How to Get a Programming Job Without a Degree
Is your heart set on programming, but you have no degree and experience? Don’t give up. This article will provide you with some tips to get started.
Is your heart set on programming, but you have no degree and experience? Don’t give up. This article will provide you with some tips to get started.
A Global Developer Population and Demographics Study conducted by Evans Data Corporation analyzed the number of software developers in the world. It showed that, in 2019, the number had reached 26.4 million people. By 2023, it is expected to grow to 27.7 million devs, and by 2024, it is projected that there will be 28.7 million programmers worldwide.
The large number of people who want to connect their lives with programming proves that this industry is among the fastest-growing and most popular. But is it an easy task to start your career in the sphere if you don’t have a college degree to confirm your skills? Is a degree necessary to get started?
There are many ways to get to the top of programming. And in this article, we will talk about the challenges and peculiarities of getting a coding job with no degree. You will learn the main requirements as well as the best tips for beginners to get an entry-level position.
Why Is It Difficult to Find Work for Beginner Programmers
Most companies pay attention to 2 main aspects when hiring a programmer:
- Computer Science degree
- Previous experience
If you have none of these, it may be difficult.
The paradox is: you need some background (either a diploma or experience, or better yet, both) to get a job. But you need a job to get experience.
Employers think that if a candidate has a CS degree, especially from a prestigious university, then they are more likely to have good systemic thinking, the ability to learn, and knowledge of theoretical foundations and coding. This is especially crucial for large companies, since they have a vast array of complex and diverse tasks.
Hiring computer programmers without a degree is very risky, since recruiters don’t have any proof that the candidate understands logic and mathematical apparatus and knows how to apply it to coding effectively. Moreover, even if you manage to get invited for an interview, it can be quite challenging to show all your skills during a short meeting.
What Are the Requirements
Any coder must meet specific requirements, which may vary by company. Let’s group the most common ones and elaborate on each point in more detail.
For some entry-level positions, it may be enough to have a high school diploma or an Associate’s degree in computer programming. However, it only works if the candidate has sufficient experience. Unfortunately, many candidates don’t have experience at this stage. Most recruiters require programmers to have at least a Bachelor’s degree in computer science, mathematics, or information systems. Some companies prefer candidates with a Master’s degree, who have skills in utilizing software development tools to design, code, test, and debug programs.
Certifications can be an additional asset. This is another option to prove your knowledge, skills, and motivation to grow as a professional. Microsoft, Oracle, iSQI, BCS, Cisco, and VmWare are among the most popular vendors that provide exams in different fields of IT.
- Knowledge of at least one coding language, better yet, several
If you are a total beginner, it is important to choose your first programming language.
To do this, we advise you to answer 5 questions:
What tasks am I interested in?
First of all, you need to understand what you want to do with your code. You might want to create mobile, web, desktop or multi-platform apps. You may be interested in developing user-friendly interfaces, interactive games for different console desks, etc. So, try to define your preferences.
Is it popular and in-demand?
There are around 600 programming languages, but not all of them are requested in the market. For instance, Turbo Pascal is almost never used anymore. There is a lot of statistical data on the popularity of languages, but we recommend you check the most authoritative ones like GitHub and Tiobe. Additionally, you can research local companies to check what they are doing and which languages they are using, as most likely your first job will be in your native city.
What can I do using a particular language?
How easy is it to learn a particular language?
If you are starting your career, it is better to choose among simple languages like Python, Ruby, Java, C++, and PHP.
Why is this language worth learning and using compared to other technologies?
To answer this question you need to analyze all the pros and cons of a particular language as well as your skills, not only technical but personal as well. Some languages require programmers to have abstract thinking, like Ruby or Python, while others, like Java, require the knowledge of object-oriented structure.
- Knowledge of programming paradigms
A programming paradigm is a style of programming. There are different types, such as logical, object-oriented, functional, and procedural. Some languages are designed to support only one paradigm. For instance, Smalltalk supports object-oriented programming, while Haskell supports functional programming. Object Pascal, C++, Java, C#, Scala, Perl, PHP, Python, and some other languages can work with several paradigms. Programmers follow programming paradigms because they reduce the program complexity.
For beginners, our advice is to first learn object-oriented programming and functional programming. They are relatively easy to understand and use in your projects.
- Knowledge of at least one popular web framework
A web framework is a tool that facilitates the process of writing and running an application. It means that the programmers do not need to write loads of code themselves and spend time looking for potential errors. Saving time means saving resources and money for the company/client, so a programmer who knows how to use frameworks becomes a more valuable candidate.
- Database management skills
There are two main directions in database technologies: relational and non-relational databases. They are different in design, type of data support, and storage of information.
Non-relational databases are well suited for mobile, gaming, and Internet apps, when you need a flexible, scalable, and high-performance database with rich functionality. A relational database is an easy way to represent and manage the data used. It allows storing information in several tables connected by shared data fields called keys.
The world’s leading companies offer different database management systems both for relational and non-relational databases. Some of the best non-relational database management systems include MongoDB, Cassandra, Redis, and DynamoDB. The most popular relational database management systems are Oracle, MySQL, SQL Server, PostgreSQL, and IBM DB2.
- Advanced knowledge of operating systems
According to David Probert, head of Windows Operating System Research Group, knowledge of OSs is the basic platform for a successful career in programming. It includes both mathematical and software design methods that can be used in the development of games, client-server applications, business applications, Web-technologies, software tools, etc.
Knowledge of different OSs (Mac, Linux, Microsoft Windows, Unix, LOCUS, etc.) proves good expertise in network technologies, protocols, virtual machines, and modern programming methods.
- Communication skills
Сommunication is an essential skill that is grossly underestimated. From the very early stages of the development process, poor communication can lead to harmful consequences: from simple design flaws to costly mistakes.
A good developer should interact productively with other team members: stakeholders, team leaders, designers, other coders, etc. Productive interaction means that a person clearly frames the problem and shows how to solve it.
What could be your advantage
- Knowledge of HTML and CSS.
HTML is a hypertext markup language for web pages. It is used for browsers that convert hypertext and display the page in a format that is convenient for people. CSS is a style sheet language that describes how the HTML elements look. Developers use cascading style sheets to determine how a particular element on the page should look. Knowing both these languages will increase your chances if you are planning to work as a frontend developer or full-stack developer.
- Ability to work with information
Google and Stack Overflow are additional tools to help programmers learn something new and do their job. Stack Overflow is a popular programming question and answer system that is part of the Stack Exchange network. Programmers often have to deal with a coding language, which is not their main one. Thus, Google and Stack Overflow answers can become very helpful.
- Being up-to-date
For a programmer, it is essential to understand the newest features and trends of programming languages and be able to integrate them into daily work.
The personal qualities of programmers are as important as their professional competences. Technicians need to be able to quickly assimilate new skills, pay attention to details, and develop self-reliance, discipline, and patience.
Programmers can work on various levels: from software technician to web-programmer and from intern to head of the automation department. In addition to education, each level may require different skills, professional competencies, experience, and personal qualities.
Do You Need a Degree to Get a Coding Job
The Statista researched the level of formal education by software developers as of early 2019. According to the survey of 88,883 respondents worldwide, 12.8% attended colleges and universities but dropped out without earning a degree, while the majority (45.3%) got their bachelor’s degrees. Almost the same numbers are presented by a 2019 Stack Overflow Developer Survey.
Around the world, about half of all professional developer respondents have a bachelor’s degree or a higher. Nevertheless, quite often, we find experienced professionals who have not received their diploma.
For your motivation!
- Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard in his sophomore year.
- Steve Jobs left Reed College to start Apple in his garage in 1974.
- Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard in 1975 to establish Microsoft.
Even if programmers did not attend college or university, they are students throughout life. According to the abovementioned survey of Stack Overflow, almost 90% of 84,260 developers have taught themselves a new language, framework, or tool outside their formal education, while about 60% attended online courses.
So, the short and dirty answer to the question “Do I need a degree to get a coding job?” is “not necessarily.” The degree may give you a headstart and help you meet the basic requirements, but what you really need to have to become a programmer, and work in this industry, is desire, motivation, and diligence.
What to Do if There Is no Practice
Practice is important, whether you are new to programming or you are an advanced developer, who is learning new techniques. For beginners without a degree, the best way of combining education and practice is learning by actually doing, thus receiving experience you can put in your resume. The more you code, the higher your chances are of finding the first job. There are various ways to get practice in programming, so continue reading to find out the key ones.
There is no need for you to do everything by yourself. Instead of working on the project all alone, invite someone to pair programming. This means that both of you will be working from a single computer. It’s a great way to learn new frameworks and languages as well as different strategies to approach the process and solve problems. But choose your partner wisely. If it is possible, ask some senior developers you may know to join you. They can become your mentors.
Open-source software projects
Start from reading the codes from different projects. Check GitHub open source projects. This type of practice will help you not only understand the aspects of programming languages and frameworks but also how the projects can be managed. After a while, you will be able to create your own gem or even your own project and get feedback from other programmers and users.
Reddit daily programmer
In this section of Reddit, you can find three coding challenges a week (easy, intermediate, and hard). Choose one or several, and provide your solutions. The community of programmers will review what you offer and give you feedback. Get ready for some criticism, especially if you are a newbie. But this approach can help you to grow as a coder.
You can master programming skills or improve them by choosing remote home learning. One of the advantages of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is that you can learn and practice at your own pace. These courses will give you many practical tips at a meager price or even free of charge. We advise you to use Coursera, edX, or Udemy.
You can get lots of knowledge from books and tutorials. Use them as your practical guide. We particularly recommend the following:
The Art of Computer Programming by Donald E. Knuth. Volume 1 - 1997; volume 2 - 1997; volume 3 - 1998; volume 4A - 2011; volume 4, fascicle 6 - 2015; volume 4, fascicle 5 - 2017.
Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs by Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman, 1996.
A Discipline of Programming by Edsger W. Dijkstra, 1976.
Compilers: Principles, Techniques, and Tools by Alfred V. Aho, 2006.
Experience comes with practice, but this will take some time. With approximately six months of hard work, a programmer can master a new technology stack and enter a labor market.
Useful Tips to Get a Job in Coding Without a Degree
To find the first job is always the most challenging task, especially if you don’t have a computer science degree. As opposed to your competitors who have one, your way to the first tech job might be longer and harder. But we’ve collected some useful insights that can help you get a web developer job without a degree.
Join a programming community
Visit conferences, hackathons, or any other meetups for programming. It will help you get acquainted with the right people. Sometimes, recruiters attend these events to find talented programmers. So it can be your chance to be invited for an internship. Moreover, experienced developers attend such events, thus you will be able to learn about programming paradigms, new tools, approaches, and structures.
Almost every job listing requires experience. Freelance platforms are the best way for beginning programmers to get it. You can start with small and short projects to receive your first positive feedback and get paid. By the way, employers do not conduct interviews for low-paid projects. You can use many freelance platforms, like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer (these are the most popular and user friendly). After you get some background, you can move to long-term and high-paying projects, and even choose freelance programming as a perfect employment option for you.
Start a blog about programming
You may have an idea for your project. Or you may have joined a project with open source code or an exciting job on a freelance platform. You can write about your experience. Talk not only about your successes but also about your mistakes and challenges. Share your posts and start getting followers. They can teach you something or even become your first reference.
Use social networks
LinkedIn is like Facebook for programmers. IT recruiters use it to monitor talented programmers. So it’s a good idea to create a professional profile there if you don’t have one yet. You can also use it to join programming networks and follow the influencers to learn their approaches and tools.
LinkedIn can be a useful tool to help you get a computer programming job without a degree. It is an endorsement of your skills. We recommend that you use it to focus on your key technical competencies. If you code, for instance, in Ruby and you have successful projects on some freelance platforms, your customers can confirm your good command of this language. The more endorsements you have, the better for your portfolio.
Create your portfolio
A portfolio is what represents your experience. It can be a sample of your work, demonstrating your skills and completed projects. Think about building a portfolio app to better show what you can do in practice. Use your own programming skills. Note that there is no need to create a well-designed web site for your portfolio, except if you want to become a frontend developer.
What to add to your portfolio:
- Social networks and GitHub links;
- Previous projects;
- A list of technologies you’ve used;
- Certifications and qualifications you have;
- References from previous customers.
Perfect your resume and cover letter
Package your resume and cover letter, following the standard, crucial rule for their construction. Be specific about your most relevant skills, previous experience, and projects. Use consistent formatting, check for errors, and use keywords to show your proficiency in programming. The resume and cover letter of a programmer should be well structured and solid. The candidate needs to showcase their interest in the company. Besides your coding skills, recruiters may also want to know how you work in a team and how you fit the corporate culture. The idea of a cover letter is to make recruiters interested in your resume, and thus candidacy, and encourage them to invite you for an interview.
Prepare for interview
Interviews for programmers can consist of two parts: general and technical. Prepare yourself to offer an effective self-presentation, including formal and informal education, general programming skills, strengths, and weaknesses.
Practice talking about what you have created and how it makes you the best candidate for the job. Ask your friend to conduct a fake interview to see how you can lay out your thoughts and ideas.
A technical interview is the most crucial stage. Here you will have to show you programming skills in practice. This is an assessment that the company uses to evaluate the candidates. Usually, you will get several tasks to solve, while the interviewers watch you. It can be hard to concentrate in such an atmosphere. But we’ve made a list of some resources that can help you get yourself prepared:
- Cracking the Coding Interview: 189 Programming Questions and Solutions by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, 2015.
- Programming Interviews Exposed: Secrets to Landing Your Next Job by John Mongan and Noah Kindler, 2012.
- Tech Interview Pro
- Interview Cake
While formal education and a degree are almost always one of the main requirements in job listings, it doesn't mean that it is the only option for getting a job. Advanced education can give you a sound basis and understanding of programming. That’s for sure. But in most cases, you will still have to look for more theory and practice by yourself.
This is where self-education comes into play. It is a powerful tool used by every good programmer. The only problem is that this is a difficult path. Self-education requires strong motivation, clear goals, and self-control. Nevertheless, it is still possible to get a web developer job without a degree, even if you are self-taught. Books, online courses, certifications, and mentors will all prove useful.
You decide which path is right for you. The only advice is to get thoroughly prepared. A solid self-presentation will increase your chances, even if you are a graduate with no experience. Follow our tips and prepare a perfect resume and cover letter to receive your first offer as a programmer.