5 Ways to Become a Software Developer


  • There is no right way to become a software developer.
  • Popular software developer jobs are video game development, smartphone applications, and large-scale systems.
  • Coding bootcamps can boost your software knowledge, and certifications can prove your mastery and degrees from provide knowledge companies covet in different aspects of the field.

If you’ve ever been interested in making games, smartphone apps, or creating systems for people, then a career in software development may be for you.

Software developers made a median salary of $127,260, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2022. The field is also expected to grow much faster than average through 2032.

Software developers often work in teams, though it’s not unheard of for individual developers to create applications and games. Individual developers often have to take on more work and time to develop a product than they would in a team.

Some of the most popular software development products are smartphone apps, video games, and virtual and augmented reality apps. Read on to discover how to become a part of this growing and potentially rewarding career.

What Is the Difference Between a Software Developer and a Software Engineer?

Despite both working in software, developers and engineers play different roles in creating and maintaining computer applications and systems.

Software engineers are involved in all aspects of software development. They create the blueprint and framework for software developers to create specific software for users or businesses. Engineers and developers work together to create the best experiences for users, developers, and businesses.

Software Developers

Software developers are typically split into two categories:

  • Systems software developers, who work on large systems like hospital record systems or platforms.
  • Applications software developers, who create, update, and monitor consumer-focused applications like a smartphone or headset game or social media application.

Software Engineers

Software engineers are also typically split into two categories:

  • Systems engineers, who create and optimize operating systems for business needs by using engineering and coding principles to find bugs in large-scale systems and fix them.
  • Software engineers, who create and optimize software for users like smartphone applications or parts of websites only users interact with, like banking websites.

What Are the Skills Needed to Become a Software Developer?

Software developers need to be willing to work in teams. Teamwork can be within the same role, like working with a team to write code, or cross-functional, like working with artists, UI/UX designers, and software engineers to create a product.

Knowing different coding languages is also a valuable skill that’s part of how to become a software developer. What sort of applications or sites you plan to work on will inform which languages are the most important for you to learn. The most popular coding languages you may need to have experience in are JavaScript, HTML/CSS, Python, SQL, and C++.

Within software development, you’ll have many issues like code breaks, bugs, and disagreements within your team, so it’s important to be flexible and patient with your coworkers and your code. Coding also takes a detail-oriented mind since one misspelled letter can cause issues throughout a system.

5 Ways To Become a Software Developer

There is no “right way” to become a software developer. There are routes from self-taught developers to graduate degree-holders. Each route has a different time requirement. Since software development spans careers from gaming, to banking, to self-employment and more, there are opportunities from all different education levels.

Bootcamps, certifications, and self-teaching coding languages and software programs can make you stand out. You can also build up a portfolio of skills and make yourself versatile in all languages and programs.

1. Bachelor’s or Graduate Degree Route

Bachelor’s degrees in computer science and information technology are the most popular ways to enter the software industry. According to BLS, most software development jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree.

Related degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) can also help you land software development jobs, depending on your skills and understanding of technology.

Bachelor’s degree programs also allow you to choose courses outside of the core curriculum you may want to pursue. You can continue your education through a graduate degree, which could earn you a higher salary and increase your competitive advantage, but most jobs do not require this level of schooling.

You can also continue your college education through bootcamps, which can target specific skills and fields that colleges do not, and certifications that can prove your mastery in different fields.

2. Associate Degree Route

If you’re interested in starting fresh, an associate degree or a mix of an associate degree and bootcamp may be the way for you. Associate degree programs in computer science build the foundation for exploration into coding bootcamps, certifications, self-teaching courses, and bachelor’s degrees.

Associate degrees in computer science take a broad approach to coding languages, introducing you to the fundamentals of many languages like JavaScript, Python, and C++.

Like bachelor’s programs, associate programs allow you to pursue specific areas of interest. An associate degree can lead to a bachelor’s in computer science or information technology at a four-year college or university.

3. Certification Route

Despite sounding similar, certifications and certificates are very different credentials. Certifications are industry-standard credentials awarded by professional associations, companies, and organizations certifying you to work in a specific field.

Certifications show mastery in a field of study, and earning them often consists of a few days of training or sometimes just a test. A certificate, however, is paper or digital proof of education, often earned after a course on one specific skill.

Certain jobs may require certification for employment or career advancement. Others, like data analyst positions or SEO specialists, may not require bachelor’s degrees and instead just require certifications like Google Analytics as qualifications.

One of the most popular tech certifications is the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification by the EC-Council. This cybersecurity certification teaches you ethical hacking into multiple operating systems with live, online, and hybrid courses.

If you’re new to cybersecurity, EC-Council recommends their Free Cyber Security Essentials Series where you can learn foundational skills to build up to mid-level certifications before the CEH.

If you’re just starting out in software development, it’s best to use other methods like self-teaching, a degree, or bootcamps to learn and master skills before taking a certification exam.

Other popular certifications:

4. Bootcamps Route

The coding bootcamp employment rate is 79% 180 days after graduation, according to the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR). The job market is only expanding — according to the 2021 BestColleges Bootcamp Trends Report, over half of tech business leaders say bootcamps will be integral in meeting their workforce needs.

Bootcamps take much less time and money to complete than a college degree, and though most jobs require at least a bachelor’s, there’s still value in coding bootcamps.

Despite similar employability, bootcamps often reap more short-term benefits, while college degrees have long-term return on investment. Learning software development through bootcamps also allows you to skip all the general education requirements at colleges and focus on what you would like to learn.

Coding bootcamps can focus on specific skill sets in coding languages like Python while others focus on larger concepts like web development, UX/UI design, and data science. Most will grant a certificate once completed.

A downside to bootcamp education is a lack of accreditation. Most bootcamps are unaccredited, meaning that they do not qualify for federal financial aid, nor do they grant college credit. Instead of traditional federal financial aid, you can rely on coding bootcamp scholarships.

5. Self-Taught Route

Self-taught coders often use online resources, forums, videos, and more to learn coding languages and build a technical portfolio of work such as open-source software, personal projects, websites, and apps.

There are free resources like Khan Academy and platforms like edX and Udemy which offer free online coding courses without certificates, or paid options with certificates. This method requires a lot of grit, self-motivation, and independence. If you prefer structured classes, bootcamps may be the way for you.

Other resources include Youtube channels like CS Dojo, Academind, and Derek Banas, and free e-books like Coding for Beginners on GameDev Academy. Self-taught software developers can also use social media and forum websites like Reddit, GitHub, and open-source code websites for help and inspiration.


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Terri Nichols