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Traditional Education vs Self Taught Route in Programming (2022 edition)

This blog post will be written from the self taught programmer's perspective.
Backstory: after I graduated from college (Nutrition), I started learning programming in my free time: HTML, CSS, JavaScript and React. I was able to land my first job after just 3 months of studying, but ever since then, I was wondering if I should have went to a Computer Sciences university of some kind...

5 Years of College vs 3 Months of Self Taught

College gives you a plan, it gives you a structured path of learning, it gives you dedicated teachers who are teaching you stuff in a particular order, but...
College also gives you an extensive overview of everything that programming has to offer. I would probably have to learn plenty of technologies that I would not be interested in, many of the subjects that are not directly connected to programming would be hard to pass and if I went to college for 5 years, I would "lose" 20x more time to get a first "real" job...

The good thing about the self taught route is that you can turn your focus completely and solely on technologies that interest you and that you want to master.
On the other hand, there are a lot of questions that are hard to answer if you are on your own:

  • where to start from?
  • how to distinguish what is crucial to understand if you want to move forward?
  • what is not so important?
  • why are there so many ways to write things and who should I listen to?
  • is this still being used??

(so many questions 🤯).

And that brings us to...

Imposter Syndrome

I am not sure how it goes with the imposter syndrome when you have a computer science degree, but when you're a self taught programmer - it is very real. You will often think that things you don't know are actually some basics that you should have known. Also, you won't have the strongest programming foundations, and because of that you will think there must have been a better way to solve a problem. You won't feel as good reviewing a PR or giving advice, and you won't feel as competent as people with a computer science degree.
But, it's not always that bad, especially because the IT industry is full of very friendly people that are understanding and always willing to help you out.

Information Availability

It has never been easier or faster to get information you need. Because of that, more and more people are successful in becoming self taught programmers. But, that is not necessarily making it easier. With so much (different) information, paths and advices, it might be overwhelming for people and make them feel uncertain if they are moving in the right direction - it may even make them quit.

Job Opportunities

There are so many IT companies in the world and there are more of them each day. The amount of code that needs to be taken care of is huge and the amount of code that still needs to be written is even bigger. The point is: There are not enough developers in this world! This fact makes a computer science diploma less important when it comes to landing a job. Almost everybody should be able to land a job as a junior developer because there is such a large need for developers right now. You need to be a good fit for a company (sometimes more important than the actual knowledge), and you'll become a master of your craft as you work on a real world problems.

If I had to do it all over again

Many people might say that self taught programmers got it easy by bypassing college, but I actually think that it is the harder path. If I had to start all over again from high school, I would definitely go to a computer science college and earn myself a degree. But if I had to do it all over again from the point where I already graduated from Nutrition, I think I would choose a self taught route again, but this time I would also try to become a part-time computer science student to have a structured curriculum and a certainty that I have the necessary foundation.

Conclusion

Like with everything else, there are good and bad aspects on both paths. Many programmers that I've met said that everybody is a self taught to a certain extent. I agree with that, college would give me a wide spectrum of knowledge, but when it comes to mastering a craft, you have to dig deep on your own. By now, I was able to progress to a mid level JavaScript developer and at this point I think I have more benefits by working on real world projects, so I don't see myself going to college again. But, if you are in the similar position, I hope this post helped you in making your decision.

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