As the classic rock icon, Bob Dylan, put it,“The times, they are a changin’.” In the past couple of years, developments in online education have rocked (no pun intended) the world of education to its core. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) made the ground tremble by offering free high quality education to the masses. At the same time, due to the recent financial crisis, jobs are in short supply and there is stiff competition for available positions. Thus, a college degree is no longer provides the same guarantee of a high-paying job. With the many amazing online learning tools available now, many are thinking twice about the possibility of going to college. However, unbeknownst to most, there was already a steadily growing contingent of professionals who shunned the traditional college experiences, instead happy to “Google their college education”. Here are a handful of careers where professionals have been hacking their education for quite some time.

Online Marketing

Classical marketing concepts and copywriting with emotional appeal are still important, however the channels of marketing have changed. Now, the tools of the trade are Google, Facebook, and Twitter, web platforms that kids are familiar with by junior high. These tools are effective because web and social analytics can be measured in real time. While using these tools for marketing requires some advanced training, its all available for free or cheap online, and all you need is high school math and some decent writing skills. One of the best free resources in online marketing is Inbound.org which covers everything under the sun in online marketing. You can take the concepts you learn there and test them on your own website, blog, or social media feeds. The cost of entry is low and the earning potential is limitless. It’s definitely not easy, but two of the most prominent names in search marketing today did not get a college degree: Rand Fishkin (college drop-out) of SEOMoz and Aaron Wall (never enrolled in college) of SEOBook. In the realm of social media, there is also Ryan Harris (college drop-out) and Pete Cashmore (college drop-out) of Mashable.

Graphic Designers

While it’s common knowledge inspiration comes from everywhere and is free, most graphic designers go through some traditional schooling, where they are subject to the theory of classical design. A degree is simply a piece of paper, but in graphic design, a portfolio of your work shows what you can do. As has been the case for the last decade, the primary tools of a designer are the Adobe Creative Suite, and for those focused on the web, some knowledge of front-end coding (HTML/CSS/Javascript). Graphic design is one of few careers that lends itself to freelancing and working for yourself. And with platforms like Behance, Dribble, and Coroflot, it is far easier to showcase work, find customers around the world and even find jobs with likes Google, Nike, and AOL. One of the most famous designers in modern times David Carson (BA in Sociology), skipped the degree in Graphic Design and was largely self-taught. Graphic designers fly under the radar but there are plenty of fashion designers who don’t have degrees including Ralph Lauren (college drop-out) and Daymond John (never enrolled in college).

Programmers

There is a strong tradition of self-learning in the world of computer programming, and it has only gotten easier in the last decade. MOOCs like Coursera provide introductory college computer science courses for free, and give you the foundational knowledge about programming concepts. Sites like Codeacademy offer you hands on training where you can get immediate feedback via a console learning experience. Once you are ready to step up to a higher level there are a many affordable self-paced learning solutions like Treehouse and Codeschool. Similar to designers, a portfolio of past work is very valuable to coders. In order to create a portfolio, aspiring programmers can use free open source collaboration tools like Github and Bitbucket to get real life coding experience that acts as a working portfolio, although front-end designers that focus on the look, feel and functionality of sites can often use live projects to demonstrate their skills. It’s all too easy to find great programmers that didn’t get a degree, including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, ans well as well known entrepreneur coders like  Kevin Rose (college dropout) from Digg, David Karp (high school dropout) from Tumblr, and Stephen Ek (college dropout) of Spotify.

Passion – Don’t Leave Home Without It

Perhaps the common thread with all of the people listed above is that they had a strong passion for their craft, so much that they hacked their way through the education required to be at the top of their field. Incidentally, they all had such an intense passion and vision for their products; they also became entrepreneurs and multi-millionaires. It’s unrealistic to think that with passion alone you will make it super rich. The best entrepreneurs live and breath their work, but also get some lucky breaks along the way. While it’s not realistic to expect to become super rich by skipping college, if you have intense focus and passion for one of these career tracks, it may be worth thinking about hacking your own degree. Worst case scenario, the door back to a traditional collegiate education is always open.

While you may need a certificate in order to be a licensed professional of some sort, however, you don’t need to attend an expensive class for many of your other learning needs: DIY Education: Teach Yourself

Featured photo credit: Laptop with color swatches with woman's hands holding pencil on old wooden table. Workplace designer. via Shutterstock

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