It’s easy to think that you’ll learn software development in six months and get a six-figure salary right after. The reality of transitioning into software engineering is actually much grimmer.
Lately it has become almost a romantic idea, one that many people hold dearly: “One day I’ll learn to code, leave this hell of a job, and start earning what I really deserve.”
Reality check — you won’t get there that fast, especially without a career coach. If you haven’t started on that path yet, I’m here to tell you that you might want to scratch that dream, because it’s harder to attain than you think.
On the other hand, if you’re one of the people who is virtually made to be a professional software engineer, well … you might not be reading this article; you’d be watching a tutorial or coding.
But if you still haven’t made up your mind, this article will help you decide if you should transition into software development and, if yes — provide some career coaching on the best way to do it.
Why Make a Career Transition into Software Development? Facts and Myths
The tech industry is broad and constantly growing. Software development provides many career options. There are less-demanding jobs, such as building websites for small and medium companies. There are also highly responsible jobs that would make a normal person pull their hair out obsessively, such as upkeeping servers of huge e-commerce providers or maintaining the security of digital banking services.
But even the easier jobs, like small website development, take years of practice to master. One needs to build tens of websites. Plus, a good web developer understands all the infrastructure and ‘magic’ that happens behind the scenes: Internet protocols, networks, servers, DNS, and so on, and so forth.
If you’re enticed by the big pay that developers get, just know that it comes at a price. It’s not as easy as spending two months at a course and getting a well-paid job right after. There’s a lot of dirt that you’ll have to march through in order to reach higher ground with good pay and good work—just like in any other industry.
Sure, there have been a lot of articles circling the Internet about how people attend an X-month course and then go on to make five-figure monthly salaries. Those articles are usually created for and promoted by the people who sell those courses.
The reality is different, and a lot trickier. In fact, for most people, software development is the least appropriate job. Many people can learn to code or build simple projects, but very few people can be great professional software developers.
If you’re considering software development as a career, let’s see if you’re on the right track:
- Have you thought about which programming language would be best to learn first?
- Do you know what possible career routes there are in software development?
- Are you interested at all in how the Internet works?
- Do you enjoy spending hours — days, even — trying to find solutions to seemingly simple problems?
If your answer is “no” to all of the above questions, you should consider a different career.
And if you answered “yes” to at least two, keep on reading — you might be software developer material.
How Big is the Gap Between Unfilled Jobs and Number of Developers Available for Them?
There are 223,054 software development job openings just in the United States. (source)
One survey of 700 developers showed that 67% of them were likely to look for new jobs during the following year, and 81% of them were either confident or extremely confident that they would find a job without a problem. (source)
Clearly, there is a shortage of developers, but it’s not just because there’s too few of them. There’s another reason, and it’s the same reason that all managers — regardless of industry — have trouble finding people to hire: Most workers don’t have the right skills for the role.
Employers have trouble filling open positions on their development teams, because they have high standards. Developers don’t get hired because of …
- Missing technical skills
- Demands for outrageous rates
- Poor soft/communication skills
- Lack of engineering education
So, while there are many software developers, and more are joining the industry every day, there is still a shortage of experienced and educated programmers — especially now, since the barrier to learn programming has never been lower. You don’t even need to spend cash. If you’re dedicated enough, there are free extensive courses like FreeCodeCamp.
But they can’t substitute a formal computer science education or an engineering degree. And companies don’t want to spend money educating a junior developer. They’d rather hire a person that won’t need a long on-boarding period to start generating revenue for the business.
Another problem is that many managers won’t — and some can’t — hire remote software developers. The global economy is more distributed than ever, and virtual teams are nothing new. Companies like Zapier or Basecamp have become market-leading business thanks to taking advantage of remote work.
Compared to hiring locally and in-house, remote work opens up a much vaster talent pool to managers. It also gives them an opportunity to optimize costs, because hiring developers from low-cost-of-living countries means that they will have lower hourly rates.
So, to sum up this point, there is a huge shortage of software developers, but it isn’t because there aren’t enough people learning to be programmers. It’s also caused by the fact that managers won’t hire programmers without formal education and often refuse to consider remote software developers.
The Realities of Software Development Jobs
What Determines Payment Rates for Software Developers?
The most important thing is experience. Niche job + specialized, relevant experience = the highest pay. This is especially true if we’re talking about big data, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, fintech, or any other area where there’s a lot of risk, a lot of funding, and a lot on the line if things go wrong.
Location is a big factor. Developers from Ukraine will have lower rates than developers in Silicon Valley, even if they have similar skills.
What’s your skillset? After knowledge and experience with relevant technology, the most important skill is problem-solving.
Knowing particular technologies isn’t the best determinant for software developer rates. For a majority of problems, there are multiple technologies that can be used to solve them. And great developers often learn new technologies if the project requires it.
... at least in theory. In real life, valid experience with certain technologies can greatly boost a developer’s rate, especially if we’re talking about bleeding-edge tech, for example TensorFlow, Google’s open-source library for machine learning.
The interesting thing is that TensorFlow is based on Python — one of the most commonly used programming languages in the world. It’s taught in computer science courses to teach basic coding concepts, and it’s also used in many other types of college courses for data science.
This means that a lot of people already know Python. If they wanted to, they can take some time to get good at TensorFlow and master machine learning concepts, and then they can go on to get some of the most high-paying jobs in software development today.
While this seems small, it actually shows a very important fact about software development: if you want to get a higher salary, you need to be smart about it. Don’t try to learn everything about everything, get great at all the technologies out there, or out-do other developers in terms of items in your portfolio.
Instead, you can learn a simple programming language that is commonly used in bleeding-edge tech. Get relevant experience in a niche, innovative field like AI or big data, and eventually, particularly if you get the help of a career coach, you will be able to land a position with a large salary.
How Much Experience Do You Need to Be Able to Cherry-pick Jobs?
Like we’ve mentioned before, there’s a shortage of developers who have a strong formal education and relevant experience. If you want to cherry-pick jobs, you should choose a specific career path from the get-go. It might take a while, but as you keep learning, you’ll surely find something that’s particularly appealing to you.
Picking a niche means that you’ll only apply for or accept jobs that are related to your niche. Thanks to this, you’ll become a better expert with every job. After years of working as a specialist in a niche field, your pay will get higher, and at a certain point people who need your skills will start flooding your inbox.
The key is to pick jobs that give you future-proof experience. For example, if you’re a PHP developer who does maintenance on WordPress websites, you’ll probably have a steady inflow of customers, but you won’t be advancing your skills. Safe, legacy-tech jobs won’t increase your hourly rates too much.
In the current economy, even junior developers get tons of invites and messages from headhunters, but those messages very rarely turn into real jobs. If you really want to cherry-pick jobs, you’re going to have to spend at least five years working niche jobs related to technology that is innovative and future-proof, not legacy tech.
Gathering Experience and Career Planning with or Without a Career Coach
If I Am Entry-level, Should I Job Search or Get Clients?
If you have experience working in tech companies, even in a non-technical position, and you have a bit of entrepreneurial spirit, you can get your first programming job remotely. However, probably the best way to get a good career jump-start is to join the team of a fast-growth start-up for a year or two. Start-ups have the advantage of providing you with different tasks, allowing you to see what you like best, and testing your skills at various challenges.
Apart from that, you can also go for an internship at a bigger company or help a non-profit organization. Nonprofit work probably won’t be paid, and you probably won’t be doing anything too serious, but you’ll have a good-looking item for your portfolio.
One of the most important parts of gathering early experience is building your own projects and showcasing them on sites like GitHub or your own personal site. Another thing you can do is contribute to open-source projects. It looks great in your portfolio and shows that you have a true passion for programming.
What Type of Experience Is the Most Valuable in Software Development?
Say that you already have decent programming skills. You must realize that they aren’t the only thing that matters when somebody’s deciding to hire you.
Some of the most valuable skills for software developers are actually not technical. For example, good soft skills are crucial. If you’re able to communicate technical concepts to businesspeople in a way that they actually understand you, then you already have a big advantage over other developers.
Knowledge of start-ups, awareness of the broad picture of the tech market as well as other industries, and being passionate about things other than software development are great attributes to have. These will put you ahead at your interview and in your career transition generally.
You can also get certified. One could say that certifications aren’t worth it, because anyone can do them if they put in the necessary time and money. But that is far from the truth. Having certifications immediately puts you above any other candidate who doesn’t have them. It’s simple as that.
What’s After Programming? Planning Your Career with the Help of a Career Coach
Many software developers eventually move away from coding and to higher-level tasks and responsibilities like managing teams or planning software architecture. As programmers get more experience, they often code less. They become analysts, supervisors, consultants — they basically go from being task-doers to decision-makers.
There are many great options that programmers can progress toward. Some spend several years gathering experience, only to later build their own products or frameworks and make money on their own terms. Others give their professional lives to companies that they love and grow into high-level positions like chief technology officer (CTO) or tech leader.
There are many options to consider and lots of possibilities. The main point is that if you become a programmer, you won’t have to spend your whole life as a “code-monkey.”
Software development is a profession that, when mastered, opens up many doors for you. If you’re worried that you’ll get bored of it, just remember that you won’t have to code forever, and the experience gained from programming will help you get the job of your dreams. Working with a career coach through Your Edge for Success YES can help you navigate the numerous decisions you’ll need to make along the way.
Author: George Fironov
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