Can You Learn Software Engineering On Your Own?

Want a career in software engineering but are unsure if you should enroll in a bootcamp or attempt self-learning through an online course? This guide will help you choose the right path as you begin your software engineering journey.

Can You Learn Software Engineering On Your Own

Software engineering is one of the fastest-growing and highly compensated professions in the United States, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasting 22% job growth from 2019-2029— faster than the projected rate of most other professions.

This demand for software engineers is surging in almost every field, from traditional tech and video gaming industries to government agencies, entertainment, higher education, finance, eCommerce, energy, and the nonprofit sector. This means that, in addition to there being no shortage of job opportunities, there’s also a high level of diversity in the types of products and services a software engineer can work on, and the kinds of problems in need of solving. 

The education industry has risen to meet this demand for software engineers, with online bootcamps developing detailed curricula to prepare prospective students for the workforce; massive open online courses (MOOCs) spinning up programs that offer certifications; and troves of free online resources promising to teach prospective students everything they need to know—from popular programming languages such as Python, Java, PHP, or SQL, to writing algorithms for machine learning applications and computer programs—through free video tutorials and blog posts. 

With so many free online courses and paid resources available, the process of choosing between self-taught and mentor-guided courses can raise a lot of questions and become overwhelming. Are paid courses always better? Should you start with self-learning? Is it even possible to successfully train yourself to become a software engineer? 

The following guide offers answers to some of these burning questions. 

What is the difference between a software engineering course vs. a bootcamp?

Software engineering courses, which often take the form of MOOCs (massive open online courses) typically offer a hands-off approach to teaching and learning and can focus on specific elements of the discipline, such as introducing prospective students to the basics of mobile app development, offering a crash course in different programming languages, or offering a refresher on developer fundamentals such as Github and Javascript. These courses, offered by e-learning platforms such as Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, Codecademy, DataCamp, Khan Academy, EdX, and Simplilearn allow students to go at their own pace, often have an element of self-teaching, and many also offer certifications and can count toward college credits.

Bootcamps, on the other hand, are short-term programs that tend to offer a more hands-on and holistic learning experience. Instead of simply introducing students to the basics of a discipline or focusing on one element, many bootcamps use a range of resources such as video lectures and tutorials, readings, exercises and assignments, case studies, capstone projects, and some degree of mentorship to prepare students for everything from being able to perform the job of a software engineer to acing a job interview. An instructor is often on hand to answer questions, and mentors and counselors are available to offer professional and academic guidance. The cost of bootcamps can range from $1,000-$10,000.

Not all bootcamps are made the same, though. When choosing a bootcamp, it’s important to consider the comprehensiveness of the curriculum, the time commitment, whether you will get to work on real-world projects and portfolio development, and what career guidance and counseling are included. A good bootcamp shouldn’t simply teach you the skills required to perform the job of a software engineer—it should also prepare you to land the job you want.

What’s covered in a software engineering course or bootcamp—and what should you expect?

software engineering course

Software engineering is a vast field that encompasses everything from software development and design to system analysis and technical problem-solving. Because of the number of skills required to do the job of a software engineer, comprehensive courses and bootcamps can take upwards of nine months to complete. Most courses and bootcamps assume some prior knowledge of programming languages and will teach front-end development, full-stack development, front-end frameworks, and APIs.

More in-depth courses that prepare students for the workforce will also cover key aspects of back-end web development, databases, data structures, and algorithms. 

The most successful bootcamps also provide opportunities for hands-on industry or project-based experience, and mentorship from industry experts to help graduates navigate both the projects they’re working on and the job market.

Who is eligible for a software engineering course or bootcamp?

Software engineering bootcamps typically require students to have some knowledge of programming languages and an interest in analytical problem-solving. Prep courses—whether in the form of a free coding camp or a paid mini course—can be useful for newcomers who want to develop foundational skills before attempting an in-depth software engineering bootcamp.

Make sure you carefully read a course’s expectations before signing up. 

How long is a typical software engineering course or bootcamp?

How long is a typical software engineering course or bootcamp

The average software engineering bootcamp that prepares graduates for the workforce takes around 6-9 months, with a time commitment of around 20-25 hours a week. The process will take longer if you need to complete prerequisites such as learning programming languages.

What should I learn first in a software engineering course or bootcamp?

Many software engineering courses have prerequisites such as knowing the fundamentals of Javascript, experience with HTML and CSS, and familiarity with writing simple functions, loops, and declaring variables. If you’re a complete beginner and don’t have a background in computer science, you will get the most out of a software engineering course by first taking introductory lessons to familiarize yourself with programming languages, concepts such as debugging and variables, and tools such as Stack Overflow.

Is a software engineering bootcamp worth it?

Whether a software engineering bootcamp is “worth it” depends on what it offers and what you’re willing to put into it. When choosing between bootcamps and instructor-supported online courses, it’s important to determine your end goal. Is the engineering bootcamp a stepping stone to a more technical course on designing, developing, and analyzing software systems? Is it the key to a career change? Are you hoping to land a job as a software engineer once you graduate? 

The answers to these questions are important because they can help you create a checklist for the type of bootcamp best suited to you. For example, if your goal is to land a job on graduation, then you’ll want to enroll in a software engineering bootcamp that offers career guidance, prioritizes full-stack portfolio development, includes a capstone project, and gives you easy access to industry mentorship. Likewise, if you have entrepreneurial ambitions, you’ll want a course that offers industry insights and helps build your network in tech. 

The strongest bootcamps that have a high success rate when it comes to graduation and job placements typically include the following components:

  • Comprehensive curriculum. Whether a student has a background loosely related to computer science or has previous experience with coding, data science, or front-end web development, the best bootcamps take all their needs into account and are comprehensive, using a variety of resources ranging from videos to articles, hands-on projects, and career-related coursework to ensure that students learn the skills that employers are looking for. These courses are also clear about any prerequisite skills required and offer prep courses for those who need additional training to get up to speed on programming languages and tools.
  • Real-world projects. Any software engineering bootcamp worth its salt will help students prepare a strong portfolio that includes a variety of full-stack projects showcasing what the student is capable of. When choosing between courses, consider whether a bootcamp requires a capstone project and whether there are opportunities to gain real-world experience with developing iOS or Android apps.
  • Accessible mentors. It’s well established that having access to a mentor with industry expertise can mean the difference between career advancement and stagnation. Mentors can offer valuable industry insights, give guidance and actionable advice on projects and career decisions, and help hold students accountable. The more personalized the mentorship, the better. 
  • Career coaching and networking. It’s one thing to be a highly skilled software engineer. It’s another to navigate the job market and get potential hiring managers to notice you. Look for bootcamps that incorporate career coaching and networking so that all your hard earned software engineering skills will find their way to recruiters and, ultimately, land you the job that you want. 
  • Job guarantee. Few bootcamps go so far as to offer graduates a job guarantee (i.e. a guarantee that you will find a job within the discipline after you complete the course, or you get your money back). But if you find one that does, it usually means they have confidence in their bootcamp and a solid track record of graduating workforce-ready students who go on to land jobs as software engineers. 

Ready to switch careers to software engineering?

Springboard offers a comprehensive software engineering bootcamp. You’ll work with a one-on-one mentor to learn key aspects of front-end web development, back-end web development, databases, and data structures and algorithms. Modules include learning resources, practice exercises, projects, and career-related coursework. 

Check out Springboard's Software Engineering Career Track to see if you qualify.

Not quite ready to dive into a software engineering bootcamp?

Springboard also offers a Software Engineering Prep Course, where you can learn the foundational web development skills (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) needed to pass the technical skills survey for the Software Engineering Career Track.

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