Class of 2014 college graduates looking for their first IT jobs take note: your passion for and experience with technology may prove more helpful in your employment search than your diplomas.
"I don't think in the past five-plus years I've hired someone based on their education," said Jim O'Neill, CIO of inbound marketing software company HubSpot in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It's not a direct correlation to their success here."
A person's attitude and aptitude stand out more than where they went to school, O'Neill said. While academia hasn't kept pace with the rapidly changing technology industry, the entry barriers to learning hands-on, practical IT skills have been "eradicated," he said.
"With a credit card and 10 dollars you can buy a server at Amazon's cloud or Google's cloud or Rackspace's cloud," O'Neill said. "There's no excuse anymore. That's why I'm a little cynical on institutional education."
At Dice, which includes IT career website Dice.com, an Android app a recent graduate of Fresno State College in California created on his own -- not his education -- earned him a mobile product manager position.
"It's a great example of how someone who is graduating from Fresno State, not Stanford, can also work at a company like Dice because he was very proactive in building his own Android app," said Shravan Goli, president of Dice.
Job candidates should collect data that shows how IT projects they completed in their spare time solved a business problem or gained traction among users, said Markus Schwarz, senior vice president, Global SAP Education.
"What hiring managers are looking for is somebody who is able to consciously plan to approach a certain problem," he said. "They need to prove that they can connect the world they're familiar with -- technology -- with the worlds of business and the business user."
Some companies realize that new hires may lack some of a job's desired skills and are willing to train the right candidate.
"A very passionate, talented individual who wants to come in and get involved, you're going to find most employers are open-minded to taking a chance, especially if they prove to understand the industry and have a focus as far as what area they want to get into," said Ray Lowrey, CIO of McGraw-Hill Education.
Entry-level applicants shouldn't discount their participation in collegiate clubs, groups and sports teams. These activities appeal to employers since those experiences teach important soft skills like collaboration and being open to diversity.
"It's really important that they demonstrate the capabilities away from the keyboard, that they can really work in a team to determine customer requirements and translate that into technology," Schwarz said.
To gain resume-boosting IT skills -- and network for job leads -- new workers can participate in hackathons, contribute code to open-source projects, attend boot camps or get involved with user groups.