There's no "one-size-fits-all" answer to the question of how to become a software developer. Everyone is different, and everyone starts at a different level, which is great news because it means there are various paths you can take to reach the same destination.
Some people start with a foundation of technical skills or a little knowledge of coding. Others start from scratch. No matter where you start, there are several ways you can gain the required skills and knowledge you'll need for a career in software development — and we'll show you how. But first, you need to know what kind of software developer you want to be.
3 questions to help guide you on your path toward becoming a software developer
There are three questions you should ask yourself to determine your path toward a career in software development. These questions are:
- What type of work do you want to do?
- What technical skills do you have now?
- What kind of organizational culture do you prefer?
There are many different types of software developers, and each has its own specific skills and responsibilities. For example, front-end developers require a different tech stack than back-end developers — but more on that later. Once you figure out what kind of software developer you want to be, you can assess the gap between your current skill set and the skill set you'll need for the role.
Next, ask yourself what kind of company you want to work for. While discussing how to get a job as a developer, front-end engineer Pat DePuydt explains how roles vary depending on a company's size.
Software developers at start-ups with limited staff often take on a variety of tasks and projects. At a larger company, you're more likely to have a specific task or specialty.
Try reaching out to developers at the companies you want to work for and asking about their experiences. You can also read employee reviews on sites like Glassdoor. When you start interviewing, ask your interviewers questions about the workplace that'll help you decide if it's the right place for you to begin your career as a software developer.
What skills do I need to become a software developer?
Software developers need both technical and soft skills. Technical skills are those you'll use to build programs and applications. Soft skills are those you'll use to collaborate effectively with teammates within and outside of your department.
Regardless of specific roles, software developers need to be familiar with:
- Command line
- Application program interfaces (APIs)
- Programming patterns (e.g., object oriented vs. functional programming)
- Text editor
Along with the technical skills listed above, software developers also need to be proficient with programming languages like Python or Java. The specific languages they'll require will depend on their specialization, but most languages' utility can be expanded with frameworks and libraries.
Software developers also need to have softer skills that will come in handy when working with their team and writing code. These skills can include:
- Excellent communication
- Methodical commenting within code and documentation outside of programs
- Creativity when developing new apps and websites
- Problem-solving abilities both for debugging and for solving business problems with code
After you've made a list of a few companies you'd want to work for, take a look through their job postings. Job postings will have more information on the specific languages and tech stacks they use, allowing you to tailor your learning plan to include those skills.
What does a software developer do?
Xavier, one of our Senior Software Engineers, sheds light on what a software developer does. As he explains, software developers "build digital products, database programs, and computer systems for businesses by applying different kinds of programming languages to user-focused applications."
This is a great summary of a software developer's responsibilities, but as we explained earlier, their specific duties vary depending on what kind of developer they are.
What types of software developers are there?
If you're having trouble figuring out what kind of software developer you want to be, don't worry. There are a lot of options out there. To help you make a decision, we've made a short list of three of the most common software developer roles: front-end, back-end, and full-stack developers.
Back-end developers program servers, develop and maintain databases, and manage client-side interfaces. They ensure all the behind-the-scenes infrastructure can support the beautiful web applications that front-end engineers create. Back-end engineers typically have a working knowledge of Node.JS, SQL, or Express.JS.
Finally, full-stack developers are the jacks and jills of all trades, capable of handling both front-end and back-end development. With enough time, full-stack engineers can create websites and applications entirely on their own. Generally, these software developers use a mix of both front-end and back-end languages.
How to gain software developer credentials
The great news about becoming a software developer is that it doesn't require a degree or certificate from a college. Many people have transitioned into software development from vastly different jobs and learned the skills they needed on their own.
Online courses are a great way to learn the skills you'll need as a software developer. For example, our Career Paths teach you everything you need to know to land an entry-level position from the ground up.
- In our Back-End Engineer Career Path, you'll learn how to manipulate servers and databases and build your own APIs.
Another benefit to online learning is the community you'll find around almost any platform. Engaging with these communities allows you to learn from people who either are or have been in your shoes.
Take Regina, a former piano teacher who transitioned into her new career as a software developer in just six months. She explained how having a community of like-minded folks around her during this time was a big part of her success. Online groups, social media hashtags for coding, and forums (like the Codecademy Forum) helped Regina stay accountable to her goals.
"Even though I probably had some questions about whether I could do this, I have just seen so many other people who have studied something else in college and then gone into tech after." — Regina, member of the Codecademy community
Are software developers in demand?
Software developers are in very high demand. Think about how many companies rely on a website, software, or database to operate. Nearly all businesses require software.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, software developer jobs are expected to increase by 22% over the next decade. That's much faster than average because of the huge demand for people who can create, maintain, and improve software and systems.
How long does it take to become a software developer?
Because everyone begins with a different set of skills, the answer is: it depends. If you're upskilling, but you already know some programming basics, you'll learn faster than someone starting from square one. You might be able to learn the necessary skills in three or four months. But, if you're tackling a larger learning curve, it might take you a little longer to become a full-fledged software developer.
It's also important to be realistic about how much time you can dedicate to your learning. If you're learning between working and parenting, it'll take longer. But, if you're studying full-time, you could develop the skills you need in as little as a few months. The key is to set a sustainable goal of a minimum daily practice and then stick to it. Regina recommends a minimum of 15 minutes a day:
"Hold yourself accountable. Do the 15 minutes a day, participate in those forums and those exchanges, because you'll find that the more involved you are in it, the more excited you become!" — Regina, member of the Codecademy community
Hopefully, you'll have a better idea of how to become a software developer after reading this article. Once you've figured out what kind of developer you want to be and what type of company you want to work for, the next step is to start building the skills you'll need to excel in your career.