What's the Fastest Way to Become a Software Engineer?

Ready to switch careers but not sure if you are cut out for a new career as a software engineer? Read on to find out more about the fastest way to become a software engineer.

fastest way to become a software engineer

From Lionel Messi to Richard Branson, being the best takes time, perseverance, and sacrifice. Software engineering is no different. The good news is that becoming a software engineer or software developer is easier now than it has ever been.

There are several paths to becoming a software engineering. Each career path has its pros and cons. This article will delve into each in detail, covering bootcamps, self-learning approaches, and traditional university degrees. However, the fastest way to become a software engineer is through an online coding bootcamp, which can take between 24-36 weeks.

Read on to learn more.

Path 1: Coding bootcamps

A coding bootcamp is a short-term, high-intensity program aimed at learning a specific skill set for a particular job role. Unlike traditional college education, bootcamps offer the flexibility of learning at your own time and pace, without compromising on the depth of knowledge or practical experience. Short bootcamps, typically from 8-12 weeks, give you an intense and immersive experience in programming. Longer bootcamps, from 24-36 weeks, give you a comprehensive experience of software engineering with modules focusing on key aspects of development, databases, data structures and algorithms, key programming languages, software applications, project management, and related fields.

Because of their structure, coding bootcamps are in a unique position to offer several distinct advantages compared to a computer science degree or even learning on your own.

Coding bootcamps evolve fast and address the immediate demands of the software engineering job market. For example, Springboard’s Software Engineering Career Track is run by experts and professional software engineers. The project-based curriculum ensures students gain solid hands-on experience in software engineering and various software programs, not just theoretical knowledge. This is valuable for any entry-level high-demand positions.

Coding bootcamps also offer personalized guidance and 1:1 mentorship. As a practical field, programming is best learned when you write code, get reviews, and make improvements. A bootcamp that offers 1:1 mentorship will enable you to work with an experienced developer, who can help you identify your mistakes and learn from them. This way, you’ll not just learn software engineering and computer programming, but learn the necessary skills and responsibilities of a software engineer in today's job market, such as business applications and product management.

Coding bootcamps also offer career coaching and employment assistance. One of the biggest concerns among students across all modes of education is job prospects at the end of the course. Very few college degrees offer a job guarantee, and with self-learning, you’re entirely on your own. However, most bootcamps assist students with their job search, including work experience placement in the tech industry and help with landing an entry-level position.

Springboard's comprehensive bootcamp comparison guide lets you compare bootcamps from providers including Springboard, Thinkful, Flatiron School, Lambda School, and Fullstack Academy.

Path 2: DIY software engineering

Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Margaret Hamilton, and many other pioneers of the software industry were all self-taught. Even to this day, this is more common than you think: many software engineers in top positions at tech companies started with non-computer science degrees and taught themselves how to code. Hired’s 2020 State of Software Engineers report reveals that 54% of their respondents say that they would have no preference between a candidate with or without a computer science degree, or information technology or software engineering degrees.

You can teach yourself software engineering with a combination of resources:

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

There are many MOOCs for learning basics as well as advanced software engineering skills. Some of the popular ones are:

You can access the material for several of these courses for free. You can also gain certification for a subscription of $400-$500 a year.

However, it’s pertinent to know that in MOOCs, the only interaction you’ll have is with a teaching assistant or your peers through discussion forums. Personal attention is very rare, as are mentorships and coaching. Moreover, the curriculum may not be geared towards a job.

Coding challenges and hackathons

Most self-learners apply their knowledge to practice through competitions, challenges, and hackathons. Top Coder, Kaggle, CoderByte are some of the most popular. You can also identify projects and additional resources on GitHub, seeking help and asking to collaborate with the developer to solve their problems.

Discipline and rigor are essential to becoming a self-taught programmer. Without a formal structure to your learning and set deadlines, you might get pulled in multiple directions by internet forums. Without a carefully curated curriculum, there are bound to be gaps in your knowledge, or worse misinformation, that are hard to fix later. Without a mentor to guide you to the finish line, you might end up taking much longer than you wish to. If you’re in an unrelated job currently, the confidence to take the plunge into software engineering might not come when you’re alone learning the trade.

If you’re looking to self-learn software engineering, make an informed plan and stick to it. Identify a mentor and work with them on a regular basis. Once you have your basics down, apply for internships or work experience at professional organizations. Focus on learning enough to do the job instead of trying to be perfect.

fastest way to become a software engineer

Path 3: Traditional higher education

An associate degree (2 years), a bachelor’s degree (4 years), or even a master’s degree in computer science or a related field are traditional paths to a career in software engineering. These degrees expose you to a broad curriculum consisting of the fundamentals of mathematics, computer science, and programming. You can also diversify your focus by picking electives that speak to your interests, in liberal arts, data science, or even finance. Not only do college degrees take a lot longer, but they are also a significant monetary investment.

Several hiring managers have highlighted that fresh graduates lack skill in writing production-ready code—in other words, their capstone projects remain prototypes, so they might not have real-world experience in developing and testing complete solutions.

It’s also crucial to remember that textbooks are not updated at the same speed as software advances: you may be educated at the end of your course, but not necessarily job-ready. And unlike coding bootcamps, colleges do not post their students’ success rates and job placement statistics transparently every year.

Because there is an increased demand for software engineers in the United States, students still have to continue to learn outside of a traditional degree, supplementing it through opportunities like externships, internships, and open-source projects. In fact, many college graduates now choose to supplement their education with coding bootcamps so that they can keep up with the growth in the industry.

In summary, there is no one right way to become a software engineer. Depending on the time, money, and resources you have, you can choose a path that works best for you. However, the fastest way to become a software engineer is through a coding bootcamp, which can take between 24-36 weeks.

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.

Download our software engineering salary guide

This 21-page guide breaks down the software engineering career path and how to optimize salary figures.

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