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How to become a programmer without a degree

Aug 18, 2022 - 10 min read
Hunter Johnson
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Programming is a profession that uses a deep roster of languages, database models, frameworks, and much more. In addition, different classifications exist within these tools, such as high-level and low-level programming languages. With all the technologies and types out there, it can be challenging for a student to decipher not only what to be learning, but also how to be learning.

Many people gain their programming education through universities and leave with a shiny piece of paper vouching for their skills. Despite what tradition may imply, college is not the right path for many developing programmers, and the industry knows it. Factors such as expenses, responsibilities, and other obstacles that appear in all of our lives can put college out of reach for some people. Add to that the recent explosion in online learners and resources, and many hiring managers have recognized that college is not the end-all-be-all it is advertised as.

If you can learn to code well (and can prove it), you can become a programmer with any educational background! Today, we’ll help demystify this kind of self-taught journey by going in-depth about why such a goal is attainable, various learning options, and strategies to prove programming skills.

Let’s get started!

We’ll cover:

You can do it!

Before you can successfully learn programming outside of the university environment, it is critical that you understand that your goal is immensely attainable. As mentioned in our key takeaways from the 2022 Stack Overflow survey, around 23% of professional developers in 2022 are working without a degree. The number of students learning to program with online resources is increasing every year, and so is the number of new industry professionals with no bachelor’s degree.

Not only do you have the ability to learn everything you need to become a professional developer with online resources and platforms, but you also have a real opportunity to pursue employment with whatever educational background you may have. Programming is an occupation where constant learning and growth is a shared trait between the most senior and newest employees. A degree is not a prevailing indication that all knowledge has been obtained. No matter what degree you hold, you will be a student for the rest of your career in order to keep up with the unpredictable industry of technology.

Why a computer science degree is not the right choice for everybody

Since every programmer is inherently a learner, the most expensive and time-consuming learning option is not necessarily the optimal option for every future programmer out there. University tuition in the United States has been on the rise[1] for the past few decades, with no sign of slowing down.

Even with available scholarships and loans, pursuing a traditional bachelor’s degree (let alone a more advanced degree) is a costly and debt-inducing venture for a lot of students. If budgeting for a bachelor’s degree is not feasible for you at this time, there is no need to feel hopeless as you can learn the exact same material and skills via different paths. A truly great gift of our internet age is that information and education are no longer reserved for the select few who can pay hefty tuition fees.

The common university environment is also not the ideal situation for every learner. Suppose you’re reskilling from another profession, learning part-time with family obligations, or need to work part-time while learning to become a programmer. In that case, the rigorous curriculum of a college course isn’t necessarily the best choice. The flexibility to learn at your own pace (at a fraction of the cost) while being able to focus on the other essential tasks is a huge upside to individual learning.

Many capable people don’t thrive in the traditional educational environment of a single instructor assigning tests, materials, and assignments. Rather than compete for the individual attention of the professor against an army of confused peers, many people find it much easier to be in charge of how they’re learning. Online learning provides a great option for eager students who have always felt more comfortable learning outside of the classroom setting.

Beyond all the personal reasons why college may not be the perfect learning option for you, it is key to remember that you don’t need to force the university system to work for you if it isn’t working, or won’t work for you. There are other viable roads to achieving the education you desire that operate at your own speed. Even better, programmers are learning and getting hired every day from these alternate educational platforms!

After reading this piece, be sure to check out this article from the Educative blog to learn more about how to become a software engineer!

Get hands-on with learning popular programming languages today.

Try one of our 400+ courses and learning paths: The From Scratch course collection.

Learning options and how to prove your knowledge

There are several popular options for learning outside of the university bubble. By completing a combination of courses, certifications, projects, and/or boot camps you will not only learn the same skills as a university student would learn, but you will also receive reliable documentation to prove that you’ve learned them. At the beginning of your journey, it is beneficial to mix a variety of these resources in your routine to get a sense of what blend works best for you.

Online courses

Online courses allow students to take courses produced by industry experts looking to share their knowledge with the next wave of programmers. Some sought-after qualities of a reputable course provider are:

  • Text-based and interactive environments/coursework
  • Personalized learning plans
  • Skill-level assessments
  • Reinforcing quizzes
  • Informative visuals
  • Detailed interview preparation
  • A variety of courses and paths for students of all levels
  • Relevant coursework for all chapters of your learning journey and career
  • Courses produced by experienced industry professionals and/or educators

Structured courses and paths leave no mystery about what is prerequisite knowledge and what to be learning next (and how to learn it). A successful online course will present the same information, and teach it in a similar fashion, as you would learn in undergraduate computer science programs. Learning from online courses will take some more self-motivation without grades and deadlines to worry about, but it’s worth it since you’ll be gaining the same education at your own pace, and at a much cheaper price.

Even after you’ve secured a job as a programmer, online courses are still of value. Professional developers need to upskill constantly to keep up with the fluctuating tech world, so getting into the habit of taking online courses — especially ones that are created specifically for developers — is a great idea that will benefit your career for years to come! Having access to a plethora of online courses also makes it possible to pick up a new skill or language whenever you please. If you’re someone who loves learning, then this boundless resource is sure to speak to you.

Certifications

Working towards certifications is a fantastic way to practice your craft while gaining documented experience. A great place to start looking for developer certifications is at companies such as Microsoft and Google. Passing an exam to achieve a certificate focused on a reputable company’s preferred technology demonstrates to employers that you have obtained the necessary skills and knowledge.

For example, passing Amazon’s AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification indicates foundational fluency in cloud technology and AWS. Other companies that use the cloud computing services of AWS would view that certification as a huge plus on a resume. To continue displaying AWS knowledge, keep completing higher-level certifications as your skills grow.

Projects

Sometimes, the best way to learn is by doing. Working on open-source projects across the programming community is ideal for proving your worth as a programmer in the form of a tangible contribution. They’re also outstanding for providing an environment to practice hands-on with the concepts you’ve been learning about. GitHub provides a platform to dive into programming projects in various languages and collaborate with a community of open-source developers.

Projects you complete on your own are another option for getting real-world experience. For example, you can build different kinds of websites and web apps or complete tutorials and projects you find online while storing your code in GitHub repositories. Doing this kind of solo work in addition to contributing to open-source projects can show off an ability to work on your own, as well as complete projects from the idea stage to the finished product.

To get an idea of what it’s like working on projects, take a crack at Creating an E-learning Website Using Django!

Bootcamps

If you want to learn popular technologies and skills with a rigorous curriculum in a short time (for a fraction of the cost of tuition), then attending bootcamps is a reliable option to consider. Bootcamps range from $7,800 to $21,000[2], with the average full-time coding boot camp costing around $13,584, and expected completion is usually around 14 weeks.

These camps focus on providing extensive hands-on practice with the newest and most relevant practices, technologies, and languages. Bootcamps tend to focus on specific languages, technologies, or career paths. For example, you can find boot camps specifically for front-end web developers and some just for back-end web developers. Attending a bootcamp is like working a full-time job, so make sure you budget your time and bandwidth accordingly before embarking on this path.

Much like a computer science degree, completing a bootcamp is not the single solution to all your learning. Bootcamps are a great resource to supplement with other learning options because of their specificity, but 14 weeks of practice is not going to provide you with the education you need to enter the workforce. It’s important to continue your learning with other resources after the bootcamp has been completed to maintain and increase your knowledge.

Unsure how to select the right bootcamp? Check out this guide from the Educative blog to ensure that you’re making the correct choice for yourself!

Start your learning journey today!

As you can see, there are a variety of options to help you become a self-taught professional. You don’t have to only choose one of these options. Mix and match all available resources until you find the combination that works best for your learning. Whether you are already on a specific path or are still testing the waters, there are options for all stages of the journey.

We hope this article has provided you with some clarity about self-learning resources, and why they are great alternatives to a college degree. When you enter the workforce, it is important to remain confident in your education and abilities. Self-taught developers thrive in this industry for a good reason, because there are resources out there that offer the same knowledge and skills as a bachelor’s degree.

Good luck out there! If you’re looking for a good place to start, check out our From Scratch series of free courses to begin learning relevant languages and technologies.

Happy learning!

Continue reading about programming as a career


WRITTEN BYHunter Johnson

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