The importance of a university degree in IT is a big topic of many discussion around the internet, I also received a question like that.
Is a University degree really that important for future career in IT sector. Wouldn’t it be better to start working as soon as possible and sacrifice study time for more work experience. I am a student now, and I do feel now that studying is limiting my potential and growth. The things that, I am doing now in my work are completely unrelated to my courses on uni.
Unfortunately there is no simple answer. There is no ‘Yes’ / ‘No’ here. Both more study vs more work experience have their own pros and cons. In this answer I will focus on ‘Why I think university time is important’.
I am a proud alumni of the Wroclaw University of Technology. I studied Electronics and Telecommunication. It was loosely related to Computer Science but I was on Applied Computer Engineering faculty which had a lot of computer science courses. I spent a lot of time in the really low level world of computers. Writing code in ASM, C, C++, learning about electronic circuits boards, designing and soldering stuff. Even if this was not really a full Computer Science course, I still feel that this knowledge has positively influenced me and I easily picked up all the skills required for my future roles. With current knowledge and experience, would I enroll again ? Definitely!
For me studying was a time of opportunity and moment to learn many different things, try different technologies and gain a lot of theoretical knowledge. It is really important to try and experiment with everything as much as possible. I am not talking here about languages or frameworks but also different areas of computer science. Like i mentioned before, I was doing ASM programming, C Programming, OOP programming, database programming, image recognition algorithms implementations, bird flocks simulations, genetic algorithms things etc plus i spent some time soldering and programming micro controllers. One big mish mash of things. Having such a broad experience enables me to have a nice view on many different things. It allows me to learn new things fast. It is difficult to focus on those areas and this type of learning when you are working.
As for first work experience. I started working on my 3rd year. I was 22 when I joined my first company it felt like all the knowledge and courses on university were unrelated to work. My boss demanded practical skills not some theoretical mumbo jumbo. I was lucky enough to start my career in a Salesforce project (yeah!), but it was really hard for me to find a link between Uni / Workplace demands. Back then however, I didn’t understand how important was that theoretical stuff that I was learning and how it has increased my brain capacity. It was normal for me to assume that Uni time was a waste and there is no way I am gonna use all this knowledge in the future. Oh how wrong I was. At the start of career you can’t really assume anything. You don’t know where you will go and what you will work on. Learning AI programming 5 years ago seemed like a waste of time, but look what happened with all the machine learning and big data stuff becoming more and more popular. At that time, with lack of experience and knowledge about the business, it was impossible for me to predict those shifts.
Studying is important as it lets you build a base for future growth. You cant build a house without laying the foundations first. You have to start from the bottom. By learning and trying many different concepts you are training your brain to learn faster and you are creating connection in your brain that will enhance your learning capacity. Learning is something that you need to train. Also learning about new concepts is a lot easier if you already know many other things. That is why I encourage everyone to try as much as possible on UNI. Don’t focus on one platform and don't focus on gaining marketable skills. The time will come for that later. Try to reach out your professors and discuss some technologies, frameworks concepts that you would want to try out. All of this will start repaying after 4-5 years in the market when you will realize that developer job is not code but find solutions and new ways to generate value for the business. You can do some work, just try to not stress out about it and don’t let it become the main focus of your Uni time.
TL;DR; You don’t need degree in IT but University can be a huge catalyst for you career and growth, if you choose to use this time wisely. Can you achieve the same growth outside of university ? It depends, if you will find a group of like minded people that will help you learn then yes. Because studying is mostly about people you meet and make connections with. The university environment shaped me as a mature engineer and also mature person.