How to Become A Software Developer

What is a Software Developer?

The chances are you’re reading this on an electronic device. Well, that smartphone in your hand, the tablet on your desk, or the laptop in your, um, lap, all have one thing in common. They all run on systems created by Software Developers. 

In a nutshell, Software Developers design, build and test computer programs and operating systems that we use in our daily lives, such as your favourite website or computer game, and that app you just can’t live without. In fact, modern life has been shaped by Software Developers. 

While at graduate school at Standford University in 1996, Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s project to index and rank internet pages based on the use of backlinks turned into the search engine Google. Today, Google processes over 3.5 billion searches every day.

And back in 2004, a psychology major at Harvard created a social network to be used by his fellow students. Today, that network – now called Facebook – has 1.73 billion users a day. And to think, it only took creator Mark Zuckerberg “a week to make”!

Software Developers continue to shape our future. To quote world-famous theoretical physicist, Professor Stephen Hawking, 

“Whether you want to uncover the secrets of the universe, or you just want to pursue a career in the 21st century, basic computer programming is an essential skill to learn.”

So now we know what Software Developers do, and the importance of their work, let’s investigate…

custom software development

How to become a Software Developer

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to becoming a Software Developer. But there are some universal skills that are essential to have to succeed in the industry. 

  • Learn: One common route into the world of software development is to gain an education in subjects such as computer science at university or college. Another option is to learn on the job in an apprenticeship or graduate training scheme. 
  • Speak: As software development involves coding, you must be fluent in popular programming languages such as JavaScript, Python, C#, C++, Ruby, and Java. A study in 2018 found JavaScript to be the top programming skill required by companies.   
  • Read: A great way to discover how specific programs work is to learn how to read the source code. You can do this by visiting popular sites such as GitHub, used by the world’s largest community of developers to discover, share, and build better software. 
  • Build: Once you’ve learnt the foundations, spoken the language, and read the code, it’s time to get building. Using code to build your own projects helps you gain confidence in programming languages and build up your portfolio for potential employees. 

Are Software Developers in demand?

The short answer is yes! When asked for one piece of advice for those unsure what to study at college or high school, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg replied:

“You should learn how to program.”

That’s because the future looks extremely rosy for Software Developers. In 2019, the UK’s IT sector grew 2.6 times faster than the country’s overall economy, and the software development market sector was a massive £33 billion. Between January 2019 and February 2020, software development activity in the UK increased by 78%.

As we’re more reliant on computer software than ever before, both start-ups and established companies are on the hunt for Software Developers to enhance their digital footprints. So there’s never been a better time to become a Software Developer. 

What qualifications do you need to become a Software Developer?

According to National Careers Service UK you may be able to apply for a place on a graduate training scheme with a company if you have a degree. These are often open to non-IT graduates as well as those with a computing qualification providing they can show enthusiasm for the field and have some understanding of the development process.

Though not essential to becoming a developer, choosing a Computer Science or similar degree is a particularly popular choice as it gives you the theoretical knowledge and background to software design, such as algorithms and data structures.Typically, you’ll need 2 to 3 A-levels (or equivalent) to start a degree.

Outside of formal learning, nearly 90% of developers taught themselves a new language, framework or tool, while 60% built up their skills and knowledge by taking an online course such as a MOOC (massive open online course), and almost 25% took part in a hackathon. An event where people work in groups on software projects, with the goal of creating a functioning product by the end of the event.

However, the demand for developers in some areas (and the rise of self-taught developers) has led to some companies hiring people without formal educational qualifications. 

code on screen - laravel

What skills does a Software Developer need to have?

In a fast-moving, ever-evolving technological world here are some of the essential skills Software Developers need to keep on top of the latest technological trends. 

Passion for programming

If you’re passionate about programming, keeping on top of new technological trends will be second nature. In an interview back in 2004, Mark Zuckerberg said, 

“My goal is to not have a job. Making cool things is just something I love doing.”

As the old saying goes, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Zuckerberg’s introduction to programming was C++ For Dummies but he admits he learned the most from talking with friends, so don’t under-estimate the benefits of engaging with like-minded developers.

Crack the code

With new languages appearing on a yearly basis, it’s vital to stay up-to-date with the technical skills most attractive to employers. Javascript powers almost 95% of websites on the web, making it the most commonly used coding language, but rising up the charts are in-demand languages such as Go, Scala, and Ruby. 

Impress employers

As well as qualifications and work experience, employers are keen to see a willingness to learn and the ability to adapt to the rapidly-changing world. A keen attention to detail and strong problem-solving abilities are also high on their wish list, as is business acumen. Anna Daugherty, digital marketing manager of PITSS, told TechRepublic: 

“They need to be able to see how their software or application fits into the wider scope of the enterprise, how their project drives ROI, and how they’re contributing to the overall organizational health.”

Steps to Becoming a Software Developer

Did you know that 1-in-5 Software Developers taught themselves to code and less than 50% have a computer science degree? So, again, it’s clear that there are many alternative steps towards a career in software development. 

Practice, practice, practice

There’s a lot to be said for practical experience. “A portfolio of projects and products you have made credible contributions to is worth more than years of experience or schooling” according to Nick Larsen, a data engineer at Stack Overflow.

Internships

Not only do placements within an organisation help you learn more about the role, they also help you understand what it’s like to work there. Plus, if the stars align you could also be offered a permanent role at the company.

Is blockchain the future?

Blockchain is the core technology for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. It’s a system for recording information in a way that makes it virtually impossible to hack or cheat the system. 

The demand for Software Developers with blockchain skills rose 517% between 2018 and 2019.This was reflected in the average salary for blockchain engineers – £67.92k in London. So maybe now is the perfect time to brush up on your blockchain skills.

What is the expected salary of a Software Developer?

According to the National Careers Service, the average yearly salary for a Software Developer in the UK ranges from £20,000 for a new starter to £70,000 depending on experience.

A generous salary isn’t the only benefit of a career in software development. The work can be varied, ranging from websites and games to apps and AI, and, because all you need is access to a computer, in theory, you can complete the work from anywhere at any time.  

How long does it take to become a Software Developer?

The traditional route of studying for a degree in computer science at college or university can take three to four years, but there’s an increasingly popular alternative: coding bootcamps.

Designed to give you job-ready coding skills in just three months, these full-time, intensive courses concentrate on giving you bags of practical experience from seasoned developers. Ranging in price from £3,000 to £15,000, you can get a handy breakdown of the UK’s best coding courses here.

Related occupations

Working in an ever-changing industry means there’s plenty of opportunity for career progression. At larger firms, you could get the chance to move into systems design, IT architecture or business systems. Or, you may prefer to go it alone and set up your own company working as a consultant on freelance projects. Other career adjacent opportunities could include computer games developer, mobile app developer, and full stack developer.

If software development sounds like the career for you, you’re in great company. Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, once said,

“Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer…because it teaches you how to think.”

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