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Computer Science Degrees Aren't Returning On Investment For Coders, Research Finds ( 395

According to a new survey, coders with a bachelor's degree in computer science only earn 3,000 British Pounds (BP) more a year than those who don't have one. The survey of 4,700 developers in the UK was conducted by Stack Overflow, a community site frequented by developers for answers to technical questions. The Register reports the findings: This is despite the average degree now costing 9,000 BP a year in tuition fees alone. Average student debt is now more than 50,000 BP, according the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The research found that the median salary of those who did not have higher education was 35,000 BP per year, while those who gained a bachelor's degree earned 38,000 BP and postgraduates took home 42,000 BP. It found that 48 per cent of developers with less than four years of professional experience currently hold a Computer Science-related undergraduate degree, while 49 per cent had completed an online course instead. The research also found that JavaScript developers were most in demand, with almost 27 per cent of jobs advertised on Stack Overflow now requiring this skill, followed by Java (22 per cent), Python (16 per cent), C# (15 per cent) and ReactJS (9 per cent).
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Computer Science Degrees Aren't Returning On Investment For Coders, Research Finds

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  • Makes sense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jason1729 ( 561790 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @08:49PM (#55235531)
    Computer Science degrees aren't supposed to lead to jobs as "coders". That's like saying someone with a degree in mechanical engineering aren't getting a good return on their investment in the degree when they get a job doing oil changes.

    You can learn coding in a couple of days. Computer science is something different.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      True, but these days people have largely forgotten the actual purpose of university and treat it more like a factory for churning out wage slaves. You really shouldn't need a tertiary degree for a lot of jobs. Hell for some jobs you'd be better prepared if you left half way through secondary school and did an apprenticeship. But I guess when jobs are scarce and people look down on the "uneducated" then it makes sense that people are spending longer and longer in school and not getting proportional benefi

    • CS : Software Engineering : Coders :: Physics : Mechanical Engineering : Engineering Technologists.

      Having more head chefs in the kitchen doesn't get the food out faster.

    • Long term matters. Do you want that stupid entry level job for the next 40 years? I suspect most people want to be promoted, lead teams, and especially be able to design stuff and work on new projects. That is much more likely to happen with a degree; CS or EE degree helps a lot, but any degree will help there. The field is already chock full of people who can just barely code, and have no clue whatsoever why their algorithm takes days to run even though they're using all the latest fashions in coding.

      • by mark-t ( 151149 )
        Even a so-called "entry level job" can pay quite fairly... as long as the salary keeps pace with the rise in cost of living, once you've found something you love to do, what's the problem?
    • That's like saying someone with a degree in mechanical engineering aren't getting a good return on their investment in the degree when they get a job doing oil changes.

      More like getting a job as a technical draftsman or a CNC milling machine operator, but the intent of your analogy is good.

    • You can learn to write sentences in a couple of days. Writing a book is something else.

      There are a lot of people with programming jobs who are highly overpaid, they can only write sentences but not a book.

    • Bachelor's degrees in computer science are absolutely supposed to lead to jobs as coders. But not as "code monkeys".

      Masters and Doctorates lead to jobs as actual Computer Scientists.

      A 4 year degree teaches you theory, teaches you to think rigorously (mostly the math), makes you well rounded (english, government, history), gives you good written and verbal communication skills (english classes), and gives you a good base in math- which you may never use (in which case it will rot), gives you better design

      • Bachelor's degrees in computer science are absolutely supposed to lead to jobs as coders. But not as "code monkeys".

        Not in real computer science programs. Strangely enough, computer science programs are supposed to teach you computer science.

    • It may also be due to the selection bias. CS degree holders that are good might not be on StackOverflow and thus not answering the survey while simultaneously earning more money. They are ore-selecting based on people needing additional help or people with enough free time to give their time away in exchange for Internet Points.

      More skilled people have other things to do, don't need the help, and probably make more money. Basing any major choices on the results from a self-selected survey is not a good idea

    • Re:Makes sense (Score:5, Insightful)

      by johannesg ( 664142 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @08:26AM (#55237601)

      No, you _cannot_ learn coding in a couple of days - why does drivel like this get +5?

      You can maybe understand a few of the absolute bottom layer basics in a few days, but that doesn't qualify you for a job as a programmer yet - that takes years of effort and experience.

      Who are you, Jason1729? Some manager type who really looks down on his employees? An academic who really believes coding is something you can learn in a few days, but of course you never bothered because it is for those of lower education?

      • Slashdot is surprisingly anti-programmer, but seeing this modded up is something even for slashdot. Even the developer boot camp people never suggested you could learn to code in a couple of days.
    • Re:Makes sense (Score:5, Insightful)

      by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @12:54PM (#55239203)

      You can learn coding in a couple of days. Computer science is something different.

      Becoming proficient at anything takes time and dedication to gain the experience necessary in order to actually provide value.

      Otherwise, you're just another idiot who assumes they know what they're doing after hacking away at it for a couple of days.

  • by kamapuaa ( 555446 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @09:01PM (#55235591) Homepage

    who gets paid in pounds lol

  • CS degrees in the job market aren't about the pay scale.

    They're about getting past the bureaucrats in the HR departments. So they're about being hired at all.

    You can make as much (or even more) if you're a substantial programming talent even without a degree. But that does you no good if you have no job and make nothing.

    Back in the late '60s (Minsky's "first period") a 4-year CS degree actually HURT employability. The schools were teaching a lot of stuff that wasn't really useful on a job (for instance:

    • Back in the late '60s (Minsky's "first period") a 4-year CS degree actually HURT employability.

      This was true all the way through the '80s.

      • A CS degree helped employability for _military_ work in that period. The money for leading edge research involved military work, such as guidance systems and cryptography.

    • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
      Once you have a few years of experience, they stop asking anymore. I dropped out of school in the '80s to take a programming job. I always thought I'd eventually get sick of the industry and go back to school. I guess after three decades it's silly to keep saying that. I'm frequently asked to weigh in on hiring decisions and personally put more stock in an active github account and a gung-ho attitude than I do some piece of paper. You can still get into the industry without a degree, as long as you can get
  • Pounds? (Score:2, Funny)

    by mentil ( 1748130 )

    only earn 3,000 British Pounds (BP) more a year

    Can someone convert this to something I understand, like Dogecoins per fortnight?

    • by hord ( 5016115 )

      I think with the current Brexit exchange rate this equates to a large bag of candy. Higher skilled employees require more sugar for cognition and literally gain pounds.

    • about $3000 post brexit. I'm not sure the students are hurting so much financially, many of them will have their debts automatically cancelled before they pay them off. There is a maximum payment per year that's low to nothing if the wages are low.
    • Current exchange rate 1 UKP = 1.35 USD ...

      • by Mouldy ( 1322581 )
        What is with the random currency acronyms in this story (and your comment) - are these Americanisms?

        £ or GBP are far more commonplace than BP or UKP - I'd never heard of BP or UKP in the context of British currency until today.
    • by mccalli ( 323026 )
      Well, as a British guy with twenty years of currencies experience I'd like to ask the same question. Never once seen Sterling referred to as BP before - GBP is the term, or Sterling, or Pound Sterling. British Pounds? The phrase just doesn't get used.
  • Comparing the salary of a coder with a degree, to the salary of a coder without a degree, is apples to oranges. You want to compare the salary of an unemployed person to a coder without a degree. Most people go to school to learn the skill. A degree is nothing more than one type of proof-of-skill. Not every industry needs proof-of-skill to be hired.

  • It was worth it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by VocationalZero ( 1306233 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @09:26PM (#55235715) Journal
    I can't be the only one who is proud of their CS degree. The courses I took challenged me greatly, and often taught me the answers to questions that I didn't even think to ask. Maybe I was lucky, but the professors I had helped me expand my knowledge far quicker than I could have done without them. Their dedication to education showed, and made it far easier to learn the concepts, history, and practical application of software development and computer science in general.

    I often hear that "I'd rather have a self-taught English major, because they show dedication and adaptability", and I respect that, but I this attitude also sort of dismisses the fact that CS students can be just as dedicated and adaptable, and also have a large amount of relevant knowledge on the subject. I have worked with people with and without degrees in the relevant field, and those with seem to lean on me far less than those without. Just my personal experience.

    I wouldn't say that I'd be lost without my CS degree, but I doubt very much I'd be able to get where I am today as quickly as I did, without it. Plus, I really did love my classes, so even if it isn't a "positive return on investment" (which I still kind of doubt is really the case), I do not at all regret earning the degree.
    • so I'm gonna ask: If we know a CS degree is a poor return on investment doesn't that put it in the same boat as a liberal arts degree? e.g. something you do for fun that you probably shouldn't have?
      • If I may disagree? A CS degree may be a poor return on investment, but it generally _has_ a measurable and positive return on investment.

        • just as the ex-CSO of Equifax. She did pretty well for herself until something major blew up on her watch. And I've known lots of PMs making 6 figures with liberal arts degrees. Often being good at talking your way into a job is worth more than being able to do the job.
    • Yes, the degree is highly helpful. It's just that today there is a very strong anti-elite element out there that is actively encouraging people to skip all education. I really don't know what the motivation is.

      • Re:It was worth it (Score:5, Interesting)

        by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @06:41AM (#55237249)

        I noticed the same thing. In the CS area, I think the mechanism is pretty clear though, all those no/wrong-degree coders are trying to make sure they are not seen as inferior (which they are, often grossly so, with a tiny number of exceptions). I run into this all the time with personnel of customers.

        The really problematic thing is that you usually only understand the worth of a degree several years after you have gotten it. That allows the anti-degree people to claim that those with degree are just lying about it and do not want to admit having wasted their time. In actual reality they are simply blind because they lack that experience and they are unwilling to believe otherwise. A Dunning-Kruger type of effect is at work here. Also, as they would have to acknowledge being wrong and possibly being inferior in the relevant skill space, it is quite understandable that many are unable to come to grips with that. Hence they claim "degrees are worthless" and such things.

        This is strong with self-taught coders here on /. as well. They are blind to their limits and claim these limits are irrelevant or do not exist. Do not listen to these people! Sure, a degree will not turn a dumb person into a smart person, and hence there are quite a few incompetents with degrees out there, but a lack of degree will severely limit even a smart person and that is a real problem.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          The issue with low wages is that the UK in general is a low wage, high cost, low productivity economy.

          In the UK a lot of jobs do list a degree as a requirement. It's actually something that people without degrees complain about a lot because it locks them out, and that people with degrees complain about because it cheapens their expensive qualification when the assistant manager in a shop needs 3 years of full time study just to apply.

          Degrees are also insanely expensive in the UK. That's only going to get w

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      I teach on the side, and my current Software Security course is about half students that actually work 50-60% as....coders. Why are they going for a CS degree while already having a reasonable job? Most answer that they found they have trouble understanding the theory behind the stuff they work on and that this decreases the quality of their work and limits their future options.

  • In other news ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <> on Wednesday September 20, 2017 @09:38PM (#55235787)

    Telescope Builders are often only mediocre Astronomers.

    Big surprise!

  • Well, I have a computer science degree, AND a math minor. I detect a math problem here.

    Average salary with degree: 38,000
    Average salary without degree: 35,000
    Difference: 3,000

    Cost of a degree (according to the article): 50,000
    Divide 50,000 by 3,000, and you get 16.67.

    So in 17 years, a degree DOES pay for itself, even if one accepts all the numbers as fact.

    • they pay back 9% of everything they earn over 21k. all remaining debt is cancelled after 30 years. So ignoring wage inflation and government rule changes, they'll only pay back 45,900 and inflation will take a bite out of the real value of that.

      In other words, they'll earn 3k extra and their degree financing will cost them 1530 so they are 1470 up on the deal every year.

      Now if you assume they could have been earning 35000 per year instead of attending university then that opportunity cost starts them $105k

    • We can do better than that. Any recent UK graduate who took out the loans for going to Uni will be paying it back directly from their wages. You can use a site like [] to work out what this means for their income.

      If I put in 35k without any student loan it comes out to 27,081.48 per year (2,256.79 pcm), after all deductions. For 38k with the 'Plan 1' (higher %age paid back per month) student loan repayments it comes out to 27,301.23 per year (2,275.10 pcm). Note that the a

  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @03:49AM (#55236935)

    A degree guarantees a broad understanding of computing related issues. Of course some people without a degree may have this, but these are a few of the things I have seen:

    A business rule that had been modified a number of times by requests from the business; "do X when Y", "do X when Z but not A", "Assume A is false when not Y", and so on for many years. The result was a huge condition with brackets that could not easily be understood. Writing it as a boolean expression and simplifying it revealed that several of the variables in the conditions were not relevant (it did the same thing when they were true or false), much of the complexity was because some test was being applied in multiple conditions and the whole lot simplified down to a short clear expression.

    A coder had produced a phenomenal amount of code, counted by lines. In peer review it turned out he didn't understand how to call library classes, and copied the library code into every module which used it

    A coder defined a macro defining the boolean "or" "|" as "and"! It turned out that he was totally confused by an expression opening a file as F_READ | F_WRITE, and thought that the compiler writers and everyone else in history had got "or" and "and" the wrong way round.

    A definition which was obviously a finite state machine written as spaghetti code, where all that was needed was a table of state, event, action, new-state

    This is a legend in our company. An Array copy function defined, despite one being available as
    # This function only works on arrays up to size of three elements
    A[0] = B[0]
    if (B.size > 1)
    A[1] = B[1]
    if (B.size > 2)
    A[2] = B[2]
    if (B.size > 3)
    A[3] = B[3]
    And yes, the language had loops and a built-in array copy function.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Yes, I have seen numerous similar things from non-degree coders as well.

    • Yep, good computer scientists need very broad understanding of software development. Unfortunately many companies prefer a very specific understanding optimized to the current job and dropped as soon as the job is complete for someone else with a very specific understanding of the next job.

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @04:44AM (#55237007) Homepage Journal

    BP my arse.

    "pounds sterling", "GBP" (that's the ISO code) or just plain old "pounds" are all acceptable.

    You could use the symbol (the one that looks like a curly L, not the one like a sharp sign), but slashdot would probably convert it to [(*Ä*)] or something.

    Chunter chunter comprehensives chunter chunter Wilson.

  • On the minus side (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @06:15AM (#55237191)

    Once, management finally realizes to that coders without a degree are in most cases actually far more expensive due to lack of skill and limits in what they can do, those without that degree will find themselves unemployed pretty fast and pretty permanently. The funny thing is that the coders without degree do not realize what they miss. Sure, as long as it is simple business logic, almost anybody could do it. But as soon as it gets more complicated, I have yet to find a coder without CS degree that actually gets it and that is really expensive in the long run.

  • by sabbede ( 2678435 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @08:18AM (#55237559)
    50,000BP of debt for 3000BP more a year? I know college in the US is increasingly expensive and decreasingly useful, but I didn't know the UK had the same problem.

    I guess it's good to know it isn't just us, but it's also sad to know it isn't just us.

  • by jeff4747 ( 256583 ) on Thursday September 21, 2017 @10:17AM (#55238191)

    The vast majority of the time, you don't need a CS degree to write a business application. These days it's mostly CRUD operations using some web stack and database, governed by some business logic. You don't need a CS degree to effectively do that.

    We need to take a lesson from the material world. We have materials scientists who invent new materials and do some engineering when an extremely deep understanding of the underlying physics and chemistry is needed. But 99% of the time, a structural engineer is the one who designs how to build a building/bridge/whatever. And typically that structural engineer has a much better understanding of how to put the pieces together in a far more practical way.

    We should be aiming for a similar split in computers. We need computer scientists who advance what computers can do and deal with very hard problems. But the vast majority of the time we need a software engineer to assemble what the computer scientists invent into a business application that is secure and just keeps working even when the shit hits the fan.

    For example, a computer scientist would generally not need to worry that much about things like failover and automatic recovery since they're primarily building prototypes and testbeds. Just like a materials scientist doesn't spend much time considering "what if a hurricane struck my lab during this test?".

    But a software engineering degree could focus a great deal on writing software the just keeps working in very adverse conditions just like a structural engineer has to consider a natural disaster striking the building.

    Over my 20 years doing this, I've come across a lot of very elegant systems that are wonderful computer science....and they instantly exploded as soon as they had to deal with something slightly outside what the developer considered.

An age is called Dark not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it. -- James Michener, "Space"