The Best Qualification for a Software Developer in South Africa

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This article serves to answer that question we get asked time and time again – ‘What degree should I study if I want to become a software developer?’ We’ll compare the employability, salaries, and career paths for IT versus CS qualifications, and answer which qualification is the best for programmers.

What are the Qualifications?

There are several options for either CS enthusiasts and potential students to follow, as is the case with IT. It is essential you understand the following tables and the different qualifications before committing to years of study in a qualification that may not be the right one for your goals.

IT-based Certifications and Qualifications

There are a few options available in South Africa in terms of short-term certifications, a long course incorporating many certifications over a few years, as well as institutional National Diploma offerings. Pricing per year is based on the lowest priced or generalized qualification shown.

The South African IT Misconception

There are several issues raising confusion about qualifications in South Africa (not to mention the poor navigation of most South African universities’ websites). The first is the difference between a Degree and a Diploma. What’s labelled as a diploma here, is passed off as a degree, vice versa, there’s National Diplomas, B.Tech’s, and even the CS degrees seem to have liberal doses of BComm and Business Science with extra math streams thrown in. To clarify: an honours, masters, and PhD degree are the highest qualifications attainable in South Africa, and are formally recognised as being a higher qualification in SA under the National Qualifications Framework. Degree-level qualifications can generally only be studied at a university (such as the Universities of Cape Town, KwaZulu-Natal and Pretoria, as well as Wits), not a technical institution (like Tshwane, Cape Peninsula and Durban Universities of Technology). ‘Degree-level’ also excludes those qualifications that brand themselves as a degree, but offer a lower NQF level qualification at graduation.

The second point of confusion is an IT qualification vs a CS one. There’s so much to say on this that we’ve published an article to clear up the confusion. The takeaway of this research is that in South Africa, CS qualifications can only be attained at universities, or through one short course. The ideal course for a career in software development is a CS one.

Getting a Job, Keeping it, and Moving Up

It’s clear that in South Africa, having a BSc or BEng in Computer Science is the preferable qualification. It also means that you’re more much more likely to get a job once you move into industry, as a graduate or postgraduate. This fact is meaningful, given South Africa’s appallingly high unemployment rate of over 25%.  

This trend is shown best by this study noting unemployment rates vs graduates of university degrees vs those with diplomas, and so on. Note that these aren’t simply transient trends; the unemployment problem has been ongoing for decades!

The CS graduates show higher employment rates than IT diplomates. Graph adapted from data sourced by econ3x3 

As the graph shows, as of 2012, “diplomates” – students with an IT qualification – had a 85% employment rate compared to the 95% employment rate of CS graduates. That’s a significant and statistically meaningful difference.

There is a big difference here, and that’s why it’s crucial to realise how the superiority of a degree over something like an IT qualification guarantees excellent employability. Holding a degree – in all ways – is a better option to other qualifications which may claim ‘degree equivalence’, but won’t hold up under international scrutiny.

Unfortunately, more often than not, institutions offering “IT degrees” can’t deliver the same depth of understanding and job-opportunity in graduates that ‘full-meat’ CS and CE degrees can. So whilst your 3 year ‘combo courses’ of CompTIA and other bits and pieces might say “Engineering” on the box, the recognition for such a term is certainly not “Engineering” inside the box. Only an actual BSc Eng or BEng will get that for you. The exact same applies to qualifications that claim computer science. That’s a concern for those wanting to work overseas: if you’re planning to leave our borders, in short, take a CS degree with you, if you can.

So what about long-term career prospects? Data from Careers24 and CareerJunction on average salary increases for professionals “in the IT sector” in South Africa was used to compare typical job designations. The chosen jobs were those that fall under what’s considered “IT” internationally, versus a typical CS designation. The “IT” designations offered, on average, a 81,3% salary increase, versus the 122% increase of the CS designation. What does this mean? You’ll earn more money, for longer, with a CS qualification, than with an IT one.

Summary: the best qualification

All the evidence points to a BSc/BEng CS degree being the best. The core reason CS-degrees are more valued is because of how strongly they reinforce modern programming skills. What if you’ve already qualified, can’t go back to study, or don’t have the time or the means? This South African company is offering the first short CS qualifications, available part-time and online. Hyperion Development has packaged this knowledge of modern programming skills into their short courses and links successful graduates with software development roles across South Africa. 

Comment with your views on this article in the comments section below, and follow Hyperion Hub developments in the future if you’d like to see more articles like these for the South African market.

Footnotes from the tables:

1 Pricing correct at time of post; sourced from noted institution’s site as-is

2 Taken from lowest-priced course Cisco CCNA, other prices vary

3 Taken from, may not be indicative of market pricing

4 This is the generic CS degree as a BSc, not the BusSc or BCom CS/IT derivatives

5 BSc Mathematical Sciences: Focus CS given, Machine Learning and other specialization options also available

6 UP and UKZN call this an engineering degree, with hardware focus + CS, marketed as a BEng CS overseas

7 UP does not offer MSc/PhD by coursework, only by research. The other listed universities offer either.

8 This is currently the only short-term CS qualification of its kind available in South Africa

9 For a 5-week introductory Python course, others available