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How Valuable is a College Degree to Your IT Organization?

by Dave Hannon

April 29, 2011

By Dave Hannon


The new director of the groundbreaking MIT Media Lab does not have a college degree.


I purposefully put an extra space after that sentence to let it sink in and see what thought pops into your head after reading it. Maybe it was, “Wow that’s pretty stupid to hire a guy with no degree for THAT job.” Or perhaps your thought was “Hmm..interesting strategy...wouldn't be my choice, but it’s MIT, so I assume they know what they’re doing.”

Or some of you might have thought “So what? You don’t need a college degree to be creative and innovative?”

The truth, of course, is that the new MIT Media Lab director, Joi Ito, is well-qualified for the post, with a diverse, entrepreneurial and tech-savvy background. He's a great fit for the out-of-the-box innovation going on at the Media Lab. In fact, if you read his personal blog about the job interview (that takes cyberstones, blogging about how you got your new job!), he describes his first impression of the Media Lab as “a firehouse of interconnections and creativity–I was completely energized and felt totally in my element.”

Is Ito an “outlier” in Gladwell-speak? To me, his lack of a college degree and MIT’s decision to go with him brought the question: How much do YOU value “ traditional” education in hiring for your IT organizations? Does "traditional" education qualify technology workers? While there are obviously some advantages to a seeing a college degree on a new hire’s resume—you can baseline their knowledge and skill level, for one—there are plenty of CIOs that would say a college degree is not the end-all be-all for new hires.

For example, a recent survey of employers found that many IT new-hires that have college degrees are unprepared for the workforce, most notably in business areas. That could be an argument for hiring someone who headed straight into the workforce rather than college to gain four (or five, or six) years of real-world business experience while their peers were in the classroom.

Interestingly, I found another survey that shows the number of IT workers with college degrees actually dipped this year, but remained somewhat consistent around two-thirds.

With that in mind, I’d like to post a survey here and get your feedback on the topic.


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