insight into the findings of both our annual Salary Survey and our smaller Salary Survey PLUS polls. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.
From ancient times right on up into the early 19th century, most people seeking to work in a given trade or profession followed a fairly standard model. The generally young aspiring tradesman or craftsman would seek out a master, agree to a term of apprenticeship, and provide menial labor in exchange for instruction in whatever trade or craft was being pursued.
Formal education was typically only available if you could afford to pay handsomely for it, and there was no internet or thriving public library system to help self-starters learn on their own. By comparison, in 2017 we have a veritable plethora of job preparation options. The opportunities aren't limitless, by any means, but they're certainly more varied than used to be the case.
In IT, we even have the luxury, doubtless taken for granted by most, of arguing about what the best sort of job preparation is. Should you attend college? Get a job straight out of high school and learn as you go? Pick up a few certifications and build your knowledge from there? It's a discussion that wouldn't have existed for most people just a few generations back.
In setting up our most recent annual Salary Survey, we decided to put the question to people who actually make their living plying various IT trades in the global workplace. What do you think is the most effective way to acquire and sharpen practical IT skills?
It's a broad question, but the answer may provide some guidance to up-and-comers who have perhaps often heard about the unrivaled importance of a university education, but are understandably reluctant to hang the potential millstone of cost around their youthful necks. Here's how we asked the question, followed a grid showing how survey respondents answered:
How effective are the following methods at preparing an average individual to succeed in a professional IT job role?
There are probably quite a few employers who still hope to see a college degree on your resume, but the IT workplace may be changing. People who work in IT, at least, have a general level of respect for college, but certainly don't see it as being the best job preparation for prospective IT professionals.
If you have a certain level of basic IT fluency, it would seem, then the best way to learn might simply be to get a job and go to work. There's also an extremely high level of confidence in self-taught skills. If you have a solid understanding of IT principles and processes, then maybe it doesn't matter so much how you gained that understanding.
Certification and especially specialized instruction, probably of the sort you might get at a coding school, for example, also have solid support. So if the idea of learning it all on your own is terrifying, there are options.
You could even go to college. Even the surprising skew of these numbers doesn't rule it out, by any means, as an potentially effective avenue of job preparation. In the modern IT realm, however, it would seem that there's no one-size-fits-all formula for success, and that nontraditional approaches are not just acceptable, but can be highly successful.