Grow your CSS skills. Land your dream job.

Poll Results: Does Your Degree Relate To Your Job?

Published by Chris Coyier

There is a bit of an idea in our little web design world that "nobody who works on the web went to school for it." At least, I get that feeling. Especially from little stories like these:

I have a BS in Botany, but after designing my first website on the university servers, I was hooked. Did a couple of sites for friends while working in a plant lab, and now I’m a full time web programmer and designer.

So, we put it to the test. The results show that isn't true. 37% of people reported that their degree is directly related to their current job. Now I guess they could be librarians with librarian degrees, but since they are reading this site lets assume the vast majority are web workers. Beyond that, and additional 23% say their degree is tangentially related to their current job.

I'd put myself with the 23%. I have a Bachelor of Arts and a I focused on graphic design and ceramics and of course took a bunch of art classes. We never once touched HTML or CSS, but I'd say I learned things there that are still important to me now: fundamental design concepts.

This means we have 60% of folks who's degree is at least somewhat related to their job versus 40% of folks who's degree does not. So not only is it not "nobody" who has a related degree, it's actually "most."

No 40% 40%
Yes, directly 37% 60%
Yes, only tangentially 23%

So there you have it. Plenty of folks getting their web learn on in school. Now whether or not it was "worth it" or how much people actually had to learn on their own is another story! I'll leave you with a few more choice quotes from the opening of the poll:

Joe: One of the problems I see with technology improvements is that the market has become more saturated with designers and photographers who have a grasp of the technology but lack that design theory.

Joe Lifrieri: By the time I was about to graduate, I barely remembered what the hell I majored in. They called me up to receive my empty little diploma holder and said, “Joseph Lifrieri, Bachelor of Arts, English”. The exact words ringing through my head were, “Oh. Shit. English.”

Matt: PGA Golf Pro turned Website Designer. Gotta love that change.


  1. Permalink to comment#

    I think one of the biggest issues is what Joe mentions at the end of the article. I believe it is far more beneficial for students to be taking design courses over technology courses.

    The technology is going to change within the year, or months, but those basic design principles are being taught year after year and every design, whether it be web, graphic, or print, will heavily rely on those theories and fundamentals.

  2. Permalink to comment#

    I was lucky. My university had a minor in Web Studies (well it was about 4 hours short of a double major honestly, and you could just get a certificate in Web Cognate if you wanted) so I Have a BA in Art with Graphic Design as my emphasis, and my Minor was the web cognate which covers communication theory through the web, as well as, technical aspects. However, their technical teaching was lacking at that time. We were forced to use Frontpage, so my hand coding skills got really good, as I refused to use that beast of a program :)

  3. Permalink to comment#

    I graduated as a graphic designer and have now developed my skills into web design, receiving full training at my current company, which has given me two career paths. Studying as a graphic designer i never thought i would follow a more technical roll.

  4. Permalink to comment#

    on my part im a high school graduate and not take any college course but when i was a kid i really love to draw maybe its because our family and relatives can draw and do a portrait, ive been designing since 2005 when i saw on a Ragnarok Online Server board/forum ( MMORPG games ) a great looking what you called signatures, that’s when i start making my own signatures and graphic stuffs using Adobe Photoshop 7, at first my designs were always called noobies, and later on i improved and start making banners, and last year (2009) id decided to try and do web designs and templates too, also studied jquery and css/html i guess for a month or two and now i can do css/html as well, and right now im studying Adobe Flash and After Effects.

    actually alot of person that who knows me was surprised because they thought that im a college graduate with a degree of Fine Arts or Multimedia Arts, when i said im only a high school grad, they don’t believe in me and ask how and why i learned graphic and web designs, i just ask and told them why? only college graduate or who step into college can only learn and knows how to do graphic designs? anyone can do graphic design, if you really want to learn something go for it don’t be lazy and be patient.

    and now im working as a Web and Graphic Designer on a Company and at the same time a freelance web and graphic designer too, actually i earned alot on my freelance than my work.. lols

  5. I think a lot of people say they learned it in school because they only had like one class of computer science or something like that. I think few people are actually studying Usability, Design, Project Management, Coding (a lot of them do coding in fact) and use them in web projects.

    For example (i hate to talk like a know-it-all without facts):
    *In Romania we only have computer science classes in school were you learn the algorithmic parts (pseudocode we call it) and then move on to C/C++, Java, etc… We don’t have any HTML classes for example or PHP classes. Ofcourse we have exceptions to the rule.
    *In Denmark you can choose to follow a multimedia design education in college (that’s what I’m doing now) but still, without working on your own you will never be good at it. So this makes me thinks why does it matter if some designers are school-thought or self-thought if they do really cool stuff.

    I have friends who’ve been working as car mechanics before doing drupal coding and really cool stuff… and now they have a 1000+euros paycheck.

    • Jeremy Freehill
      Permalink to comment#

      Yeah what you say is pretty true, especially in America at least. There doesn’t seem to be any standard as to what a “Web Development” course is here so depending on what college you go to, one can take maybe three simple classes (like for basic HTML and CSS) and consider themselves and/or be considered a Web Designer.

      Thankfully my own college covers many things including UI design, user testing, web databases, web animation, ect. but that’s how people from here end up at big name ad agencies and such (like Leo Burnett or DDB). Still, it is also true you need to take the initiative to do work outside of class because that’s what will set you apart from other “developers” who don’t put much effort into making good sites. Although I understand this can be difficult at colleges (like mine :-| ) where they require you to take a bunch of extra “core” classes not really related to your major.

  6. imma
    Permalink to comment#

    *poke* Your chart shows 37% as larger than 40% :-(

  7. Anthony
    Permalink to comment#

    @IMMA I noticed that right away too. I was going to say the same.

    perhaps if had used this chart seen at bottom of jquery html5 pie chart

  8. Permalink to comment#

    My degree would have related to my job if I had finished university. Ha…

    I can’t say that not graduating has harmed my career. I’m an IT manager at 29 after leaving in the second year of my Computer Science degree.

  9. My Degree: BSc Multimedia Technology
    My Job: Adventure Sports Instructor.

    I’m sure I could figure some sort of link out…

  10. Phil D
    Permalink to comment#

    I Would’ve liked to have seen one more choice added to the ‘report’

    1. No

    2. Yes, directly

    3. Yes, only tangentially

    4. I don’t have a Degree

    • The question started with “If you have a degree…”

      But perhaps if we could turn back time that would have made the results more interesting.

  11. Girish
    Permalink to comment#

    I have Degree in Sociology, Diploma in Multimedia.

    Kinda stuck here. Dad wants me to try for a bank job, and I want to explore more in to Web designing and make a living by what I do.

  12. Very cool. I graduated from CSU Hayward (now CSU East Bay, stupid name) in 2005 with a BA in Art, specializing in Digital Graphics.

    Took a lot of foundational art classes that I hated, but it was part of the degree requirements. Most of my teachers were behind the times on the newest techniques and I knew more than most of them since I was self-taught. Only one of my teachers was current and actually worked in the field. I often butted heads with my inept teachers since I would constantly correct them. One idiot teacher wanted us to build a web page in Quark, simply because it has that capability at the time. So does MS Word, but I don’t recommend you do. Haha.

    Oh well, I got my piece of paper.

  13. I did have a degree in Computer Graphic Arts. I was one of the first graduates (back in 2002) of this program. I know the program in my university has evolved but back then, it was a whole bunch of software classes (learn Photoshop, learn Illustrator, etc), some art history courses, a drawing class, photography, and a whole lot of electives. There was some design theory, but probably not as extensive as their current program now.

    I do feel that a very extensive design education really helps. I’ve spoken to friends who went to art school and students are constantly critiqued and challenged. I find this prepares students for the real world because you WILL receive constant critiques from clients. As for design theory – they may be boring stuff, but it gets ingrained in your system later on. It DOES make you a better designer when you understand the “rules” and know how and when to break it.

  14. I think both design and technical classes are good, and technical stuff is much harder to learn….so that is always a good thing. You can simply apply concepts to learn newer technology.

    I’m majoring in Computer Science, and the logic I’m trying to gain in these classes is definitely helping my coding skills. Essentially, my goal is to THINK and grow as a web designer/developer. Think about solutions and how to creatively implement those solutions.

    Still, doing personal projects and projects for people is what’s really going to teach you. No tutorial is capable of giving you that.

    Do work for yourself (also, personal projects are fun!) and just allow it to help you grow.

  15. Web design must be human nature.

  16. Permalink to comment#

    I have a degree in computer science but that didn’t prepare me to be a web designer.
    I don’t think a degree in graphic design makes you a web designer. that’s the problem, many graphic designers think they can just design the same as they do for print and then get their design coded into a website.

  17. Permalink to comment#

    It took me 16 years of dropping in and out of college to finally get my BS in Management Information Systems. Most of what I know that works for anything I do I learned during the drop-out phases. But everyone kept telling me I needed that piece of paper saying I’m smart, so I eventually got it. Wish I’d just skipped the whole degree thing and done the Steve Jobs thing instead, taking only the few classes that interested me:

    Steve Jobs commencement Speech, 2005

  18. jaziel
    Permalink to comment#

    I have a degree in Mass Communications and I’m doing part time web design. it’s a passion of mine. but it’s never going to be a full time job.

  19. Permalink to comment#

    As usual great!

  20. Tom Peet
    Permalink to comment#

    I am currently at university here in the UK. I am studying for a joint honours (BSc) in Web Based Systems and Marketing.

    The problem I am finding in the web based systems course is that although I am in my second year, I don’t feel like i know anymore about developing websites than I did before I started.

    In the first year we touched on very simple HTML and CSS, we also looked at usability and accessibility – this help a bit.

    Second year we are covering databases and SQL, after Christmas will we be looking at coding in a server side language but this will only be in one language either PHP or .net. I can’t see us covering one of these languages in as much detail as would be needed to create fully functioning dynamic websites.

    I feel that when I come out of uni I still won’t have all the necessary skills to become a good web developer.

    So most of what I know about web development I have learnt on my own and I will continue to do so.

    My point is that Univeristy is not needed as such but it sure helps and I would recommend it but learning on your own is very important to developing your skills.

  21. Permalink to comment#

    Oh I forgot
    here is the fun part of going back to school.

    OK, so I did not know a thing about computers and asked my son what show I take first, Windows, Word, Photo Shop, what?

    He said, Visual Basic. !! ha, ha can you imagine and someone from before the electric typewriter in front of a blank screen. Well, to make a long story short, my fellow geeky students sitting on either side helped me through the first day and after that a group of us worked together to obtain A’s.

    One of our instructors suggested that we turn in our homework as HTML. Not understanding that, I volunteered to do the web sites for three of the departments so that I could get some real practice.

    The result of this experience is that I was invited by the dean to help write the course work for a new program. My part was Information Architecture for the web. Ha! I commandeered librarians and web geeks from Boeing and Microsoft. That info proved worthwhile.

    Lesson learned: Learning the computer from the inside out was a big help.
    Tip: If you want a good scholarship, there is money in Math.

    Before the web the world was flat :)

  22. Roger
    Permalink to comment#

    I graduated from Syracuse in 1977. The campus computer was a building, with punch cards and various campus teletype terminals.

    Needless to say, such concepts as the internet, jquery, css, html, email, and php were all but twinkles in some programmers eyes.

  23. Permalink to comment#

    Funnily enough, I actually took web design right outta high school but I couldn’t pass networking and thus never actually got my full certificate. That was 2003 and I never had anywork as a web designer.

    I was a full time dishwasher and walmart cashier though, don’t need no book learnin’ for those jobs. *sigh*

  24. Josh
    Permalink to comment#

    I’ve always felt like it was far better to study generals than specifics. As it’s been mentioned, technology changes so quickly, and “modern” design is pretty much open to interpretation.

    But how colors work, how shape dynamics make your eye behave, general technology knowledge like security, networking or basic CIS degrees can be beneficial.

  25. diegocrusius
    Permalink to comment#

    we are not just our degrees. We are the 10000% more. This is why I don’t care much about the degree.

  26. I started to learn web design when i was about 13 and i’m currently 16 so I don’t really have an input on this poll but I definitely won’t be going to study web design at college or university because I don’t need a qualification to prove I can do it.

    I’m doing computing as an ALevel at sixth form now and we’re doing basic html and css. It’s so boring to learn the basics over again.

  27. Permalink to comment#

    I received a BA in Psychology waaaay back in the 80’s. I began designing in FrontPage 98 (I know it’s evil, but it helped pay my mortgage for about 5 years!) and now teach HTML, CSS and design theory at a community college.

  28. I’m yet to find a job that actually takes advantage of my BA!

  29. My degree was similar in situation to yours Chris. BA in Art with a Graphic Design specialization. Because it was a BA in art, you had to complete a fair amount of electives that were studio classes like ceramics, painting, etc.

    We had sort of an old school department who believed that even in this day of computers, you must leave school having mastered the Xacto blade and what you’re supposed to do with registration marks, etc. All great info and knowledge when it comes to design in general, however it made little to no time for courses or assignments related to the Web or even the computer.

    So any of our classmates that made their way to some type of Web job have learned it on their own outside of school. A select few may have even taken some Digital Media classes, but again, that still probably left a lot for self-study.

    Thanks to people like you, and sites like this, that task has been made much easier and a whole lot more fun!

  30. Andy
    Permalink to comment#

    I’ve always been interested in computers, but didn’t have any opportunities to take classes in it at school in the eighties and nineties. I did do a Computer Science course as part of my physics degree (learned some basic Pascal and C++).

    I’ve been teaching high school physics since 97. I initially taught myself html so that I could make webpages to launch my lessons… A few years ago I bought a cheap educational version of Macromedia Studio 8 – best purchase ever! In addition to using Dreamweaver and Fireworks, I’ve subsequently learned to make Flash animations (again for school).

    More recently, I’ve been developing my wife’s school’s website using WordPress (I’ve been reading Digging into WordPress to get a sound overview). I’m halfway through making my first WordPress theme – optimised for use as a CMS. I’m now seriously considering moving into web design, perhaps specialising in school websites.

  31. This was very insightful to me. I really enjoyed reading the stories from everyone about how they got to their current positions.

  32. Computer Science programs can be well behind the times. I’m currently pursuing a BS in Math/Computer Science, and while the Math as great, the Computer Science is…bleh.

    I assert that professors simply don’t have the time or willpower to keep up with industry trends. If they were spending all that timing keeping up with the industry, they’d probably be IN the industry.

    Basically you shouldn’t expect to learn PHP, JS, etc from a University. You SHOULD learn how to think abstractly and organize.

This comment thread is closed. If you have important information to share, you can always contact me.

*May or may not contain any actual "CSS" or "Tricks".