As we're moving farther and farther from the dot-com boom, my lack of a degree is really starting to come back and haunt me. I left school to be part of the "internet revolution" because I saw something facinating being built which I felt had great potential. Thus my first job as a HTML monkey, which quickly lead into my first programming forays - the humble formmail script and soon thereafter basic database-driven applications w/ oraperl (perl 4 pre-DBI). This was 1996 and I knew I was onto something big and exciting.

As I continued working and building my skills, my lack of formal schooling didn't matter. Times were good and jobs were plentiful. I could easily demonstrate my skills and prove I could do the job even though I had no degree. However, that's not the case any more. As more and more of my work is tucked away behind closed doors, it's becoming more difficult to demonstrate the increasing sophistication of my work. So how do you compensate?

During my day job I use lots of CPAN modules because I don't believe in reinventing the wheel, and the boss is agreeable to ocasionally submitting patches back to the community. This is one way of demonstrating skills, but patches usually don't show you know how to architect an application, just improve it. In the next week or two I'll be starting work on a personal project using Mason, Class::DBI, and whatever interesting release might come along on CPAN. I'm doing this primarily as a resume highlight, but I intend for it to be a profitable venture as well. I definitely plan on using this as a way to sell myself, and to have good, unencumbered sample code for interviews. I'm also focusing much more on good UI design, and designing applications that are easy for an end-user to learn and use. I think it's safe to say that "programmer designed" UI's often suck from a usability point of view. My early ones certainly did.

It seems that more and more these days, if you don't have a degree you're almost considered to be lesser than those with one. I say this NOT to knock on those degree holders out there, because they certainly deserve recognition for their achievements and persistence. This time of Graduation serves to remind me of those who toughed it out and the need for a degree these days. But what about the "self-made man"? How does he make himself standout in the crowd? How can he demonstrate the experience he's built up?

I know all about the benefits of networking, and am slowly building my contacts. But what about those times when you don't know someone in the company who can help get you past HR? What can you do besides go back to school (high on my TODO list already)?

I do not lack a degree because I'm dumb. on the contraty, I'm a smart guy, and I believe current and former coworkers would agree. I've single-handedly designed & developed 10k line web applications. I wrote a complete e-commerce system back in the day (that was my rite of passage, like writing a templating system or database wrapper is today). I've done lots of interesting things with creating PDF's on the fly. Problem solving is fun and enjoyable, and it motivates me to go to work in the mornings.

When looking for the next big challenge, how can I move myself to the front of the pack? Thanks for your ideas and tips.