How to become a programmer without a degree
To become a software developer, you don’t need a diploma, degree or even a certification.
All you need is competence.
Outside of sports, software development is the most merit-based industry in the world. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort to develop your skills, six-digit software developer salaries await.
Follow these five steps and you’ll develop the discipline and competence to be a successful software developer:
- Set realistic goals as you commit to a career as a software developer.
- Expose yourself to a variety of programming languages.
- Acquire skills around the technology that calls to you the most.
- Build a portfolio of impressive development projects.
- Overcome imposter syndrome, widen your network and apply for software developer jobs.
Write down your career goals
Human beings are goal-oriented creatures. When we set goals for ourselves, our mind automatically works to remove any impediments that stand in our way to achieve that goal.
If you want to become a software developer, then fully commit to accomplish that goal.
Write down a list of reasons: why do you want to be a developer? How will your life will change once you have achieved your goal? How will the accomplishment of that goal positively impact the people around you?
The first step to become a software developer is to write down your new career goals, and commit to them.
Get to know the software development landscape
If you’re just starting out and you don’t know how to write code, the best place to start is web development. Prioritize the following languages and tools.
Learn HTML and CSS.
With these languages you can build web pages and test the code you write in a web browser.
HTML- and CSS-based development is very visual — changes to your code are visible as soon as you refresh your browser. This immediate visual feedback keeps you interested and motivates you to learn more.
Create some browser-based games such as Rock Paper Scissors or a number guessing game, and when you are familiar with the basics, move away from the web tier and learn a little bit about databases.
Dive into databases with SQL.
To become a software developer, you must understand how to talk to a database, which means you need to know a bit about Structured Query Language (SQL).
Install an open source database like MySQL and learn how to create database tables. Then learn how to write SQL statements that can save data into those tables, and read data from them.
Advance to APIs.
The goal at this stage is to just be familiar with each of these different technologies:
At this state on your journey to become a software developer, don’t try to be an expert on any of these technologies. Just learn enough about each of them to understand how they fit together.
Pick a niche
Something should call to you after you become familiar with front-end, back-end and middle-tier development.
- Did you enjoy HTML and CSS the most? Then perhaps you should focus on web design.
- Did SQL and setting up a database pique your interest? Maybe you’re destined to be a backend engineer.
- If you enjoyed building APIs that glue the front-end and back-end together, then perhaps middle-tier development is your calling.
At this stage in your journey to become a software developer, pick the programming languages and technologies that appeal to you the most, and enhance them.
For example, if you enjoy web development, learn more about AngularJS or ReactJS:
Build a portfolio of projects
As you learn, document your learning journey and build a portfolio of project’s you’ve completed.
A portfolio helps you visualize how much progress you’ve made towards your goal of becoming a software developer. It also highlights your skills when you interview with employers.
No college degree? You can still become a software engineer. A degree or diploma is certainly not a requirement.
However, to land a job interview you’ll need something on your resume that documents your knowledge. This is where industry certifications come in.
Before you begin your job search, try to add two or three industry certifications to your resume. Three certifications I highly recommend are:
- Certified Java Programmer from Oracle, or its equivalent for another language;
- Professional Scrum Master Certification to prove you are Agile; and
- AWS Certified Associate to prove you understand the basics of cloud computing
Google offers free certificates in the fields of e-commerce and data analytics which look great on a resume.
You can even take a free computer course and Harvard University have free courses you can take online. Upon completion, Harvard offers a verified certificate of achievement for $99. A certificate from Harvard is certainly a good way to begin your career as a software developer.
Bolster your career network and apply for jobs
Many new programmers hesitate before they apply for jobs or respond to interview requests from LinkedIn. They worry that they’re not fully trained or adequately qualified to become a software developer.
Don’t let this imposter syndrome limit your career progress.
Plenty of organizations want young, energetic developers who understand the fundamentals of software development, and are willing to learn new technologies while on the job.
Build your LinkedIn profile. Network with your peers through MeetUp groups and Twitter Circles. Get involved in community events.
Most of all, apply relentlessly for open software developer positions. You’ll inevitably land that first job, and successfully become a software developer. From that point on, where your software developer job leads and the directions your career takes will be entirely within your control.
Software development without a degree
You can become a software developer without a degree or diploma. All it takes is motivation and drive.
Take the first step and dive into software development. Build your portfolio, get certified, grow your career, and enjoy your life as a software developer.