Apple CEO Reminds Us Tech Degrees Aren’t Delivering Necessary Skills

Apple CEO Tim Cook has a reminder for us: Tech degrees might be a waste of time.
At the most recent American Workforce Policy Advisory Board Meeting, Cook noted about half of Apple employees don’t have a degree, and the company is “proud of that.” He also isolated “coding” as a skill Apple believes can be mastered without a degree, and that kids should have proficiency in it before leaving high school. From Cook:
…we’ve never really thought that a college degree was the thing that you had to have to do well. We’ve always tried to expand our horizons.
And so that degree — about half of our U.S. employment last year were people that did not have a four-year degree. And we’re very proud of that, but we want to go further.

Jobs by AdView

And so to that end, as we’ve looked at the — sort of, the mismatch between the skills that are coming out of colleges and what the skills are that we believe we need in the future, and many other businesses do, we’ve identified coding as a very key one.
And we believe strongly that it should be a requirement in the United States for every kid to have coding before they graduate from K-12, and become somewhat proficient at it.
(One thing to keep in mind with Cook’s comments: He’s speaking of Apple’s entireworkforce, which includes Apple Store employees. We’re sure some Apple Store staffers holddegrees, but you don’t need a degree to work in retail.)
Cook went on to highlight Apple’s push into coding education with services for teachers, as well as apps such as Swift Playgrounds. He’s making the case for Apple services, but also suggesting software developers don’t always need to go to university. Overall, his stance is that the next generation should have some ingrained proficiency in programming, thanks to some combination of self-teaching, high-school education, and other sources.
Cook isn’t alone. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty – who was at the same advisory board meeting as Cook (but offered nothing substantive) – spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland earlier this year. At that event, she commented on the same skills gap, noting: “I think businesses have to believe I’ll hire for skills, not just their degrees or their diplomas. Because otherwise we’ll never bridge this gap.”
HackerRank’s annual developer survey underscores Rommety and Cook’s position. It found that college graduates weren’t being taught the languages and frameworks employers need; 32 percent of its respondents relied entirely on university to teach them what they needed to know, while 27 percent reported being self-taught. (An even higher number, 38 percent, combined schooling and self-learning.)
As a study from DigitalOcean points out, tech bootcamp graduates feel far more prepared for the ‘real world’ than college degree holders (61 percent to 36 percent, respectively).
And if you want still more evidence, the Dice Salary Survey proves the point that skills matter more than degrees. The average tech pro earns $93,244 annually, but adding a skill like GoLang can help you earn $132,827 per year. (When HackerRank asked students which languages they planned to learn outside of school, GoLang also ranked near the top.)
You could make a viable argument that university curriculums move far too slowly for tech. We told you a college degree might be unnecessary in 2015. And 2016. 2017, too. 2018? Check. Now it’s 2019, and we’re seeing the strongest signs that skills matter in tech, not degrees. Many tech jobs still ask for a degree, and that’ll help get you hired – but skills will keep you employed, and paid well.