Whether you’re just starting your career or looking to change industries, becoming a computer programmer is often an appealing prospect. But how do you become a programmer? Here, we take a look at the career in detail, exploring everything you need to know to get started. Let’s get started with our how to become a computer programmer step-by-step guide. Curious about data analytics careers? Check out our separate article outlining the top 10 analytics careers.
What is a Programmer?
A programmer writes code for computer software using a specific programming language. They contribute to the development of an application by coding, testing, and maintaining computer programs.
With the exponential advancement of technology, there is now a huge demand for employees with programming expertise. The role has become increasingly popular as programmers are required in software engineering, web development, application development, systems analytics, and data science.
Why Choose a Career in Programming?
If you’re not convinced this is the career for you, here are five reasons you should consider becoming a programmer in 2023:
1. Abundant Career Opportunities
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information technology employment will grow 13% between 2020 and 2030, which is faster than the average projected growth rate across all occupations (8%).
The demand for programmers is so high because the world relies on technology for almost everything, from food delivery to streaming movies online. Companies are constantly on the lookout for skilled individuals who can write programs that accomplish these things.
2. High Salary
3. Job Fluidity
As a computer programmer, you are not tied down to a single career path. Programming skills are transferable, and you can always transition into a different role if you want a new experience.
Web development, software engineering, data science, and systems engineering are fields you can easily break into with coding experience.
4. Work Flexibility
Unlike jobs that require physical interaction, programming tasks can be accomplished remotely as long as you are connected to the internet.
Programmers are typically offered more flexibility than other employees, and there are many remote job openings in different parts of the world that you can apply to.
This means that you aren’t restricted by your zip code. You can also save time on the daily commute to work, which can instead be spent on creating a new income stream or working on a passion project.
5. Freelance Opportunities
Programming is one of the most in-demand freelance skills, and there are currently over 150,000 freelance web and software developers employed in the United States.
As a freelance programmer, you can handpick projects to work on and reject tasks that don’t interest you. You also have the freedom to choose your clients, which simply isn’t possible in a corporate environment. Finally, you can work from almost anywhere in the world as long as you have a laptop and internet access.
If you are successful, this is an opportunity to improve your work-life balance and become your own boss.
How to Become a Programmer: A Step-by-Step Guide
Now that you know the advantages of being a programmer, we will list five steps you can take to become one:
Step 1: Select a Programming Language/Niche
Programming is an exceptionally large field with applications in almost every industry. Companies need programmers to build applications, fix system errors, perform predictive analytics, and develop games.
Each programming role is specialized and has its own tool stack.
If, instead, you only have experience with procedural programming in Python, you are likely to be rejected since your skillset lacks relevance to the company’s requirements.
For aspiring coders, it is a good idea to select one programming language and become really good at it instead of trying to learn multiple languages and frameworks at once.
While it might seem counterintuitive to specialize in a single language when the programming landscape is ever-changing, you should do this at first since most companies have a fixed tool stack that the entire team codes in.
These organizations want a programmer who knows this language really well. To get hired, master one language and apply only to jobs that list the language as a requirement. Start learning a second language only once you are competent with the first.
Which Programming Language to Choose?
With so many languages out there, deciding which one to learn first can be confusing.
The programming language you should choose depends on your end goal - Do you want to develop websites for end-users? Or would you prefer to enter the field of machine learning and AI?
Here are some of the most popular programming languages and their applications:
Python has increased in popularity over the past few years due to its simple syntax and abundance of data science libraries. It is a general-purpose programming language that you can use for backend application development, automation, data analytics, and artificial intelligence.
If you want to enter the data science field, it is a good idea to learn Python since the language has the highest volume of job openings in the industry.
Take our Introduction to Python course to learn the language from scratch.
Unlike the other languages on this list, SQL can only be used to interact with databases. The language is used by database architects to build an organization’s data infrastructure. It is also used in the fields of web development, analytics, and data science to extract information from databases.
You almost certainly need to know SQL if you want to become a full-stack developer, data scientist, or data analyst.
If you want to learn SQL but don’t know where to start, take our Introduction to SQL course.
R is a programming language designed specifically for statistical computing. It is used in data science to analyze data, create statistical visualizations, build predictive models, and generate reports.
While Python is currently used more often by data science industry professionals, R is primarily used in academic and research settings. It is a good idea to learn R if you want to become a statistician, or data science researcher.
Take our Introduction to R Programming course to learn the language from scratch.
Java is an object-oriented programming language that is used primarily for server-side development. It is a stable language that has been around for a long time, and many large companies have chosen to use it for this reason.
You should learn Java if you want to work on back-end application development at a large company that ensures job security.
To help you make a more informed decision on which programming language to choose, here is a chart that ranks them based on demand:
If you are still unsure of the career path you want to pursue, it is a good idea to learn Python since it has applications in more fields than all the other languages listed here.
Step 2: Education
You can either pursue an undergraduate degree, enroll in a coding bootcamp, or take online courses to learn to code.
While it might have been necessary to spend $100,000 on a computer science degree to learn to code ten years ago, there is now an abundance of online resources you can leverage for a fraction of the price.
Tech giants like Google and Facebook often hire self-taught programmers without a degree, so formal education is definitely no longer a requirement to succeed in the field.
To get started with programming, learn the basics of the subject through an online course. This includes concepts such as variables, functions, methods, operators, conditional statements, and control flow, which are the backbone of every programming language.
Step 3: Coding Challenges
Most aspiring coders make the mistake of taking too many tutorials. They often watch YouTube videos and keep copying others’ codes, which does not help them grow as a programmer.
To become really good at programming, you need to write your own piece of code to solve problems. We suggest solving programming challenges on sites like HackerRank and Leetcode to put the concepts learned from online courses into practice.
These platforms present coding problems with varying levels of difficulty. The challenges get progressively harder as you continue solving them, and if you ever feel stuck, you can always refer to solutions posted by other programmers on the site.
Furthermore, hiring managers often use HackerRank and Leetcode questions to assess candidates during the interview process, so solving problems on these platforms can help you ace programming interviews.
Step 4: Projects
Once you complete around 30-40 challenges on coding platforms, you should have enough confidence in your problem-solving skills to start building personal projects.
Creating a personal project allows you to solve an end-to-end problem with code. What you build is completely at your discretion, and you are only limited by creativity. This is a great way to demonstrate your programming skills and interest to hiring managers, especially if you have no prior experience or formal training in the field.
Tim Ruscica, for example, is a programmer who was offered a job at Shopify after showcasing a chat room web application in Python. Tiara Tanka is a data scientist who landed her first job in the field because of two portfolio projects she created.
To get hired as a programmer, make sure to create a unique project from scratch that demonstrates originality. Simple projects like a number guessing game or a calculator application have been built by thousands of aspiring coders in the past and will not set you apart from other candidates.
Step 5: Apply for Programming Jobs
After completing the above steps, you will have the required skills to become a competent programmer. Here is some advice on how to land your first programming job:
1. Build a Portfolio Website
Create a portfolio website that showcases all your projects in one place. Include links to your code in GitHub and write a few lines explaining each project. Include a short bio, online courses, education history, and any other relevant information about yourself.
Hiring managers are often non-technical people who will not necessarily understand the code in your GitHub repository. A portfolio website is a great way to communicate your projects in layperson's terms and capture the attention of potential employers.
Add a few lines to each project explaining why you started it, the steps taken to complete it, and the challenges faced during the process.
This will set you apart from candidates who simply link to their GitHub repository and don’t have an interesting story to tell.
Here are a few sections we recommend including in your portfolio site:
a) A short introduction
Add a short introduction to tell employers who you are, your work experience, skills, and education history. Include relevant information about your interests, why you want a career in programming, and the jobs you are looking for.
b) Projects section
Showcase all the projects you have worked on in the past. Be as creative as possible:
Include a description and source code so that people know what your projects are about:
c) Contact page
Finally, add a contact section so that recruiters can easily get in touch with you. Here is an example of a creative contact page built by a developer using 3D animation features:
2. Enhance your Social Media Presence
Next, create a LinkedIn profile and post content regularly. Every time you learn an interesting concept or successfully complete a project, publish it on LinkedIn. Connect with other programmers, recruiters, and employers.
Engage with your network by commenting on their posts and join programming groups where you can share valuable insight. This helps you gain recognition as a coder and improves your chances of getting noticed by recruiters.
It is important to show off your skills since the job market is a competitive place. It is a good idea to create a blog and publish programming tutorials. Every time you create a new project, write an article about it.
You can also create a YouTube channel to explain coding concepts and showcase personal projects.
3. Apply for Jobs:
Finally, start applying to open positions that match your skill set. To maximize your chances of getting hired, tailor your resume to the job listings you apply to. Highlight projects that are relevant to the industry and explain why the role is the right fit for you.
For instance, if the job involves creating an end product for customers, display a project in which you implemented software that catered to user demand. Explain your interest in building client-facing applications to improve customer experience.
According to Indeed, submitting 2-3 job applications per day will increase your chances of getting hired.
Don’t just rely on cold submitting your resume to get a job. Find companies you want to work for and reach out to recruiters directly via email or LinkedIn. Share a link to your portfolio website with your connections and ask your network for referrals.
Attend programming meetups to expand your network. This is especially important if you did not pursue a degree and don’t already have an alumni network of programmers.
Becoming a Programmer: FAQs
Can I become a computer programmer without a degree?
Yes, you can become a self-taught programmer and learn everything you need to know online. There are many successful developers in top tech companies who don’t have an undergraduate degree.
How long will it take to become a computer programmer?
How long it will take you to become a programmer depends on the amount of time you spend coding. If you spend around 4 hours coding every day, you can land a job in less than six months. However, if you have a full-time job and other commitments, then it might even take up to a year or two for you to break into programming.
How to make money as a programmer?
A full-time job is the most common way to earn an income from programming, but it isn’t your only option. You can create a profile on freelance platforms and contract your coding skills to clients.
To generate passive income from programming, you can even build online courses or teach coding tutorials on YouTube.
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