How to Become A Software Developer
Software development is a rewarding career for millions of people. There are lots of reasons for the growth need for software developers.
Why Would You Want to Become a Software Developer?
If you’ve ever considered what it might mean for you to become a software developer, it’s worth taking a closer look at why that industry has become so popular so that you can consider whether it’s a good fit for you. Writing code every day is not for everyone, but it may very well be something you can do well, something that you’ll enjoy. If you’re able to learn to write code well and you enjoy the environment that comes with software development, it’s almost certain that two factors will lead to a solid income and a productive career.
Here are three of the most attractive reasons why you’d want to consider spending the time and effort that it will take to gain the skills and experience to move into a software development career.
- Software Developers Have High Salary Potential: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for software developers was $110,140 in May 2020. This is significantly higher than the median annual wage for all occupations, which was $41,950. Additionally, salaries can vary widely depending on the developer’s specialty and level of experience, with some developers earning over $200,000 per year.
- The Job Market for Software Developers is Consistently Growing : The job market for software developers is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of software developers will increase by 22 percent from 2019 to 2029, adding over 316,000 jobs to the market. This growth is due in part to the increasing use of mobile devices and e-commerce, which require software developers to design and maintain the necessary applications and websites.
- Software Development Involves Creative and Collaborative Work: Software development can be a highly creative and collaborative field, allowing developers to work on projects that have a real impact on people’s lives. Developers can work on anything from developing video games to creating mobile apps that help people manage their finances. Additionally, many software development projects require collaboration between developers, designers, and project managers, making it a great field for those who enjoy working in a team environment.
That introduction should be enough to get you interested in a career in software development. But what does it take to become a software developer?
I’ll provide you with what I hope will be enough information below to help you make that decision.
Three Different Approaches to Becoming a Software Developer
If you’re interested in becoming a software developer, there are three main paths you can take: earning a college degree in computer science or a related field, attending a technical bootcamp, or using self-directed learning and gaining experience on the job.
Each of these popular approaches comes with its own costs and benefits, which we’ll discuss below.
Going to College to Learn Software Development
How long does it take? 2-4 years
How much does it cost? $50,000+
A college degree in computer science can be a valuable investment, but it also comes with a high price tag. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for a four-year degree program at a public institution is over $10,000 per year, while the average cost at a private institution is over $36,000 per year. On the plus side, a college degree can provide a comprehensive education in computer science, including exposure to a wide range of programming languages, algorithms, and software engineering principles. College students also have access to resources such as internships, career services, and networking opportunities, which can help them land a job after graduation. However, college can be a long-term commitment, and it may not be the best option for those who want to enter the workforce quickly.
Going through a college degree program to prepare yourself to become a software developer is usually the best route for someone who really wants to get a deeper understanding of computer science, including much of the underlying theory. Going to college is more aimed toward giving you a broad base that you can then use to pursue a number of different programming specialties.
Pros and Cons of Learning Software Development in College
Here are some of the pros and cons of going to college to prepare yourself to be a software developer:
- Formal education: Going to college provides a structured and comprehensive education in software development, including a broad range of topics, such as algorithms, data structures, programming languages, computer systems, and software engineering. This can help you develop a strong foundation of knowledge and skills that can be valuable throughout your career.
- Credibility: A college degree can provide credibility and legitimacy to your skills and knowledge, making it easier to get hired by employers who value formal education and certification.
- Networking: Going to college provides an opportunity to meet and collaborate with other students, professors, and industry professionals who share your interests and can provide valuable connections and support throughout your career.
- Job opportunities: Many employers prefer to hire candidates with a college degree in computer science or a related field, making it easier to find job opportunities in the software development industry.
- Cost: Going to college can be expensive, with tuition fees, books, housing, and other expenses that can add up quickly. This can lead to significant student loan debt that can take years to pay off.
- Time: Going to college can take several years to complete, which means delaying entry into the workforce and potentially missing out on job opportunities or earning potential during that time.
- Outdated curriculum: Some college programs may not keep up with the latest trends and technologies in software development, which can result in a curriculum that is outdated and less relevant to the current job market.
- Inefficient compared to alternative paths: It’s worth noting that a college degree is not the only path to a career in software development. Many successful software developers have gained their skills through self-study, coding bootcamps, or on-the-job experience, which may be more cost-effective and efficient for some individuals. We’ll discuss those options below.
College Computer Science Curriculum Example
What all will you learn about software development by going to college? Well, most computer science degrees have a common base of classes you’ll need to take and concepts you’ll need to understand in order to complete their degree programs. The sample list draws a lot from the curriculum used by the Computer Science program at CUNY – City College, a program that is known for being high quality while also affordable.
If you want to earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Computer Science, you’ll take classes that are some variation of the following courses (along with a several other general and technical classes typically required for 2-year and 4-year degrees):
- Introduction to Computer Science: This course introduces the fundamentals of computer programming, including control structures, functions, arrays, and data types.
- Data Structures and Algorithms: This course covers the design and analysis of algorithms and data structures such as lists, trees, graphs, and hash tables.
- Computer Systems: This course covers computer organization, operating systems, and networks, including topics such as memory management, file systems, and networking protocols.
- Programming Languages: This course covers the principles of programming languages, including syntax, semantics, and formal grammar.
- Database Systems: This course covers the design and implementation of databases, including topics such as data modeling, normalization, and SQL.
- Computer Architecture: This course covers the principles of computer architecture, including the organization of hardware components, instruction sets, and memory systems.
- Software Engineering: This course covers the principles of software engineering, including software development methodologies, software testing, and project management.
- Theory of Computation: This course covers the fundamentals of theoretical computer science, including formal languages, automata theory, and computational complexity.
- Artificial Intelligence: This course covers the principles of artificial intelligence, including search algorithms, natural language processing, and machine learning.
In addition to these core courses, students often have opportunities to take elective courses in areas such as game development, web development, mobile app development, and cybersecurity. Overall, the a computer science major in a typical college will provide a strong foundation in the fundamental principles of computing, programming, and software development, preparing students for a wide range of career opportunities in the field.
Programming Languages Used in College Computer Science Degrees
If you’re going the route of a computer science degree at a college, here are the programming languages you can expect to learn or use during your coursework:
- Java: Java is a popular programming language used for teaching computer science concepts, particularly object-oriented programming. It is widely used in industry and is a popular language for developing enterprise applications.
- Python: Python is another popular language used for teaching computer science. It is known for its readability, simplicity, and versatility, making it a good language for beginners to learn.
- C/C++: C and C++ are commonly taught in computer science programs as they provide a good foundation for understanding low-level programming concepts such as memory management, pointers, and data structures.
- Ruby: Ruby is a high-level scripting language that is often used for web development and rapid prototyping. It is a popular language for teaching computer science concepts such as object-oriented programming and web development.
- SQL: SQL is a language used for managing relational databases and is an essential skill for many computer science professionals. It is often taught as part of database management courses.
Attending a Technical Bootcamp
How long does it take? 12-16 weeks
How much does it cost? $3,000 to $20,000
Programming bootcamps have become very popular alternatives to 2-year and 4-year college degrees. Software development bootcamps take only a fraction of the time, and they cost much less than college degree programs.
Technical bootcamps are designed to provide hands-on training in a specific area of software development, such as web development or data science. Bootcamps are typically shorter and less expensive than college degree programs, with tuition ranging from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the length and intensity of the program. Bootcamps can be a good option for those who want to quickly gain the skills needed to enter the job market. They also provide networking opportunities and may have connections with employers who are looking to hire new graduates. However, bootcamps may not cover as many topics in depth as a college degree program, and some employers may prefer candidates with a more comprehensive education.
Programming Bootcamp Examples
To provide you with more insight on how programming bootcamps work, here are some examples of bootcamps, including some that are in the highly affordable range to others that are some of the most expensive ones you can attend.
Less expensive code camps:
- Cost: Prices range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.
- Length: Varies by program, typically around 3-6 months
- Emphasis: Offers various technical bootcamps in areas such as web development, data science, and artificial intelligence. Programs include projects and assignments, with some offering mentorship and career services.
- Cost: Prices range from $399 to $2,599
- Length: Varies by program, typically around 3-12 months
- Emphasis: Offers online bootcamps in areas such as web design, front-end development, and WordPress development. Programs include interactive lessons, projects, and community support
More expensive code camps:
- Prices range from $17,980 to $20,980
- Length: 12-17 weeks
- Emphasis: Offers various coding bootcamps in areas such as full-stack web development, software engineering, and data science. Programs include hands-on projects, live coding sessions, and mentorship from industry professionals.
- Prices range from $15,980 to $17,910
- Length: 13-17 weeks
- Emphasis: Offers coding bootcamps in full-stack web development, software engineering, and cybersecurity. Programs include hands-on projects, live coding sessions, and mentorship from experienced instructors.
- Prices range from $14,950 to $15,950
- Length: 12-24 weeks
- Emphasis: Offers coding bootcamps in areas such as web development, software engineering, data science, and user experience design. Programs include hands-on projects, live instruction, and career services such as job placement assistance and networking events.
Pros and Cons of Learning Software Development at a Bootcamp
- Fast-paced learning: Coding bootcamps are typically designed to teach students the skills they need to become job-ready in a relatively short amount of time, usually in just a few months.
- Hands-on experience: Bootcamps often offer hands-on experience with real-world projects and provide students with the opportunity to work on practical, team-based projects.
- Career services: Many bootcamps provide career services to help students find employment after completing the program, including resume building, interview preparation, and job placement assistance.
- Lower cost: Coding bootcamps are often less expensive than traditional degree programs, making them a more affordable option for those who want to learn coding skills.
- Limited depth: Bootcamps typically cover a narrow range of coding skills and may not provide a comprehensive understanding of computer science topics. This can make it difficult for graduates to adapt to new technologies and programming languages.
- Lack of accreditation: Many coding bootcamps are not accredited institutions, which means that their programs are not recognized by traditional educational institutions or employers.
- Intense workload: Bootcamps are designed to be intensive and fast-paced, which can be overwhelming for some students, particularly those who are new to coding.
- Not for everyone: Coding bootcamps are not a good fit for everyone. They require a lot of self-discipline, motivation, and hard work, and may not be suitable for those who prefer a more traditional classroom-based learning environment.
Self-Directed Learning and On-the-Job Software Development Experience
Self-learning and on-the-job experience can be the most cost-effective option for becoming a software developer. There are many free and low-cost online resources for learning programming languages and other software development skills, and entry-level jobs in software development can provide valuable experience and exposure to real-world projects. However, this approach requires a lot of self-discipline and motivation, and it can take longer to gain the skills needed to land a job. Additionally, some employers may prefer candidates with formal education or certification.
If you’re looking for something that acts a bit like a coding bootcamp, but that still falls into the category of self-directed learning is a project called freeCodeCamp. freeCodeCamp is a non-profit that puts structure around the learning process for software development. It has thousands of hours of curriculum organized to help you pace yourself and keep moving forward.
The cost and pros and cons of each method for becoming a software developer can vary depending on your goals, preferences, and resources. College degrees can provide a comprehensive education but can be expensive and time-consuming, while bootcamps can provide quick and focused training but may not cover as many topics. Self-learning and on-the-job experience can be the most cost-effective option but require a lot of self-discipline and may take longer to gain the skills needed to succeed in the field.
Pros and Cons of Using Self-Directed or On the Job Software Development Learning
- Flexibility: Self-paced or on-the-job learning allows you to learn at your own pace and on your own schedule, which can be beneficial if you have other commitments like work or family.
- Practical experience: On-the-job learning provides you with hands-on, practical experience working on real-world projects, which can be valuable when it comes to building your skills and preparing you for a career in software development.
- Cost-effective: Self-paced learning can be a more cost-effective option, as there are many free or low-cost resources available online, including tutorials, blogs, and videos.
- Customizable: Self-paced or on-the-job learning allows you to focus on the specific skills or technologies that interest you, rather than having to follow a prescribed curriculum.
- Lack of structure: Self-paced learning can lack structure and guidance, which can make it difficult to stay motivated and on track.
- Limited feedback: On-the-job learning may not provide as much feedback on your work as a traditional educational environment, which can make it difficult to know if you are on the right track.
- Difficulty getting started: Self-paced or on-the-job learning can be challenging if you don’t know where to start or what resources to use.
- Limited networking opportunities: Self-paced or on-the-job learning may not provide as many networking opportunities as a traditional educational environment, which can make it more difficult to build connections and find job opportunities.
Hopefully the information I’ve provided for you here gives you a good start in your pursuit of a career path that involves software development.
One quick piece of advice that is in order: don’t get stuck in the “analysis paralysis” mode, where you have a hard time making up your mind because there seem to be too many options. Take enough time to make a decision, then take action.