NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s formal education stopped with a GED, a fact that the New York Times’ David Brooks and others have spun into a caricature of him as a loner or outsider.
In fact, Snowden’s lack of formal credentials made him mainstream, and maybe even the wave of the future. The Brookings Institution reported in a paper titled “The Hidden STEM Economy” that half of the nation’s workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math don’t have or need a bachelor’s degree. They do their work with an associate’s degree or even just on-the-job training.
When you add in these less formally trained STEM specialists, you arrive at 26 million STEM workers, making up one-fifth of the U.S. workforce. The most common non-college STEM jobs include trades like auto mechanics, electricians, welders, and logistics supervisors, whose jobs all increasingly require a sophisticated mastery of both software and machinery. On average these workers earn 10% more than workers at a similar level of education who don’t have a mastery of any scientific or technical field.
One of the biggest and fastest-growing non-college STEM jobs, which comes pretty darn close to describing Snowden’s former position, is computer systems analyst, a position that earns an average of more than $82,000 a year and is growing 22% over this decade. The Department of Labor notes that a bachelor’s degree is “not always a requirement” for this job, as long as you “know how to write computer programs.”