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How To Become a Software Engineer Without a Formal Degree

Whether you're re-entering the job market or stuck in a job you don't enjoy,  then becoming a software developer may just be the thing for you.

Whether you’re re-entering the job market or stuck in a job you don’t enjoy,  then becoming a software developer may just be the thing for you. It’s no surprise that a large amount of people are changing careers to get in on the action, as the tech industry has continued to boom in recent years, creating exciting jobs that are often accompanied by lucrative salaries.

 Software developers earn a median annual pay of $107,510 and have a 1.4 percent unemployment rate, making it one of the most profitable technological occupations. Furthermore, the occupation provides a better-than-average work-life balance. 

Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 22 percent growth rate between 2019 and 2029. Meanwhile, all occupations are growing at an average rate of 4%. This equates to 124,500 employment vacancies.

What’s more, is that despite the bright outlook and plentiful prospects, barely 3% of college graduates major in computer and information science. There will be 1.4 million computing jobs in 2020 compared to 400,000 CS students.

But the question arises, how do you become a software developer without taking four years of computer science classes? And, perhaps more specifically, how do you find a programming job without a degree and start your career as a software engineer? Well, not to worry. In this article, we will guide you how to become a software engineer without a formal degree. 

What is a Software Engineer? 

Software engineers are IT professionals who use programming languages to create a wide range of software applications and networking systems. They usually assist with product development for software engineering firms, large corporations, or production companies. Software engineers typically pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree in either software engineering, computer systems engineering, or computer science.

There are, however, alternatives to a traditional degree program for becoming a software engineer. Individuals with extensive knowledge of programming languages such as Scala, Python, Java, and C++ may be qualified for a software engineering position.

The specifications of the role may include: 

  • Create, test, and debug software applications.
  • Understanding requirements and using coding/technology to solve problems
  • May need to create something from scratch, work with a group of software developers, or improve/debug existing code.
  • Working with other professionals, such as a UX designer, graphic designer, product manager, or technical writer, may be necessary.

Software engineer vs. software developer

Is there a distinction between a software developer and a software engineer? Not really to be honest. The terms are often used interchangeably, and businesses often regard them as synonymous.

To get the most results when looking for a software engineering job, search and look at listings for both “software engineer” and “software developer.” The title “software development engineer” is even used by some companies.

Is a Degree necessary to become a software engineer?

The quick answer is that a software engineer does not require a degree. Software engineering is a difficult and highly technical career that can be self-taught or learnt through a variety of a plethora of ways. And, in the eyes of hiring managers, whether a job candidate learns to code through a four-year computer science degree or a nine-month software engineering bootcamp makes no difference. Many industry leaders, like Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, and Margaret Hamilton, were self-taught, and there are numerous bootcamp success stories.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for software bootcamp graduates and self-taught engineers to have a slight advantage over recent college graduates. Several hiring managers have stated that recent college graduates lack skill in writing production-ready code — in other words, their capstone projects are still prototypes, so they may lack real-world experience developing and testing complete solutions. Meanwhile, bootcamps and online courses aim to prepare graduates for the rough and tough life of a software engineer.

Steps to becoming a software engineer with no degree

Preconditioning is a must

Software engineering is a superbly technical field that necessitates a thorough understanding of web development tools and platforms, programming languages, and server and client-side technology. When honing your software engineering talents, make sure you’re familiar with the following:

  • Containers: Software engineers can use containers to optimize for different operating systems. Containers stack the software developers create into virtual packages that can communicate with a wide range of operating systems. In the software engineering field, knowledge of Docker or Kubernetes is a skill that has demand increasing each day. 
  • Cloud Platforms: As the tech industry shifts toward big data, software professionals are honing their abilities on cloud platforms like AWS (Amazon Web Services) and GCP (Google Cloud Platform). Cloud platforms enable businesses and products to scale, but also necessitate software engineers that have worked with cloud-native apps. Cloud platforms are used by products or platforms that enhance skills in data science, artificial intelligence, or machine learning.
  • Version control tools (Github): When a software engineer writes code, they save it in a “source-control” platform. Version control technologies allow software engineers who are working on the same product or application to collaborate without interfering with each other’s work. Github is a widely used version control system that is ideal for software engineering beginners.

Ensure complete understanding of the CS or fundamentals

Choose a Platform

Different sorts of course formats are available on many online learning platforms. Small, one-time lessons and courses that teach you the fundamentals of a skill or programming language are an option.

Some platforms may also offer curated collections of software engineering courses that teach you the skills in greater depth. These groups of courses are known as Specializations on Coursera, for example. Some platforms also offer bootcamp-style training, which are more in-depth and require more time commitment.

A few courses are self-paced, which means you can work through the materials whenever you choose and there are no “due dates” for projects or tests; you create your own timetable and often watch pre-recorded videos.

Others are time-limited, which may require you to attend live videos or webinars, submit assignments and quizzes on a specific schedule, and collaborate more with your peers.

Your selected learning style will determine which option is ideal for you. A time-bound course, for example, may be the ideal choice if you require greater accountability. A self-paced course may be the perfect option if you have a hectic schedule, require more flexibility, and have the motivation to remain on top of things.

Polish your programming skills

In order to become a skilled software engineer, you need to have excellent proficiency in more than one of the ensuing programming languages: 

  • Python: Python is currently one of the most popular programming languages on the planet, as it provides software engineers with a standard and open-source language for general-purpose programming. Python has a versatile feature set that may be used on a variety of operating systems. Python also includes automatic memory management, which eliminates the need for software engineers to keep track of memory manually. Python is one of the most important skills for today’s software professionals.
  • Javascript: Java is another general-purpose programming language that has been a core object-oriented language. It has been by far one of the most important skills for software developers to have for almost two decades. Due to its security capabilities, software professionals place a high value on Java. It is also platform agnostic, providing software professionals with a secure and design-friendly language that allows them to work practically everywhere.
  • SQL: SQL is one of the most widely used database languages, having been around for more than 30 years. Software engineers aren’t usually in charge of managing or organizing databases, but they do need to know how to explore databases in order to write programs that interact with them.
  • Ruby: Ruby, which was first released in 2011, is another object-oriented language that software professionals use to rapidly develop online applications. Ruby is frequently used in conjunction with the Ruby on Rails framework. Ruby, which is similarly open-sourced, uses automatic memory management (or “garbage collection”) to provide a variety of programming paradigms and features.

Join a coding bootcamp

 You’ll be able to learn a set of job-ready programming abilities by attending a coding bootcamp through an accelerated curriculum. Learning software engineering from scratch is quite an impossible task, but through a bootcamp, even software beginners can swiftly acquire a strong knowledge base and prepare for an entry-level career, provided they are willing to invest in the time, effort, and attention.

For people who don’t have the time or means to attend a four-year degree programme, coding bootcamps may definitely be worthwhile. These courses are usually less expensive than multi-year degree programmes and run three to six months, depending on whether you choose a part-time or full-time schedule. Many boot camps  offer virtual, in-person, and weekend options to accommodate the schedules of working people.

However, because coding boot camps tend to focus on web-based coding rather than software engineering, they may not be the greatest option for someone who wants to start working in the latter sector as soon as they finish their official schooling.

However, if you want to improve your coding fundamentals and obtain work experience as quickly as possible, you should enrol in a coding bootcamp that focuses on helping you become a full stack developer. A course like this will teach you how to programme on both the back end (server-side) and the front end (client-side). With this foundation, you’ll be better prepared to get started as an entry-level employee and begin amassing real-world experience, which you may later use to advance into software engineering.

Practice With Coding Projects

This section is the most significant component of your resume if you have no work experience. A Python script, Java application, webpage, or mobile app are all examples of programming projects. Show how you’ve used the technologies and languages you know, not just what you know. If you’re sending your resume electronically, include URLs to each project.

Choose projects that demonstrate a variety of skills, such as the use of common frameworks/libraries, full-stack programming, mobile app development, and setting up a development environment.

Many software developers use their GitHub profile as both a portfolio and a site where they practice coding projects, because it shows potential hiring managers all of the open-source projects you’ve contributed to as well as projects you’ve created. Your dashboard shows you how frequently you commit code and how popular it is at a glance. As a result, one of the first places hiring managers look to assess a candidate’s online presence is GitHub. 

When it comes to optimizing your GitHub profile, staying active on the platform is crucial. Your profile includes a color-coded heat map that breaks down your contributions to repositories by month and year. Each contribution doesn’t have to be significant — it might be a bug fix, feature idea, or commit note — but you should always create sufficient documentation. Remember that a good coder can also produce documentation so that other humans may interact with their code.

A well-written ReadMe file is one of the most critical aspects of a decent repository when you start your own project. It informs people that:

  • What the code is for
  • How to build/install the code
  • How to contribute to the project

Find a Mentor 

Word-of-mouth and recommendations are two of the most popular ways that software developers discover about job prospects. As a result, it’s critical to establish a network of industry mentors and peers who can provide professional advise in addition to sharing career opportunities. Make the most of the mentorship and career counselling available to you if you’re currently enrolled in a bootcamp or online school. If you work for a company, reach out to the company’s software engineers and managers ahead of time.

Find a network of software engineers 

Discovering a learning community can make or break your success as a software engineer, particularly if you’re just getting started. You have an inbuilt support system when you are surrounded by a community of like-minded people: a group of people you can turn to when you get stuck or lose inspiration.

In-person groups are common, however they can be difficult to stay coordinated with and are not always available. An online community, on the other hand, can be joined by anyone and is just as helpful.e

When you enroll at Launch School, an online school for software engineers, for example, you have access to a community forum where Launch School students may discuss study tips, form study groups, assist one another with problems, and everything else you’d expect from a dedicated school. You’ll also have access to their Slack chatroom, which is where students and staff hang out during the day. Not to mention “Tech Talks,” a monthly meetup-style webinar series.

You should gradually but steadily grow your professional network as you learn how to get into software engineering, code, build projects, and so on.

It takes more than applying for jobs online to find a fantastic career in the twenty-first century. Instead, you should focus on developing a strong network. Begin by contacting your existing relationships. According to Jobvite, employee referrals account for 40% of new employment, making it the most prevalent method.

You can acquaint yourself to the second-degree connections in addition to tapping into your first-degree network.  The idea is to set up casual coffee dates with people who work for companies you’d like to work for, which will help you make contacts and possibly lead to real interviews.

A few other handful of methods to make new connections without having a mutual friend who is becoming a software engineer:

  • Go to meetups 
  • Maintain a blog (which will give you exposure)
  • Volunteer 
  • Speak at events 
  • Make connections on LinkedIn

Build a Portfolio

Begin developing several applications to demonstrate your software engineering abilities. Consider the type of job you’d like to have within a corporation. To show employers that you can back up the talents listed on your resume, your portfolio should include a variety of applications.

Expand your skills beyond what you learned in school or at a bootcamp. Discuss how your involvement in various projects influenced your decision to pursue a career in software engineering. Create projects that demonstrate your ability to innovate and produce solutions that will help the companies where you want to work.

Taking a relevant job or internship can help you get experience and exposure to the issues and skills that software engineers deal with. Internships, for example, frequently involve rotations between departments, allowing interns to work on a range of projects alongside industry professionals. On the other hand, working as a front-end or backend developer can improve a person’s programming skills, their understanding of design, and their teamwork experience. 

Practice Your Interview Skills

Employers usually demand a series of documents from the software engineers,  which can include portfolios, cover letters, and references.  Many firms also adopt interview loops, into their overall interviewing process, to assess a candidate’s aptitude and suitability for a position, which may include technical interviews, algorithm-writing tests, a coding interview, and a sequence of questions aimed to expose a candidate’s values.

Majority of the interview questions, both technical and behavioural, can be considered quite difficult, which is why you should prepare as much as possible. Many prior candidates have revealed typical interview questions, mentors and bootcamp instructors may assist students in refining their responses, and whether you’re interviewing in person or remotely, read up on best practises to guarantee a smooth and successful interview.

These are fundamentals across all sectors. But, in addition to resumes and cover letters, you need think about your online presence.

This is critical for everyone in the tech business, and it’s something you should be developing and maintaining over time, particularly if you’re a self-taught software engineer. Recruiters and hiring managers often look up your name on Google before asking you in for an interview, so your digital presence is important.

Your online presence, if you wish to work as a software developer in the future, should be made up of a few things such as: 

  • LinkedIn profile
  • GitHub
  • Twitter
  • Personal website (or portfolio site) 
  • Blogging (which can be an addition to your personal website) 

Employers will look at these and make opinions about you based on what they find. So make a positive first impression! When it comes to making a name for yourself as a software engineer without a degree, your internet presence can help.

Work Towards the Job You Want

Your first career in software engineering may not be the one you want, similar to exploring comparable jobs. On the other hand, there is a a great reward in working hard towards attaining your dream job .   For example, if you start out in web design, you can expand your technical skills in front end development by learning CSS, HTML, and Java, all of which will be valuable in a software engineering career. If you start in data science or analytics, however, the knowledge you gain about data structures, databases, and coding languages like SQL will help you become a better software developer. Gaining technical and soft skills can help you get closer to the career you want.

Resources To Help You 

There are numerous free resources available to you whether you want to educate yourself and improve your software engineering skills, or if you are a recent college graduate looking for project experience, or a recent coding bootcamp graduate looking to practise and apply your new skills in the real world.

  • CodingBat: CodingBat is a free website that offers real-time coding challenges in Java and Python. Users can practise writing live code to solve short problem statements without having to download or install any software. They can also obtain quick in-browser feedback.
  • Consider it your free guide to learning and understanding Git. This article will help you comprehend more difficult concepts like branch, revert, merge, cherry-pick, rebase, and more if you already know fundamental Git commands.   
  • Free Code Camp: Free Code Camp is a non-profit tutorial repository that offers free training in HTML, CSS, Java, SQL, and Python. Students can participate in coding competitions, connect with an enitre online community filled with like minded individuals, and collaborate on projects with other students.
  • Learn Git Branching: Learn Git Branching provides step-by-step demos of strong Git features, hard levels, and a sandbox, as well as a visual and interactive approach to learn Git.
  • is a website that teaches Python to students through lessons and interactive coding tasks. Java, SQL, Perl, Ruby, PHP, and HTML each have their own separate learning website. 


Q1. What Percent of Software Engineers Don’t Have a Degree?

A 2018 survey of software engineers by Overstack Flow found that 27% do not hold any type of college degree. Of all respondents, 86.7% said they had taught themselves programming languages, tools, and frameworks without taking a formal course.

Q2. Can I Call Myself an Engineer Without a Degree?

In short, yes. Many software engineers don’t have a college degree in a relevant field (or, in some cases, don’t have a degree at all). What matters to organizations is that a software engineer possesses the relevant technical and soft skills needed to do the job.

Q3. What’s a Good Degree To Pursue To Become a Software Engineer?

A bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related field such as IT, mathematics, physics, or engineering can help prepare individuals for a career in software engineering.

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