5 Reasons Why You Don’t Need a Degree to be Programmer

Many people think that you have to get a 4-year degree in Computer Science in order to be get a job as a computer programmer… But you don’t.

In reality, there are many ways to learn computer programming outside of a college. And a lot of learning tends to happen on the job.

The truth is… Many of the greatest programmers are self-taught. Learning to code isn’t rocket science.

And many tech companies will happily hire a Software Engineer candidate who never went to college… As long as they’re qualified for the job.

Here the primary 5 reasons why you actually don’t need a college degree to be a computer programmer:

1. Everything Can Be Learned Online

Everything you need to know about computer programming can be easily found online… for free!

Learn Programming from YouTube

It’s almost ridiculous how helpful YouTube can be as a free learning resource.

YouTube channels like The New Boston serve excellent high quality educational videos about programming. These videos are structured like a university course– starting with the barebones fundamentals, and building up to more advanced topics.

Educational YouTube videos provide structure, which is crucial for aspiring programmers who are just starting out. The structured approach to learning allows you to see the big picture of how Software Engineering is done, so that you can later dive deeper into individual concepts.

Dive Deeper into Programming with Google

Google knows all. However, the challenge in learning new concepts is that you must know the right terminology.

For example, if you were building a web page and needed to create a form that a user could fill out and submit, you’d need to search for “html form post method”.

Then, you’d realize that you wanted to save the data that was submitted in the form. So you’d need to learn about databases. You’d search for “most popular databases”. If you chose MySQL as your database of choice, you’d realize that you need to create “tables” in the database. Then you’d search for “mysql create table” and “mysql insert row”.

Once you know the right terminology to search for, you can self-learn just about anything online through Google.

Learning from Blog Articles

Through Google, you’ll inevitably stumble upon a number of programming blog articles in the search results.

While a few articles are of low quality, the majority of highly ranked articles have insightful suggestions about how to solve various programming problems. Blog authors usually have a way of explaining complex concepts in a simple way.

Ultimately, you should learn from several different sources to get a well-rounded understanding of a topic.

2. Coding Bootcamps Can Coach You

If you want to learn in an environment that closer resembles a college classroom, then choosing a coding bootcamp is a great path, too.

Coding bootcamps like Coding Dojo provide a hands-on no-fluff series of lessons to help you quickly build computer programming skills from the ground up. The curriculum has been fine-tuned for years, and you’ll work alongside a cohort to collaborate on projects to get a feel for the real Software Engineering experience.

The average coding bootcamp lasts less than 6 months, and focuses on modern practical Software Engineering concepts.

Enrolling into a coding bootcamp will you cost you a pretty penny. But it’s still usually cheaper and faster than college. The students who have graduated from the intense learning experience are rarely disappointed.

3. Algorithms Aren’t A Big Deal

For newbies, the scariest word in programming is “algorithms”.

Some people assume that you’ll need to use expert-level Calculus and Linear Algebra in order to be a professional computer programmer.

But in real life, algorithms aren’t a big deal.

What exactly is an algorithm? Well, it’s just a list of instructions for the computer to execute. Pretty much every line of code that a computer programmer writes is technically an algorithm.

However, when people refer to algorithms in the realm of Software Engineering, they typically mean data structures and sorting algorithms.

Data Structures

At the end of the day, computers only understand ones and zeros.

Data types (like integer and string) help humans make use of binary data. Data structures build on top of data types to help humans further work with bundles of data in a simple and maintainable way.

The computer itself doesn’t need data structures, but humans need them in order to efficiently solve programming problems. Common data structures include Arrays, Linked Lists, and Queues.

It’s very rare for a modern Software Engineer to implement these data structures on their own.

There are code libraries that already implement these data types efficiently. It’s only important that the programmer knows when to use them.

Sorting Algorithms

It’s common knowledge that– during an interview for a prestigious tech company like Google, Facebook or Amazon– you may be asked to implement a sorting algorithm. And if you’ve ever seen what a sorting algorithm looks like, you may be compelled to pee your pants a wee bit.

A sorting algorithm is simply a few lines of code that takes a list of items and sorts the items, in ascending or descending order. For example, if you have a list that consists of the values [3, 9, 2, 5]. A sorting algorithm would reorganize the values as [2, 3, 5, 9].

Common sorting algorithms include:

  • Quick Sort
  • Bubble Sort
  • Insertion Sort
  • Heap Sort

Why are sorting algorithms needed? Because– when working with a large amount of data– an efficient algorithm can allow data to be processed faster. For some software, it can be the difference between acceptable and unacceptable performance. However…

Most tech companies aren’t solving problems that require an expert understanding of algorithms.

Most modern applications are simply CRUD (create, read, update, delete). All of the algorithmic heavy lifting is usually performed by the database. A baseline understanding of how to write efficient database queries is enough in most cases.

Common interview questions about algorithms can be found online, with hints to help you understand and solve them. For a software engineer who already has some professional experience, a few weeks of self-study can help prepare them for a job at one of the more competitive tech companies.

4. Computer Science isn’t Rocket Science

The field of Computer Science is less about writing code and more about data structures, algorithms, and understanding computers down to the micro level.

An understanding of Computer Science can be very helpful, or not very helpful– depending on the type of development work.

Regardless, it’s not necessary to learn the entire curriculum for most Software Engineer/developer jobs.

Computer Science for Frontend Developers

A frontend developer focuses on the visual and interactive aspects of an application. Computer Science concepts hardly apply to frontend development.

Instead, frontend developers need to be an expert in HTML, CSS and Javascript. Since the frontend is responsible for rendering components based on the state of data, the frontend developer will need to be well-versed with frameworks like React and Redux.

Modern frontend development typically requires leveraging existing frameworks rather than building from scratch.

Therefore, knowledge of Computer Science is hardly required for frontend developer nowadays.

A deep knowledge of Javascript is far more helpful for a frontend developer. Addy Osmani published his entire book online about Javascript design patterns to help developers find effective ways to structure their JS code.

Computer Science for Backend Developers

The work of a backend developer focuses on efficiently managing the flow of data.

As a backend developer, it’s important to build systems that scale as the number of users increases. Most of this boils down to writing efficient code and database queries, which can be learned through experience.

Computer Science is not required for backend development, but nonetheless very helpful.

For example, it’s common for a backend developer to be comfortable in languages such as Javascript (Node.js), Python, Golang, or Java.

Additionally, a backend developer must be comfortable working with databases. Knowing SQL is fairly standard for working with relational databases like MySQL and Postgres. Some experience with non-relational databases like MongoDB is helpful, too.

Learning the fundamentals of these languages and databases can be done through YouTube videos, online blogs and tutorials found via Google, and even some online e-books.

5. Experience is The Best Teacher

Regardless of how you choose to learn computer programming, experience is the best teacher of all.

No matter how many books you read or lessons you take, nothing helps you to internalize a concept more than putting in the effort to apply the concept.

That’s why it’s highly recommended for beginner programmers to build hobby projects. When building a project to pursue a particular goal, you’ll need to be creative and experiment with different methods to solve the problem.

You’ll fail. Then you’ll fail again. And few times after that, too.

But then you’ll find a solution that works. And you’ll do more research and find other solutions that works even better.

Even after you “master” a few programming languages, you’ll still keep learning on the job for years and years to come.

That’s what it means to be a programmer.

Should You Earn A Computer Science Degree?

Even though you can land a remote coding job without a CS degree, that doesn’t mean that a CS degree is completely worthless. Far from it.

Some universities such as MIT and Stanford are well-renowned for their world-class professors and rigorous programs. It can be an excellent learning experience. Having the brand name on your resume alone will open many doors.

And the college experience can provide you with a network of alumni to help you grow your career very quickly.

If we’re being honest– having a Computer Science degree gives you a professional advantage. Some companies refuse to hire a programmer who hasn’t earn a CS degree. Some companies will only let you in if you have any degree at all.

No programmer has ever gotten turned down for the sole reason that they had earned a CS degree. But many have gotten turned down for the sole reason that they didn’t.

Not having a CS degree means that you must compete against people who do. Without a degree, you’ll need to work just as hard (or harder) to prove that you’re worthy of the job.

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