May 26, 2020

Tech Careers That Don't Require a College Degree

You finished high school and can’t face four more years of school before you start your career. Or you’ve been working for a few years but want a more satisfying career. There are many well-paying, satisfying careers that don’t require a four-year college degree. You can get the skills you need for what many are calling “new-collar jobs” through vocational training, certificate programs, apprenticeships, or two-year degree programs.

Let’s explore the kinds of jobs you can expect to find.

What jobs can I get if I don’t have a four-year degree?

Computer programmer: Are you someone who understands computer programs and can write code to make a software application more functional? You may want to become a computer programmer. You’ll be responsible for updating programs, troubleshooting, and testing software programs.

Many future programmers opt for an associate degree or attend coding academies that offer an intensive and relatively short-term immersion experience in programming. Your average pay? $84,000 per year.

Computer security analyst: Every day the news is full of stories of companies that are being hacked and even held for ransom by cybercriminals who threaten their business. A computer security analyst is hired to keep networks and systems safe. While some companies expect higher degrees, others look for skills in computer science, programming, and IT security.

The need for these jobs is growing with every high profile computer hack. Your expected average pay? An average of $99,730 (2019), according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Computer service delivery analyst: Most companies need to track how efficiently services are delivered to their clients—and how these services can be improved. For this job, you need to understand the industry and the software your company uses, and you must have strong computer skills, but you don’t necessarily need a four-year degree. Your average salary? $56,433, according to Glassdoor.

Computer support specialist—if you really enjoy dealing with people, you may want to consider helping people and companies with their computer equipment and/or software. The computer support specialist is the person an employee in a company calls or emails when they can’t figure out a problem with their computer.

Computer support specialists generally do not need a college degree. You may have taken some specialized computer or IT courses or have an associate degree. You also need strong communication skills since a lot of frustrated people will be contacting you every day! Your average pay? About $54,760 (2019) per year, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

And this list is just a start. The need for network support staff, server technicians, cloud administrators, software quality assurance analysts and testers, web designers, to name just a few of the many tech jobs available, is growing daily.

What is the job outlook for tech jobs that don’t require a college degree?

If you do a quick search through Dice, Github, Craigslist, LinkedIn, and other job boards, you’ll see there is a high demand for tech jobs in every field. What’s your favorite setting? IT companies, hospitals, government offices, schools, manufacturers, and nonprofit organizations all need people with tech skills.

Most large or medium-sized organizations hire in-house tech support staff for their computer systems. Smaller companies and private individuals often contact independent contractors for the same computer-related services.

With such a growing demand, many companies are searching for the right skills, rather than the right degree. You may even find companies that offer paid training programs for job candidates, which are similar to apprenticeships.

How do they compare to college jobs?

Let’s start with just the cost basics of getting a four-year education. A quick internet search shows you that the price tag for attending a four-year school can range from a public state school costing about $21,000 per year to a private college that can cost $50,000 and more per year.

While there is a lot of variation based on income and scholarships available, most college students leave college with substantial debt. Depending on their career choices, that debt can be a game-changer for years to come. With the long-term financial burden of a school loan, you may have to delay major life milestones, from getting married to having a child, or buying a house.

Certificate programs, technical schools, and associate degree programs are usually much less expensive. But what about the long-term benefits? Well, that depends on the field. You’ve already seen that a good job in a technical field can bring in substantial earnings; a four-year tech degree can get you to the six-figure range.

However, in other fields, the earning potential after a four-year degree may be less rosy. To illustrate: (from “20 college majors where the pay goes nowhere” in Business Insider):

  • Animator, 3-D artist, graphic designer – starting pay: $42,600, mid-career median pay:$56,700 
  • Med Techs – starting pay, $47,800; mid-career median pay: $64,000
  • Parks and recreation director, recreation supervisor, executive assistant – starting median pay: $37,100; mid-career median pay: $49,500
  • Lab techs, scientists, and supervisors – starting median pay: $46,200; mid-career median pay: $61,500
  • Elementary school teacher, office manager, administrative assistant – starting median pay: $34,300; mid-career median pay: $45,500

How do I decide which tech job is right for me?

While some jobs certainly require a four-year degree, many high-paying, secure jobs do not. These “new-collar” jobs do require some skills, but you can get them through a certificate program, associate degree, or even an internship or apprenticeship program. To make the right decision about the career that fits your needs and lifestyle, consider checking out:

  1. Job boards. Start with reviewing the jobs on the most popular job boards. See what employers are looking for—and which industries they are in. You can then tailor your job hunt (and preparation) for the job you want in the industry you prefer.

I’ve already mentioned a few common job boards earlier. For a longer list, check out “The 24 Best Tech and IT Job Boards for 2020.”

  1. Career information sites. Check out career sites that offer job and salary information and a wide range of related job information:
  1. Networking groups. Many tech groups meet through social media platforms like Meet.up and LinkedIn. Take the time for a conversation with someone who is doing the job you think you want. When I was job hunting and met someone in my field, you can bet I set up a phone conversation or a coffee date to hear more about what they do—and how they got their job.

The right job is out there waiting for you. If you do your research and learn more about the tech industry, you’ll find the opportunities are endless for getting started, even without a four-year degree.

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