Software engineers are the unsung heroes of the digital world. It’s our skills combined with the wonders of modern engineering that enabled our devices to become the all-important tools they are today.
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From an outside perspective, the work we coders do can seem extremely dismaying, even incomprehensible. However, thanks to the ever-expanding education and training options of computer science, it has never been easier to enter the software engineering field–even with little-to-no prior industrial experience.
All it takes is a healthy level of ambition, grit, foresight, and adaptability.
Becoming a software engineer typically involves five key steps:
- Planning your career path
- Obtaining an education (this doesn’t always mean a Bachelor’s degree)
- Gaining experience
- Building your portfolio
- Applying for jobs
The process of learning something new requires strong commitment and patience, but the rewards are well worth the effort.
Let’s dive deeper into learning how to become a software engineer from scratch.
Planning Your Career Path
Although many coding skills are transferable between roles, aspiring software engineers should have a career trajectory in mind. After all, the term “coding” can include a variety of different positions; understanding the distinction between software engineering and related fields such as web development is crucial during the initial career planning process.
Obtaining an Education
Generally speaking, there are three main paths aspiring software engineers can take to pursue their education: coding bootcamps, college, and self-taught learning. The option you choose will be determined by your lifestyle circumstances and your preferences as a learner (such as financial resources, schedule conflicts, structured timelines, etc.). I chose the bootcamp route, but it's been widely proven that all three routes are viable paths into software engineering.
Each route comes with its own unique set of pros and cons, so consider them carefully before enrolling in any academic courses.
By enrolling in a coding bootcamp, you’ll have the opportunity to gain a set of job-ready programming skills through an accelerated curriculum. Software engineering is difficult to learn from scratch–but with a bootcamp, even industry newcomers can build a strong base foundation and ready themselves for an entry-level role quickly if they are willing to put in the hard work, time, and dedication.
Coding bootcamps may be worth it for those who don’t have the time or resources to attend a four-year degree program. These courses last just six to eighteen months, depending upon whether you sign up for a part-time or full-time schedule, and they are often more affordable than multi-year degree programs. Bootcamps are also highly flexible; many offer virtual, in-person, and weekend options to suit working professionals’ scheduling needs.
That said, because bootcamps tend to focus on web-based coding rather than software engineering, a coding bootcamp may not be the best choice if you want to land a job in the latter field as soon as you complete your formal education.
But if you want to develop your coding fundamentals and start gaining work experience as soon as possible, you should still consider enrolling in a coding bootcamp geared toward helping you become a full stack developer. Such a course will provide you with a “full stack” of back end (server-side) and front end (client-side) programming skills. Having this foundation will better equip you to hit the ground running as an entry-level professional and start accumulating real job experience–which you can then use to leap forward into software engineering.
College is the most popular educational route among developers today. In 2021, Stack Overflow found that more than 65% of surveyed developers had gained at least the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Four-year degree programs are popular for a reason: they cover computer science theory and practice, provide communal learning environments, offer access to supportive instructors, and facilitate networking opportunities. These university degree programs are also usually well regarded by employers.
However, a college degree can be less economical than a coding bootcamp, and a degree isn’t strictly necessary to become a software engineer. hough you’ll often have to work harder to achieve your goals. The same survey also found that around a quarter of respondents have less than a bachelor’s degree.
In summary—while college can be a fantastic option for those who have the time and resources to attend, it is not a be-all-end-all academic requirement for everyone wondering how to become a software engineer.
There is also a range of self-directed/self-taught learning opportunities to explore for those who prefer less formal academic options. For instance, learners can pick up necessary coding skills via free educational websites like Khan Academy and freeCodeCamp. In addition to being cost-effective, these classes are designed to suit self-guided instruction and scheduling, making them highly personalized by default.
Of course the flexibility provided by self-directed learning comes at a cost. Those who choose to learn independently don’t have the accountability a set schedule or formal instructor offers; rather, they are responsible for keeping themselves on track and productive. While this approach may work well for some, those who are less self-motivated may find themselves falling behind.
Your training shouldn’t start and end with formal training. Aspiring software engineers will want to gain some hands-on experience through volunteer work, personal projects, internships, and other practical work opportunities. Practicing your coding skills outside the classroom will allow you to fill out your resume, add items to your portfolio, and improve your standing during the job search process.
Not sure where to start? If you’re attending a college program or bootcamp, you may want to reach out to your institution’s alumni affairs office to see if they can connect you with any open internship or placement opportunities. Alternatively, building websites for family and friends who already own or are starting a business can be a great way to gain real world experience.
Building Your Portfolio
A coding portfolio is a crucial asset for all aspiring software engineers seeking employment. This comprehensive body of work is often the first impression job recruiters have of you. It is a great way to showcase your past projects too; these can convey your versatility and general know-how as a work-ready software engineer.
As an interested candidate, your job is to provide as much evidence of your abilities as possible , so take time to build out your portfolio accordingly. When summarizing projects, be sure to include detailed descriptions of all technologies utilized, roles you served, and any other relevant information about your process and ideology.
Applying for Jobs
Once you’ve sought out proper training, dabbled in projects, and prepared a layered portfolio, you’ll be ready to apply for software engineering positions. Start by mapping out your career goals, pinpointing jobs you would prefer based upon your experiences to date; this will help you narrow down compatible opportunities early into your application process. Update your resume, LinkedIn profile, and other relevant application materials to ensure that potential employers have an up-to-date snapshot of your skills and capabilities.
Related Link: Browse Open Roles at BigCommerce Engineering
It is essential to remain confident and not limit yourself during this time. The sheer number of different roles can be overwhelming at first, but as you test the waters, keep in mind that your right fit is out there—it just might take some time to find it!
A Quick Look at My Journey
Ten years ago, I would have never expected that I would be writing this as a professional software engineer. After I graduated from high school, I enrolled in college majoring in construction science. I chose this major not because I was passionate about building and construction materials, but because it was the only practical thing I could see myself actually doing even though I had a clear interest in tech.
After two years, I dropped out due to lack of interest and financial support. I became a construction laborer for the next six years. During this time, I received very little pay and no real sense of gratitude for the work I was doing.
In 2020, I quit my job in construction and joined an online coding bootcamp that promised to teach me the skills needed to land that first job in software development, even if I had never written a single line of code in my life.
After graduating from the program, I felt that I had the necessary skills to secure an entry level job in software development.I began my job search, and after 5 months of rejections, I finally received two job offers for entry level software engineering positions.
It’s been over a year since I accepted my position with BigCommerce and have been loving every minute of it. I now have a career that I’m truly passionate about and no longer have that extreme dread before starting a day of work.
So are coding bootcamps worth it? If you want to build the foundational skills necessary to start coding professionally within six months, yes! Coding bootcamps offer a valuable educational option for aspiring software engineers who want to upskill quickly and start working toward an entry-level position.
Not sure where to start? Bloom Institute of Technology stands as an excellent venue for this type of learning, offering an immersive curriculum aimed at building both a solid coding foundation and an array of fundamental skills that can be applied to software engineering.
Want more career advice? Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn.
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