An IBM Watson VP says you don't need a fancy degree — or a computer science background — to make it in tech

May 30, 2017

Myths abound for the kinds of people who work at top tech companies like IBM: they all have computer science degrees, and they all come from Ivy League or big-name universities. 

 

But it turns out you don't need to fit this mold to make it in tech. 

 

As Obed Louissant, IBM Watson's VP of HR, tells Business Insider, his company actively looks for people from all backgrounds who can add new perspectives to its worldwide team of around 380,000 employees. 

 

"We have all types here," Louissant says. "We do value people who think differently from us. When they're authentic and let their curiosity show, and they show there's a distinctiveness in them, then we like that because that's going to test us and bring us into new areas." 

 

Here's how not having a computer science degree or a fancy diploma can give you a boost in the tech world — if you're willing to promote yourself and learn the necessary technical skills on your own. 

 

1. Not majoring in computer science gives you a different perspective 

 

According to Louissant, diversity of thought is a key component of IBM's work culture. That means that you don't need to study tech in college to land a job at the company. In fact, majoring in other disciplines can give you a unique way of thinking and problem-solving that tech companies like IBM value. 

 

"Individuals who've gone to university and studied something like French or philosophy, later on they can determine, 'Hey, the world is being rewritten in code. I'd like to see what that's about,'" he says. "They bring those differences in the way in which they were taught or the way in which they live life. Then we provide better products, better software, and better services and better hardware to our clients and to the world." 

 

Of course, tech skills are important to companies like IBM, but if you major in English and code on the side, that can actually give you a boost in hiring process. 

 

2. For some tech jobs, skills are more important than where you went to school 

 

To work at IBM, Louissant says that you don't need a degree from an Ivy League university. In fact, you don't even need a traditional, four-year degree. 

 

As Business Insider's Chris Weller previously reported, IBM has been making a push to hire for new collar jobs, a hybrid of white and blue collar jobs that straddles the space between professional and trade careers. For the server technicians, database managers, and other assorted IT jobs, relevant skills and an ability to adjust are more important than knowing everything. 

 

Stanley Litow, president of the IBM Foundation, told Business Insider that more employers need to bridge the gap between higher education and the working world. 

 

To find new collar workers, IBM has been working with individuals attending community colleges or trade programs. The point of the program, Louissant says, is to help individuals "build their technical skills and then work with them over a period of time." 

 

"It's not about degree, it's about skills," Louissant says. 

 

Originally published in Business Insider

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