I've worked in the IT industry for over 10 years and don't have an IT degree. Mine is in BSBA with an Accounting major. That being said, I've done a good deal of studying and certification testing to stay current in the IT field.
I think your gut feeling is right on. In my own personal experience, companies valued experience and drive far more than credentials during my career. I am a 15-year IT veteran who, beyond holding multiple certs, does not hold a technical degree. This has never affected my ability to earn well, take on complex IT projects, or lose out on opportunities. I do see myself looking back into school to eventually qualify myself for high-end management positions (CIO, etc), but beyond those aspirations I am one of those who believe experience is far more valuable than any degree. Even in IT.
Now, if this is a science and R&D related type career he or she is looking into, or one focusing more on business logic and programming, then a degree pursuit may help more. It really depends on the career goals and his/her area of interest within IT.
Information Technology is one of the more forgiving careers in terms of having credentials, talented people with drive and experience often run circles around their new-blood "just out of school" counterparts. So if your friend decides on the school route, getting internships and/or apprentice experience will be very important.
My feeling, as an educator and consultant, is that your friend should get the degree. This will show commitment to a prospective employer as well as provide credentials. Shadowing someone on a job is not a bad idea, but it won't lead to a credential. I also question if someone would be willing to allow a shadow for such an extended period of time.
Finally, while getting the degree, seeking out internship opportunities (even the person is not 20 years old anymore) will allow him/her to gain experience. It will also provide some insight as whether a tech career is a good fit.
Drew, J & Sven> Thanks for your comments - very interesting
I don't think it will hold them back long term, as I would always value experiance over some certificate.
That said, the biggest benefit I got from doing my computing degree was having 3 years in which to mess around with computers, networks - allsorts without actually having to deliver anything that made people money, or had a real user base to satisfy. It means you can go off at tangents and get a breadth of knowledge which is not always possible with real money riding on you.
It boils down to what they are interested in, what they level of knowledge is at the moment, and where they want to be - if they are intelligent, can pick stuff up fast, and are enthusiastic about what they do then I'm pretty sure they will suceed whatever path they take
Well, I've worked in IT for 20 years and have nothing more than A-levels. I would certainly employ someone without an IT degree if they were suitable "qualified" in other areas.
FWIW I have nothing against formal education (in fact my father was a professor and helped build the University of Southampton's Electronics and Computer Science department from the ground up), it just wasn't the right choice for me at the time.
This is a very interesting question and something we ask ourselves every time we go out to advert for staff. Experience means a great deal within IM&T as products move so fast. A degree does show the ability for learning and above all a dedication to an end, however I would be more inclined to go for the person who is able to show a good portfolio of skills in a number of areas of technology. I have 20+ years in the industry, do not have a degree and feel that certifications supported by evidenced experience has worked for me throughout.