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How to become a good Java programmer without a degree

The road to master java is a long and thorny one. But over my years as a coder, I’ve picked up a hint or two. But how to become a good Java programmer isn’t a question with a simple answer? You don’t need any formal training. You don’t need to sit in a classroom and earn a diploma. And you can certainly become a good Java programmer without a degree that attests to that fact.

No, all you need is some focus, a good book or two, the willingness to take advantage of the wealth of online resources that are available and the dedication to put in enough time to learn the craft.

However, there are pitfalls for those who are self-taught and try to learn how on the fly without a degree or any formal training make. The journey to become a Java pro is a long one, but if you avoid common mistakes, the whole process becomes more productive. I’ve been teaching people Java for quite a few years now, and these few mistakes continue to pop up over and again.

The top mistakes beginner students make

Here are the most common mistakes I see junior developers make as they begin their journey on how to become a good Java programmer:

  1. You devour too much of theory. Our fear of mistakes plays a bad joke on us. We read and read and read. When you read, you don’t make mistakes. As a result, you feel safe. Stop reading and try coding. I’d say the same thing with video lectures. Practice is key, and your future job title won’t be “book reader” or “YouTube watcher” will it?
  2. You try to learn everything in one day. At the very beginning, you might get very enthusiastic. Wow! Fascinating! It works! Look, ma, I’m coding! And you forge on, trying to grasp everything at once. By the end of the day, even the thought of Java makes you sick. Don’t do that to yourself. This is a marathon, not a sprint, so take it step by step.
  3. You fret over mistakes. Remember when you were a child and learned math? Unfortunately, 2+3 didn’t equal 7 or any other random number you had in mind and you were confused and sad. Same story with Java code. Sometimes you get the wrong solution. Sometimes you get them wrong over and over again. So what? Remember what happened with your math education? You can count now and you will be able to code. Just give it time and don’t give up.
  4. You are afraid to experiment. Almost every one of us has been through this at school: there is only one right answer and only one way to get that answer. In Java programming and in life in general, this approach doesn’t work. You have to try various options and see what fits best.
  5. You burn yourself out. We all get tired from time to time. And if the progress is slow you might hear that nagging voice in the back of your head tell you to give up on learning Java. You might think you need to know math better or read up a bit more on algorithms or whatever else. Stop. Read my advice on how to avoid these mistakes.

How to become a good Java programmer without a diploma

Two of the nice things about scholarly courses are their structure and the ability to gauge your progress through regular tests and deliverables. But, that type of structure and those types of checkpoints aren’t available when you try to become a good Java programmer without a degree. If you choose to go the non-degree route, keep the following insights in mind:

  1. Schedule your learning and stay disciplined: Minimize distractions during the hours of study and devote your full attention to Java. No matter what your actual attention span is, give it all to Java.
  2. Learn by coding: Remember what I told you about “safe” book reading and video watching? Move out of your comfort zone and practice coding Easier said than done. Just try it out and see for yourself. I list some useful tools for practicing Java
  3. Write code out by hand: Typing is all good and while I’m not against it, there’s a mechanical memory that activates when you write by hand and helps you remember stuff even better. Besides, during job interviews, some companies do check if you can code on paper. The real pros can.
  4. Make your work visible: There are code repositories where you can showcase your work. It is also a good way to ask for feedback from more experienced developers. Peer-to-peer exchange of information is also a great way to learn some applicable practical things about Java. Other coders will help you out when they can, and in time, you will be able to help out beginners as well! And don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Remember, a master has failed more times than a beginner has tried.
  5. Keep on coding. Just. Keep. On. Coding. Start small, and slowly expand the scope of your projects. Solve a basic task. Then a series of tasks. Then make a simple game. Then a whole app. Just remember, when in doubt: code your way out.

Good Java programmer best practices

According to Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in a given field. But how does someone new to the Java language practice without enrolling in a college course or on-the-job experience? Fortunately, there are many options for how to become a good Java programmer without pursuing a degree.

There are many open-access online courses that offer a lot of practical tasks. You can also join a Java community, which is full of practical knowledge. If you feel uneasy at the thought of meeting teachers in the classroom (even online ones), try to learn through games. Below are several examples of online educational projects that I recommend.

  • CodeGym is an interactive, practice-oriented Java course. This one’s my personal favorite because of its gamification. You get a virtual mentor who reviews your code, gives feedback and helps you through the learning/gaming process. The course combines 1,200 practical tasks and you start coding in a real IDE. CodeGym has Intellij IDEA integration, so you can dive right into the reality of programming. In the event you’re unsure of a solution, there’s a whole Java community to help and support you.
  • CodinGame is a great training platform for programmers. Gamification is the main learning tool for this project, so it doesn’t feel like boring classroom stuff. Instead, you gradually become a Java dev hero with the superpower of saving the world with your code.
  • Codewars is another game-like educational project, but this one is challenge-based. Choose Java, unite with your team members and start learning the code by solving real tasks. You go from level to level, earn rankings, compare your code with other solutions, etc. The more tasks you complete, the better coder you become and the higher your ranking jumps.
  • GeeksforGeeks is a huge portal for computer science adept people. There are courses on Java and other programming languages, question-based knowledge sharing, a community of like-minded geeks and lots more. You can go through quizzes to check your level, ask for help with your code, etc. There’s also a separate section on algorithms which is quite handy if you have gaps in this area.

With Internet access and a good dose of self-motivation, anyone can become a good Java programmer without a degree. The Java learning path isn’t that dark and scary, but just avoid the monsters of fear and procrastination.

Regular coding practice will make you feel more and more confident. Try one of the projects I recommended. I’m sure one of them will perfectly fit your needs. Maybe even all of them? Don’t forget to code by hand from time to time either. It helps you memorize Java better and stands out at a job interview.

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