In IT hiring, compare tech training to experience

Education is big money these days, and technology education is right there in the mix. Network and cable television routinely show advertisements for technology programs, and you can find the same type of ads in other media. I’ve hired a good number of people for technology positions and I have seen how formal technology training compares with real-world experience in the field. How do you staff your group with the best candidate for the job?

Technology Training Classroom

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Formal education programs have grown increasingly expensive, and technology training is no exception. High school-level vocational programs are less popular than they once were, leaving fewer options for those not on a university path. Skills training, for programs like technology, have become a popular career choice.

Even at a university level, I see a major differentiator among in the programs—experience. The more real-world experience someone has, in the form of an internship, externship or related job, the stronger he or she is when applying their education to real-world situations. I suspect this is true of all professions, but I can’t speak to non-technology roles as I haven’t hired for them.

I have noticed, in every case, that the more experience individuals bring to their positions, the more successful they are. In fact, someone with a great deal of classroom education and little practical experience will have the most difficulty adjusting. They find they have to do a great deal of “un-learning” in order to adapt. In most instances I see that the approach some formally trained people have to situations is how things are supposed to work, not how they actually work. This is certainly subjective, and could vary greatly with different instructors and curricula.

When someone enters a position with any amount of practical experience, their success in that position correlates to the amount of experience. Education does add to their success, but only when they’ve “experienced” their education with some sort of practical, hands-on program.

The most successful people I’ve hired had extensive self-taught education. For some, this meant they became the default tech support for friends and family, handling larger and larger issues as they became experienced. For others, this meant setting up a computer laboratory in their home, treating their family as a small company and forcing them to logon to their own network.

At this point you might think I’m against tech training, but I’m not. I do see a good number of technology candidates come through who hold technical degrees but have little experience. I do advise that you screen for individuals who have a good balance of experience and classroom time. Depending on your immediate need for a hands-on staffer you may need to prioritize experience over formal programs. If I was to choose to fill a position, I would carefully weigh the pros and cons of taking someone with one year of phone support experience over someone who earned his or her PhD with no on-the-job time. There’s no substitute for time in the trenches.

Jeremy Lesniak
Based in Vermont, Jeremy Lesniak is managing editor at and founder of Vermont Computing, Inc. and Email him [email protected]
Jeremy Lesniak
Jeremy Lesniak
Tags: Business Management,Technology
  • Phattius

    Sounds to me like the old familiar Catch 22 — you can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job

  • Eric Wise

    This is why we formed the Software Craftsmanship Guild ( in Ohio. We have taken the master/apprentice approach to educating software developers and provide 12 weeks of full time, hands on learning for people entering the field.

    The majority of our apprentices already have a degree and are loathe to go back into the expensive and time consuming system. Our first batch of apprentices in June crushed the college grads in the interviewing process.