College Degree Required? 4 Tech Perspectives on Higher Ed

Jane O'Hara
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Current and prospective college students are facing weighty decisions right now.

Of nearly 700 students and parents recently surveyed, 29% have considered deferring college attendance. Roughly half of the 700 universities with a May 1 deadline have granted extensions for students weighing their odds — not knowing if campuses will reopen or if they’ll be limited to online courses they find less valuable.

Spring campus closures and economic forecasts have many questioning what they should do come fall. Does it make sense to forge ahead with college — or is it more valuable to find a job and hope the right opportunities follow?

Given the drop-out success stories students have likely heard over the years (but which are exceedingly rare), I thought it would be helpful to share some higher ed perspectives from professionals across the advertising world — some with college degrees, some without — but all with unique experiences.


Brandon Dawson, Maple Media
Brandon is Director of Ad Ops at Maple Media, a mobile app publisher that recently acquired Player.fm

"I don't think a degree is necessary, assuming someone is decent with numbers and gets their foot in the door early on to gain experience. That said, I also believe that a degree is strongly recommended and gives you the advantage in hiring, especially if it's something like statistics, math, or even marketing. Since a lot of ad tech people deal with numbers on a fairly regular basis, those things definitely come in handy. I personally have a degree in Sociology, although I did take enough additional classes to minor in Business."


Valentin Palussiere, Quale
Valentin is CTO at Quale(.ie), a Dublin-based programmatic advertising/tech consultancy

“A degree is not mandatory but having some tech education/knowledge is a must. Plenty of people in my network have ended up there by accident and they all share an inclination for the technology aspect of advertising. Having the technical chops is also a great way to future-proof your career.”


Jarrod Swart, Adzerk
Jarrod is a Software Developer at Adzerk, an API platform that enables brands to build custom ad servers.

“As a software developer in ad tech, I feel extremely fortunate to have the privilege to do work that I enjoy regardless of my lack of traditional accreditation. In most cases, I think a four-year Computer Science degree is the best option, but if you are willing to put in the effort it isn't required.

I spent 2004 to 2010 in the service industry. Long nights, no benefits, and variable pay began to wear me down. An entry-level job at a small digital marketing firm (that I did not enjoy) provided a means to gamble on a different career. Instead I taught myself to program JavaScript and create a browser extension to automate tedious aspects of the work. Thus began my career as a software developer.

Queue the montage: software startups, energy drinks, and endless hours (16-hour days!) of coding and learning. I've been in ad tech for almost five years and have now had the opportunity to work with engineers of various backgrounds. The extreme scale and necessary speed of ad tech coupled with the complexity of the work lends an advantage to those with traditional Computer Science and Mathematics backgrounds. The further away you move from displaying ads towards decisioning and programmatic, the more obvious this becomes. As a result, I still spend a decent amount of my personal time improving my knowledge in these areas.”


James Avery, Adzerk
James is the founder and CEO at Adzerk, an API platform that enables brands to build custom ad servers.

“It's an interesting topic for me to weigh in on, since in 1999 while I was attending college I made the decision to drop out and join a .com company. I had been a web developer for years at that point, and at that .com I learned more and turned that into a successful software development career. I then founded Adzerk, still without a degree, and years later we are a successful ad tech company.

Part of my reason for making that decision was that in 1999, it seemed like the tech world was moving so quickly that the education I was pursuing didn't seem relevant. I also was at the point where I was going to have to take on debt to continue at college, and I wasn't thrilled with that idea.

Looking back, I wouldn't change the decision I made. I met my wife at the .com, I learned a ton in the years I worked there, and I have always been a self-learner. Looking at the world today, I would encourage people to pursue degrees if they have that opportunity — regardless of what career they want to pursue. While there if something catches your eye, if you invent "thefacebook," then by all means change your plans and jump.”

What advice would you give?

Now it’s your turn. What would you tell a student considering a career in ad tech? Is a degree required or is on-the-job experience equally valuable?

Click the link to share your thoughts and experiences with our LinkedIn Group! While you’re there, be sure to join so you never miss a discussion.

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Jane O'Hara

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