This is a guest post from Ian Peters-Campbell, vice president of engineering for Green Dot. He originally wrote this piece on Quora.
A top school is good for two things: a network and a first-glance pop on your resume. It's absolutely not necessary, but it can help when you're new to the industry.
People from top schools tend to build up great networks. They have a pool of people they can recruit who they went to school with or were a few years behind them, and can stay in touch with professors to keep their eyes open for talent.
That allows some pretty obvious benefits for those younger, promising people coming up in top schools, and who are reasonably social and/or are on good terms with some favorite professor(s).
When I read through piles of resumes here are the things that jump out to me: personal projects, skills, names of companies the person has worked at, and school (in that order). If one (or hopefully more) of those jump out at me then I will take a closer look and even read some of the accomplishment bullet points under different roles. If none of
those jump out at me I'm probably moving on to the next resume.
So a top school will get a resume a second glance. If someone is straight out of school and that's all there is to go on then I would still be iffy if there weren't any personal projects on the resume, but it might be worth a phone call.
All That Said…
…a top school is neither necessary nor sufficient. If your resume expresses passion about the field I work in, points to one or more personal projects that illustrate your interest and skill, or if you have a personal referral from someone I trust, then I don't care whether you went to Harvard or Joe's House of Fake College Degrees.
You just need something to connect enough to get to a phone screen, and a good school is one of the ways to do that.
And On Recruiters
I don't care who recruiters like to work with. It's a rare day when an external recruiter sends me a candidate I wind up caring about. Good candidates almost always come from personal referrals, internal recruiters, or someone from the company reaching out after being impressed with some bit of a candidate's web presence.