The high-paying tech jobs you don’t need a degree for

A university degree is a good way to get a job in tech, but it’s not the only way. While you could spend three or more years studying computer science to get your foot in the door — or a lucrative pay packet — plenty of those with technical abilities are actually self-taught. It’s also worth noting that the specific training or languages in demand are frequently changing, and the skills gap means companies are desperate for capable staff.

That means you need not head to university to start your career in IT or switch to tech after working elsewhere. There are plenty of short courses — such as six-week boot camps or online training — that you can use to get yourself trained to apply for the tech job of your dreams, and the pay and benefits that come with it.

“University degrees can provide a good measure of students’ skills and knowledge, but there are many routes into a computer engineering  and science careers and there is a renewed focus in government and industry on supporting apprenticeships and vocational pathway,” says Adam Thilthorpe, Director of External Affairs, at BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT. “Developing transferable skills is key to a modern economy characterised by its ability to accommodate and allow disruptive technologies to succeed and replace not-so-old technologies rapidly.”

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He points to digital apprenticeships, which include digital marketing, systems analyst and security, saying they’re increasingly seen as relevant to employers.

That said, if you’re willing to set aside time for university, there’s plenty of opportunity for those with computer science degrees. “New and modern tools and techniques from Computer Science, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, are projected to play a significant role in making these applications bring about a revolutionary change in society in the way services will be delivered in the not-so-distant future,” says Thilthorpe.

Plus, says Doug Rode, senior managing director at recruiter Michael Page, those with higher aspirations — such as the c-suite or business management — may see their progress hindered without a degree. “If candidates are looking to enter into a business analyst or project management role, a degree is favourable,” says Rode. “If, for example, a candidate has ambitions to be a CIO, a degree will provide a broad foundation to understand the sector. It also may provide an opportunity to specialise. Completing a business studies course will give a candidate a broad understanding of the world of business and an opportunity to learn broader life skills, such as self-management.”

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If that all sounds a bit much, here are five tech roles you could step into with a bit of training, but without shelling out for university fees.

The tech jobs you don’t need a degree for

Software Developer

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Software programmers or web developers don’t need a university degree, but they will need serious skills and the right aptitude. “With development roles, I wouldn’t say that a degree is required, but candidates absolutely need to know their subject,” says Rode. “If candidates have chosen a non-degree route, there are a number of options, including self-learning through open source platforms, or online courses. Given the demand of these roles within the tech sector, as long as a candidate has the knowledge of the language, they’ll have no problem.”

According to figures from Monster, a junior-level programmer can expect to make well above the national average salary, with senior programmers commanding well above £70,000 annually.

Systems Administrator

As with programmers and developers, becoming a sysadmin really comes down to proving your skills and aptitude. A relevant degree might help you get your foot in the door, but so too can having the right courses or certifications for a specific server program. Salaries start in the £20,000 range, according to Monster, but rise rapidly with experience to £60,000. The more complex and large the company you work for, the better the pay could be. Reports suggest two-thirds of sysadmin job postings list a degree as a requirement, but with in-demand skills such as integration and troubleshooting, that can be easily overlooked.

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Security

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All those hacks hitting the headlines? If you know how to stop or prevent them, no-one will care if you have a degree or not — it’s one of the most in-demand jobs out there, with Monster reporting a remarkable 0% unemployment rate. Indeed lists “ethical hacker” as one of its top paying jobs without a degree, saying penetration testers take home an average pay of £56,000.

Handily, a report from McAfee suggests that while half of companies still favour university-level qualifications “most respondents believe that experience, hacking competitions and professional certifications are better ways to acquire cybersecurity skills than earning a degree.”

Big Data number cruncher

Big Data is a nebulous term, but if you understand how to analyse and understand streams of information you could see money streaming into your bank account. According to Monster, the average pay for Big Data professionals is £60,000 a year, though if you’re an expert in the field you could double your takings, according to the job search website. There’s plenty of demand for data scientists, so anyone with such skills — regardless of how they got them — shouldn’t have a problem finding a well-paying role.

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DIY with a startup

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Another way into tech without a degree is starting your own business. According to Monster, one of the top three roles for the highest salary without a degree is an entrepreneur, after firefighter and police constable.  Starting your own company may sound terrifying, but at least you won’t have to enter burning buildings or dodge bullets.

And you need not start your own company: smaller firms are more likely to consider your skills than your educational background, says Rode. “Generally within tech, typically smaller businesses tend to be more skill-set oriented,” he says. “However, traditional businesses would more likely than not still favour a more structured approach, and look for candidates with a degree qualification.” In other words, go small for big opportunities.

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