Are Most Programmers & Coders Self-Taught?

Are Most Programmers & Coders Self-Taught?

We interact with computers hundreds of times a day, but they don’t speak English or Mandarin; they live and breathe code. Programmers and coders are the generals stationed atop these vast armies of machines. And believe it or not, this power is within reach of anyone with a computer and the drive to learn. With that said, are most coders self-taught? 

In a survey done by the ubiquitous coding platform StackOverflow, over 69% of coders claimed they were fully or in large part self-taught. Of the total surveyed, only 43% hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field, and 2% a PhD.

Aspiring coders today have nearly inexhaustible free resources at their disposal when it comes to learning how to code. Median and starting salaries in the field range well into six figures. It is unmistakably one of the least costly and most rewarding career paths from a monetary perspective. Let’s explore self-taught coders and how you can self-teach.

Is Self-Study the Best Way to Learn Coding? 

Because there is a more significant percentage of self-taught coders, you may be wondering whether this is the best avenue for learning in this field. 

While all coders relatively arrive at the same place, the methods one can go about learning vary rather substantially. Besides self-study, there are two other paths an aspiring programmer can take to become a master of machines. Generally, the best way to learn to code depends on the person and their available resources. So which route is best? 

Computer Science Degree

The traditional route is to get a degree in computer science. Like any other form of formal education, a degree in computer science is a substantial investment—both in time and money. But are the advantages tantamount to the risk involved in devoting thousands of dollars in tuition and four years of your time, considering the paramount of resources available to people today? 

Pros: 

  • Courses on code theory are included in nearly all CS curriculums, with fundamental education of the theory behind computer code and all forms of cryptic information.
  • The authoritative structure offered is the primary staple of a degree in CS, for good reason. Many people find it challenging to stay on the proper learning track without the stringency of a traditional academic curriculum.
  • The ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment is essential for success in the tech field. Colleges, on average, better prepare students for a career as lifelong learners.
  • Alumni network and career opportunities: It goes without saying that a university’s alumni network provides students with opportunities that would otherwise require a fair amount of professional heavy lifting. 

Cons:

  • As stated prior, the cost is the primary drawback. The totality of student debt grows larger every year, with most former students cursed to endure loan payments well into adulthood.
  • The weighty four-year commitment involved can be taxing for those having issues with dedicating the time to being a full-time student.

Boot Camps

Another conventional method is to attend a coding boot camp, typically a rigorous 8-12 week program, providing a crash course on the fundamentals and the nuances of the field. 

Pros:

  • Cost is considered relatively modest compared to the formal tract.
  • Provides a more flexible alternative to a CS degree, which works well for aspiring coders aiming to switch careers. 
  • Highly specialized and skill-oriented: Participant’s motivations shift variably from obtaining the highest GPA to acquiring the skills for the role they desire to play.

Cons:

  • Nearly all boot camps today are fully remote. Curriculums of solely online composition provide alternate challenges to the in-person boot camps of a pre-COVID age.
  • Moderate personal discipline and motivation are required in the absence of the relative structure degrees offer.
  • The downside of a highly specialized curriculum is the sacrifice of the generalized foundational knowledge that a formal degree can offer.

Self-Taught Route

Lastly, there is the option of self-study, using the countless online resources that are open to anyone with a valid email. This path is easily the most appealing choice for the average person looking to get into computer programming. 

As hinted prior, most resources are free and ubiquitous to those who possess a computer and an internet connection. Several questions inevitably arise in the wake of this. Does this sweeping accessibility come at the cost of the curriculum’s quality? Is the flexibility of the courses working to the benefit or the deficit of soon-to-be coders?

Pros:

  • A flexible, self-paced curriculum with the ability to learn almost anywhere combine to form the utmost method in terms of accessibility.
  • The freedom to pursue code without sacrificing your other career goals or pre-existing commitments is nothing short of enticing.
  • By far the most cost-effective of the choices at your disposal. Some of the paid programs on the market start at a few dollars, extending to nearly $100.

Cons:

  • An unstructured course of study may not lend itself well to individuals who struggle with consistency, discipline, and motivation.
  • The mass-produced nature of the form falters in that it lacks a dedicated instructor to give specific feedback. However, plentiful online communities with thousands of members exist for this very purpose.
  • Companies hiring coders may severalize self-taught coders from those who hold a conventional degree or a boot camp certificate. Hindering the acquisition of interviews. Yet this has seen a steady decline in recent years, as hiring processes in the field favor more skill and results based criterion

How Can a Self-Taught Coder Stand Up to the Competition?

The lines between self-taught programmers and programmers who learned with a four-year degree or boot camp become blurred when individuals enter the professional environment, making it difficult to distinguish between the three groups described based on performance and success. 

Self-taught coders lack certain resources and opportunities included in traditional degrees; the same is also true in part for coding boot camps. Nonetheless, the career and networking opportunities, resources, and other advantages of the conventional routes of learning code don’t elude self-taught coders. 

The cost of such is a desire to improve—and an internet connection. But what are the essentials needed to keep up with the competition?

Constructing a Suitable Portfolio

If you’re looking for employment as a programmer or the like, a suitable portfolio is necessary. Employers look for capable coders with skills and experience similar to the position they look to fill. There are several ways to do this; listed below are some of the preeminent platforms (and their realm of function) to get projects/experience under your belt.

  • Kaggle – Primarily a community data science platform, it contains public datasets and public notebooks. 
  • Codewars – Community coding competitions
  • Github – Online community-based code repository. All open-source and interactive. The most widely used host for version control and software development. 
  • Leetcode – Coding questions, contests, and company networking
  • Codecademy – Online course environment, contains courses on nearly every programming language and coding-related subjects
  • Realpython – Offers step-by-step tutorials, learning paths for skill acquisition, and an extensive online community of support
  • ProjectAbstracts – Online repository of academic coding projects, studies, and thesis projects

Gain Relevant Experience

One way to stick your foot in the door as a self-taught coder is by obtaining entry-level experience that aligns with your career goals.

Specialize and Create a Focused Approach

Refining your resume is an integral component of your success in mastering code. To do so, you will need to decide where in the coding field you will dive into and subsequently which programming language you will learn. Working on projects and gaining experience in the specialized career and language of your choice is monumental in your pursuit of mastering machines. 

Conclusion

Learning to code is the most accessible it’s ever been and has useful applications in nearly all aspects of our lives today. There is something out there for everyone. The dilemma facing aspiring computer programmers is which learning method more closely aligns with their lifestyle and career goals. Whichever path you take to achieve your goal, let’s get coding!

StackOverFlow Survey

Computer Science Statistics

Pofessional Web Developer Portfolios

Class Central’s Online Course Rankings

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Computer Programmers

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