Ask an Employer: The Value of Education in Information Technology

As the cost of education continues to rise, it is important to factor in just how valuable a degree is in a particular field. What value do hiring managers and employers place on education? In this installment of our Ask an Employer series, we interviewed Jonathan Hodges, Chief Architect of Adaptive Learning and Analytics at Pearson Education.

Jonathan Hodges photo

Name:  Jonathan Hodges
Pearson Education
Title:  Chief Architect, Adaptive Learning and Analytics
Years on the job:
3 years at Pearson; 15 years overall IT experience
Education: Bachelor of Science in Management Information Systems, University of Auburn

With continual technological advancement, information technology is an industry undergoing tremendous growth and becoming an integral part of daily life. “Everything from cloud computing, to mobile application, to user interfaces and analytics are allowing businesses and companies to grow and provide customers and consumers with better service,” Jonathan Hodges said.

Hodges works at Pearson Education, a company that specializes in helping learners of all ages make progress in their education. “We provide a range of products and services to institutions, governments, and directly to individual learners that help people everywhere aim higher and fulfill their true potential,” he said.  “The new products and services we create are making learning more personal, affordable and effective. My position incorporates product and technical strategy, technology trends and product positioning from within the information technology and internet industry.”

Hodges was kind enough to share his insights about what it takes to be successful in the ever-changing and competitive world of information technology.

Q: What are your goals or biggest priorities when hiring new employees?
A: Since we are in IT, the bar starts with the required technical skills for the job. After that, the priority is around demeanor and how the candidate would fit in with the team.

Q: What challenges have you encountered during the hiring process?
A: The biggest challenge is a shortage of technical candidates in our area (Denver). This isn’t good for the industry as it is difficult to find qualified resources for a lot of the fields in IT.  This means looking outside of the country to fill the gap, which has problems of its own in terms of managing remote development in different time zones.  This model falls down with more complicated projects.

Q: Describe any emerging trends you have observed in your field.
A: Due to the tech market in Denver, we are seeing candidates command salaries similar to San Francisco and New York, even though a much lower cost of living is available here. Education might serve as a tiebreaker, but the focus is more on the skills a candidate has regardless of where they were learned.

Q: When reviewing resumes and cover letters specific to your business, how important is education?

A:  It depends on the position, but generally education is less important for IT positions.  We accept work experience as equivalent to education if they can exhibit the required technical skills needed for the job. As I mentioned before, education can serve as a tiebreaker when comparing two qualified candidates, but it is not the key driver for accepting a candidate.  I have many people on my team without a degree.  My highest performing engineer only has a GED.

Q: What makes a resume rise to the top of the pile for you?
A: Detailed experience in the required technical skills for the job.

Q: What makes a resume sink to the bottom of the pile?
A: Lack of experience in the required technical skills for the job.

Q: How has education impacted your own career?
A: As mentioned, education is less important in the IT field than in others. I was lucky enough to get my master’s paid for while on the job. I will say that earning my master’s helped give me a greater level of confidence. Regardless of the field you are in, earning a master’s degree is a big achievement that gets peoples’ attention.

Q: What tips would you give for someone considering going back to school?
A: Since education is expensive, I would recommend doing research in your field of interest to determine the importance of education as a differentiating factor for getting the job. There are a lot of alternatives to traditional education, like free online courses, that might make more sense.

Q: How valuable is a master’s degree in this line of work?
A: It is generally less valuable in IT than other fields, until reaching middle management or higher. I think an advanced degree is important for someone at a higher level of management because it shows that they have gone through the process and done a higher level of academic work.

What is the best career advice you have ever received and who was it from?
A: “Work smarter, not harder.”  Quote from my father.

Q: What other advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in this field?
A: Make sure to stay current with the latest advances in technology as well as software development methodologies. This can be done on your own with online resources freely available on the web, free or low-priced courses, a certificate program, or an advanced degree. There are a lot more options today than when I was in school, which will hopefully disrupt the overpriced cost of higher education. It all depends on your personal goals and preferences.

Learn about Colorado State University’s online computer science and technology programs.

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