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How to become a computer programmer-200127

How to become a computer programmer without a degree

Providing you have the ambition and are willing to put in the work, a career in programming is within the grasp of most people - and you don’t necessarily need a computer science degree. In fact, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated that about half of Apple employees don’t have a degree, and the company is ‘proud of that’.

Naturally, it helps if you’re comfortable with software and have a background or interest in maths, physics or engineering, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t. From choosing the right language to getting peer support, this blog offers valuable tips for becoming a programmer without a computer science degree.

Choose a language to learn

You may already have a clear idea of the type of developer you want to become. If you don’t, it’s a good idea to narrow it down to one or two languages or frameworks to start with. Trying to learn everything, or failing to focus at this stage, will waste time and delay your progress.

When you’re starting out, you need to familiarise yourself with the fundamentals and the process of learning to programme. By gaining familiarity with one or two languages, you’ll make it easier to transition to others. By all means, experiment with a few languages to start off with, but try to keep your goals in mind.

Below are the core programming languages required for some of the most popular roles in programming.

Programming languages – software developers

  • JavaScript
  • C++
  • HTML
  • .NET
  • Smalltalk
  • Visual Basic

Programming languages – app developers

  • JavaScript
  • C
  • C++
  • SQL
  • PHP
  • iOS
  • Python

Programming languages – front end web developer

  • JavaScript
  • HTML and CSS
  • CSS pre-processors (LESS and SASS)
  • Responsive Design
  • GitHub
  • Angular JS
  • React JS
  • WordPress

Programming languages – back end web developer

  • APIs
  • SQL
  • HTML5
  • Building Servers and Database
  • Ruby and Python

Top tip - Many learners rate C as a good language to begin with. Find out more about the benefits of learning C and get ideas for beginner projects.

Dedicate time to practising your skills

Programming is all about doing; reading the theory will only get you so far. If you want to progress, you must invest a significant amount of time in practising your skills and experimenting with new languages and ways of working. An excellent way to do this and gain confidence and experience is to contribute to open source projects on platforms like GitHub. This will enable you to try out your work in a supportive environment and gain knowledge from other coders.

Once you’re ready, it’s time to take the leap and create a project to share with your community. You can use GitHub for this or choose from a range of GitHub alternatives.

Use tools that real developers use

Programmers need hands-on, real-life experience to succeed. That means gaining a thorough working knowledge of the tools that real developers use. Alongside Git and GitHub, here are just a few of the programming tools for you to consider:

  1. SQL - SQL or Standard Query Language is an essential tool that enables programmers to read, update and delete data from tables.
  2. Text/C.ode Editors - choose from standard NotePad or advanced options such as NotePad++ or Sublime. You could also try Atom, a free, open source code editor created by GitHub. Programmers love Atom as you can write notes in markdown and see an online preview, which is handy for working on Readme files and other docs.
  3. Linux - programmers spend a lot of time on Linux. Understanding Linux commands will help you troubleshoot any issues with applications that run on this operating system.
  4. Code Climate - all programmers need a good code analysis tool to monitor the quality of their work. With a number of free and low-cost plans, Code Climate gets our vote.
  5. Bootstrap - Bootstrap is a great option for developers looking to create responsive, mobile-first websites. It’s free, open source and helps facilitate a consistent approach between multiple developers.

We offer a wide range of training options for both beginners and experienced coders. Find out more about ILX’s programming courses today.

Read and learn from other people's code

Most programmers prefer writing code to reading it, but learning from other people’s code is a great way to level-up your skills and test projects. Start by gaining an overall feel for the code and what it’s trying to do. Look up any unfamiliar constructs and then look at a number of functions or classes more closely. If you’re struggling to understand the details of the code, try extracting it into a different program. Do the same with the parts that you do understand, segmenting them into self-contained functions.

Both these exercises should make deciphering the code more manageable, but naturally, there’ll be times when you simply hit a brick wall. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help or team up with another student to work through the problem together.

For coders who want to gain experience with new languages, Code Wars is an excellent platform to try. You can take part in hundreds of different programming challenges, in a variety of languages, and even see the highest-rated solutions so you can benchmark your own work.

Find a community

Being part of a community is important for programmers, no matter where they are in their career or learning path. Testing ideas, learning from others and sharing new tools or ways of working are vital to developing in this field. Plus, they can be really fun! We’ve mentioned a number of options above, but you can also try DZone, which is considered to be one of the best and most comprehensive guidance communities. There’s also Reddit Programming, which, like its parent site, covers just about everything.

Stay up to date

As with all tech-related disciplines, programming changes like the weather, so it’s important to keep informed. We recommend Developer Tech News and Reddit Programming to keep your finger on the pulse. You can also visit the ILX blog to get updates, or follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Keep working on your portfolio

Whether you’re preparing to launch your programming career or want to impress your peers, creating a strong project portfolio is vital. Make sure you include one good, complex project, such as a video game, flight simulator or algorithm, and then supplement this with a variety of smaller projects to demonstrate your versatility. You might also want to consider contributing to open source projects to hone your skills and get your name out there.

We hope that these tips have helped guide you on your journey to becoming a programmer. As you can see, it really is possible without a computer science degree - with the right mix of diligence, patience and focus, you can become the coder you’ve always wanted to be.

Good luck!

Take a look at the wide range of courses ILX has to offer to help you progress your computer programming career.