Knowing how to code makes you an attractive option for many employers. It opens up a whole array of high-paying career opportunities, and is a useful skill in nearly any industry. As more and more businesses tap into the power of customized apps and tech, skilled coders are needed for everything from product development to software engineering to data analytics.  

If  you’re new to the world of coding and wondering what it takes to turn a passing interest into a paying gig, we’ll help you break it down. We've pulled together the key knowledge and skills you’ll need to launch your coding career. We’ll also share some pro tips on the best ways to learn code, and the wide range of  careers you can pursue once you’ve got some web development knowledge under your belt.  

To start off, here’s a quick intro to what coding really is, and what it means to be a professional coder.    

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What Is Coding?  

Before you switch careers, first things first: you should know the basic definition of computer code. Professional coders (also known as Software Engineers or Web Developers) write in a variety  of programming languages to create software, apps, and websites. All the  apps on your phone, the browser you’re working on, your social media  feed—it’s all been brought to life with the help of code.  

Similar to the way a cook follows a set of step-by-step instructions to create a  signature dish, computer code is a set of instructions  that guide software to perform a desired function. That should give you a good picture of what a coder does.

Code can be as simple as a one-line instruction.  For example, below is a one-line code in Python that prints the text  ‘Hello World’:

print 'Hello, World!'  

This is often the first lesson in coding tutorials. But it gets much more complex: code can go up to several hundred, even thousands, of lines. It may  even call upon and embed a series of other codes. This type of complex  coding is what goes on behind the apps we use day-in and day-out.  

Here’s another example: when  a widget on your phone describes the temperature and the humidity in your area, there are complex network interactions  taking place behind the scenes. A series of computer programs interact with satellite  servers and encode a request for the data, which is decoded by the  servers there that interpret the query and respond with the desired  data. This is again encrypted and decrypted from lines of code to an  output that you and I can understand.  

If you’re feeling inspired, let’s move on to the most important steps you need to take to become a coder.  

Step 1: Decide How You Want to Learn  

Coding  has become a highly sought-after skill, so you’ve got many options when  it comes to getting the education you need. The key is to choose the  path that works best for your learning style, career goals, and budget.  There’s no “best” option: just the option that feels best for you.  

There are three main methods for learning to code; here are the pros and cons of each.

College Degree

With the growing need for computer professionals, software engineering  degrees have become ever popular. Universities across the US offer a wide range of accredited programs that cater to the full spectrum of  student aims. Most degree programs are relatively affordable, with many scholarships and funding opportunities.

Most  students will need to decide between an on-campus degree or an online program. If you’re looking for the full ‘campus life’ experience, a  regular college degree will be a likely option for you. This can also  help you to build a professional network as you’ll interact with your  classmates, renowned academics, and visiting faculty from the industry.

Most universities in the US offer associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s degrees,  and certification courses in computer science and software engineering.  Details about course structure, duration, admission criteria,  deadlines, and scholarship opportunities can be found on the university  websites. Some noteworthy programs in computer science include:    

Stanford University: Stanford is a good option for students who are willing to get into active research in their early  years of study. Undergraduates in computer science programs can even  pursue lucrative opportunities such as internships and jobs in Silicon  Valley. The program CURIS run by the university provides students with  ample research opportunities throughout the summer.  

Massachusetts Institute of Technology: The  programs offered by MIT are acclaimed worldwide for their brilliant  academic quality and gearing toward innovation. Students gain exposure  to high-tech scientific material, like mathematical computer theory and  robotics. Apart from the knowledge gained through classes, students are  encouraged to get actively involved in research, which can be hugely  beneficial as you work toward your chosen career.  

University of California, Berkeley: Berkeley’s Bachelor in Computer Science gives students a double benefit by preparing them for both long-term  research careers, as well as technical leadership in a variety of  industries.  The program even has links to local industries giving students many  opportunities to explore internship and research options.    

But if working a full-time course would be a struggle around your hectic schedule, then an online course offered by a top-ranking university, or a bootcamp, could be a good work-around.  

Bootcamp

For many, a more affordable, simpler and quicker way to learn code is through an online certification program or coding bootcamp. These are a great way to refine your coding skills, partner with an industry mentor, and even earn a higher salary.  

Our full-time web development program is specifically designed to get your coding career off the ground, fast. Our  course is tailored to get you hired in the industry: our entire  curriculum is developed around the skills and coding languages that top  employers are looking for today. And we’re constantly updating our  course to make sure you’re learning the most up-to-date material.  

Unlike  with a college degree, you’ll finish off the program with professional  career coaching, interview prep, and guidance for preparing the perfect  resume and portfolio to show off your skill set.

We even offer a job guarantee, because we know our program leads to tangible career outcomes for our students.  

Self-Learning

If you’re motivated and disciplined, you can teach yourself to code. There are plenty of free online coding resources and video tutorials so you can get started without taking on any debt, or committing to a formal program.  

Many  start off on the self-learning path, but eventually realize that they  need a more formal education structure to truly start a career.  (Because, well, coding is hard).  

So if you decide you need to enroll in a course to become a web developer,  it’s not because you failed at teaching yourself. It’s because you’re  driven to start your career.  

Step 2: Learn 3 Coding Languages  

This  is the most essential step. In order to get paid to code, you should be  prepared to learn at least 3-5 programming languages.  

The various coding or programming languages used today have been developed to help us interpret and communicate with the binary language (those  endless rows of 1s and 0s) at the foundation of all computer functions.  Programming languages translate instructions into a binary language that  a computer can understand.

Every  coding language has different features and syntax, but they also share many common concepts.

Among the range of programming languages  available, some of the popular ones are Ruby, JavaScript,  Python, PHP, C/ C++, and CSS. Each of these coding languages  are used for different purposes.

For example, Ruby is used for  developing websites and mobile apps, JavaScript is used for front-end  development, and Python and PHP are typically employed for back-end development.  

It’s important to have a good command over at least one  programming language as you get started. It’s not necessary to learn all  languages in a single go, but once you become proficient in one, you  can later learn other languages to further enhance your coding abilities and job opportunities.    

Step 3: Develop Key Hard and Soft Skills to Think Like A Coder

Being  adept with some of the major coding languages will get your foot in the  door. But if your goal is to excel in your role, mesh with the rest of  the engineering team, and eventually get promoted, then you also need to  develop some other valuable professional skills. The best jobs will have thousands of applicants, and it’s not enough to rest on your coding ability alone.  

Here’s our short list of key skills you need to have if you want to make it big in the world of coding:  

Focus on developing these skills in your personal and professional life, in addition to memorizing Java functions.  

Step 4: Design Your Ideal Coding Career  

Coding is among the top 25 highest-paying jobs in the US. Job listings for programmers have grown exponentially on popular job-seeking websites  over the past three years, and many other top jobs now require some form of coding prowess.

And by 2022, computer programming jobs are expected to see a 32% increase, meaning job seekers with good coding skills will be in high demand.

So you’ve chosen the right path. But once you get the programming  knowledge and skills you need to succeed, you’ll have to narrow down  your options. Read up on some of the most popular titles in the world of  coding and decide which one sounds like the right fit for you. Certain roles require different programming languages or skill sets, so select a career path that maximizes your strengths.  

Some of the popular coding career options to choose from include:

Start Your Coding Journey Today

Learning  to code can be a tough journey. That’s why it’s so important to hear  from those who have been there and done that. Read about what you absolutely need to know about the road ahead in order to best prepare yourself.

And when you’re ready to turn your love for code into a career, we’re here to help.  

FAQs:

What’s the difference between coding and programming?

The terms coding and programming are often used interchangeably, but programming actually refers to a broader set of tasks. Programming encompasses all the actions required to build functionality into software. Coding is strictly the act of writing out the instructions in computer code.

Which coding languages should I learn?

Start with HTML and CSS. These foundational languages are used frequently, and will help you train your brain to pick up other coding languages. After that, select your next coding language based on your industry, or even the state where you live.

How much will I make as a coder?

On average, entry-level coders make around $50,000. But your salary will go up as you gain experience. There are a wide variety of factors that go into the salary of a professional coder.


Learn to Code with Thinkful

Take the proven path to a high-income career with professional mentorship and support, flexible ways to pay, and real-world, project-based learning.


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