When Do You Become A Developer?

Steph Smith on April 10, 2019

This was originally published on my blog, where I often write about remote work, learning to code, and women in tech. When do you become ... [Read Full]
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'When will I feel like a developer? When will I "become" one?'

It's all a leap of faith ;)

Image of Spiderman from Into the Spider-verse freefalling


I'm only working on my bachelor's degree right now I over heard a group of classmates talking about how they were computer scientist while we're fumbling around with linked lists. Wish I had their confidence but I think my tipping point will be the first time I get paid for some code I've written


I think the problem is where to draw the line.

I know a bunch of people who wrote software more complex than I ever did, but they talk to me like I'm a "real" developer and they are just hacks, a bunch of scientist and mathematicians who just fumbled around with C.

My girlfriend is in marketing and writes code for automatic content generation and she wouldn't consider herself a developer.

All these people get paid for the code they wrote.


Yes, exactly! I think there really isn't any fine line.


I've been working with Rails for 15 years but only professionally for 12.
It took me 3 years to put my first web-app into production.
I was not a developer until afterwards.

This is my frustration with grads adopting "Full-stack developer". Its no longer a glided title that was hard to earn. Anyone who takes a bootcamp takes on the title. But a full-stack developer used to mean you can do everything end-to-end (including devops and design).

But that's just how things go. Everyone is a developer just like everyone is a photographer now.


Quite true.

But on the other hand, we are all individuals.

There are a bunch of people who are more motivated, more intelligent or luckier than others.

I developed stuff for over ten years, and many concepts took me rather long to grasp. I poured in at least two years of programming courses in high school and four years of CS at university to gather some skills that some people would find "pay worthy." Not to mention all the private development stuff I did.

Then I see some people getting the chance of a coding boot camp building production-ready software in less than a year.


It doesn't matter time put in its whether the title reflects your actual skill and I think too many take on a label which doesn't apply, but we have no professional certifications for such titles so nothing can be done.


Software engineering is ( although some people hate this ) a creative profession. When does a painter become a painter? Or a musician becomes a musician? Some creators will only be starting considering themselves, creators, after someone starts paying them to create, i.e. either by getting a job or by starting their own individual careers. Some others, despite having a professional career, will only consider themselves creators when they have created something they are proud of. Some others will never consider themselves creators just because their bar will always set too high, even when many other people might have them as role models.


I like this analogy a lot! I agree - I have seen people who may not consider themselves X, even when many people look up to them for their abilities in that very field.


Great article! Well put-together/organized and informative!

  • "When do you become a developer?"

    • I attempted to answer this question a couple years ago on medium: How To Be A Computer Programmer. However the best way to answer this is with a quick story:

      • When I first started programming (I'm self taught also) and even after I landed my first development job my boss asked me to write an application that would be immediately released to the customer. After a week of working on the app (24/7) I panicked just before turning it over to my manager. I frantically asked every other veteran programmer: "Is this it? Is this good enough to release to the customer?".
      • Finally, after several people refused to answer, or answered with "I don't know, ask your manager." I asked the most senior developer, the 'hot shot', highly educated, highest paid software engineer in the company: "Is this it? Is this good enough to release to the customer?".

        • His reply was: "Does it work?"
        • I reluctantly said: "Yea, I think so(?)"
        • The expert declared: "Cool.... Ship it!"
    • And so I began to worry less about 'feeling like' a developer and just continued to write the best code I possibly could given the resources afforded to me.

  • "I thought this feeling would slowly fade over time as I learned more"

    Yea.... I'd say if you're doing it right, developing, that feeling will never, ever go away. You will always need to learn/re-learn things from scratch. You will always ride an emotional roller coaster with every project. And you'll always feel 'on top of the world!' when your project is successful at it's task.

  • My 2 cents... If you are asking this question, you very much are already a developer.


Thank you! I love the story you shared. I was just speaking to a friend today about how I feel comfortable creating my own projects, but don't know how I would hold up in a paid or team environment, mostly because of confidence. You're right that regardless of how senior you are, it's a continuous learning process.

I like this sentiment as well:

If you are asking this question, you very much are already a developer.


To call yourself a linux pro, you had to recompile and then hot-load the kernel into the os while you were running it. Crazyness, but I did it because I wanted to figure out how.

Software is different. It's a creative occupation, which is also why I sometimes find it truly difficult to understand why some people value CS degrees (Maths based) education. So many of the maths experts I know are quite impractical, which is something I truly value in a developer.
I find other educations better suited to development. (Electronics, scientists, language skills, art :D)

Michelangelo didn't study to be a doctor, but I'd sure as hell trust his opinion, maybe even him doing an operation, more so than just about any doctor that just finished studying.

Once you understand that the education system is there to make money off of people who generally know absolutely nothing about the topic before they enroll, you might see things differently.

So, my opinion is that no boot-camp or course makes you a developer,
but years of practising can make you a developer.


I agree that development (and many other important professions) is creative and years of studying may not be the best indicator of ability.

I personally felt more "like a developer" after creating projects that worked versus going through online courses or tutorials. By actually creating/troubleshooting, I felt like I understood what was going on at a way more tangible level.


Oh yes, indeed.

There is no teacher like hunting down some little bug at midnight! :D

Tutorials and courses really spoon-feed you all the information, whereas building something makes you think and search for the solution.

I tend to forget much of the tutorial info, but the info I had to search for for a few hours stick with me. It's like digging for gold!


I become a "developer" more than one time.
"Developer" is not what are you doing, or what you are working on - it is "who you are".
It's a set of mind and a lifestyle.


I think credentials or pedigree are sufficient for calling yourself a dev, but not necessary. There’s more than one path to “developer.”

I’m a bootcamp grad that has been coding 4-5 years, and I think for my first 2-3 years I didn’t consider myself a dev.

The point where that changed for me was when I became confident in my ability to learn just about anything, even if I had never seen it before.

After a while, just about everything “new” or “hot” started to have elements of familiarity, and I could draw parallels between those things and concepts I already knew. Rails vs Django (MVC), Vue vs React (component based js libraries), functions vs methods, classes, state management, props, for loops, conditionals, authentication, API, RESTful architecture, etc. These are all concepts that translate across tech, and once you’re familiar, everything else can be mastered with time.

For me, when knowing that I could learn just about anything if I gave it my time was the point where I considered myself a “dev.”


Long story short, I got an Atari 800xl without a thing (games or software) but the microcomputer, the connector and the manual, aka I got a brick.

The manual was more a brochure than a manual, but it contained a bit of code:


So, I copied this code, and it worked. Then I changed some things, and it worked too. So, technically, I learned hacking.


It's interesting that "developer," which for a long time referred to someone who financed and orchestrated a project to construct buildings on a piece of real estate to then sell for profit, got coopted for software.


I'm a developer and I choose all of your options on when to be a developer.
Why? Because as long as I develop my knowledge (or wisdom in that graph) I do my job.
Happy coding.


Happy coding!


Your writing is superb, thank you -:)


Thank you!


Self-doubt is pretty normal in any creative endeavor, a complete lack of it would be more worrying than any "imposter syndrome".


As soon as you stop googling the solution 😜


I have to say, when I spent my first all night-er working not a project or even idea. But just writing overly complex code. That's when I felt comfortable calling myself a software developer




I not consider myself as developer because sometime I also play a role as consultant or Technical Advisor in Marketing Event.

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