Know the Code: A Blueprint for Your Programming Career
Programmers write, improve, test, and debug code for software systems, applications, and websites designed by developers and software engineers. Increasing demand for mobile apps and other software packages, as well as mounting concerns around cybersecurity, means that more code needs to be written, modified, and tested.
Curiously, then, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment growth for programmers in the United States to decline by 7 percent over the next several years (from 2018 to 2028). This is largely because some programming projects can be outsourced to programmers in other countries where costs are lower.
Another reason why many companies hire coders in other parts of the world is because of a shortage of tech skills where their offices are located. There is, however, demand in the United States for experienced, highly skilled programmers who are well-versed in at least two current programming languages and have expertise in using the latest frameworks, tools and technologies.
According to CompTIA's Cyberstates2020 survey, software and web developer jobs in the United States increased by 4.3 percent in 2018 and 2019. CompTIA reports that there were close to 1.6 million roles in the software and web development category in 2019.
Get Into Writing Code
Most programmers get started in the profession with a bachelor's degree in computer science, engineering, or a related discipline. A few companies may hire people with an associate's degree in a relevant subject but that is not the norm.
A computer science or related degree alone, however, is not enough to land a job in most companies. Employers want to see proof of skill and aptitude as well. Candidates will need to demonstrate their coding ability.
Writing programs, solving problems posted on GitHub and other developer forums, and examining and improving someone else's code will help you gain hands-on experience and develop the skills needed to write clean code. Post your projects on GitHub, GitLab, Bitbucket and other online platforms to showcase your work.
It's helpful to know which field of programming you want to start with. Programmers work in front- and back-end web development, software programming, mobile and other application development, cybersecurity, data science, database management, and other areas. Once you've chosen your field of work, select the languages you need to learn.
The next step is to select the mode of learning that suits you best. Apart from a formal computer science or related degree, there are in-person bootcamps, online classes, certification courses, free open source projects, interactive tutorials, and good books on programming. Most learners opt for a combination of these resources.
Whichever learning mode you choose, remember it takes time, lots of practice, patience, and persistence to become a successful programmer.
Can You Learn by Doing?
It is possible to teach yourself how to code. This approach is likely to work best for highly motivated and disciplined individuals who have a sense of purpose and are willing to spend a lot of time practicing and learning through trial and error. Self-learning typically involves a combination of programming and code reference books, online courses, interactive tutorials, videos, and most importantly practical projects.
Good programming books constitute a helpful guide to coding and the profession. There are comprehensive books that include an in-depth introduction to coding, project design and development, best practices and instructions for writing clean, maintainable, and scalable code, and professional guidance. Code reference books are useful for looking up syntax and conventions of programming languages.
There are plenty of online courses, both free and fee-based. Not all are worth the time or money. It's important to opt for an accredited course with a practical component, and one that also has some acceptance in the industry. Reach out to programmers you know for feedback about courses.
Interactive tutorials enable you to actually start writing code. You can solve coding challenges and work on projects online. There are several resources available online for beginners as well as experienced programmers who want to learn new languages. Codecademy, freeCodeCamp, Code School, and Treehouse offer video courses and interactive tutorials for beginners.
Joining one or more open source projects is a great way to get lots of "hands-on" practice. The Odin Project is a free coding curriculum that you can access online. Start creating your own projects once you've learnt how to code.
The importance of building a portfolio cannot be overemphasized. Every employer, large or small, will want to see your projects, how you approach problems, and whether you can write complex code. Many self-taught programmers start off with freelance gigs to gain professional experience and exposure. References from satisfied clients can lead to more work.
Large employers rarely hire beginners who have no degree or professional experience. Small companies, however, may recruit self-taught programmers who have a portfolio of compelling work.
Why Take Classes?
Online classes offer a course structure and a flexible learning schedule. Instructor-led online classes are also available for those who need coaching. Apart from beginners, experienced professionals also take online classes to learn new languages or to transition to a career in programming. Well-known institutes that offer online courses are Udemy, Udacity, Harvard University, Codecademy, and Treehouse.
In-person boot camps might suit those who need coaching and career-specific training. Experienced professionals looking to move to a programming role might find a bootcamp helpful. Boot camps, however, are expensive, and full-time camps are an option only if you have the time. Not all boot camps are worth your time and money. If you're keen on joining one, make sure you select the right one.
What About Colleges and Universities?
A bachelor's degree in computer science covers the fundamentals of computer technology and provides a foundation for learning programming languages. The curriculum enables students to understand what happens at the level of abstraction, or how computers execute code, or what the relationship between hardware and software is. Students also develop computational thinking, which is an approach to solving problems. Solving problems in computer language is an essential part of programming.
You will learn pattern recognition, algorithms, data structures, and C++. In-depth understanding of these concepts will help you learn new languages and identify, diagnose, and fix problems. Computational thinking uses logical reasoning and analysis to understand problems and formulate solutions in a format that a computer can understand.
Most programmers employed at large organizations hold at least a bachelor's degree in computer science, mathematics, or related subject. Some even hold a master's degree. A bachelor's or master's degree will give you more career options.
Programmers interested in working in data science, and computer systems and software design usually need at least a bachelor's degree. Experienced programmers who have the right skills, qualifications, and aptitude can move ahead to become software developers, systems analysts, and information systems managers. These roles typically require a relevant bachelor's degree.
In general, programmers who hold a bachelor's in computer science or engineering earn more than those without a relevant degree.
What About Certification?
Certifications can help supplement your learning. Some employers require programmers who work on specific products to earn relevant certifications.
There are plenty of certifications available for learning different languages. Udemy, Udacity, and Treehouse offer certification courses that include guidance from a tutor. Microsoft's MCSD certification is designed for programmers and developers who work on the Microsoft development platform.
To succeed as a programmer you will need to put in lots and lots of practice. As discussed earlier, you should focus on the following steps:
1) Select relevant languages.
2) Choose the right learning resources.
3) Download a code editor that you can use for writing and modifying code.
4) Open a GitHub account and create and upload your projects.
5) Examine code created by others and try to improve it.
6) Join online communities where you can ask experienced developers for help.
7) Contribute to open source projects.