It’s no secret that programming skills are in high demand. Programming jobs are growing 50% faster than the overall market. But do you need a degree to be a programmer? In this article, we will explore how to become a software engineer without a degree.
Some programmers enter the job market with a four-year computer science degree, but that’s not the only route to a programming job. In fact, most industries that hire programmers don’t require a computer science degree.
While many industries look for job applicants with programming skills, the vast majority hire applicants without a computer science degree. In a 2017 study, Burning Glass found that only 25% of IT and Programming job postings requested a computer science degree. That means many top employers hire programmers without a computer science degree.
If you’re wondering how to get a programming job without a degree, here are some tips and tools to break into the job market.
Learn a programming language
You can’t become a programmer without learning a programming language.
The first step is choosing a programming language. What’s the best language to learn first? That depends on your career goals and interests. Once you’ve narrowed it down, you can learn to program through classes, webinars, books, or even programming podcasts. Figure out what learning style works best for you and build up your skills.
Don’t expect to learn everything you need to know before your first programming job. Like any field, programmers learn on the job, as they encounter new problems and challenges. But you’ll need solid programming skills when you start.
Climb the Freelance Ladder
Common wisdom suggests you should learn to program and then start applying for jobs as a software engineer. That’s what happens when you go to a boot camp: you learn to program and then start applying for jobs right after. The problem with the traditional route is that it takes a long time and employers often want you to have at least some experience before hiring you.
An alternative to the traditional route is to start by freelancing. Instead of trying to apply to jobs once you learn to program, you should start freelancing, which means doing programming work for a company as a contractor. This allows you to climb the freelance ladder on a website like upwork.com.
Upwork has projects varying from $25 to $10,000. That means you can start out by completing a $25 project. The nice thing about a $25 project is you won’t have to interview for it, and the employer is very likely to be willing to take a chance on a new programmer. Each completed project will give you positive feedback on your profile and will allow you to work your way up to higher and higher paying projects. Eventually, you can even move into long-term high paying projects, and even make a living working as a freelance programmer.
Build a Portfolio
Don’t just showcase your skills—make sure you create a portfolio to highlight your successes. The portfolio is one of the most important tools if you want to master how to get a programming job without a degree. You might have a digital portfolio listing your training, skills, and experience or a website with links to your work. If you’re interested in web development, make your portfolio a website you design yourself.
The portfolio goes beyond a resume to demonstrate your experience. Think of your portfolio as a work sample, showing off your skills and the projects you’ve completed. Plan to update the portfolio as you build additional experience, and always consider adding testimonials from clients.
Become a LinkedIn Allstar
If you want to know how to get a programming job without a degree, you need to learn how to network. The toughest step in any job search is getting your foot in the door, and that’s where networking comes in. Rather than submitting a resume and hoping for a callback, you should focus on building a great LinkedIn portfolio. My LinkedIn portfolio was what got me my first job as a software engineer at eBay (without a computer science degree).
There are a few things you can do to make your LinkedIn portfolio stand out. The first is to get endorsements for your most valuable technical skills. For example, if you know Python, you should make sure to get anyone you’ve freelanced for or helped with any projects, to endorse you for it on LinkedIn.
You also want to list your most recent job as a freelance software engineer. That is why it makes so much sense to climb the freelance ladder. You don’t need any experience to start freelancing, and your freelance experience will get your foot in the door as a software engineer.
Finally, you want to make sure to stack your LinkedIn profile with keywords. Most companies have technical sourcers: people whose sole job is to find new technical talent and bring them in for interviews. They find new candidates by scouring LinkedIn for talent: searching for keywords like Python. So make sure to include keywords like Python in your profile so they can find you.
Be strategic about networking. Connect with programmers at companies you’re interested in, and ask about job openings. You would be surprised at how receptive technical recruiters are to people that know how to program.
Master the Technical Interview
Once you’ve got your foot in the door, you’ll need to master the technical interview. Many tech companies use technical interviews to assess job candidates. This is another chance to show off your skills. While the technical interview might seem intimidating, many books for programmers offer tips, tricks, and advice on technical interviews.
One trick I use is to participate in competitive programming. One of the challenges of a technical interview is that it takes place in such an unnatural setting. When else are you ever in a situation where you are asked to solve a programming problem with someone staring over your shoulder? Even if you know the answer, that kind of pressure is nerve-racking.
There is also time pressure. Normally, as a programmer, you have as much time as you need to solve a problem. It might take you a day or two. In a technical interview, you have a very limited amount of time. You have to solve the problem right there under pressure. In competitive programming, there is time pressure as well. You get matched up against another program, and you have to solve a problem before them. Whoever is faster wins. If you practice competitive programming before your interview, you will be so used to solving problems under pressure, your technical interview will be a breeze.
The demand for programming skills continues to grow. You don’t need to go back to school to get a degree in computer science to get a job in programming. Now you know how to get a programming job without a degree.
Want to learn to program? Register for my free Self-Taught Coder Masterclass where I cover how I went from a novice to a software engineer at eBay in less than one year.