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Millennial Minded

No college degree? No problem for this teen

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Nick Sahler might have it all figured out. After high school, the 19-year-old was hungry for real-world work experience. Ultimately, he decided to skip higher education and jump right into the workforce, where he now works as an independent contractor.

“I decided not to go to college, and I got an internship around a year ago where I was doing everything online for a very well-rounded company,” he said. “It was remote. It was brand new, but the guys on it were the elite of what they do.”

The internship allowed Sahler to work with Jeff Atwood, a software developer and writer best known for his blog Coding Horror and Q&A forum Stack Overflow.

Compared with sitting in a lecture hall, this level of mentorship was invaluable to Sahler.

“He’s a huge role model for me,” Sahler said. “I look up to him a lot.”

This route may be more feasible than many would think. A recent survey conducted by Robert Half Technology found that 71 percent of chief information officers value work experience and skills over college degrees when hiring. Only 5 percent of the 2,400 people polled expressed that a candidate’s impressive alma mater was an influence.

John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology, cited practicality for the reason in this trend.

“A quality education provides the foundation, but IT employers want to see evidence of practical application of that knowledge,” he said. “Job candidates with real-world IT experience can jump in and start contributing without a long ramp-up period, making them appealing to employers.”

And Sahler is gaining all the experience he can get. After internships with Jeff Atwood and the NBA, he’s turning his sights to entrepreneurialism and the startup culture that is embraced by a lot of tech-savvy millennials.

This move represents the findings of a Pew study that suggests there’s a sense of distrust of institutions among millennials.

It also might be something else Sahler learned from his experiences with Atwood.

“He always told me, ‘Never get one of those jobs where you sit in a meeting all day and the majority of your day is these bureaucratic, meaningless things.’ ”

That’s not to say Sahler doesn’t value communication. In fact, for Stahler, new technology offers more efficient, and even more constant, contact.

“We had one meeting a week and it was 30 minutes long, and it was all remote using Skype,” he said. “There was no semantics, nothing messy. We just said what we were doing for the week and that was it. Otherwise, the only meeting-esque thing we had was a chat room, and that was always going.”

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Andrew Sheldon

Andrew Sheldon

Andrew Sheldon covers technology and education. His email is andrews@njbiz.com and he is @AndrewsNJBIZ on Twitter.

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