How to Become a Software Developer: Coding Bootcamp vs. Degree — Which Is Better?

You’re reading this, in part, thanks to software developers. They built the platforms and applications used to run this site and write this article; they wrote the code that underpins every aspect of your digital experience.

Given their outsized responsibility for architecting and shaping our online worlds, it’s not all that surprising that software developers are in demand. These professionals can work in just about any industry you could imagine. Software development can be a challenging and rewarding career. But where do you start?

Well — why not right here?

This article will explore how to become a software developer from two perspectives: via a coding bootcamp in Austin for aspiring software developers or through a college degree program. Each path has its merits; the one that is best for you will depend on your education, work experience, available resources, and preferred turnaround.

Which option is better? Let us help you decide!

How to Become a Software Developer With a Coding Bootcamp

Sure, most developers might attain their education through a conventional, four-year college degree — but these days, coding bootcamps are well-established as a viable alternative.

Coding bootcamps provide the technical curriculum and software-building experience you need to launch your career as a developer. These intense, accelerated programs help aspiring software developers build the job-ready skill set they need to land an entry-level role; they also cost a fraction of a four-year degree and can be completed in as little as 12 weeks.

Bootcamps can springboard you toward success. But make no mistake; achievement won’t come through enrollment alone. Let’s talk through the steps of how to become a programmer with a coding bootcamp.

1. Understand the Difference Between Web and Software Development

As you consider a bootcamp, it’s essential to clarify what your goals are. Do you want to be a web developer, software developer, or another variety of coder? The choice you make may determine your educational path.

Generally speaking, coding bootcamps focus on full stack web development rather than software development. What does this mean? Here’s a quick lowdown on terms.

Web and software developers work on distinctly different projects. The hint is in their names. Web developers build websites; software developers create software.

Web developers create web-based applications, edit existing features, and test their sites for performance. This might not seem too complex at first — but consider the variety of websites that exist! Depending on their skill set and specialization, developers can create everything from simple text-based sites to elaborate builds devoted to gaming, online shopping, and video streaming.

Web developers can also specialize in front end, back end, or full stack coding. People who become front end developers produce the interfaces visitors see on-screen. Back end developers, by contrast, craft the site’s underlying logic and data structures. Full stack developers are coders who have expertise working at both ends.

Software developers, on the other hand, develop software. Their build environment varies according to the project at hand; they might code projects for desktops, gaming systems, or mobile devices. (In a particularly meta twist, software developers even build the applications that web developers use to build websites!) These professionals may design new applications or improve existing ones. They also manage the creation process and write documentation to help customers understand the final product.

With this distinction in mind, it becomes clear that web development and software development aren’t the same. However, the two careers do share certain capabilities. By attending a coding bootcamp, you’ll build a foundational web development skill set — and gain proficiency in a few of the languages and tools that software developers regularly use, such as Java, SQL, and Node.js.

Will you be perfectly prepared for a career in software development as soon as you finish your bootcamp? Probably not. However, you’ll be ideally oriented to land a professional coding job right away, where you can learn the outstanding skills you’ll need to become a software developer while gaining career experience. Once you do so, the pivot into the software field will be a simple matter.

If you want to launch your development career quickly by first becoming a web developer, a coding bootcamp is a promising route to achieving your professional goals.

2. Find a Bootcamp Program That Works for You

Not all bootcamp programs are the same. When you review your enrollment options, you’ll notice a lot of variations. Because bootcamps are designed to suit the needs of busy career professionals, they offer full- and part-time schedules, as well as virtual and in-person formats.

A full-time coding program often lasts 12 weeks and includes live online classes scheduled five days per week. Students can expect to spend 20 hours per week in class and at least 25 hours on homework assignments and projects. In a part-time program, students take part in two instructor-led classes per week while also completing curriculum lessons independently. A typical week would include about 25 hours of course and project time.

The schedule you select will depend on your goals. If you want to pivot your career as quickly as possible and you have the financial leeway to devote three months to intensive studies, a full-time program would be your best bet. However, if you want to continue working full- or part-time while pursuing your education, a part-time schedule may be a better choice.

Then, you need to figure out how you want to receive your education. While many bootcamps previously offered in-person classes, students are by no means constrained by their location. The rise of distance learning has allowed aspiring software developers to virtually attend any bootcamp that meets their needs, instead of the one that happens to be nearby. If you’re open to e-learning, take the time to explore your options!

Lastly, you’ll need to consider pricing. According to Career Karma’s 2020 Market Report, the average tuition cost for a coding bootcamp is just over $14,000. That said, prices can vary considerably between institutions. That same report found that a third of bootcamps set their tuition between $10,000 and $15,000, and nearly 10 percent cost less than $5,000. Keep your budget in mind when you start surveying possible programs!

These intensive programs are designed to suit their students’ needs — so find a coding bootcamp that covers foundational skills and provides opportunities to apply those skills to real-world projects.

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3. Obtain the Necessary Skills

It’s a fact of the job market — if you want to get hired as a developer, you need to have a well-packed toolbox of foundational coding capabilities.

Fortunately, because of their duration, bootcamps cover a majority of the most commonly used and functional programming languages and tools. Attending one of these intensive programs is one of the best ways to learn JavaScript, CSS, HTML, and other foundational coding skills.

Here are a few of the many subjects you can expect to cover during a coding bootcamp:

  • jQuery
  • Bootstrap
  • Node.js
  • MySQL
  • MongoDB
  • Express.js
  • React.js
  • Command-line programming
  • Git
  • Database management

However, developers need more than the ability to write and debug code. Successful software developers also have well-honed soft skills; they’re critical thinkers and problem solvers. They don’t just design great applications — they also fix them. Bugs are often buried deep within a codebase. Good software developers find and eliminate them.

Developers also need to analyze technology trends and customer desires to make the best product. Why do you update phone apps so often? Because software developers continue making them faster, more current, and more fun to use.

Being able to work well with others is also an important skill. It’s true that software developers stare at screens for much of their day, but building programs and applications is a team process. Being able to collaborate with programmers, other developers, and project managers will make you a better job candidate — and employee.

4. Get to Work

So, you’ve figured out how to become a software developer and you’ve earned a coding certificate from a bootcamp. Congrats! Now, it’s time to find a job.

First, know that employers want you. According to a HackerRank survey (PDF, 2.8 MB), 72 percent of hiring managers say bootcamp graduates are as qualified or more qualified than hires from other educational backgrounds. So your skills will be appreciated by employers.

But know that your career path might not be a straight shot. As mentioned earlier, while bootcamps don’t necessarily provide a direct path to a career in software development, they do open doors toward becoming a front end, back end, or full stack developer. These jobs have significant growth potential; once they break into the coding sector, web developers can laterally transfer into software development roles.

Don’t overlook the direct career assistance your bootcamp provides, either!

As a bootcamp graduate, you should make good use of the projects you designed in class as portfolio pieces. Give your assignments some polish and put them in front of your interviewers to demonstrate your skill set. Or, you can create your own coding projects if inspiration strikes you post-graduation!

Sign up for virtual job fairs and career events; use LinkedIn not only as a job resource but also as a site to find a potential mentor. You never know — the person you connect with online or at a job fair might just empower you to gain new industry knowledge or land your next job.

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5. Adopt a Continual Learning Mindset

Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’re done learning once you complete your coding bootcamp. Software developers are constantly in a state of learning and — no pun intended — development.

According to Stack Overflow’s 2020 Developer Study, about 75 percent of professional developers say that they learn a new language every few months to a year. The study also found that learning specific non-foundational languages (e.g., Perl, Scala, Go) is associated with higher developer pay.

A chart that shows how often software developers learn a new language or framework.Needless to say, it’s crucial to adopt a continual learning mindset! Bootcamp grads who settle for the fundamentals will never develop the skills necessary to transition into software development.

6. Apply for Jobs (Again!)

Once you’ve gained some practical experience and brushed up on your software-specific skills, the world will become your oyster. Refresh your resume, polish that portfolio with new projects, and start hunting for a new job!

Not sure where to start? Reach out to your network to see if anyone you know can connect you with an opportunity! Then, if you don’t hear anything, try online job boards like Indeed, Monster, and ZipRecruiter.

When you start looking, don’t limit yourself to tech-centric employers or fields either. Software developers are needed in healthcare, insurance, finance, manufacturing, and entertainment. They work in the private and public sectors as well as education. Be ambitious; the worst anyone will say is no!

Your dream software development job is only just around the corner.

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How to Become a Software Developer With an Undergraduate Degree

A four-year degree remains the most common educational approach for aspiring software developers. In 2020, Stack Overflow conducted a survey of developers and found that about 75 percent of coding professionals held at least a Bachelor’s degree. According to Statista, more than 88,000 college graduates earned Bachelor’s degrees in computer and information sciences in 2019 alone.

Here’s a look at how to pursue a career in software development through a college education.

1. Define Your Major

Here’s an odd factoid for you — computer science isn’t a singular major. Many colleges and universities offer computer science as a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts. Typically, the BS will require more science hours, while the BA blends more liberal arts courses into the curriculum.

Another option is to pursue your software degree through your college’s engineering department. Many schools offer degrees in computer engineering, software engineering, or computational engineering. The degree paths lead to different careers; if you want to build computers, study computer engineering. To build software and applications, study software engineering.

According to Stack Overflow, 62 percent of developers come from a degree background in computer science, computer engineering, or software engineering. But a few have found their way into development with a humanities (1.8 percent) or fine arts (1.4 percent) degree. (We can only assume, of course, that these learners brushed up on their technical skills either via bootcamp or with self-directed coding courses.)

In any event, the major you choose should provide you with the technical coding skills you need to thrive as a professional software developer.

2. Commit to Your Education

Undergraduate degrees require four years of full-time study. Given that potential employers may check your GPA when they receive your resume, you’ll need to work hard to maintain high grades.

In addition, if a particular discipline grabs your interest (a specific programming language, for instance), focus on it! That expertise could set you apart from other applicants.

3. Network

Colleges offer many networking opportunities — so take advantage of them! Departments often set up career fairs, job seminars, and meetings with prospective employers. These meetings are beneficial to all involved; employers have access to qualified young candidates, colleges get to promote their job placement statistics, and students gain career opportunities.

Alumni groups offer another venue for networking. Contact alumni directly, or join an association post-graduation, particularly if one exists in a location you’d like to work. Having the right person to recommend you can be invaluable in landing a job.

But if you do nothing else, make sure to set up a bio and portfolio on networking sites such as LinkedIn. That’s a quick way to meet people who might be able to offer a job suggestion or introduce you to someone who can help you reach that next step!

4. Get an Internship

You need practical experience to complement your degree; internships offer it. Fortunately, you can start seeking placement opportunities as early as your freshman year of college. In addition to career services, colleges provide access to companies and organizations hiring interns. It’s even possible to pursue an internship after graduation!

Internships can offer pay and course credit — though some are unpaid, a prospect which might make you pause. But if they work for your situation, unpaid internships can lead to career paths you may not expect. Perhaps the unpaid internship you do for a small firm or nonprofit will turn into a job offer! Either way, the internship gets you experience, additions to your portfolio, and professional references who may be helpful in the future.

5. Consider Further Education

A postgraduate degree, such as a master’s, could increase your advancement potential and earning power. These degrees can help expand your potential career paths in technical fields; for instance, an advanced degree may be necessary if you want to become a systems manager or research scientist. According to the Stack Overflow survey, more than 25 percent of developers hold a master’s degree or higher.

However, a postgraduate degree requires additional time and financial investments that some are unable to make. Consider your available resources and career trajectory when deciding whether to pursue further education!

6. Start Your Job Search

Job searching is challenging and can take a while. So, if you’re ready to hit the job market, try these tips:

  • Build a great portfolio and make sure employers can access it.
  • Use social media, particularly LinkedIn, to network.
  • Don’t dismiss your college’s career services department. They’re well-connected.
  • Contribute code to open-source sites; a fellow developer might notice.
  • Understand the difference between full-time and contract work.
  • Practice interviewing. Your work is good, so sell it!

Lastly — be patient. You’ll get there.

Coding Bootcamps vs. Degree Programs — Which Is Better if You Want to Become a Software Developer?

The answer depends on you. Aspiring software developers should choose the path that best fits their situations and goals.

Already have college plans? Then the BA/BS route in a computer field likely offers a more natural path. If you already hold a degree in a relevant field, a Master’s in software development or software engineering could be your best option.

Coding bootcamps, meanwhile, could benefit those who want to make a career change from an unrelated field. Perhaps you have a communications degree but want to turn a passion for programming into a career. Coding bootcamps provide that option without committing you to long-term study or extended repayment plans.

Who Can Become a Software Developer?

The short but correct answer is anybody. The barriers to entering computer science fields are lowering as society continues rejecting the outdated assumptions — that you have to be a math genius to code, that you have to start young, or that you have to be a man. None are true.

Developers come from all backgrounds, demographics, and ages — though representation certainly could improve. For instance, according to the Stack Overflow survey, 91.5 percent of software developers worldwide identify as male. Women are just as qualified to pursue coding as men, and there is work to be done to better encourage them to enter the field.

Regarding necessary skills, math certainly is important but not required. But so is being able to solve problems — that’s a bedrock of coding! If you’re a critical thinker with a strong work ethic, you can learn to be a software developer.

How Much Do Software Developers Make in Austin, TX, Compared to Nationally?

A chart that compares the annual wages of software developers in Austin, TX, and the United States.Software developers have a promising future, nationally as well as regionally. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that opportunities for software developers will increase by 22 percent through 2029. For comparison, the national average for all occupations is just four percent.

The pay outlook is bright as well; according to BLS statistics, the national median salary for software developers is $107,510. Regionally, Texas ranks highly in software developer salaries. According to CareerOneStop, the median software developer salary in Austin, TX, is $104,000. That’s among the best in Texas for specific regions, according to CareerOneStop. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks Texas in the highest percentile of states for software developer salaries. Of course, there are a number of factors that can impact a person’s salary, including years of experience, knowledge of in-demand skills, and the size of the company.

Are you ready to kickstart your career in software development? If so, consider checking out the Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin! The first step to your new career path is only an enrollment away.

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