View Full Version : Is not having a degree a serious problem when building a career in graphics in UK?

12-02-2015, 05:56 AM
Hi everyone

Recently I talked with a buddy of mine and since we don't live in UK we'd like someone from there to share with us any information about the reality on the ground.

My question is this.

If someone is a college dropout, of a major completely unrelated to graphics - in other words, has no actual degree.

And that person would be aiming to make a career in graphics - most happily in animation, special effects, 3D graphics, content creation (mostly 3D graphic content but also music and other content) for games... short - something that would either focus on film/videos OR 3D graphic content for games.

So assuming such person actually does things well, is self-taught and knows what he's doing.

How much of a difficulty would there be for a said person, to make a career in UK in graphics without an academic degree?
Or in short - how often would he hear from potential employers - "Well... we like what you do, but we can't hire you, because you don't have a degree"?

Also, if you happen to know how it looks in US, New Zealand, Australia or Canada, I guess these could be useful as well, at least to compare.

Thanks in advance for any input on this.

These days you hear many things about universities - and I don't mean just the protests. And all sorts of opinions about education. So I would like to clarify that I am not really asking if completing an academic course makes sense - I simply want to know, how do potential employers look at the potential employees in this particular field.

12-02-2015, 06:12 AM
Its the same in (almost) EVERY field, not just graphics (with high specialty fields such as law, medicine, architecture, etc excluded)... the only thing that really matters is what you can do. You can have degrees up the wazoo, but if you suck, no job for you. Likewise, you can have dropped out of primary school, if you're awesome in spite of this... tons of opportunities. Whilst this is generally true, there are a couple of particular exceptions. First, if you're young/new to a field, with little experience or track record, then a record of education is all you have to show, as such, those with qualifications are generally safer bets for employers than those with none. Second, larger companies (which are few in the graphics world, true) will run their hires though HR departments, which are often poorer at viewing candidates based on their practical ability, and more given to viewing them through a kind of "checklist lens", where not having a more normal history of education, first jobs, promotion, etc, will count against you.

12-02-2015, 07:22 AM
Sometimes a degree shows your commitment, discipline and willingness to pull through during years. That's why sometimes an employer expects a degree, but not necessarily care about which degree. You can show commitment, resilience, discipline, skills and work ethics without a degree. But you also will have to prove you are inventive enough to do that, and show initiative. That's a bit harder sometimes, but can be used to your advantage.

- Yes, redact this "We want applicants with a degree, with five years minimum of experience working in the field and younger than 28" and post it, please.
- But... sir, that's impossible.
- We don't even want to interview the ones that can't solve it.

So, you have a degree, fine! You don't? You must show what you can do and why you are reliable. The rest is the same for everyone, you'll need to fit in their work environment.

Ryan Roye
12-03-2015, 08:20 PM
A degree means nothing in 3d graphics in almost all cases. Most often in the computer graphics field a demo reel of less than 2 minutes replaces the "degree" concept.

Know that just having a solid demo reel is not always enough, a studio may have a very specific project in mind and may ask for a proof of concept or rough test in order to ensure you are capable of performing the tasks required (be careful though, only offer "tests" if you know the studio is reputable). Even if your work is super photo-realistic and top of the line, it does not communicate well how long that content took you to produce, or whether you are able to adapt to new things or meet deadlines reliably. In the context of Lightwave, you are expected to be a generalist with a broad knowledge of subjects even if 100% of your work involves modeling... or you are only doing texturing/surfacing, or only animation.

Know also that social networking is equally as important as having show-worthy talent. Sometimes landing work is about knowing the right people, contacting studios, companies, or clients that are looking for computer graphics work to be done, etc.

12-03-2015, 08:28 PM
Just because you have a degree doesn't mean your awesome. You're evaluated on your portfolio. Not your diploma.

12-03-2015, 08:58 PM
First, if you're young/new to a field, with little experience or track record, then a record of education is all you have to show, as such, those with qualifications are generally safer bets for employers than those with none.

And if you're looking to migrate to another country there's no way you can get a working visa if you didn't finish school afaik unless the company already wants to sponsor you and shoulders the costs.

So its better to be awesome and have a college degree. :thumbsup:

12-04-2015, 12:39 PM
Make sure you understand the scope of knowlege the company is expecting from you. They may expect you to know about every aspect in the animation production or game pipeline but not necessarily be an expert in all 10 aspects. OR they may need you to be an expert in just a few aspects.

12-04-2015, 01:48 PM
Thanks for all the input guys. All this advice, info and opinions - it's golden for me. I really appreciate it.

12-05-2015, 12:01 AM
There are people with whom I have worked that were evidently good at passing tests and got their "degree". Couldn't do crap as far as actual solutions. They were totally lost, so the "degree" was completely useless and wasted on them. That dilutes the value of those who do not happen to possess a degree. Complete BS. Do your best work and show what you can do. That is where the "rubber meets the road". Period. If you can do what they want, you deserve the position in which to do it. If they can't see past their "safe zone" of requiring a degree and reject you, then you really do NOT want to work for them anyway. They're short-sighted jerks more concerned with covering their asses than finding and embracing good and more than capable talent. They get what they deserve.

12-05-2015, 03:46 AM
Really depends on why you couldn't get a degree. If its financial its probably a worthwhile risk if you're talented. If its failing grades, failing to attend, those are warning signs. HR is pretty good at filtering them out. You don't really want complainers, lonewolf types to work in a TEAM no matter how talented they are.

Anyway in australia you can't get a working visa without a degree afaik. You can probably get something like independent skilled visa. Point system and all that.

You wouldn't want to hire an architect, doctor, engineer without the education and licenses would you?

12-05-2015, 04:04 AM
I didn't read what anyone else said but I can guess what they might have said. You don't need a degree. What you need is to be good and have a professional level portfolio, that could be a showreel or web gallery. So you can teach yourself most of what you need to know with various online tutorials and just being aware of what is out there and what is the current standard. If the agency sees a portfolio that assures them that you can deliver a certain level of work then they really don't care about any degree you might have or not have, save your money and spend it on the software you want to work with and tutorials. Go online and start looking at the portfolios of pro artists and you'll get an idea of what you need to start doing. Sounds like 3D content for games might be what you're aiming mostly towards so you should just concentrate on that and build up an impressive portfolio. For something like graphics, a degree represents three or four years wasted attending lectures when you could be out there doing real work. Don't do that to yourself.
The thing is though, that your portfolio must be good, so be critical of your work and seek out other peoples opinions, and hone it down to only the stuff you think is good enough, which means no one might ever see that medieval warrior you spent 6 months working on because it was largely a learning exercise.

I went to see an agent this week and we spent a bit of time looking over my showreel and he told me what I should get rid of and what I should keep, he said work older than 4 years usually should go for a start. It really is all about the portfolio and your skill set, stuff you can learn yourself with so many free or paid online tutorials now available, and just sitting down and doing it. Good luck.

12-05-2015, 05:34 AM
I was hesitant to share anything more detailed, since this was to get as much objective info apart from the opinions, but I feel encouraged to share this so you can know why the whole question.


Out of three of us.
I dropped out when I was still in my 20s because I ran out of money for the college at one point in life, which was actually my second college (first one was an outright scam, and it closed down 2 years after I left it). When you can't afford most stuff in life, like a place to stay and all that, college becomes secondary in terms of priorities. Or so it was to me at that point. To avoid being homeless and not really into social support I sold most I got then and bought a ticket and got a visa to migrate overseas to basically get my life back on track - which normally would be in a field you mentioned, and require a degree. But since I did that in private companies, for private customers and the demand for my work was really huge - that was somehow possible. Then again, that was in Asia, so that's a different world. Interestingly, being an expat was when I got really interested graphics and was able to learn a lot about it - much thanks to this forum and people here. I always loved tinkering with PCs, being a geek kinda guy who people always come to when they had issues with their systems or hardware, reading a lot about technology and electronics, loving modding and reverse engineering stuff. But I was always told - you won't be able to work in IT, ever, because you are not a math brain. So I was actively discouraged from any IT related work as a kid, because my math frankly sux. Thankfully I got a friend who noticed my results and encouraged me to pursue graphics, claiming that it is feasible for me even tho my math sux, and I didn't graduate.

The other friend is running his own business, dropped out of fine arts academy when he started earning really well in his own trading company, so he concluded - he is too lazy to finish that, he's got his business to take care of.

And the third one has a degree in IT, lucky him. And a very cosy job in one of the top European companies as a programmer (mostly focused on databases). He is a total math brain.

So as you can imagine, we'd have different experiences and points of view on that and that's why we wanted to know, how the situation in each country looks like.

Interestingly I have send an inquiry to one college which has two courses I found interesting - animation/game making. But since those are pretty broad subjects, I sent them what I do in graphics, what I like, and what I'd like to improve on. And asked them how would the courses look, how would exams look and what would be needed to pass each subject etc... I also wanted them to clarify what subjects would each course have in details so I could make a more informed choice - and, guess they don't really care about prospective customers - it's been over a week, and I got NO response from them. Oh well.

12-05-2015, 05:47 AM

Yes, I'm working currently on a portfolio, learned how to make websites (had first one on wix... but that limited me since I couldn't edit the source, so I did a crash-course of learning how to web dev this summer and put my own website, will show it here when it has more content) and currently work on some animations and models to include there. I also got a lot of old stuff... but you know, when you make things as a hobby for yourself, you sometimes use someone else's work because you just want to say make your own set of wallpapers for example, for purely personal use or you just do things for practice to learn and see what can you do with the content you already have. So there's a lot of stuff I can't really put, for legal reasons, on my website :p and hence why I need to still do more work on my stuff like - everything I do, is my own work. So yeah, web portfolio is what I'm currently working on and in 2016 will try to push this forward after I finish my current contract.

Oh, now I red your whole message. Yes, so I guess I shouldn't worry about the oldies, with what you said in mind xD

As for saving my money. So you'd say, I'd be better off investing the money in a beefed out workstation than a degree?

12-05-2015, 06:24 AM
A great thread and I love these kinds. I too have no art degree and qualifications in this field, purely self taught with plenty of Digital Tutors certficates and that's about it. I hope also to work more in this industry and would hope that the portfolio speaks for itself ultimately. :D

I too am a little in the same boat, I have done freelance work on site for a solid 6 months and have worked with some top branding agencies/companies in the UK but I don't hold the rights to the images to put on my portfolio.

Best of luck.

12-05-2015, 06:33 AM
thanks Luc and back at you.

12-05-2015, 06:35 AM
thanks Luc and back at you.

Cheers. :D

Also my friend, VR is going to be massive next year, it's simmering up to a boom time. Take a look into this as well, there's going to be a lot of rich people in the next 5/10 years pioneering this stuff.

12-05-2015, 07:28 AM
I was hesitant to share anything more detailed, since this was to get as much objective info apart from the opinions, but I feel encouraged to share this so you can know why the whole question.

The first thing you have to know is will the country you're going to grant you a visa. What are the requirements? Age limit, financial capability, medical stuff, your nationality. Since you're an expat I assume you know some of this stuff. If you're a brit then no probs.
If you pass all that crap then the next hurdle is trying to get hired. Why would a company hire you instead of a local?
UK has a huge talent pool. I know a lot of people over there who actually moved to Singapore, Dubai, etc because competition was fierce in UK.
Not discouraging you just giving you some insight.

12-05-2015, 07:52 AM

I know, lightscape and I appreciate it. I also don't expect this to be a walk in a park and this the reason why I'm gathering as much information as I can prior to committing to it. Because frankly I don't really have much real life buddies I could ask about it to give me the perspective I need. Me and 2 other buddies had a discussion and more questions than answers came out of it :). And it really comes down mostly to this situation. If all else is ok, how often will I get the employer unwilling to hire me - for the reason of lack of a degree. Which was addressed here and I like the various angles that were mentioned here and the whole dynamic presented. As I understand it, it is the people who do work in the particular field who have very clear picture of how the situation looks - like, apparently you do. I also know that you just don't want someone to end up pressed against the wall because he might've thought "oh, so everything will be just fine and do itself", trust me this, I wouldn't think that. This is my recon of the mission ahead ;). So feel free to share any opinion, information, point of view that you want. I am grateful that I can have this exchange because the more one knows, the better decisions he can make. And the question "Why would a company hire you instead of a local? " is definitely one worth pondering on.

Oh and as for the talent pool? I admit, that's one of the reasons why I'm targeting UK and other countries I've mentioned here. I know one could ofc live on the Isle of Man and be very successful but now seeing how much I have learned from all the people here on the forum, it really makes me want to be in that environment where I can meet people much more knowledgeable than me in graphics - and be able to learn. I think that is much better than sitting in isolation, echo chamber and trying to reinvent the wheel.
When I was a teen a friend introduced me to Warhammer 40.000. We bought, sharing 50/50 a unit of Khorne Berserkers. And tried to paint them at his place... was loads of fun... ofc the unit looked really bad but the fun was there. Then from my first job salary I bought myself a Wraithlord and spent those nice evenings figuring out how to paint it after assembling. It was, indeed magic. But the magic kept growing when me and my friend got other friends interested in it. Eventually we've ended up with full armies, our own tables and scenery we've made (some bought too, naturally) and was like 6-7 depending on the time of us battling our armies. I was tasked with the rulebook, was times of the 3rd edition back then and 40k was an extremely expensive thing. But we appreciated every mini we could get. And even tho I have traveled a lot because of my work and all that. I always keep my 40k minis packed in the boxes - for better days. I am really happy to go back to those memories of what we've created then and how we could learn from each other and enjoy the game in the process.
And I could elaborate more on that but I don't want to steer too far off topic.
There was a moment, when working abroad... when I felt this real craving. This kind of longing for that WH40k experience. But it didn't make much sense to start acquiring the armies again or spending time on painting them. And then it hit me - hey... what about making stuff yourself on PC? Let's look into that! I mean, I made maps in Build in times of Duke Nukem 3D, I did UnrealEd... maybe this could work? You wouldn't need to carefully carry that around, dust isn't a problem, and you can do it all yourself the way you like it from the ground up. And that seemed like something I really wanted to do and I enjoy it since. Even last month, I saw on Steam a review about one game and the person said that "the ship builder is overrated, get yourself a CAD program and do it yourself instead of wasting money on this game, you might even learn something useful in the process". I was really happy to read that, because that's something I could relate to.. I really feel great each time I can have this new piece I've made, this new thing to experiment with, this way to express myself. And since none of my friends really do anything like that, I want to find myself in an environment with people who also enjoy graphics. I like how my interest in graphics developed in a really organic way and I want to be in the right place with the right people :).

12-05-2015, 10:07 AM
David Mamet, arguably the best playwright of the latter 20th century, has said many times that if you want to work in the arts, drop out/avoid university at all costs. It's total brainwash city. There are lots of ways to learn about your career whilst keeping your own personality/voice in tact.

The BBC took me on as a trainee film editor in 1983 when I was 19. I had planned to go to uni but loved reading books about film production and making my own little films so much I never got round to it. The Beeb totally didn't care I didn't have a degree. All they cared about was could I deliver the goods? Never looked back. Have had a fantastic career and worked with a lot of brilliant people.

Actually there is one exception. I was working freelance as a TV producer 12 years ago at Kansas State University. They offered me a permanent position until they found out I didn't have a degree and then withdrew the offer. There's no rule saying I had to have one to be hired but some university staff are conservative about such things. Turned out to be for the best anyway.