Becoming a software developer is not as tricky as it might sound at first. But, neither is it an easy task. It takes hours and hours of hard work and dedication over months and years to become a good software developer. As long as you’re driven by a keen curiosity and an interest in developing software, you can do it. This is why we have created this guide – to give you some advice and perspective as you’re starting out on the path to software development.
Things You Need to Know Beforehand
Many people get scared when they first see code — how it’s written, the way it’s structured, and how unfamiliar and “foreign” it seems — and they give up before they even try. But remember, no one expects you to be a tech wizard as soon as you learn to write your first bit of code! So, start with the following ideas and see where they take you:
1. Choose a coding language to learn
Are you learning to code for recreation or personal use? Or are you hoping to turn coding into a job or income source? Let that guide your choice of coding languages to learn.
If you want to put together a personal website, you might learn HTML and PHP and stop there.
But, if you want to get into software development as a career, then begin with a focus on the coding languages that most businesses use:
These five will give you the foundation you need to start earning a living and to get into more specialized or advanced coding languages that pay even more.
2. Hard work and discipline
Once you’ve chosen a programming language to learn first, you need to apply yourself. Like all valuable things, it will take time and dedication. If you have difficulty buckling down, try attending classes where a teacher and other students will help hold you accountable for doing the work and keeping up with a standard learning pace. If you’re studying through an online course, participate in online group projects and class chats to keep yourself motivated and feeling competitive.
If you’re studying solo from home, consider working with a virtual tutor, or join a software developer’s group to help visualize your new life as a career developer. These things, and strong coffee, can help you through the hours of study and practice that are necessary for any promising technical career. Use the experience to develop good work habits, as they will help you throughout your career.
3. Learn from the best
Look for opportunities to attend virtual seminars featuring industry leaders, listen to development gurus who forecast future trends, and study the websites of professional software developers to see what the best in the field are doing. Take time to watch YouTube videos conducted by experts on the things you are currently studying.
If you have gaps in your learning background, look for online courses to fill them in. Did you know, for example, that MIT offers free online courses in linear algebra, algorithms, and fintech? Or if you’ve mastered one language and want to move to the next one, seek out the best educational opportunities to enhance your CV. For example, you can study Python courses from Harvard for free, and it’s tough to get a better credential than that.
Organizations like edX bring you courses like relational databases from Stanford, C++ from IBM, and Java from Georgia Tech. This is how you can learn from the best in the field even without leaving your home, and all this expertise can be tremendously inspirational and even help you define a long-range goal for your career. Every time you picture a successful future as a software developer, it gets easier to master each step along the way.
Low-Code as an On-Ramp
There is no way to become a brilliant software developer in a few weeks. But you can speed up your progress by spending some time with low-code projects.
“Low-code software” uses drag-and-drop tools to create software development projects more easily than coding from scratch, and behind these tools is the finished code that you can study. Gaining exposure to coding through a low-code start is great for two reasons. First, you get to an end result sooner than a beginner would typically do, which helps keep your motivation high. (It’s like learning how to drive first, before studying engine mechanics.)
Second, when you do view the underlying code, it has more meaning to you because you’ve already played with the end result (just as a car engine becomes infinitely more fascinating after you learn to drive). So by using low-code software as part of your introduction to software development, you may find it makes everything easier to understand and remember. And that’s why low-code is the perfect learning tool for software developers. In summary:
- Low-code is exactly what it sounds like. With low-code tools, you will not code as much as a standard developer. However, you will see the underlying code, add changes to it if needed, and get a better grasp of how coding functions and what it does. It allows you to learn more and faster.
- You will see a lot of applied logic. Software development is all about using logic to find the simplest, most elegant solution for a certain problem. And once that problem is found, the solution is encoded in a logically structured sequence to perform the desired outcome. With low-code tools, you will be exposed to that logic and sequencing, and it can help you get a feel for the bigger picture of the low-code project you’re studying. This is part of how you learn logical approaches that you’ll carry into future projects.
What Else Should You Learn?
Well, that depends on your goals. Those who hope to work in an agency that provides outsourced IT and coding services for other companies need to learn the basics above, and then continue taking on one programming language after another to satisfy a broad array of clients. Those who want to specialize in, say, blockchain, eCommerce, or AI fundamentals, need mastery of more specific skill sets that are frequently used in those industries.
Also, businesses frequently want their newly developed software to interface with their existing infrastructure, which could be anything from proprietary operations software to SaaS applications such as QuickBooks or Salesforce. So, even though you might not be coding directly in those programs, you’ll eventually want to understand how their back-end systems work.
Also, as you progress in your career, maintain familiarity with skills offshore developers should have. That’s because as you rise in your career, chances are you’ll be collaborating with outsourced teams and, possibly, directing them. Many of the skills you’ll need relate directly to coding, but to have a successful career, you’ll also need “soft” skills.
These are the personal skills that help you make people feel at ease, encourage loyalty to you if you’re the team leader, or soothe clients or customers on days when things aren’t going as well as everyone had hoped.
By comparison, coding is a hard skill, entirely about solving problems. The client or company who hires you wants to do X, and it’s up to you to figure out how to make their technology do X in the simplest possible way. As you’re designing and installing that solution, you’ll also want to know how to document it so that, years later, someone else will understand what you did and how to adapt it to future needs.
That brings us to a related concept, “clean coding.” Software developers greatly value their colleagues who know how to write clean code – that means clear, correct, and straightforward, with no leftover junk or overly complicated approaches. Clean code is to software developers what a straight shot is to a target shooter or concise copy is to writers. One of the greatest compliments one developer can pay to another is to say, “Oh, yeah, Chris always writes clean code.”
Adapt, Adapt, and Adapt
As a software developer in training, you will need to learn how to adapt to every situation. As long as you do, you should be fine when learning how to develop.
It might help you to know that even professional developers are constantly adapting because the people and companies they work for are continually evolving, changing, and facing new challenges. They’ll opt-in for hiring a developer who can do the same at every turn.
With the pace of technological change, it’s no surprise that universities and colleges can’t quite keep up, so experienced coders turn to the internet for the latest in development news and to find out how other developers have solved problems that are similar to the ones they face. Then they take those solutions and, through trial and error, adapt them to their specific situation.
Learning how to become a software developer can be a truly satisfying experience. No matter how challenging it may seem at first, you can handle it as long as you apply discipline and are constantly looking for opportunities to learn. In several months, you’ll have enough grasp of coding to start doing some entry-level development work, and you can rise up from there with a continual pursuit of learning.
You’re sure to find that using your knowledge to solve difficult problems for others is tremendously rewarding. That’s why so many software developers never lose interest in what they’re doing. I hope the same will be true for you. Good luck!