How much do your education credentials matter for your career? Recent cases have shown that your college major often has little bearing on whether you end up succeeding or failing at your job.
Earlier this month, credit reporting agency Equifax revealed that it had compromised 143 million customers’ private information such as medical histories, Social Security numbers, and addresses in a massive data breach. As part of the company’s mea culpa, Equifax announced that its chief security officer Susan Mauldin had retired.
Searching for answers into how Equifax’s top security executive could have allowed a known software vulnerability to pass under her watch, Reddit detectives found Mauldin’s LinkedIn profile, which has since disappeared from the site. Her profile showed that Mauldin had studied music composition in college and had no educational background in security technology.
Does Equifax security executive’s music major mean she was unqualified?
Shortly after the knowledge became public, Mauldin’s background became the story with headlines identifying one of the employees at the center of this controversy as a “music major” who had a “lack of educational qualifications.”
But is it fair to say that Mauldin’s music major is the reason she was bad at her security job? Surveys have found that the majority of us seem to think our college majors matter to our later careers. A 2016 survey into college graduates found that four out of five of them said they considered how many jobs were in their chosen field before deciding on a major. But only 27% of college students end up working in a job related to what they studied.
To illustrate this last point, Github engineer Alice Goldfuss started a Twitter hashtag campaign around the idea of challenging the concept of appropriate qualifications for technology careers — revealing that she got a Bachelors of Fine Arts in film before joining the ranks of the techies. Goldfuss told Mic that she was motivated to start the thread because she had read the stories about Mauldin’s music major and she was “sick of seeing someone’s career reduced to such a binary comparison.”
Her story inspired other people to share their own stories of unconventional backgrounds.
Android Tech Lead here. Was a Religious Studies major, then a cook/chef for 12 years. #unqualifiedfortech
— Steaknap Sleepchew (@treelzebub) September 17, 2017
I'm a Python core developer, @ThePSF Director, and Google engineer.
I'm a high school dropout with no formal training. #unqualifiedfortech
— T. Wouters (@Yhg1s) September 18, 2017
No degree,live in the 3rd world,minority, didn't have Internet until few years ago, #unqualifiedfortech ? dont care, busting my ass to code
— Vuyisile Ndlovu (@TerraMeijar) September 18, 2017
What these stories show is that being qualified for a job means you can do the job you are hired for, not what you studied for. The road to jobs is winding and full of detours and pitfalls, and for better or worse, your first career may not be your final one.
So how do you sell an ‘unqualified’ background as an asset?
Think about it in terms of diversity, according to Dennis Nelson of Goodwill Industries International.
While employers are on board with the idea of workplace diversity in terms of gender and race, they’re still warming to the idea of “cognitive diversity,” which favors a diversity of backgrounds and life experiences, he argues.
When it comes to selling yourself as an outsider, consider the value you add in terms of bringing a fresh perspective to a room full of people who have all seen life through the same lens — or set of textbooks, he says.
Innovation, creativity and problem-solving draw on life outside of the workplace, and who better to bring that to an office than someone whose career — and education — has included a different set of experiences?
“The academic treadmill to a [Bachelors of Science] in [Computer science] is not the only entry into tech. To hire strictly from credentialist pipelines is bad for your company, bad for society, and just bad ethics,” writes Austin-based engineer Ryan Boren. “Instead of criticizing tech workers with music degrees, accelerate hiring from the arts and humanities. Open our pipelines. We need more people. We need more perspectives. We need more humanity.”