Learn Coding Online in 2021 – The Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Coder

When’s the last time you went a day without checking your phone, logging into your computer, or opening an application? Today, online tools and services are at the heart of modern society — we need them to function. Our need for digital architecture, in turn, makes the programmers who design and build it utterly invaluable.

Do you want to step into their shoes? If you’re interested in learning how to code or pursuing a career that puts the skill to good use, you’ll need to know what to expect during your academic journey. From determining your long-term goals to locating educational resources and engaging in professional opportunities, this article will address the steps you should take to learn coding.

Read on to learn how to become a coder in 2021.

How to Become a Coder — A Step-by-Step Guide

When you pursue coding, there are specific steps you will need to take to maximize your chances of success and satisfaction.

  1. Consider your desired career outcome before you learn coding
  2. Get started by learning essential coding skills
  3. Focus your learning on the coding languages that align with your career goal
  4. Apply your learning to real-life projects to build a portfolio
  5. Craft a killer resume that highlights what you’ve learned

By following these steps, you can maximize your efforts and become a coder this year.

1. Consider your desired career outcome before you learn coding

One of the most exciting aspects of becoming a coder relates to how broad the field is. Coders are in high demand across industries; before you get started, you should identify what you are hoping to achieve, why you want to learn how to code, and which industries appeal to you.

Businesses in every sector are looking for skilled coders. According to a recent report from Burning Glass (PDF, 1.5MB), half of all programming openings are in finance, health care, manufacturing, and other industries beyond tech. That said, coders’ roles in different sectors will vary depending on their employers’ particular needs and priorities.

Some industries, such as artificial intelligence, enterprise software, and computer security may require coders to have specialized knowledge beyond basic programming. Take artificial intelligence professionals as an example — they tend to need a functional understanding of machine learning and deep learning to be successful in their role.

The healthcare, education, and financial services industries also tend to have a high demand for coders, though skill sets can also vary across fields. For example, while healthcare-based employers might seek out professionals who have data science and coding savvy (PDF, 1.5MB), those in the financial services industry may prefer candidates versed in mobile technology given the advent and widespread integration of mobile banking.

Individuals who are hoping to enter a coding or programming career should assess their own interests and existing knowledge to identify which industries they want to target as new programmers. Brainstorming potential industries early may help you map out your educational journey in a way that allows you to pick up the skills and capabilities necessary for your preferred career.

That said, if you don’t know where you want to take your coding career, don’t stress! You can discover your passions as you go by taking a more exploratory approach to education. Think smaller; even setting small goals — extra classes, resume updates, networking — can keep you focused and driven.

2. Get started by learning essential coding skills

It is entirely possible to launch a coding career this year. That said, you should always remember that this field is highly technical and requires a mastery of a specialized skill set. From understanding programming languages and database navigation to gaining soft skills like critical thinking and collaboration, coding careers demand a lot from the professionals who adopt them.

If you do not have any previous education in coding or relevant subjects, you can still succeed in this field. Coding bootcamps pose a ready solution — these 12- to 24-week courses offer a means for motivated learners to quickly upskill into entry-level coders. Such programs provide countless benefits including supportive instructors, hands-on projects, collaborative learning, and structured curricula.

Coding bootcamps are also notable for their flexibility. Unlike conventional degree programs, a coding bootcamp may offer class schedules to suit those in their mid-career by providing part-time accommodations, weekend classes, night sessions, and virtual courses. Another perk is the price — bootcamps tend to be comparatively inexpensive and accessible.

This path is suitable to provide a targeted education for those with some background knowledge. It can also offer an intensive introduction to coding for beginners, provided you are dedicated to the program.

Regardless of your existing experience or preferred educational path, however, many of the skills you will need for a career in coding or programming overlap. These include the following:

Programming Languages

It’s a fact of life that you can’t get by in programming if you only know one coding language. In fact, the majority of professional developers (72.7 percent) commit to learning a new language at least once per year!

A chart that shows how frequently developers learn a new language or framework.That said, the languages you learn will depend on how you want to apply yourself as a coder. Generally, there are three professional “tracks” aspiring programmers can take — front end, back end, and full stack.

  • Front end developers are primarily concerned with the client side of a website — that is, the portion that visitors can interact with and see. Front end developers write the code that underlies the structure and aesthetics of a site, making it as attractive and functional as possible.
  • Back end developers, as you might have guessed, deal with the underlying structures that visitors don’t see, such as data, databases, and servers. Their job is to ensure that a site operates smoothly and efficiently.
  • Full stack developers handle both programming “stacks.” These versatile professionals are equally well-versed in client- and server-side work and can move seamlessly between the two.

Each of these three “specialties” comes with its own set of preferred languages and technologies. Various languages have different functions, so you should expect to study at least a few — especially if you want to become a full stack developer. As such, learning programming languages will be a significant component of your education and career transition.

Databases and Frameworks

In addition to programming languages, coders need to understand how to use databases and frameworks.

Bootstrap and Express.js are two examples of coding frameworks that programmers often use to improve and accelerate their work. Programmers typically use Bootstrap to design websites and Express.js to manage data flow between servers and applications. Frameworks serve to make coding simpler and more effective, so having a solid understanding of the ones that are relevant to your desired career path will be essential.

Being able to navigate and understand databases is also crucial. Databases’ greatest use parallels their most frustrating flaw — though they can contain massive amounts of data, their sheer scale and scope can make them challenging to manage. However, there are ways to circumvent this; by knowing query languages such as MySQL, programmers can more easily store and retrieve data in certain databases.

Much of this knowledge will come from a combination of study and practice, so you should familiarize yourself with databases and frameworks as you encounter them.

Soft Skills

In addition to technical skills, soft skills such as communication, collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking are also vital.

Coders must think critically about the programming (and interpersonal) problems they face to find solutions. This requires technical knowledge as well as soft skills. Even if you are primarily operating by yourself on a project, you can’t convey your progress and gain full insights into your work without effective communication and collaboration skills.

Additional Resources:

3. Focus your learning on the coding languages that align with your career goal

Which languages should you prioritize as you try to become a coder in 2021? New coders may want to focus on common and in-demand languages, as they are likely to be used and/or required in the workplace.

According to Stack Overflow, Javascript, HTML/CSS, SQL, Python, and Java ranked as the top five most popular languages used in 2020. Coincidentally, HackerRank (PDF, 2.4 MB) identified several of these languages (Javascript, Python, Java) as the most sought-out among hiring managers.

A graph that shows what languages hiring managers look for when hiring developers.This isn’t to say that languages alone will determine whether or not you get a role; HackerRank researchers also noted that one in five hiring managers in the U.S. is “language agnostic” during the hiring process. However, given how common these languages are, new coders may benefit from prioritizing them during their initial studies.

Let’s talk about what these languages are and how they apply to programming.

HTML/CSS

HTML and CSS constitute the basic building blocks of web development. Front end developers often use the former to define the structure of a website (text, photos, videos, etc.), and the latter to describe the aesthetics and appearance of that structure (colors, fonts, etc.) HTML and CSS underlie just about every website, regardless of how advanced or foundational it might be.

JavaScript

JavaScript is a client-side scripting language often used with HTML and CSS to add dynamic elements (e.g., forms, animations, buttons) onto web pages. JavaScript is beneficial to front end programmers because it can be inserted within the HTML of a webpage and can execute basic processes after the page has loaded without communicating with the server. Take a look at our guide for the best ways to learn JavaScript.

Java

For e-commerce, Java is the top programming language. Not only is Java compatible with most browsers, but it is also useful for identifying and fixing bugs, which is beneficial for high-traffic sites. While this language is often used in back end programming, it isn’t always ideal for front end design work, as it features complex code, a slow speed, and the need for a substantial amount of memory space.

Python

In fields like healthcare and finance, Python is king. It is a back end language that is both simple and versatile, making it a suitable language for any coder to learn, especially for those entering the aforementioned industries. However, Python is relatively slow in terms of code execution, and it can be weak when it comes to mobile programming. It is also rarely used in client-side programming, so it may not be the most effective for any industry that prioritizes these practices.

SQL

The marketing and IT industries both benefit from the use of SQL, so if you want to work in these fields, knowing SQL will be essential. A primary function of SQL is communicating with relational databases. Having the ability to work with data efficiently is a must for anyone who wants to be a back end (server-side) programmer.

If you are interested in working in a specific industry, be sure to do your research and determine if you should learn additional languages beyond what you already know or plan to study. This step can make you more attractive to prospective employers and give you an edge over your competition.

4. Apply your learning to real-life projects to build a portfolio

When learning how to become a coder, you will need to practice your skills to solidify your knowledge and improve your job prospects. The best way to accomplish this is by taking on new projects. Generally speaking, the tasks you adopt will vary depending on the capabilities you want to practice.

However, regardless of the specifics or a project, completing hands-on assignments will help you learn essential skills, cement your new knowledge, and grant you a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

While you complete projects, you should also keep in mind the importance of adding to your professional portfolio. Your portfolio should demonstrate a range of skills to potential employers. While your resume will include any relevant credentials, certifications, degrees, and other formal accomplishments, a portfolio will help you prove to prospective employers that you have the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in a professional role.

If you are unsure of what projects to attempt, here are a few ideas!

Code a Random Number Generator

Create a random number generator with Python! While this project may not make it into your portfolio (at least not in its initial iteration), it still offers an invaluable means to confirm and further your foundational Python skills. When coding a number generator, you will effectively test your ability to understand and use concepts like integers, random functions, and variants in a coding context.

Design a Game

For aspiring coders who are learning JavaScript, designing a small game can be a fun, engaging, and productive project to tackle. Creating a game from scratch gives you ample opportunities to learn through doing and grow as a coding professional. Additionally, a functional JavaScript game is an excellent project to showcase in your portfolio.

Build a Social Networking or E-Commerce Site

Building a site is a great way to apply your skills and show off your hard work. For a social networking site, you will need to create an optimized and user-friendly design, a database for user information, and a script for unique pages. If you want to try your hand at an e-commerce site, you will need more scripts for various pages to function. Larger-scale projects like a website will be time-consuming but worthwhile as they allow you to hone your skills, fix bugs, and produce something worth sharing.

Projects that are both challenging and rewarding will provide you with valuable experience and products that can be used to demonstrate your prowess, making them an essential aspect of learning how to code.

5. Craft a killer resume that highlights what you have learned

Before you can apply for any coding positions, you will need to craft a resume that assures prospective employers of your competence. As you compose your resume, keep the below points in mind!

Your Goals

Considering your objectives will help give you direction when you begin working on your resume. Think back to what you initially determined regarding your ideal position, industry, or company; how can you tailor your resume to include relevant experience, education, and keywords? This step will also give you additional direction for your job search as you embark on your journey.

Your Achievements

Highlighting your top achievements will be critical on your resume. Naturally, you should not feel inclined to include everything you have accomplished; instead, you should prioritize listing the most impressive and relevant accomplishments.

If you have no experience with coding or programming, think back to previous positions and the transferable skills you learned while in those roles. Doing so can help you optimize your use of limited space, prioritize your more applicable accomplishments, and provide a solid high-level view of your professional endeavors.

Your Formatting

While your resume’s contents are undoubtedly important, how you choose to display your experience also matters. You should consider what information will be most influential and compelling to a potential employer when you organize your resume.

In most cases, you should include an elevator pitch at the top of your resume, followed by a list of relevant skills; for programmers and coders, this section should highlight the languages you know. After this section, you should include relevant experience, top accomplishments, and education, in that order.

However you choose to format your resume, make formatting and design decisions with your objective in mind. Consider the perspective of employers and highlight the most relevant and compelling information with clarity and purpose.

Additional Resources:

Free online coding resources to jump-start your learning

Be sure to consider the various resources available to help you learn coding online. You may choose to participate in a bootcamp as part of an intensive and comprehensive education, but you can also make use of free online resources.

W3 Schools

W3 Schools is an educational platform that offers free web development tutorials on in-demand languages and technologies such as HTML, CSS, Bootstrap, C programs, Java, Javascript, Photoshop, and more. The site also hosts an expansive library of documentation and resources to support web development hobbyists and professionals.

freeCodeCamp

freeCodeCamp is a popular platform that prides itself on helping people make professional pivots and launch successful coding careers. Since 2014, over 40,000 freeCodeCamp graduates have found roles working at notable tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Spotify, and Amazon. This site offers a comprehensive curriculum that learners can follow at their own pace.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a nonprofit educational platform that offers courses in subjects such as math, art, economics, physics, finance, and — of course — coding. This platform’s intro-level coding classes are designed with middle- and high-school students in mind but can be useful to any aspiring coder.

Coding for Kids

Coding is a valuable skill at any age. There are plenty of books available for reference to help kids learn about computer science. Additionally, kids can use various resources, from board games to mobile apps, to pique their interest, expand their knowledge, and learn something new.

Summary

Coding is a broad field that encompasses hobbyists and professionals alike. Depending on what you want to do with your coding knowledge, your academic path may vary. Your specific professional goals should influence what you choose to learn and how you obtain an education.

Whatever path you choose to take, be sure to consider your priorities, experience, education, and long-term career goals. Doing so early on in your coding education will be instrumental in providing direction to your studies and helping you stay focused on your ultimate objective.

Programming is an essential part of most industries today; if you want to learn new things, gain the ability to create functional applications or sites, and expand your employment potential, consider learning how to become a coder this year. The job outlook for coders, developers, programmers, and other related positions is strong; with an above-average growth rate according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, career prospects for web developers will continue to be promising for the foreseeable future.

Regardless of your existing knowledge or experience, if you use the programs and tools available online, especially those geared toward coding for beginners, your education can be straightforward and successful. If you are looking to secure a coding or programming job in 2021, you may want to consider learning full stack development in an immersive environment such as a coding bootcamp.

Still exploring your career options? No problem! If your tech interests go beyond coding, you may want to consider a career in a fast-growing field like cybersecurity or learn the skills needed to become a data scientist.

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