Can You Get a Programming Job Without a Degree? [Job Guide]

Akansha RukhaiyarAkansha Rukhaiyar | 13 minute read | September 16, 2022
can you get a programming job without a degree

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Programming is already one of the most in-demand technical skills, and that demand is only going to keep growing. So if you’re looking to join this exciting profession, but don’t have a related degree, then you may be wondering: how do I get my foot in the door?

That’s why we’ve created this guide. Below, we’ll detail ten steps that you can take to land a programming job without a degree. We’ll also share some stories of talented programmers and developers who landed a job through independent learning or a bootcamp.

Want to find out how to get an entry-level job without a degree in programming? Then keep reading.

Can You Get a Programming Job Without a Degree?

Yes—you don’t need a degree to land a high-paying programming job. But if you don’t have a degree, then you’ll need to build your expertise through self-learning, independent skill-building, online courses, programming podcasts, and bootcamps.

10 Steps To Land a Programming Job Without a Degree

Here are ten steps that you can take to land a programming job if you don’t have a degree:

Learn the Fundamentals

can you get a programming job without a degree

Jumping straight into advanced tutorials might seem quicker to get your portfolio going. But, you must master the basics before picking a programming language, a niche, or even a bootcamp or course. Here are some starter concepts in the programming world:

Syntax

Source: The Learning Programmer

Syntax refers to the rules that help build the structure for a programming language. Just like the English language has rules for sentence structure, so does a programming language, and the syntax encompasses these.

Variables

programming variables
Source: GeeksforGeeks

These are units that may be assigned a value. For example, name= “Chandler,” print “Hi, name.” So the program will print “Hi Chandler”. You can change what “name” denotes.

Algorithms

can you get a programming job without a degree- algorithms
Source: Software Ideas Modeler

Formulas, instructions, or step-by-step processes that come together to solve a problem or present a solution are called algorithms.

Data Structures

can you get a programming job without a degree-data structure
Source: Pinterest

A digital bucket for storing and processing data within a computer program is called a data structure. These could be characters (a, b, c, d, etc.), integers (1, 383, -47489, etc.), booleans (true, false, etc.), or even more complex data structures like arrays and loops.

Arrays and Loops

Arrays and loops
Source: Runestone Academy

Variables that are categorized together are called arrays. Loops are scripts or instructions that repeat until given the command to stop.

Learn a Programming Language

Programming languages

There are many popular programming languages out there, and you may need to pick one or at least know the basics of a few of them.

Python

Python programming language is one of the easiest to pick up. Python developers build websites and conduct software tests. It is one of the most versatile languages and can help with data visualization.

JavaScript

This programming language is slightly advanced. It is used for web page development and app creation. JavaScript works on the client side of the web.

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C++

As one of the most powerful and common programming languages, C++ is used to develop operating systems, games, etc. It is adaptable to different platforms. It is widely used across many areas of software development. Knowing C++ will benefit you greatly.

Java

This programming language is used for desktop and mobile software applications, embedded systems, and big data processing workflows. Java is also a platform, meaning it has an embedded environment within which a program can run.

Ruby

This is also an easy programming language to pick up. It has a similar syntax to C++. It is used to develop internet applications and is adaptable across a wide range of platforms.

Pursue a Course or Bootcamp

Once you have decided which programming language you want to focus on, consider a course or a bootcamp. Find one that covers the fundamentals of programming and teaches one or more of the programming languages. Assess the duration, financial commitment, reviews, and syllabus to take a call on which course or bootcamp would suit your needs.

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Determine Your Specialization

After gaining some elementary programming knowledge, you can identify a specialization that interests you. This specialization could be one of the following:

Front-End Development

front-end development
Source: CodyTechs

The creation of features and elements that the user interacts with and sees is called front-end development. These are the functional components of a website or an app that constitute user experience. As a front-end software developer, you will create user-facing or client-side features, be involved in website design and user experience, and focus on goals like reducing page loading time, etc.

Back-End Development

back-end development
Source: DDI Development

Back-end development encompasses all the “behind the scene” elements that support the application, which the user will not directly interact with. This is also called server-side development (as opposed to client-side). Back-end development includes working on databases, APIs, website architecture, etc.

Full-Stack Development

full-stack development
Source: Third Rock

If you are interested in both back-end and front-end development and don’t want to choose, then full-stack development could be an ideal path. You should have an advanced understanding of HTML. You need to know front-end languages and back-end technologies and frameworks.

Acquire and Master the Relevant Skills

To master your specialization, you’ll need a combination of technical skills and soft skills.

Technical Skills

  • Programming Languages
    Every job role related to programming requires experience in specific programming languages. Knowing one programming language well is good, and having a solid foundation in other languages is ideal.
  • Algorithms and Data Structures
    Programming requires a vast expanse of data processing and storage. This makes data structures (which store and process the data) and algorithms (which use the data) instrumental to programming.
  • Development Frameworks
    These are libraries with tools related to specific programming languages. Development frameworks assist software developers with web application building. Some examples are React, Knockback, MeteorJS, etc. You must know how to make the most out of development frameworks as a programmer.
  • Debugging
    As a programmer, finding, analyzing, and fixing bugs is a crucial skill. As a software developer, you should be able to locate and resolve bugs in a program.

Soft Skills

  • Problem Solving
    A programmer should understand how to create an algorithm for a computer to solve a problem as a human would. Without their problem-solving skills, an application or a website will not be able to function.
  • Creativity
    There can be many ways to create a code for the same result, but developers who can do it the most logically or creatively often stand out. Many developers see coding as solving a puzzle. It requires creativity to resolve a bug and reduce costs without compromising on web design quality.
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
    Any tech industry involves adaptability and flexibility. Programming languages and complexity levels of mobile apps and websites are constantly evolving. You need to be able to work with changing trends, platforms, and programming tools.
  • Attention To Detail
    You can write lines of code, but one small error can frustrate you for hours on end. Minor errors can halt websites and computer programs. Attention to detail is critical for those trying to get a programming job.

Create a GitHub Profile

GitHub account
Source: GitHub

A GitHub profile can act as your portfolio for potential employers. Create your GitHub profile to showcase your work. GitHub also provides a forum to collaborate with other developers and get assistance with programming-related questions.

Build a Portfolio With Open-Source Projects, Volunteer Work, Freelance Assignments, and Competitions

To gather some experience, consider using freelancing websites like Upwork and Fiverr. You can also volunteer to create websites for friends and families or local businesses. Another great way to gather personal projects is to participate in hackathons and other competitions. 

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Build Your Network

Whether you are self-taught or an online coding bootcamp graduate, devote some time to creating a network that can help you find opportunities and mentors.

LinkedIn

Even if you don’t have “high-level” analytical posts to share, just putting yourself out there with stories can help. Talk about your journey as a programmer who didn’t go down the traditional route of taking a formal four-year degree. Your insights can help garner the attention of companies and potential mentors.

Online Communities and Conferences

You can also leverage online communities like Reddit and seminars conducted by various organizations now and then to learn from others and have a community to fall back on for the trickier parts of your job search process.

Hackathons

Hackathons are great opportunities to network because you can directly interact with industry experts and show them your work in a formal environment. Hackathons also have networking opportunities after the competition, where you can approach different organization reps with your portfolio.

Find a Mentor

A mentor can be the ideal career coach who will help you structure your next steps, especially when you have just completed the “learning” stage and are now looking for suitable job openings. If you are going down the bootcamp path, consider one with mentorship services.

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Build Your Resume, Practice Your Interview Skills, and Start Applying

Now you can go ahead with building your resume, training for coding interviews, and getting some applications out there. Again, you can choose a bootcamp that helps shape programming careers through recruitment services. Support through mock technical interviews, resources to ace the interview process, lists of interview questions, and any other learning resources to help with job interviews can make a difference.

Examples To Follow: Landing a Programming Job Without a Degree

Want to see some of the above steps in action? Here are some insights from programmers who went down the path of either learning through a bootcamp or on their own with self-teaching resources:

Bootcamp

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Felix Feng learned valuable lessons while applying to 291 companies after completing a coding bootcamp. They used networking communities and job boards to identify companies they wanted to work at, and then they cold-emailed CTOs and CEOs of those companies.

They structured their job search in a way that they could use the earlier technical interviews as experiences before tackling coding interviews at big organizations like Facebook and Google. They used online guides and subreddits to build knowledge for technical rounds.

The job search can be tiring, especially when you feel you must be at par with those with relevant degrees. Regina Scott talks about how she had to stay resilient during her job search, which led to her landing an internship at Red Hat during a hackathon. She recommends joining hackathons and attending as many networking sessions and mixers as possible. She also suggests creating a good-quality portfolio and constantly adding to it.

In-person networking is not the only way to go about making connections. Social media is an excellent playground for building relationships too. Sarah Amann, a software developer, suggests creating a Twitter account and following accounts of those with a flourishing career in software development and interacting with company executives via tweets.

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Self-Taught

Going down the online bootcamp route is not the only way. 

Islem is a coder who shares his self-taught journey on his YouTube channel, CoderOne. He advises that even if you are learning independently, you must follow a structure within a niche to land a good role:

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  • Show commitment to a narrow niche. This could be a programming language, subject area (DevOps/full stack/front-end/back-end, etc.), or a tool.
  • Spend time finding quality resources on YouTube for your niche. Supplement your free videos with online bootcamps if required. Do it for the knowledge, not for the bootcamp certificate.
  • Once you have structured information at your fingertips, build your knowledge base and get hands-on experience through projects.

Andy Sterkowitz, a self-taught software developer, has also created his own YouTube channel to circulate additional resources for those trying to learn to program on their own. He suggests being ready to learn things on the fly and test the waters smartly with new challenges because you cannot learn every programming language, tool, or data framework out there.

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Keso’s story is also similar. He did an unrelated degree and joined an IT traineeship after graduation. He suggests nurturing your GitHub profile and utilizing all the free resources online. He also highlights how people fall down a tutorial rabbit hole, i.e., they follow along with the tutorials thinking they would be able to reproduce them. This gives a false sense of progress. He recommends working on independent projects to test knowledge.

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Entry-Level Programming Jobs To Consider (That Don’t Require a Degree)

Junior Software Engineer

A junior software engineering role is the stepping stone to becoming a systems engineer, developer, or IT analyst. Junior software engineers help with software design through their coding skills. They also perform development tests.

Responsibilities

A junior software engineer’s responsibilities include writing codes, assisting with software design, and creating documentation such as scripts and reports related to user requirements. They also respond to issues raised by the development team.

Average Salary

junior software engineer salary
Source: Salary.com

General Prerequisites

You need to have intermediate knowledge of coding languages such as C++. You also need to know about the various operating systems. You should be comfortable with quickly adapting to new technology in the software industry.

Junior Web Developer

A junior web developer handles website building and maintenance. They work with UI/UX developers to ensure the website communicates a positive experience to the user.

Responsibilities

A junior web developer is part of the web development team, meaning that they are involved in website building and application design. They also assist with making the various video, audio, or visual components compatible with web consumption. Junior web developers are often part of the troubleshooting team for a website.

Average Salary

can you get a programming job without a degree-salary
Source: Zip Recruiter

General Prerequisites

To get a junior web developer job, you are generally expected to know coding languages like HTML, JSON, Python, etc. You should also be adept at navigating various UX design tools.

Junior Game Developer

A junior game developer plays a role in the many processes that make up game design and development. These can include ideation, audio, design, etc.

Responsibilities

A junior game developer takes up tasks like storyboard and script creation, generating characters, producing prototypes of the game or various game features, fixing bugs that show up as errors during the game-playing experience, and developing milestones for the game. All these responsibilities require coding.

Average Salary

game developer's salary
Source: Zip Recruiter

General Prerequisites

A game developer must have practical experience with common programming languages and intermediate knowledge of libraries and APIs. They should also be abreast with gaming trends and tools in the gaming tech industry.

Cybersecurity Analyst

cybersecurity analyst
Source: Spiceworks

A cybersecurity analyst works towards creating robust security measures to help understand gaps in an organization’s cybersecurity architecture. They need to have a specialization in IT infrastructure security.

Responsibilities

A cybersecurity analyst is mainly responsible for evaluating network strength and analyzing tests done by penetration testers. They draft reports based on these tests and then identify the best solution to strengthening the network. They configure password protection solutions, encryption keys, and other forms of virus protectors.

Average Salary

cyber analyst salary
Source: Zip Recruiter

General Prerequisites

Cybersecurity analysts need to deeply understand security technologies. They need to know how penetration testing works so that their analysis is nuanced. They should also have sufficient knowledge of mitigating network vulnerabilities.

Resources To Find Entry-Level Programming Jobs

You can find competitive entry-level programming jobs through job boards and networking communities:

Job Boards

Depending on your experience, you can find a job on general job boards or niche job websites.

General

Indeed, AngelList, and Smashing Magazine are heavily populated job boards with frequent postings for generalist entry-level jobs (both freelance and full-time) in the programming field. These job boards can provide the ideal starting point for a flourishing career in programming when you don’t have a specialization.

Niche

For niche entry-level jobs, you can check out findwork.dev and jobsinjs.com. You can also try GitHubn – the online platform where all programmers unite. The job board usually features full-time jobs. You can do keyword searches to filter jobs based on location, programming language, and experience level.

Network

Besides job boards, you can tap into valuable online communities where people float job opportunities.

LinkedIn

Prospective employers offering high annual salaries post their requirements on LinkedIn. You can also get opportunities by interacting with high-level executives who are active on LinkedIn. Create relationships with potential employers by engaging with them through posts and comments. You can ensure job security through this strategy.

Online Communities

Other online communities like Reddit, blog forums, and email newsletter groups can help you land an entry-level job. Scour through these sources frequently to pin potential opportunities. You can also interact with other job seekers here.

How Much Can You Make as a Programmer?

The following salary ranges for programmers vary depending on your location, organization size, and educational background.

Entry-Level

An entry-level programmer can earn between $37,000 and $64,000, with an average salary pegged at around $50K.

entry-level programmer analyst salary
Source: Indeed

Mid-Level

A mid-level programmer has about 2-4 years of experience. They earn an average of $67,000. Depending on the exact experience level and location, the salary can be a touch below 100K.

intermediate programmer analyst
Source: Payscale

Senior-Level

A senior programmer’s average salary is around $90K. Here are the salaries for a few cities in the USA.

senior programmers

FAQs About Getting a Programming Job Without a Degree

We’ve got answers to your most frequently asked questions. 

Is Programming a Good Career?

Yes. Learning to program opens a wide range of job opportunities and can lead to a flourishing career. Entry-level positions have competitive pay. This field will not go obsolete anytime soon; the reach of the internet is only going to grow.

The job market may seem saturated, but there are plenty of opportunities.

Is Learning Programming Difficult?

Programming requires consistent dedication and upskilling. It can be challenging to learn without the assistance of a coding class, bootcamp, or a committed professional network and mentor.

There is a wide range of free resources out there that can help you test the waters.

Can You Learn Programming on Your Own?

Yes! Many self-taught programmers out there have used coding and software engineering courses and other free online resources to learn programming. If you want a structured way of studying, you can join a coding bootcamp. Start small. One course, a couple of books, and lots of learning will go a long way.

How Long Does It Take To Learn Programming?

It can take between three to six months to cover the fundamentals of programming, depending on the hours you put in and the kind of resources you use. A structured six-month bootcamp can prepare a beginner for entry-level and mid-level jobs.

Get acquainted with coding jargon and the basics of programming in the first few months, and then go from there.

Since you’re here…
Interested in a career in software engineering? Join our mentor-led Software Engineering Bootcamp or our foundational Software Engineering Course if you’re just starting out. We help people make the switch every day (just peep our reviews). You can do it, too!

Akansha Rukhaiyar

About Akansha Rukhaiyar

Akansha is a freelance writer for SaaS B2B brands, with a parallel interest in writing for mental health services and education websites. She has worked with globally diverse clients and loves to incorporate The Office references in her writing in the most accessible ways