Degrees and Bytes: Weighing the Value of Traditional IT Education

An opinionated article about the pros and cons of formal education and its counterpart.

  • degree
  • education


There is a point to be made for and against investing four years of your youth in a bachelor's degree. On the one hand, the first team lead I had not completed my bachelor's and was as solid as a developer could be. On the other hand, most of the developers I know and respect have graduated from university. There are success stories both ways, and none is universal. That said, let's explore the pros and cons of each.

The well-trodden path



The most significant assets university has given me are friends and contacts. Four years of sharing, trusting, forming teams, and tackling projects together plant the seeds for lifetime friendships and dozens of acquaintances. It is a logical by product of an environment of peers with a common goal - graduation.

Entry exams & Environment

We all know the phrase, "Show me your friends, and I'll show you your future." It is a universal truth, and we inevitably become who we hang out with. And that is why entry exams matter. They serve as a filter for the vigorous of minds - those people you want as friends and healthy rivals.

The entry exams for the IT disciplines hold newcomers to high standards due to the great interest and limited capacity. This allows universities to select among the brightest individuals, and you are not guaranteed the same in paid offline courses.

Expectations management

University students may need to recognize this; however, we are gradually submerged in the industry and only experience minor shocks on our first job. We have time and opportunities to ask the questions on our minds as friends and teachers have the answers. On top of that, companies actively seek university interns and visit us annually on campus for career days. We get to talk with the industry early on and know what they value in junior candidates.

The CV

The odds are in your favor if you have gone through formal education. The diploma looks promising and proves that you have kept a consistent direction for the last few years and are now ready to contribute to the industry. It's clear and expected that you would need assistance; however, there is some reassurance that you've laid the groundwork and got the basics.


Time vs. Knowledge

A bachelor's in IT consists of eight semesters and a final exam. If everything goes smoothly, you can pass all that in four years - a significant time & energy investment that may only sometimes be worth it. My assessment is that:

  • A third of my bachelor's was a wasted potential as the lessons served my future career poorly. Most such classes were a cure for insomnia, and a minority introduced their students to uni-dimensional professors that wanted to hear you recite back whatever they had told during class. Teacher selection is one of the university's downfalls. Universities employ based on academic prowess and overlook the ability to teach and convey ideas, which should be the primary factor, as far as I am concerned.
  • A third was fine - you could get a comparable amount of knowledge and skills by self-learning or attending courses. Such disciplines are somewhat senseless as they can serve as a tempo mechanism for cooling your head down and allowing you to occupy yourself with other interests.
  • A third was spot-on - there's nothing like hearing straight from the horse's mouth. Occasionally, there are powerhouses of expertise in universities that want to give back and have cultivated the ability to pass on knowledge. Enquire about who those people are and what they teach. Make your time in university count by enrolling in their classes and reaping the benefits.

To summarize, about a third of the time I have spent in university was competitive. It's not only the time wasted but also the opportunity cost, and it is up to you to determine whether you can put your time to use better. Exclude the summers, and this gets you a year's worth of knowledge stretched over four years.

I was, and remain still, highly skeptical about the utility of university education regarding field mastery and comprehension. It's my experience that you can do more outside the classroom.

Cost-benefit analysis

Higher education in Bulgaria is not expensive; however, relocating and living in the capital city is. That's where the most prominent universities and IT companies reside, and it's a natural gathering point for aspiring computer scientists.

It's easy to justify the go-to-Sofia decision, but it's costly, and you better make it worth it. There's the risk of dropping out due to a lack of discipline or encountering a professor renowned for failing most students. I would say you have a 30+% chance of not graduating, which you must consider when weighing the cons of formal education.

With a bachelor's, you get a diploma if you run the whole marathon. This lies in contrast to standalone courses you can complete cheaply and neatly attach to your resume. There are no participation trophies, so you will only get a CV boost if you cross the finish line.

Slow pace

No certification authority is tailored just for you. They all target a broad audience and aim to make their product easy sale. Universities are no exception, so you can expect the pacing of most subjects to be beginner-friendly, even leisurely, at times. This should be a red flag for you.

A slow pace is a bad company if you want to achieve excellence. The IT world is dynamic; you must learn adaptivity from the get-go. There is no excuse for falling into the comfort zone and performing at the bare minimum. You will become mediocre at best, far from a desirable start to your 20s.

Take a good look around whenever you find yourself in such a situation. Some of your colleagues will be occupying themselves with activities that propel them forward. Try joining in or picking up a genuinely exciting side project of yours.

Sense of security

It's becoming more and more the case that the industry hires people without formal education. It may be that offline academies and online courses prepare competent-enough candidates or that the industry is expanding faster than the graduation rate. Either way, think only a little of yourself and a little of them, as it all comes down to practical knowledge and not university attendance.

Companies search for employees that will require minimal (acceptable) training. Your university degree serves as an assurance through the CV sieving process but, at the same time, can raise the interviewer's expectations. Avoid the comforting thoughts that everything will be OK since you are a university student. The ball is in your court to prove that you are worthy.

The self-made programmer


Any time, any place

The university is generally viable for a brief period. It's tough to attend university later in life, and it's impossible to do it ahead of time. This means those seeking knowledge can only sometimes gain it the traditional way. You shouldn't worry if you are such a person, as the Internet provides the tools and resources needed to start your IT journey. You can study at your own pace, at home, and after work. You are free to organize the learning process in a way that suits you and your circumstances. It's going to take a lot of work; however, you try out different approaches and discover what's best for you.

Steeper but cheaper

Learning nowadays does not require you to be wealthy. Of course, paid resources created by thoughtful people can catalyze the process, yet most of them can be bought at discounts and are affordable either way. If you need more than that, Youtube and StackOverflow will bring you up for free.

Master it faster

University students are expected to mature in four years as they are gradually immersed in more advanced and diverse subjects. They won't make use of all this information on their first job… You could plunge into the depths, endure the pressure for a year, and emerge as an entry-level candidate that can rival those graduates. Even if you take two years for your studies, you are still a couple of years ahead of formal education. Imagine the number of courses you can carefully select, tackle, conquer, and then list on your CV during that time. They say time is priceless, so use the extra time you get and land a job that will let you plant your roots in the IT world before the competition graduates.

Transition to ambition

Nobody said you have to start as a developer. The IT industry is expanding at a rate that produces alternative occupations at an astonishing rate. Become a tech support expert so you can start work in a matter of months, not years. Or choose the QA path if you are into breaking things. There's data science and cyber security for those good at maths and design and marketing for the more creative of us. Leverage your skillset and continue pursuing your goal while establishing yourself in the industry. Your eventual transition will be smoother and might not require an employer change.



Learning a skill is hard, and learning a high-paying skill is even more challenging. Only a minority of people graduate the IT academies to find the desired job afterward. The economy has its ups and downs, and vacant IT positions fluctuate with it. You better establish a robust mindset and be prepared to wait for a while before landing the job you want. It's always a good idea to schedule a financial buffer so you can bootstrap yourself into the IT world.

Lack of direction

Ending up mentorless and clueless can be disheartening. Work diligently and earn the goodwill of at least one of your teachers. This way, you can be informed about the market in advance and even get recommended for an open position. References work wonders in IT, so you better keep in touch with fellow course attendants, too. The company, one of you, ends at may be actively recruiting new employees.


I've seen it again and again. People won't do enough when the time is right and then start spreading stories about how challenging the venture is. Learning IT is the same. You remain your biggest enemy and should be wary of indulging yourself in unproductive activities. Too much fun invites procrastination which eventually leads to laziness and motivation loss. You'd better mitigate the risk and create a schedule. The rule with a plan is to make it balanced. Require yourself to work diligently and then make room for hobbies and interests outside of IT. Otherwise, you will either tyrannize yourself into quitting or never get any work done.

Doing everything from scratch

One of the pitfalls to avoid is reinventing the wheel at every step. Be it building your CV or preparing for the interview; there are valuable lessons and good practices that you better adopt than learn the hard way. Go through a few articles and videos on every new thing on your path. You will become more knowledgeable, and the tips & tricks do compound, giving you the edge over other candidates.


IT is constantly evolving, and you need to keep up with the news and try out novel technologies to stay in one place. You remain a student as long as you want to partake in the industry. Formal education might get you in slower and safer, while the self-made path is considered quicker and riskier. You can always go right with the choice as long as you give your best effort. Take into account your personality and circumstances, weigh in the pros and cons of each approach, and initiate your journey into IT today.


Build your digital solutions with expert help

Share your challenge with our team, who will work with you to deliver a revolutionary digital product.

Lexis Solutions is a software agency in Sofia, Bulgaria. We are a team of young professionals improving the digital world, one project at a time.


  • Deyan Denchev
  • CEO & Co-Founder
© 2024 Lexis Solutions. All rights reserved.