Is a university degree needed in today’s tech world?

The debate on whether a university degree is needed in today’s technology market is making headlines, with many people arguing that a traditional education is not as valuable as it used to be.

In a recent blog post, former FNB CEO Michael Jordaan said: “One of the worst pieces of advice that I received in high school was to study for a professional degree that I could fall back on”.

Jordaan said many corporate professionals “silently regret their dangerous addiction to a monthly salary”.

“They wonder what would have happened if they followed their passion and did something out of the ordinary, like starting their own business,” he said.

Jordaan added the world has changed so much that a tertiary qualification is no longer a guarantee for a job.

“The Economist predicts that everyday jobs like accountants, auditors, and estate agents will be fully computerised in 20 years. So what advice should we be giving to the next generation?” said Jordaan.

Taking the riskier path

Jordaan said he loves academia, but wishes more talented people in South Africa would become entrepreneurs.

“If Branson had finished his schooling, or Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerberg had completed their college degrees, we would probably never have witnessed Virgin, Microsoft, Apple, or Facebook,” said Jordaan.

Vinny Lingham is an example of a local technology entrepreneur who did not complete his first university degree. (He later completed an honours qualification at Unisa).

He dropped out of his BCom Information Systems course at the University of Cape Town because of a lack of funds. He then founded incuBeta, a successful online marketing firm.

These entrepreneurs’ decisions to take the riskier route without an easy fall-back option moved the world forward, argues Jordaan.

It is not only entrepreneurs who are not relying on degrees to make their way.

The Stack Overflow 2015 developer survey showed most software developers are self-taught.

Degrees can make better entrepreneurs

While Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerberg are examples of university dropouts who did great things, there are many examples where a formal qualification was behind an entrepreneur’s success.

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s PhD studies resulted in their success. They did an academic paper together titled “Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine”, which formed the basis for the Google search engine.

Shifting the focus to South Africa, one of the country’s most successful tech entrepreneurs – Andre Fourie – founded his company Poynting out of his academic work.

Fourie spent many years in the academic field, and authored around 50 papers and 4 books on antenna technology, which formed the foundation of his successful company.

Qualifications of successful South African tech entrepreneurs

This raises the question: How many of South Africa’s top technology entrepreneurs completed university degrees?

The answer is that most of them did.

The following infographic shows the qualifications of some of South Africa’s top technology entrepreneurs.

South African entrepreneurs qualifications
South African entrepreneurs’ qualifications

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Is a university degree needed in today’s tech world?