How To Get Your First Job as a Self-Taught Programmer

Jul 25, 2021

9 Min Read

As the demand for professional programmers increases rapidly today, programming is a well-known profession with many opportunities. It may surprise you that many of these skilled programmers are self-taught. However, many individuals have been able to navigate their careers and continue moving up the corporate ladder. It is possible to get into the software programming profession without having any formal programming qualifications.

The software industry has the least amount of bureaucracy in the professional world right now. Only some companies require formal qualifications if you’ve got professional experience under your belt. You can get a job as a software developer if you give a convincing demonstration of your programming skills during interviews.

Whatever your reason is for wanting to become a programmer, the benefits are all very clear. Software developers are in high demand, technology is advancing, and the growth potential is huge.

There is one problem if you don’t have any education related to programming. How do you get in the door if you haven’t earned qualifications from a four-year university? Your resume will compete with people who have so you’ll need to stand out in other ways.

Luckily, it’s possible! So ride on with us.

Many self-taught programmers who now hold job titles of lead developers have had a similar experience in this area, and some have shared their career stories.

Before we start, we would like to give you a little disclaimer that everything discussed in this article is based on self-taught software developers’ experience. However, if there seem to be any other effective ways to get into the software development career, there’s no one set way to get into the tech world. Also, these conclusions are based on a small sample size.

There is no scientific study standard that shows how self-taught programmers start their careers and what method is most effective in this area. So the next best thing is to rely on anecdotal evidence, which is still good evidence in the absence of any other evidence.

Common False Assumptions About Self-taught Programmers

Before going into how to get your first programming job, let’s address some common false impressions about being a self-taught programmer. First, it isn’t that easy to become a software developer without getting a computer science degree in a university. Of course, you can learn to code personally within a year rather than spending four years to complete your university degree. But it’s often harder, and most people find a university degree easier as they lack the discipline to self-learn.

At a university, you follow instructions on what to study, are given study materials, and have exams to test your progress. You get to know the structure of your entire course in advance. Also, lecturers are available to answer most of your questions about any subject you don’t understand.

But when learning to code personally, you don’t have any of that. Since you’ll have to learn while having other commitments, you’ll need a high degree of self-discipline. Also, you won’t know the best sources where you can get valuable learning materials. Finding the right resources will be a bit of a treasure hunt.

There are many free pieces of information on programming on the internet. So you’ll have to do lots of trial-and-error to figure out what’s actually helpful. At times, you may feel frustrated, but it’ll take some patience and persistence to find what works best for you.

The process of becoming a real software developer requires a high level of discipline and patience, even if it only takes a year for enough learning. More so, have it in mind that you need to avoid distractions, and you might find your time and energy pretty constrained.

As a self-taught developer, you focus only on those essential skills used in real-world industries. For university students, they learn several materials they won’t be able to apply after they graduate. The university curriculum cannot keep up with the changing pace in real-world industries. For this reason, students end up studying various algorithms, practices, technologies, and other things needed in the real world.

Also, many specialties are involved in software development, and university courses don’t focus on anyone. Thus, students only learn a brief of the software development niche, and the university degree won’t make them masters in any one of them. In this regard, self-taught programmers tend to have an advantage over university graduates. As a self-taught programmer, you only focus on a particular niche and get to know it to the great depth you want.

For instance, you may become knowledgeable about web app development and still know nothing about mobile app development or firmware development. On the other hand, a university graduate would know the fundamental theories of web development, mobile app development, and firmware development.

If you two later apply for a web development position, you’re more than sure to out-compete him. The fact is that you already have a deeper knowledge of web development than him. However, just knowing something about other software types doesn’t apply to this situation.

Well, this is based on the fact that the university graduate hasn’t been doing any self-study outside the mandatory university materials. If you’ve completed a university degree and lots of additional knowledge personally, then you’ll have a vast competitive advantage over many people. But only a few university graduates do this.

Having got a realistic picture of what being a self-taught programmer involves, let’s discuss how you can successfully get your first programming job.

The Most Reliable Technique For Getting Your First Programming Job

Some office-based jobs don’t require any special qualifications to get in. However, your education certificate could still open the door for you, even if you studied something unrelated to software development. It may sound counter-intuitive and different from the information about getting your first job you get from other blogs. However, having some college education shows you have been in an academic setting and are willing to learn with structure.

Some other ways like completing a coding boot camp or participating in an open-source project can be evidence to prove your coding skills for getting your first programming job. Both of these will help you gain valuable skills to have a competitive advantage over others. But, more so, open-source projects allow you to practice or actualize what you’ve learned so far.

Open source projects are one of the best ways to learn skills beyond the knowledge of programming languages. It helps you collaborate with real software developers in carrying out tasks, such as design patterns, writing clean code, SOLID principles, and more.

When you collaborate with experienced developers, they’ll guide you from committing poorly written code into the codebase. If your code doesn’t meet the required standard, they’ll tell you.

Boot camps are also a suitable place where you can learn how to code. While offering you all the necessary support throughout your learning, they draw you out of your comfort zone and force you to study non-stop for some time. But within the same period, boot camps will teach you lots more than what you could’ve ever done on your own.

Many lead developers would, without a doubt, consider candidates who don’t have any official job experience but earned certificates from reliable boot camps or contributed to well-written open-source projects. Though some senior developers get drawn in looking at candidates’ resumes, they won’t be doing this for every single resume that lands before them. After all, only a few resumes will pass through to the actual development team, while the HR and management sort out the rest. The latter get filtered out because they’re resumes without job titles of “software engineer,” “programmer,” or “software developer” in the career history. Unfortunately, your chances of proceeding with your application through the HR filters are slim if you don’t have any official relevant work history. You will still pass through the process of getting a non-programming job first unless you have any strong connection or personally know somebody who can hire you.

A Lead Software Developer Story

Let us enlighten you with a brief story of a lead software developer who had been in this situation before. Though we’ve touched a fraction of the story, there’s still a lot more to outline here.

You’re not alone!

The software developer graduated from a university with a degree not related to programming. Instead, he had a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in environmental biology and environmental informatics, respectively. Becoming a software developer or learning software and technology was never his intention at first. Instead, he intended to start a career related to the subjects he studied. After getting into a graduate scheme related to his field, he became an assistant analyst in a water and environmental engineering company.

As an associate analyst, he analyzed large amounts of hydrological data to evaluate the risk of flooding in any given area. Well, the role entailed quite a lot of tasks. First, it involved copying large volumes of data into Excel spreadsheets, which were tedious and repetitive tasks.

Not until a colleague hinted to him that Excel has an in-built programming language called VBA (Visual Basic for Application). He discovered that with VBA, he could automate most of the tasks he was doing. So then he started learning how to use it.

Then he saw the software development team in that company applying a different flavor of the same language (VB.NET) to write their software. Once he was able to automate most of his daily tasks, he started meeting with the software development team and asked if he could help them with their projects.

Fortunately, they accepted him, and he began doing more works that involved software development from there. Though he only focused on simple desktop applications and plug-ins for GIS software, it was a good starting point during that time.

His salary within the organization was too low, so he decided to leave the environmental sector for good to become a pure software developer. So first, he researched the market for software development jobs. Then he found out that C# and web development had more job vacancies than anything else. So with that, he got motivated and started learning them in his spare time.

As you dive into your second programming language, you will find it easier than learning your first. You only get to study the peculiarities of the language syntax.

You would have already known other language structures ─ such as control flow, functions, conditional logic, and more from learning your first language. So getting to know C# was simply easy for him even though C# and VBA had different syntax.

He started submitting his applications to various software development roles once he had enough confidence with C#. Luckily, he secured a software development role in a short time. He spent roughly 18 months expanding his skills and found a role in software development elsewhere.

Ultimately, he obtained a successful software development career and now manages a senior position and teaches newbies how to code.

Other Software Development Stories

There are quite some software developers with similar stories who are now prosperous. Though the details were quite different, the general criterion of getting the first programming job was always the same.

Someone in the water engineering company had a story similar to the first software developer described above. He had a university degree in environmental science, learned VBA to automate most of his daily tasks, and later became a software developer.

Another self-taught developer with a law background got into a graduate scheme for a legal organization. But he later discovered that the career in law did not seem as exciting as he expected it to be. So then he tried many things till he came across software development.

The legal organization had a heavy software development workload, and the number of developers to reduce it was not enough. So he was allowed to collaborate with the developers in assisting them in easing the workload. As a result, while the rest is history, he is now one of the most successful programmers.

Another baffling story is about some self-taught developers who did not have any degree at all. Most of them started their careers by applying for tech-related roles, and luckily, many of these roles never required their specific qualifications.

That was how these people managed to become software developers without university degrees. But, as you can see, all these successful software developers had different stories.

As some progressed gradually through the first line support to a more technical third line support before becoming professional software developers, others jumped a few steps, and they all got there.

Without any programming-related qualifications, they became successful in their careers. Some even got senior positions within a short time. One even became a technical architect within a few years of learning how to code on his own.

Though our conclusion is only based on limited sample size, these principles are more reliable in real life. Well, you might later come across any other effective technique that we have not included here. However, if you have managed through and became successful in entering a programming career by a different method or know someone else who did, then we would love to see you share your story.


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