Start Your Career in Software Development

If you like computers, enjoy math and want a career in which you are constantly learning new things, software development could be an excellent path for you. There are jobs available in many different industries, so if you have a particular interest in finance, tech or gaming, you may be able to work within those areas although of course some are more competitive than others. The steps below will help you set yourself up for a successful career.

Career in Software Development. A woman working on a PC.

Getting Your Education

While it’s true that some software developers are self-taught, you will greatly increase your chances of finding a job and being able to direct your career with a bachelor’s degree. Some employers may want a master’s degree as well, but others will value experience more highly, so to start with, get your bachelor’s. You can see what the expectations in your industry are and get a better idea of the direction you want to take your career in with a degree and some work experience. There are several different options to pay for your degree. 

College is expensive, so even if you or your parents have been saving money or you plan to work while you go to school, chances are you could still use some help. Grants, scholarships, and federal aid can all help you with these costs. Another option is with private student loans. These can be particularly helpful for people who need to supplement other options or who do not qualify for federal aid or other funding sources, but other students can benefit from them as well. Unlike many other sources of money for school, the application process is usually relatively fast and easy, and you can get an answer about your eligibility quickly. You should major in computers and information technology or in something related. Your advisors, professors at your school, and your school’s career center may all be able to help you in choosing your major.

Getting Experience

While it’s smart to get a formal education, there are plenty of things you can do to teach yourself and gain experience outside of school or before you start school. Nothing is stopping you from working on your own, developing an app, consulting companies on good web design, but there are also plenty of opportunities to work with and learn from others. Look for an open-source project online that you can contribute to. You could also volunteer to do some coding work for an organization that has a mission you believe in. Yet another option is signing up for coding challenges. Even if you don’t win and if you’re new to this field, you are unlikely to, as these give you the chance to connect with others and watch coders work at a high level. Keep track of everything that you do so that you can add it to your resume.

Developing Other Skills

There are a lot of stereotypes about programmers, developers and others who work with computers that they lack professional communication skills, that they are obsessed with computers to the exclusion of everything else, and that they are not good at teamwork or leadership. However unfair these stereotypes may be, they do highlight soft skills that you need to work on in order to be successful. You’re probably already pretty good at analysis and problem-solving, and you are probably organized and detail oriented by nature. Joining organizations and going to networking events for developers will help you develop your interpersonal and leadership skills. In addition, the more people you know, the less difficulty you will have in finding a job.

Goals and Focus

In order to have a satisfying career, it’s important to know what you want and have a plan for how to get it. While landing that first job might not be the easiest thing in the world, the good thing about software development is that developers tend to always be in demand. This means that you have more opportunity to be choosy about the positions that you accept and you can have more control in shaping your career. Think about what industry you’d like to work in and what you’d like to be doing. Consider as well where you’d like to live and what kind of work culture you are comfortable in. All of this will help you set your goals. 

In a fast-changing field like this one, it would be a mistake to try to plan too far out but having five- or even 10-year goals is not a bad idea. Longer-term goals help you understand what you are steering toward. Goals need to be concrete, so instead of deciding simply that you want a job in the software industry, be specific about the position. Think about what kind of salary you want. Look at your longer-term plan and make sure that your shorter-term goals are building toward your long-range ones. Your goals also need to be measurable. That means, for example, that you need to have time limits and other quantifiable elements to help you determine whether you’re still on track.

Getting Your First Job

While you’re still a student, see if you can get an internship or another job within your field. Even if you can’t, work on making connections both online and offline. Develop the ability to talk about your work process in interviews and describe the different languages and tools you are skilled in. For your first job, consider work at a larger company rather than a smaller one since they may have more programs in place to train and develop junior developers. 

This doesn’t mean that you have to put away your dreams of working at the smaller company that you have your eye on, only that a larger business may be the right steppingstone as you’re starting out. Be prepared to do a coding task as part of the hiring process. Demonstrate your ability to learn new tools quickly, have support engineering skills and find ways to make your resume stand out from other new grads, such as indicating other areas of interest outside of the programming world.