Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is known for her insistence on hiring employees with stellar college credentials. She even reportedly turned down actress Gwyneth Paltrow for an editing job with Yahoo for that reason, according to The New York Times. Paltrow is also the author of cookbooks and head of the lifestyle blog Goop—making her a natural fit, it would seem, to be a contributing editor of Yahoo Food.

Mayer "balked" at hiring Paltrow, though, according to the Times, because she "disapproved of the fact that Paltrow did not graduate college." According to the Times, Mayer "habitually asked deputies where they attended college."

Mayer might be taking her views on education to the extreme with Paltrow, but surely this opinion is appropriate for the numerous tech jobs that are filled at Yahoo every year. Right?

Not necessarily, say some in the industry. Granted, certain positions that require engineering skills, for example, call for not only a degree but advanced education as well. 

Forget the Ceiling

Tech, though, is an industry where the talented can succeed without the university sheepskin. Just ask Bill Gates.

Or for that matter, Dan Goman, president and founder of OwnZones. He tells that there is no ceiling in tech for the degree-less.

"It really depends on the brilliance of the individual," he said. "I've worked with brilliant coders who actually published coding books – and they never had any formal education in the tech field." One, in fact, he said, was a former journalist.

Not that formal education is useless, he said -- it's helpful in getting one in the door especially when starting out. People with Stanford degrees, for example, will get recruited straight out of college.

"For people who don’t have the degree and want to get into this field, it’s tougher to get in the door and when you do, it’s a matter of working your way up – can take longer. But again, once you get in and you display 'brilliance,' you can quickly move up and I don’t believe there’s a ceiling. At least I haven’t seen it."

MOOCs and Other Resources

One reason why the industry is increasingly accepting of talented workers who are only missing that coveted paper is the proliferation of online learning opportunities.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are available in tech and engineering for focused students who want to learn.

Learning Opportunities

 "There are some wonderful online courses," such as Udacity or CodeSchool," said Joel Rosiene, associate professor of Computer Science at Eastern Connecticut State University. "For skill acquisition for computer programming, the online format with multiple "challenge" and "response" seems to be very effective."

MOOCs are great resources if the student has the skill set and discipline to follow along, he says. "At a minimum, these can save the student the cost of a textbook, and the online videos have the advantage of stop and rewind. I have students in my courses use this material in the context of a "flipped" classroom approach."

In fact, Rosiene said, a highly motivated student does not have to wait for the start of a semester to develop his or her skills. "Opportunities are opening up at the intersections of quite dissimilar fields. A person who is trained at an artist, but has a technical set of skills may be better suited to work cross disciplines."

Easy to Learn

"The fact is: these skills can easily be acquired through affordable and accessible online learning programs, like Treehouse," said Ryan Carson, co-founder and CEO of the online coding school. "Some have even dubbed online coding schools the 'vocational schools of the future."

It's not rocket science. "All that’s required to get a job in tech, even if you’re exploring options at a later stage in life or transitioning careers, is the determined, enthusiastic mastery and continuous 'upkeep' of your coding skills."

Carson said he has seen beginners learn front-end development languages and land a junior development job, paying a minimum $40,000 salary, in about six months spending spend roughly 5 to 10 hours a week completing online courses. If a student is able to commit 21 to 28 hours a week, it's possible to become job ready in as little as three months, he added.

Title image by Boston Public Library (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.