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.


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.


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.


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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