How to Become a Software Developer: The Top 6 Myths Holding You Back

Fundamentally, to learn how to become a software developer is the same as to pursue any career path: hard work will truly determine success, not talent. But despite this undeniable truth, society continues to misconceive software development to be an industry exclusive to particularly niche personas: the geek, the math whiz, the prodigy! These are dangerous misconceptions that often deter everyday people, with ample potential for success, from pursuing careers as programmers. Well it’s time to put an end to these fallacies, and by the end we hope you can make a more educated decision about a possible career in coding and the next step in learning how to become a software developer. Read on to learn the 6 most common myths that misrepresent this lucrative career opportunity.


MYTH #1: I need to be a genius to become a developer

Image of a coding prodigy

REALITY: Anyone can learn how to become a software developer

Software engineers, developers, devs, programming architects – whatever you wish to call them – are not geniuses. Like members of any industry, their skillfulness lies on a spectrum from excellent to poor. On the good side, you will find programmers with either remarkable talent or work ethic, maybe both; and on the bad side, well you can imagine. But on any point of this spectrum, good or bad, you will find ordinary people, just like you. Because to get into this industry, everyone follows the same path: learning the technology and theory, and then implementing the learning through projects until mastery is achieved. That’s all there is to it. No one is more “destined” to become a software developer than you, and vice versa.

 

MYTH #2: Learning to code is like learning brain surgery!

Student learning to code

REALITY: Learning to code is easy, mastering it is hard.

In addition to computer science theory, you of course need to learn how to code to in order to become a software developer. But don’t worry, it’s not brain surgery; in fact it’s not even rocket science.

Learning to code is not as hard as most people think. Fundamentally, to code is to talk to a computer, but in a special language, such as PHP, Javascript, or Ruby. As a software engineer your job is to talk to the computer and give it tasks to perform, such as building a website. To build the website, the computer requires the developer to meticulously write–out a list of step–by–step instructions – mini tasks to accomplish a overarching task. As you can imagine, the initial tasks are easy to describe: “Computer, make my website interface 1000px wide!” But as these basic tasks increase in quantity, and begin to amplify in complexity, this step–by–step list of mini tasks starts to become more convoluted and strenuous. (Imagine how many mini tasks are required to build codingdojo.com!) This is how software development works: it’s a highly sophisticated form of communication between a person and a computer, which is easy to learn at the start, but arduous to master at later stages. But for someone new to programming, if they can communicate with others, they can learn to code. The first step is to learn the special languages that only the computer understands.

 

MYTH #3: I need a college degree to know how to become a software developer

Computer science graduates

REALITY: Programmers without degrees are more common than you think

Believe it or not, but there’s a significant population of software developers in the tech–industry who are self-taught, and to this day, still don’t have formal degrees. This is because computer programming is a trade, and it can be taught in the same manner that someone can learn how to use Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Of course, when first starting out this person isn’t a full–fledged programmer or graphic designer, but they know how to use the tools, which is suffice to get a job. Once they land a job, they build a portfolio and begin to master their trade. This is precisely how self–taught programmers find success, and even many graphic designers. Additionally, many programming technologies such as PHP are extensively documented online and are enthusiastically supported by the online community, which further promotes opportunities for self–taught coding.

Furthermore, the rise of the coding bootcamp industry in the U.S. proves that a college degree is not required to learn how to become a software developer. Although a degree certainly carries more weight, this doesn’t devalue the coding bootcamp experience; both routes are effective stepping-stones to kick–start a career in software development. Contrary to many misconceptions, the goal of a coding bootcamp is not to gain comparable coding skills to a 20–year veteran, which is an impossible feat. The goal is to graduate with ample coding experience to land a job in the tech–industry ­– an accomplishment attained by our Coding Dojo alumni and other coding bootcamp graduates many times over. This career path is parallel to that of a computer science graduate from a 4–year university. Although more reputable than attending a coding bootcamp, the CS degree is still fundamentally a tool to get a job in the tech–industry. But after landing the job, work experience and a portfolio will ultimately decide future career prospects, less so an alma mater or degree. So do you absolutely need a degree to pursue a career computer programming? The answer is an explicit “no”.

 

MYTH #4: I need serious math skills to learn how to become a software developer

You don't need to be a math whiz to be a programmer

REALITY: Success as a programmer and math proficiency are not directly correlated

To be a full–time programmer is not to be a gifted mathematician. You don’t need to know how to calculate the slope of an orthogonal trajectory to know how to code. Actually, you don’t have to even know what this means. To learn how to become a software developer, you need to know basic algebra and practice strong problem–solving skills. Other than these two prerequisites, the degree of math you need to know is highly dependent on the project you are working on. For example, if you’re designing user interfaces with a front–end framework like twitter bootstrap, you’ll barely use any math – at a minimum you need to be able to count pixels. In contrast, if the project specifically requires certain mathematical functionality, then yes, you will absolutely need to know some math. Overall, you don’t need to know advanced math to become a programmer; but if you end–up having to use it, it’s due to the either the nature of your employer or the project that landed on your desk, not the career as a whole.

 

MYTH #5: Knowing the ‘best’ programming language will accelerate my journey to learning how to become a software developer.

C# versus PHP versus Ruby.

Most developers learn multiple software languages and technologies.

REALITY: There is no ‘best’ language to learn.

The requirements of a project will determine the ‘best’ programming language to use, and even then, you will need to use multiple languages to complete a project. This is because many languages work together, not against each other. Each language has an intended purpose within a given project. For example, Javascript is historically a front–end language intended for UI development; meanwhile, PHP is a back–end language intended for back–end development. You may not know what this means precisely, but the bottom line is that comparing certain languages is like comparing a hammer to a screwdriver: they are designed for different tasks but together achieve a common goal.

In addition to working together, some programming languages are comparable and may essentially supply the same functionality: PHP is comparable to other back–end languages such as Java, Perl, or Ruby. However this fundamental commonality doesn’t precisely equate to PHP being easily substitutable by Java, Perl, or Ruby. Similarly, weighing comparable programming languages is like comparing Chinese to Spanish: they share insightful similarities but at the same time, critical differences. For brevity’s sake, here’s a great article on the topic that compares PHP versus Ruby.

In summary, learning the ‘best’ programming language is not your secret ingredient to become a software developer. As you contemplate a career in programming, disregard this trivial curiosity and focus on getting your feet wet: start playing with code in order to learn the basics and fundamentals. Completing a mini–personal project is often the best source for motivation, and will ultimately decide which language to start with. And as your ability to program advances and knowledge expands, you will gradually discover the intricacies of each language and further understand why there is no ‘best’ programming language in the industry. For now, just start coding as soon as possible.

 

MYTH #6: It is too late for me to become a developer.

Coding bootcamp students and alumni

REALITY: It’s never too late to change careers!

The Coding Dojo student body debunks this myth a hundred times over. Students within our coding boot camp come from all backgrounds and age groups. And by the end of our 12–week programming course, they are able to find jobs as full stack web developers. We’ve transformed an Alaskan fisherman into a web application developer at JP Morgan, taken seasoned software engineers and taught them new technologies that they were unable to learn at work or on their own, and we’ve helped unemployed professionals accelerate their career transitions. Regardless of prior experience, the path to become a software developer is open to anyone whom aspires to take it. The only prerequisite is a relentless will to succeed. Our staff has witnessed our students complete this journey many times over, and so can you.


The bottom line…
You have always had what it takes to learn how to become a software developer

Now that you’ve seen the truth behind the myths, hopefully you can shrug off some of your doubts and find the confidence to potentially pursue a career in computer programming. As cliché as it may sound, if you put the time and effort in, there’s no reason you can’t succeed. Now the only thing left is for you to get up and take the first step. Will you be a self–taught developer, attend a 14–week coding bootcamp, or will you sign–up for college? Whichever path you take, with the right mind–set you’re sure to find success.

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39 thoughts on “How to Become a Software Developer: The Top 6 Myths Holding You Back

  1. Hi i studying in final year MCA(Computer Application) i not so good in programming but relatively no so bad. how can i become stronger in coding.

  2. What you would say about learning algorithms. We need some intelligence to understand and create complex algorithms.
    Otherwise , all the points are true and helpful. Thanks

  3. In reference to Myth # 3 you don’t need a university degree – I’m proof of that. Was a software developer with just some college classes but no degree when I started over 10 years ago. However, to stay in the field you will need to keep learning new languages and constantly upgrading your technical knowledge throughout the life of your career. This is definitely not a profession where you can thrive, or even survive, by learning just a defined, static set of skills. You may not have a university degree to start, but you will constantly be learning and refining your knowledge. If you stay in it long enough you will participate in more learning than those who earn doctorate degrees. To make it in this profession you need to have a healthy thirst for intellectual growth, and a high tolerance for change. If you are – then this is an exciting, challenging, and VERY rewarding career.

  4. Myth#6: Its too late for me to become a developer.
    REALITY: Its never to late to change careers .
    ME: OK now i can Start it later without any hesitation . Because there is enough time to change career………….

  5. This is encouraging people who are weak in mathematics.I’m feared about mathematics in high school so i did’nt taken science stream.But now i’m decided that i will be study the digree related to software development.Thank you.

  6. You know what I know “HTML”, and I’ve always wanted to take a step forward to the next language I put my brain to. Like this blog has said only thing holding me back is me, so I’m going to let myself in and start taking the first step on learning a new language! Sometimes it takes the universe to lead you in the right direction. Thanks for posting this blog! If it wasn’t for reading this I would be sitting on my butt looking through Facebook.

    Thanks,
    Matt

  7. I want to be a game developer. I know computer languages like C and C++ and currently i am learning Java by myself.
    But i am still not sure what other skills or courses i should take to be able to be a complete game developer.

  8. I’m new to coding (less than 2 months) and can anyone tell me how many years of training/practice it will take for a beginner like myself to be able to land a job?

  9. Well said.. All points made are valid. Aspiring Software engineers like me should read this. This is the plain truth. For some people, the reality of becoming a software engineer has been halted by stereotypes such as “strong maths skills needed to learn how to code”. Although a strong proficiency in maths and abstract thinking would give an upper hand in solving complex coding problems, as you rightly said, they are not directly correlated. Some people require more time in mastering the art of coding and solving complex problems. In this regard, patience and perseverance is key. Thanks for your post once again. I’m sharing this on social media.

  10. I am 13 but this article will suerly help me in the future because i am planing on making this my profession in the future who ever wrote this article thanks alot ☺☺☺☺

  11. Really good article! In fact, I recently wrote a book on how to become an expert software engineer, and yeah, you definitely don’t need to be a genius, you don’t need a degree, and it really is never too late to become a software engineer (even an expert one!).

    The aim of my book is to introduce people to the world of free and open source software development as a means of acquiring new skills and gaining focused, real world work experience.

    It’s called: “How to Become an Expert Software Engineer (and Get Any Job You Want)”. I’d love to hear what you thought of it.

    http://amzn.com/B01A36ZI66

  12. I agree completely on this. I’ve been an iOS developer for 1 year and even though I love math, I completely forgot almost all of it out of high school. You don’t really need math to be a good programmer. But what you do need is logic, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a genius.

  13. The best programmers I’ve ever worked with are self-taught. You can be a strong programmer without taking high-level calculus courses or even being good at “math”. As others have mentioned, programming is more about understanding concepts and logic, so if you can train your brain to think about problems conceptually you’ll do just fine.

    On the other hand, I will mention that if you’re considering a software engineering degree from a university, there will be LOTS of required math courses. In today’s formal education environment, there’s really no way to avoid it. Fortunately you don’t need a software engineering degree to be a programmer though :) http://www.iec.edu.in

  14. this article was so helpful. For a long time I believed these myths and let them keep me from satisfying my curiousity about how code and everything works. I’ve been learning about code the last few months but feeling like an imposter because I still believed a lot of these myths. This article was very reassuring and enlightening and gave me hope that I can one day have learned enough to call myself a programmer and maybe get paid to be a web developer.

  15. Ok that’s great. I’m so happy after reading this article. From my childhood till now I always wanna be developer. I love computer science. I understand it very well more than anything. Now everything is clear to me. That I don’t need any organized university’s certificate to be a developer. Thank you whoever wrote this article. It’s very helpful.

  16. Are you serious? An engineer needs to understand all of them. Theese are not myths they are the truths.

    Simple web programmer is not an software engineer.

  17. As a professional software developer with over 30 years of experience, this article seriously misrepresents real software development.

    Yes, you don’t need a degree. I don’t have one (but I also started writing software when I was 10 years old). And yes, you can suck at advanced math. I do. It’s about logic more than math, but you absolutely must be solid in algebra.

    But as for the difficulty, sure, anyone can learn a little java or php and throw together a basic app. That’s no big deal. That’s not software development. That’s like calling someone who can make hard boiled eggs a chef.

    True software development isn’t just science, it’s very much an art as well. And to do it professionally, you don’t just need to be a good software developer, you need to be good at a lot of things. Almost every job I’ve had has been in a different industry. When I worked for a cellular network consulting company, I had to learn about RF Engineering, when I worked for a poultry company I had to learn about the chicken business, when I worked for a trucking company, I had to learn about trucking, etc. There are few careers that require you to learn a great deal of detail about entire fields when you change jobs. Professional software development does.
    Finally, if you don’t love it, stay away from it, because it will make you absolutely miserable. Every single software developer I know who got in it for the money didn’t stay in it and was miserable the entire time the were in it.

  18. The mystery that software development is rocket science has been demystified by this article…lace up you shoes buddies!!!

  19. I started programming in 1982 and I still feel like a beginner. If I were to start now this would help immensely.
    This article is great.

  20. Great article. Debunks a lot of common myths, another I’d like to be brought up is the prevalence of “ageism” in this field. Reality or myth?

  21. Very well done. It really unraveled my long-had myth/question of “You have to be a genius to become a programmer”. This definitely gives me hope that I can possibly do programming. Thank you so much.

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