Why I Love Hiring Those that Teach Themselves



  • Everyone learns differently. We all know this, but we rarely take a lot of time to think about what it means practically. Some people are great auditory learners, I know I am. Give me an informative podcast with good information and a long morning walk and I will ingest a lot of great information. Some people need to take notes, others lose everything being said if they take notes. Some people need visual aids. Some need to do things hands on. Some want to investigate and discover while others want to be led and shown. We are all different.

    In the working world and especially in fields like IT and software engineering learning is far more than the background practice that we do to get in the door, it is a part of our daily lives. IT is an enormous field and requires that we not only know a lot of foundational background information, but also requires that we constantly stay up to date on products, companies, techniques, tools, trends and more. IT is so large that even if it were to never change or grow we would still be spending our entire careers learning more and more as there is just so much to know!

    IT practitioners take learning to a new level that most fields would never suggest or accept. In fact, if you even suggested to people working in most fields that they should have to put in the kind of time that IT professionals much do just to remain current and grow at a moderate pace you would not just be mocked but would often be met with derision. Many people would actually be upset being asked to learn in such a way.

    In fields, like IT, where continuous learning are necessities we have to think about learning processes in different ways. For most people in the majority of the world's careers it is adequate that learning be separate from "life and career", that it be set aside as a special case activity only done in special, formal settings such as high school, university, certification training classes and the like. Additional learning or training might be requires throughout a career but it would generally be done is special settings, at scheduled times and be very limited such as a training course for a few days every few years. Very "separate" from normal life.

    IT cannot work in this manner effectively. Learning must be constant, it must be part of the lifestyle. We cannot look at learning and education as something we do then set aside, only taking down off of the shelf and dusting off once in a while. We must live it. We must embrace it. It has to be part of every day, every activity. Always learning, always growing, always advancing.

    One of the most important skills that any IT practitioner must cultivate is that of being able to teach themselves, constantly. This might be reading books, spending time in deep reflection, doing projects, hanging out on professional social media, reading articles, pursuing certifications, building labs, trialing new products, attending seminars, attending conferences and more. And most likely, doing many or all of these things.

    IT requires so much learning, in so many directions, at such a significant pace that there is no reasonable means of approaching the primary corpus of an individual's learning from any formal system. Formal learning systems, classrooms of one type or another, are perfectly reasonable as supplemental learning systems. But these are time consuming, expensive and slow at best and, in most cases, lack even the capability of providing continued support for mid-level career professionals and above. The value of formal systems drops away rapidly as a career progresses and alternative learning methods must be adopted.

    IT essentially demands that anyone looking to continue growing in the field, or in reality even those just looking to stand still without losing ground, teach themselves throughout their careers. A formal education process might be useful in kick starting their careers at the onset or help to get them "over a hump" later in life. But by and large self learning is needed at nearly all times.

    The reason that I love hiring people who have always used self education and self learning processes while foregoing formal educational processes is not because of a negative associated with those processes, but because the needs of the field demand that self learning be a skill that isn't just passable but is highly honed and natural. If someone has learned through traditional, formal processes then I have to struggle to determine how much passion, determination and practical skill at self learning that person possesses. Why did they choose formal education that is slower, less demanding and more expensive if they enjoy and are good at learning on their own? How do I know that they can continue to grow without needing special resources provided at best, or at worst that they are simply unable to keep growing in IT and will immediately begin the process of failing?

    For job candidates that don't demonstrate a strong aptitude, desire and experience in self education I am left with little option but to wonder if they are ready for a career in IT. Of course they may have simply chosen a developmental path that fails to demonstrate some of the most critical industry skills, and that is unfortunate. But candidates that have demonstrated that they can self educate are known to have a critical skill that is needed. That demonstration is one of the best possible factor that I could look for in evaluating a candidate.

    Going forward, after hiring someone new, their past knowledge is almost useless. What they have learning is likely outdated, is almost certainly not directly applicable to the work that they will need to be doing and what they need to do will often change anyway and even if they were fully current at the time that they were hired they would still need to be learning regularly just to maintain the level of skill that they had when hired. The skills and experience that someone has when initial hired serves almost exclusively to demonstrate aptitude and interest for the subject material. Of equal or greater importance, but much harder to ascertain, is their ability to learn the new material that will be needed going forward and to do so on their own with minimal additional assistance.

    Those that have taught themselves have simply more opportunity to demonstrate their ability to do what is needed to succeed in IT. Which itself is meaningful, it suggests that they understand that requirement of doing so and the value of being able to do so. Candidates who have not done this adequately may themselves not understand what the field will entail once they are working in it and may have no idea how to teach themselves or even if they have the necessary skills and drive to do so anyway. Formal educational processes do so much to avoid these processes that often those who have taken those paths in life may lack the necessary exposure to even answer these questions when presented with them.

    Self learning is the best way to prove to employers and to yourself how ready to you are to tackle the ongoing growth and educational demands of the industry.


  • Banned

    @scottalanmiller said:

    Self learning is the best way to prove to employers and to yourself how ready to you are to tackle the ongoing growth and educational demands of the industry.

    And yet this is the single biggest problem in the industry, many employers don't understand this as a concept so we have the certification/degree game still being played.



  • @Breffni-Potter said in Why I Love Hiring Those that Teach Themselves:

    @scottalanmiller said:

    Self learning is the best way to prove to employers and to yourself how ready to you are to tackle the ongoing growth and educational demands of the industry.

    And yet this is the single biggest problem in the industry, many employers don't understand this as a concept so we have the certification/degree game still being played.

    Although that doesn't really mean that they don't understand, in many cases it simply means that they don't care. We should not assume that hiring planning involved getting the best people.



  • Totally agree with your entire post. I'm an autodidact myself, never been in a trainee position.

    The single biggest problem is HR, IMHO: They will fast scan job applications for formal problems and will put them in the "round permanent storage bin" the second where they see your missing higher education degree for example or missing certification. They don't understand requirements for candidates or that a senior tech with 15 years of experience is virtually always better than some fresh master in computer sciences who never got his hands dirty and bleeding from sharp chassis edges.

    I'm not saying that studying is worthless, but learning doesn't end with your degree. It ends when you are being put in a box.



  • @thwr said in Why I Love Hiring Those that Teach Themselves:

    The single biggest problem is HR, IMHO: They will fast scan job applications for formal problems and will put them in the "round permanent storage bin" the second where they see your missing higher education degree for example or missing certification. They don't understand requirements for candidates or that a senior tech with 15 years of experience is virtually always better than some fresh master in computer sciences who never got his hands dirty and bleeding from sharp chassis edges.

    That's why no company trying to hire good people allows HR to be in the chain of decision making (outside of looking up criminal records or whatever.) That doesn't mean that most companies don't want to hire the best, only that the good jobs don't get limited in this way.



  • @thwr said in Why I Love Hiring Those that Teach Themselves:

    I'm not saying that studying is worthless, but learning doesn't end with your degree. It ends when you are being put in a box.

    Right. The important part about formal studies is that it does not tell us anything useful. I don't need to know, ever, if someone can learn in a classroom. That's not useful info to me as a hiring manager. I just need to know if they can learn without a classroom. People who have only learned without one, I know can do it. People who have learned in a classroom we don't know that and we know that they fall into a pool of people dramatically more likely to be limited to a classroom setting (statistically they put themselves into the pool with the worst candidates for learning.)



  • Excellent article and so wonderful that you give credit to the self taught. My grandfather (near the end of his lifetime) was considered to be the "World's Foremost Authority" on textile mills. Papa only had a second grade formal education. One day while talking about my choices for employment and education, I ask about how he picked his new hires. He said, "I will hire a B-C student every single day before I hire an A student." I looked at him puzzled. Papa replied to my puzzled look and said, "A B-C student is always willing to learn anything you are willing to teach them. An A student thinks they already know it all."

    When I got out and started my own businesses I thought about the things Papa had told me. I often wondered if they were true or even close to true. I have been to school several times and have been a 4.0 student (but that was for ME not anyone else) and have watched people around me, people I have hired, people I have worked for... Papa was right. Scott your article is correct also. I would much rather work with a mind who is willing to continue to learn every day!



  • I just registered to this website only because I wanted to reply to your article:

    Because I am mostly a self-taught person with no certs to hang on the wall on my last interview I've been told "your CV is outstanding, but I do not understand why there is so much of a gap between your job experience and your education".
    Unfortunately I did not have the spot-on answer (or bravery if you like) to tell them what I really think about being certified versus have a real understanding about what is going on with your network/server/whatever because you learned that the hard way.

    Needless to say, I didn't get through the interview.
    Now, how today's businesses will judge my CV if I specifically write down "self-taught education" on that will be nice to know.



  • @LorenzDR said in Why I Love Hiring Those that Teach Themselves:

    I just registered to this website only because I wanted to reply to your article:

    Welcome to the community!



  • @LorenzDR said in Why I Love Hiring Those that Teach Themselves:

    Now, how today's businesses will judge my CV if I specifically write down "self-taught education" on that will be nice to know.

    Well, I would not put it necessarily in those terms. What I've done is simply put no education section on my resume/CV whatsoever. There are times that this will eliminate me from consideration at a job, but not at any job I'd be comfortable taking, so I take this as a benefit, not a negative.

    When interviewing, yes confidence is key. If you know your stuff, be confident. State clearly why you know what you know. State that you are a self learning. For me I talk about learning from books, reading articles, running a massive home lab, volunteer and intern work and so forth. Question why they think that college courses would be beneficial if they teach at a slower pace and less thoroughly or up to date as you teach yourself. Ask why they would expect a correlation between experience and education - why do they feel that formal education is needed to learn a skill, that's counter-intuitive as classroom learning is slow and ineffectual in most cases. How many professors would likely have the skill?

    Sadly, defending a lack of formal education is often needed. But when done well, it can work wonders.



  • The downside is, of course, if the person with whom you are interviewing went to college and thought that it was hard, he or she will easily be offended that you are that much better at IT than they are or that it is implied. If they needed someone to hold their hand and teach them what you learned on your own... a lot of low end managers will take offence. But then again, do you really want to work for someone that is both challenged by learning the basics, can't teach themselves and doesn't want to hire the best people but only people who aren't better than they are?

    Yes, it lowers your total career options, but it limits them in a positive way. Fewer overall options, better remaining ones.



  • So much truth in this article! Great write-up Scott!

    Indeed, continual learning throughout the entire journey is a must. This field is growing and evolving so quickly that we have to be passionately diligent if we're going to keep up with it and remain relevant.



  • @Shuey Thanks!



  • Hi @scottalanmiller Nice to read, now I'm wondering if I'm qualified to be hired by you. JK.
    Anyway as of this time, I am teaching myself with most subjects in college totally unrelated to IT world, Like Science, Economics, Psychology and total of 12 Subjects.
    Don't judge me but as soon I'm finished with this Subjects I will defense my IT paper to the director of Academics affairs.
    I'm telling you, self teaching is not easy, but a very rewarding thing to do.
    Cheers!



  • Life is one continuous stream of issues & problems.
    Living is solving them.
    Learning is everything.