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Some of the most successful people already know this: just because there’s a popular way to do something, doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it. As a successful drop-out who has competed for jobs with people with graduate degrees, I know this as fact. There’s the way everyone tells you to do things, and then, there are creative ways of getting what you want.

I remarked to a friend the other day that I wish people knew that it’s totally possible to game the system. That, in fact, it’s actually easier to game it, than it is to follow the traditional path. It’s more efficient, too!

Let’s take tech jobs, for example. Most young people follow a set route: go to school, go to college, graduate, start looking for work. Even if they’re already adept, even if they’ve been building their own apps since they were kids, they’re still being encouraged to get a degree (and they’re facing even more pressure to go to grad school, too). People who are changing careers think that the only way to #learntocode is to enroll in a Computer Science program.

Why? It makes no sense.

When you look at the amount of time it takes to get through college, and when you look at the course descriptions and course topics, it becomes abundantly clear that if you already have a sense of what you want to do in life, going through with all of this is a huge waste of time. 

I know I want to code for the web. It’s a newfound passion of mine. I’m not going to enroll in a four year degree for that. I want to make money from that knowledge, so I’m going to check out what the industry is looking for. And the best way to do that is to do the following:

  1. Observe job postings, every day, for a month.
  2. Call up some local recruiting agencies, and ask them what’s in demand.
  3. Join a bunch of subreddits, and see what’s being talked about. 

Do a shit ton of research, for a month or two. If you still don’t know what to concentrate on, learn Python. Learning ANY language will put you in the right mindset for a career in technology. You might discover you’d rather be a QA Engineer, or you might develop a passion for AI.

The reason I’m using tech as an industry example is because it’s the best industry to get into if you want to do things differently. That said, outside of sectors that rely on credentials, like science, law, and medicine, I’m sure you can come up with a variety of ways to get around educational requirements, and “prior experience”.

You know what counts as “prior experience” in tech? Building your own apps. Creating websites. Writing automated scripts. Helping out on open source projects. Over a year’s time, you can rack up more experience, and more projects under your belt than most CS graduates.

I call it “gaming the system” because it’s a game. It’s a competition, and you can totally get ahead by doing things independently, if you approach it in a strategic way. 

And while it is competitive out there, there are a LOT of developers with subpar skills that are gainfully employed. If your goal is just to get a job, any job, then work hard, but don’t worry too much about best practices. The truth is, a lot of companies just don’t care. And I’m sure I’ll be villified for saying so, but it’s just how it is – “average” is ok for a lot of organizations.

I’m from the camp that prefers to really stand out. I love beautiful code. I love trying out new things. I love failing fast, and obsessing over what ifs and why nots. I love discovering bugs. Naturally, “average” just doesn’t appeal to me. You can win the game with any personality type under the sun. The whole point of not doing things the way they’re always done, is that you get to do them in the way that works best for you.

I totally get it when people go back to school instead of trying to learn things on their own. There is no judgement on my part. But, I write articles like these because I know that there isn’t enough support for people who stray from the pack. I’d been brainwashed my whole life to believe that I’d be a total failure if I didn’t do x, y, and z. And there’s this toxic hivemind that hovers over people who buck the system. There ARE other ways. There are options. You’re not fucked if you dropped out, or failed out of college.

There’s always another way.