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How to Become a Software Developer

June 12, 2022

It’s no secret that software development is a hot industry. Maybe you’re unhappy in your current work and want to make a full career change into technology. Or maybe you’re just graduating high school or college and want to get a jump start as a developer. The good news is people from all walks of life have succeeded as developers. And a costly four-year university degree is only one way to enter this field.

This doesn’t mean becoming a developer is as simple as sitting in a few classes and applying for a new job! Hiring managers for attractive tech companies want to see fluency in modern programming languages, the ability to work alongside experienced developers, and portfolios that show an interest in coding and continued practice after graduation. Soft skills like communication, collaboration, and emotional intelligence are highly valued, as well.

The last thirty years of technological development helped further define how developers are hired. The "computer programmer" of our parents’ generation—an amorphous catch-all term focused on mainframe or PC applications—doesn't help a modern company hire for a specific programming language, device, or platform. How could it? Would you apply to a company that had a job description like:

"Seeking computer programmer with a computer programming degree or significant experience in the field. The candidate needs to understand advanced computer language and have experience as an applications programmer. You will be working with other computer software engineer(s) who demonstrate significant aptitude in computer code and programming skills. Apply here for this programming job."

You wouldn't. You'd immediately close your browser and re-evaluate the decision you took to even load a job application with "computer code" in the introduction.

We're well beyond "shareware" and coding installers needing to actually load the software onto a physical PC. The skills a "programmer" needs have meaningfully evolved, and are generally described by the titles “developer” or “engineer.”

Skills a Software Developer Needs

First and foremost, a software developer needs coding skills. A developer’s job is to design, develop, and test software and applications. Code, or instructions that a computer can follow to accomplish a task, can be written in an ever-expanding number of languages. But fear not. Developers only need to learn one or two languages really well to start their careers. Often, aspiring developers will choose an area of specialization and then learn the language(s) most used in that field. For instance, if you’re interested in web development you should start with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Those wanting to enter the data science field might be better served by learning Python or SQL.

Writing and math skills are also useful in becoming a software developer.

What soft skills should software developers cultivate?

Soft skills are often the most important in the eyes of hiring managers; once you meet the basic hard skill requirements and earn an interview, it’s the soft skills that will help you stand out.

Communication skills are always important. Though some software development work is done in relative isolation, there will come times when even the most isolated dev needs to explain a thought process or describe a problem.

Another quality hiring managers look for in coders is curiosity. Are you the kind of person who wants to know how things work? Do you enjoy solving difficult puzzles or investigating mysteries? Did you ever take apart a toy or electronic device just to see how it was built? These are all qualities that will serve you well as a developer; code, after all, is how all software works. If you aren’t curious about it, you might not be suited to this career.

A willingness to learn and grow will also set you above others in the job hunt. Software is an ever-changing industry, and the best developers know this and take steps to continually learn and educate themselves. If learning the latest technology and bringing it to work to improve a process or function sounds like fun, you’ll be a valuable addition to any programming team.

Speaking of teams, teamwork is another soft skill that will come in handy as a software developer. Software products are built by teams, and even if you’re a developer who works alone and doesn’t necessarily use teamwork skills on a day-to-day basis, you’re still part of that team. In addition to communication, teamwork skills include being a good listener, having a professional attitude, giving effective feedback, and understanding conflict resolution.

How do you know if your skillset is right for software development?

If you have most of the skills listed here, you’re in a good position to pursue software development. And if you don’t, there are plenty of ways to learn them through educational opportunities.

Education a Software Developer Needs

Do you need a four-year degree in Computer Science to be a software developer? The short answer is “maybe.” There will always be roles and companies that prize high-level degrees from prestigious institutions above all else. And you might find yourself competing head to head for a job with somebody who has that degree and find yourself losing out. But many, many successful developers have learned the requisite skills using alternative paths, including bootcamps and self-driven learning.

What is the minimum level of education a developer needs?

The “minimum” level of education really varies by role and by company. Some job posts for software developers require a bachelor’s degree or higher. And some do not. For this article, we’ll focus on those that don’t. If you choose to earn a four-year degree in Computer Science, there’s a lot of content out there that will help you do that. If you want to take an alternate path and get there with less of your time and money invested, you should look at bootcamps and online learning (and keep reading).

What education options are there for software development?

You can think of coding bootcamps as the trade schools of computer programming and software development. They’re faster, they cost less, and they cover only the specific skills you need to succeed in your chosen career.

Self-driven learning is another option; there are dozens of sites like Khan Academy and freeCodeCamp that offer free coding courses on-demand. You won’t have access to an instructor to guide your learning, nor will you bond with peers going through the same experience in a class. But if you’re a motivated self-starter who knows you can learn this way, it’s worth dabbling in the free offerings even if only to get your feet wet and confirm that you really do want to be a developer.

If you’re very serious about it, though, you will more than likely find yourself shopping for a coding bootcamp.

What can you expect to learn in a coding bootcamp?

A coding bootcamp is an accelerated learning program that teaches coding skills to beginners, generally through project-based “real world” learning. Most bootcamp students have no programming experience when they begin, and many hold bachelors’ degrees in other fields.

While bootcamps are shorter and more focused than university degrees in computer science, there are some similarities. The programming knowledge gained will be largely the same whichever way you go. Both colleges and bootcamps offer the opportunity to create portfolios, and both paths will give you a learning community consisting of supportive instructors and peers with whom you’ll collaborate and, upon graduation, network as you all enter the workforce together.

Far and away the most common course of study at a coding bootcamp is Full Stack Web Development; in fact, 90% of bootcamp graduates learn Full Stack Web Development1. “Full stack” refers to both front-end and back-end web development. In other words, you’ll learn how to build a website including the visual elements the public will interact with (front-end, or client side) and the parts that make it all work, that nobody ever sees (back-end, or server side). A full-stack developer can handle both sides of the web development coin.

You will also find more specialized topics of study, including Data Science, Cybersecurity, or UI/UX Design. The languages you learn will depend upon your field of study, but in general, the specific language you learn matters much less than the fact that you’re learning how to learn new languages. You’re building the skills needed to be a developer who is continually learning and growing, who can adapt to fit the needs of your employer.

Certifications for Software Developers

Much like a degree from a prestigious university, a respected certification can gain you respect and give you a leg up on the job-hunting competition. Most top certifications require a certain amount of work experience, so these aren’t always available to beginners or recent bootcamp graduates. Rather, employers see these as signs of ongoing dedication to your craft and to developing your aptitude in different areas of software development, which can be a key differentiator in your career advancement.

What bodies govern which certifications are necessary for software developers?

No certifications are technically “necessary” to be a developer. As we’ve discussed, there are several paths to this career, and computer programming is not a highly regulated industry that legally requires specific certifications or degrees. Rather, certifications are add-ons to your education. They can help you prove your knowledge and skills in specific areas within computer programming, and can give you a leg up when applying for jobs. They show your dedication and proactiveness, as well, since they’re not required but entirely voluntary.

That said, it is always within a company’s discretion to “require” a certain certification for a role. If the job postings you’re drawn to always seem to require a certification, that’s a pretty good sign that you should invest the time and money into getting certified.

What computer programming certifications can you earn through a coding bootcamp?

Many coding bootcamps offer certifications at graduation. These are not typically industry-standard certifications but “certificates of completion” showing your status as a graduate of that bootcamp. Since the bootcamp is your primary education in coding, you’ll want to display this with pride on your LinkedIn profile, resumé or CV, and portfolio. Treat it the same way you would treat a diploma from a college or university.

What kind of computer programming certifications are most likely to get you hired?

When you’ve chosen a language to specialize in, that’s the time to start thinking about certifications in that language. Many languages offer official institutes and governing bodies that oversee the certification process, ensuring high quality and a certification that means something to employers. Other respected certifications can be earned through large and influential tech companies and programming tools, like Oracle, MongoDB, or AWS.

Job Outlook for Software Developers

What is the employment outlook for developers over the next few years?

The overall outlook2 for software development as a career is showing a 10% decline between now and 2030. In spite of this decline, nearly 10,000 job openings are projected each year, on average, in that timeframe. Coding is one of the top jobs that can be done remotely, from anywhere in the world. This often leads companies to “offshore'' desirable jobs to countries where labor is less expensive. Regardless, we don’t see software development disappearing in America. There will remain a strong need for talented new programmers for the foreseeable future.

What is the average salary for a developer?

Software development is known to be a high-paying job, and the median salary3 of $93,000 in May 2021 proves that true. Salaries will vary according to industry, geography, and seniority, and programmers with higher levels of education, experience, or in-demand skill sets will command higher salaries.

Which types of developers are most in-demand?

There are dozens of studies and surveys every year that try to name the most popular, highest paying, or most in-demand languages in software development. For 2022, we’re seeing Python, JavaScript, SQL, and HTML/CSS topping lists.

  • Python is a general-purpose language used by developers for a number of purposes, including back end development, data science, and app development. It’s considered one of the easiest-to-learn languages, which makes it perfect for beginners, and it’s taught in most coding bootcamps.
  • JavaScript, according to Stack Overflow’s 2021 Developer Survey4, is the most commonly-used language in the world (followed closely by HTML/CSS). JavaScript is used in web development, game development, mobile apps, and web servers. It’s especially beloved by front-end web developers, who can use it to control and manage the behavior of web pages and how users will interact with them.
  • HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language and is one of the simplest ways to get into programming. HTML is used to format the appearance of a web page. It’s often used hand in hand with both CSS and JavaScript.
  • CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheet and is usually applied along with HTML to govern the appearance of a web page including the size, color, and position of page elements.
  • SQL, or Structured Query Language, is used for database management and allows programmers to query and manipulate data in databases.

Ready to Become a Coder?

As we mentioned, long gone are the days of building a "computer program" and demonstrating your understanding of "programming language" and demonstrating your "programming skills."

Software development is a field that will continue to evolve as technology improves, and the overall consensus is that it’s still a very worthwhile endeavor for people looking to make career changes. If that’s you, don’t put it off any longer. Looking to become a software engineer, web developer, or data scientist? Let Best Coding Bootcamps match you with your ideal bootcamp today.

Alyssa Mazzina
Alyssa is a writer in the software industry with over 20 years of professional experience. She lives in California with her husband, kids, and 4 dogs.

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