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Harmony Mukolwe
Harmony Mukolwe

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How to Become a Self-Taught Software Developer in 2024

In my first article in 2024, I thought of sharing insights (all of which I still use myself) on the roadmap to becoming a self-taught developer.

Becoming proficient in either front-end or back-end development, or both, takes a lot of hard work. One must work round the clock to master at least one programming language and several technologies. A beginner front-end developer, for instance, must know at least a little bit of the following technologies: HTML, CSS (grid/ flexbox), React/ Redux, Bootstrap, TypeScript (if you’re taking up Angular), Webpack, ES6, Babel, etc.

Getting your first paycheck as a software engineer won’t happen overnight. Stick around to get a gist of how to pursue a career as a software engineer without pursuing a degree in Computer Science. Remember that this is not a complete overview of the process - they are ideas from a self-taught developer’s experience.
Code on Laptop
Photo by AltumCode on Unsplash

If This Isn’t You, Stop!

Have you thought about the most natural way to become good at something? People don’t play soccer to become good at soccer. They play soccer because they enjoy the game. Getting good at soccer is just a consequence of their enthusiasm to play. Do you agree?

If you love programming and intentionally explore the industry for 2 or so years, you will become a better programmer than over 80% of recent computer science graduates at best. The only issue that will bite you more than it does the graduates is proving this to hiring managers or recruiters within the limited time they give your profile.

You may have the skills and experience, but without a degree, some hiring managers may overlook your qualifications. However, by showcasing your work through a strong portfolio and networking within the industry, you can improve your chances of landing the right opportunity.

Build stuff! My friend who introduced me to coding retorted this to me more times than I would have loved, but 2 years into the craft, I appreciate it that he sensitized me toward projects. You can use projects in place of the ‘Work History’ section of your resume. They are a testimony that you possess the skills you claim to possess.

You will get frustrated if you have to build stuff you don’t enjoy working on. I have had to sift through tens of videos and through the fluff of several articles to find a solution when I hit a wall with my projects. If you are interested in programming as opposed to the more idolized lifestyle a programming career can afford you, you’re right to have chosen this path.

The Image of a Home-Grown Developer

Becoming a self-taught developer is a long and exciting journey. It demands lots of patience, resilience, and hard work. I can’t count the number of times I have had to stay awake for long hours through the night, writing code. It will squeeze everything out of you.

Despite the tedious process, here’s why I think those who have had the patience to see the process through have a great image:

-They are excellent problem-solvers because they have developed the thick skin to fix things on their own.
-They become programming experts since they figured out how things work by themselves. When something is completely new to you, you consider every bit important. You will leave no ‘t’ uncrossed and no ‘i’ dotted.
-They often know very intricate coding methodologies. Self-taught programmers are usually all out to learn.
-For one to take their time, 2 or more years in some cases, and dedicate it to learning to code, they are passionate about programming. They would thrive in a fast-paced and eccentric environment.

This should encourage you to brave it and get down to work. Let me show you how.

A Guide to Become a Developer Without a CS Degree

1. Get an Overview of Basic Programming Concepts

The first step in your software development journey is understanding how computer programs work. Learning programming concepts gives you a solid foundation. You can do this through tutorials, programming books, and interactive coding platforms. Many universities such as Harvard offer free courses.

What is a programming language, to begin with? Get familiar with such concepts as variables, parameters, functions, loops, and conditionals.

2. Choose What You Want to Specialize in

The world of software development is broad. You can’t specialize in everything. Once you have grasped the programming concepts, go ahead and niche down to a specialty that will help you achieve your goals.

Choosing a specialty will enhance your learning since it reduces the chances of getting overwhelmed. Decide if you want to do web development, or develop mobile or desktop apps, etc. If you are interested in more than one area of specialty, at least focus on one at a time for a start until you become proficient.

The niche you choose will inform the programming language(s) you need to learn. There are many programming languages, each with its own strengths and specific use cases.

Since you are also probably looking to become hirable, consider the demand for these languages. Additionally, consider the community support options available. Popular programming languages in 2024 include JavaScript, Python, Ruby, and Java.

3. Learn the Chosen Language by Doing

Software development is hands-on. Don’t get stuck in tutorial hell without writing even a single line of code.

Try out everything you learn on your own. If you manage to solve the problem, even with the use of some research, you will not fail when confronted with a similar challenge in the future. This is how I put more perspective into my learning. Practice, practice, practice!

Online interactive coding platforms help you apply the concepts you have learned in real-world scenarios. I used freeCodeCamp. I love how well-ordered their online lessons are. Other popular platforms include Codecademy and W3 schools. Many good courses on Udemy also expose you to real-world projects.

As you navigate these platforms, seek out their forums where you get to interact with other learners and experienced developers.

4. Join Coding Communities to Network with Other Developers

Another vital part of your development journey is networking with other developers. You can not only turn to them when facing challenges, but you will also get to discuss the latest development trends to stay updated.

As you interact, ask questions, propose solutions, and contribute during discussions.

You can use platforms like Stack Overflow and GitHub, or join a local tech community. A local community will help you connect with professionals in your area and attend physical meetups.

Two People Reviewing Code
Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

5. Keep Building Your Portfolio

Let’s face it- there has been a mass exodus into the tech industry in recent years, and the number of developers is about to get bigger in 2024. There are an estimated 4.3 million developers in the US alone.

Projects play an important role in showcasing your ability to solve problems using code. A good portfolio will help you stand out from the crowd.

Push your code to GitHub.

No project is too small to be part of your portfolio. Start by working on small projects. As you gain more confidence, start working on more advanced projects and contribute to open-source projects.

You may be wondering what the place of the projects you have built as part of a course is. Well, you could include them but endeavor to have personal quality projects that you have built as solutions to certain problems. You’d rather have few tangible projects than several projects of low quality.

Man Coding at Night
Photo by Jefferson Santos on Unsplash

6. Prepare for Interviews; Try Some Real Ones as Well

I’m assuming you’re pursuing software development as a potential career path.

Once you have started building your portfolio and get confident with your newly-found skills, start preparing for interviews. Try out coding challenges that simulate what is commonly asked during interviews. Highlight your thought process in coming up with the said solution. You can use resources such as LeetCode which puts together thousands of interview questions.

You can start applying for jobs. It doesn’t hurt. The worst response you can ever get is, “You’re not a good fit for this role”. Some companies will go ahead and tell you, “We’ll keep your information for future possible collaboration”. I have myself received tens of such emails. That’s beside the point. All I’m trying to say is that you won’t know if you’re ready or not until you step out into the job market.

Whenever you fail a coding interview, ask for feedback on what you would have done better. Some interviewers will provide you with this information. Act on the feedback, rinse, and try again.

If you wait to get ready, you will never overcome the fear of sending out applications. Getting good at acing interviews should be part and parcel of your learning journey. With consistent learning and building of projects, you will finally land that dream job.

In Closing

It is possible to become a great software engineer without an associate degree.

Once you have become a home-grown prodigy, keep learning. Refresh your knowledge on concepts you have already learned, keep up with the software development trends, and read widely.

Some of the ideas I have shared in this article are insights I wish I had known when I was starting. We learn new things every single day. You will not have it all figured out at the beginning, but you’ll sure keep unraveling this beautiful mystery - software development.

Thank you for reading. If you’d like to know my motivations for choosing the path of software development, check out this article: Why I Decided to Become a Developer.

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