How to Become a Software Developer (With or Without a Degree)

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn how to become a software developer with expert tips, recommendations, and breakdowns of degrees, certifications, and more.

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If you’ve made the decision to pursue a career as a software developer, there are a number of paths you can take to achieve your goal. Your options include teaching yourself, earning a certification, taking online classes, or enrolling in college to earn a degree. To achieve your goal, one or any combination of these options can help you succeed. You can use the following guide to learn more about the paths that can lead you to a career in software development.

What is a software developer?

Software developers research, design, and develop software and applications using different programming languages. While creating these programs, they’re also responsible for testing the software to make sure it works. After the project goes live, it’s a software developer's job to fix any bugs, refactor old code, make updates, and more. 

Read more: What Does a Software Developer Do? Career Overview + Outlook

How long does it take to become a software developer?

The amount of time it takes to become a software developer depends on your current expertise and whether or not you plan to pursue formal education. Typically, potential employers prefer candidates who have proven hands-on experience, professional credentials, specialized skills, or a combination of the three. Here are a few commonly earned credentials among software developers, along with the amount of time it takes to complete each one:

  • Coding bootcamps. Coding or software engineering bootcamps are intensive programs offered by a wide range of entities, typically online. The completion time for coding bootcamps usually ranges from three to six months. If you decide to enroll in a coding boot camp, make sure to research the organization offering the credentials to ensure you get the best outcome possible.

  • Professional Certificates. Professional Certificates are programs offered by universities and tech industry leaders on platforms such as Coursera. They are self-paced, but training can be completed in less than six months while working a full-time job.

  • Associate degree. Five percent of software developers earn an associate degree through a two-year degree program [1]. Examples of relevant associate degrees to earn include an Associate of Science or Applied Science in Software Development.

  • Bachelor's degree. Seventy-two percent of software developers earn a bachelor's degree through a four-year degree program [1]. Common areas of study include computer science, computer engineering, electrical engineering, and information technology (IT).

  • Master's degree. Twenty percent of software developers earn a master's degree [1]. They typically take one to three additional years to earn after earning a bachelor's degree. While it is possible to earn a master's degree without earning a bachelor's degree first, you must have an extremely strong professional background or equivalent experience and credentials.

Keep in mind that being a self-taught software developer is also an option. However, your studies may take longer, given the lack of professional guidance or suggested schedule.

Degree programs for aspiring software developers

Here are a few of the most common majors for software developers earning a formal degree: 

Software engineering

With a degree in software engineering, you focus more on developing technical skills such as designing, building, and employing software. The courses required for this degree often overlap with those in a computer science degree.

Computer science

A computer science degree combines math, science, and engineering to study and develop everything from software to networks and computers. Many choose to pursue a degree in computer science with the goal of becoming a software engineer, but it also affords opportunities for many other careers in the field. 

Information technology (IT)

Information technology majors study the development of networks, databases, computer systems, web applications, and more. These majors also study the hardware required for all those digital processes. A background in IT can help a hopeful developer gain the skills needed to become a software engineer.

Read more: Bachelor’s Degree Guide: Resources for Your Undergraduate Education

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Certificates for aspiring software developers

There are many different software development certificates that you can earn to gain the software developer skills you need. Online courses often allow you the flexibility to learn at your own pace, making it easy for those looking to make a career change or further their education while working full-time. Certificates are for more than just novice software developers. They help developers of all experience levels stay up-to-date in this quickly evolving field. The list below outlines a few beginner-level certificate programs you can use to master the essentials of software development:

  • Software Development Processes and Methodologies. This course offered by the University of Minnesota can be completed in approximately 22 hours. While earning a certificate for your resume, you'll learn how software teams work, what processes drive software development, and how to apply software engineering practices to solve problems.

  • Meta Android Developer Professional Certificate. This Professional Certificate program can be completed in eight months with seven hours of study per week. You'll gain the skill set you need to become an entry-level Android developer, including coding in Kotlin, user interface (UI) design, and cross-platform mobile app development with React Native.

  • Meta iOS Developer Professional Certificate. This Professional Certificate program can also be completed in eight months with seven hours of study per week. You'll gain the skill set you need to become an entry-level iOS developer, including programming fundamentals for iOS systems and how to manage the mobile application lifecycle. By the end, you'll have created a portfolio with projects demonstrating your ability to deploy and maintain apps.

Read more: What Are Certificate Programs? A 2022 Guide

Expert tip

Many developers rely on a combination of educational sources to stay up-to-date on the latest technologies. "You want to have solid CS fundamentals which will enable you to comprehend things at a deeper level. On the other hand, you also want experience with the tools commonly used in the industry," says Mari Batilando, a software engineer at Meta.

Since degree programs tend to focus on theoretical and foundational understanding, Batilando has attended bootcamps to keep his knowledge current throughout his eight-year career. "I actually pursued an iOS bootcamp after college since I never had the opportunity to learn it while I was a student. Fast forward to now, I’ve had a fruitful career on iOS," he shares. "I still occasionally take a bootcamp whenever something interests me. This year, I took an NFT bootcamp and was part of the team to release Facebook’s first NFT feature!"


How to become a software developer with no experience

Overall, as a software developer, your role will involve turning a client’s idea into a working application. You may also be working with a team, having bug fixes or action items assigned to you that consist of developing small pieces of code that fit into a larger application.

If you're brand new to the field of software development, start by learning some of the basic skills shared by all types of software developers:

  • Communication skills. As a software developer, you're going to be tasked with giving others instructions while working on projects. You'll also have to explain how things work and answer questions clients and supervisors may have. Clear and effective communication with stakeholders and the rest of the development team will make for a much smoother project.

"Communication is the most important skill in this role. We work with a lot of different people to build features," says Laila Rizvi, a Meta software engineer. "And even when we build features alone, we need to build for a diverse audience."

  • Adaptability: Adaptability demonstrates the ability to handle changes commonly encountered during the software development life cycle. It’s essential to be versatile and ready to shift focus as plans change and technology evolves.

  • Problem-solving: Issues will arise when developing software. Much of the software development process is iterative, meaning you'll revisit steps and phases as many times as necessary to improve upon a product. Having excellent problem-solving skills can help you handle issues quickly, independently, and efficiently without significant disruptions to the project. 

  • Patience: The process of developing software can be tedious and time-intensive. Developing, testing, and, finally, deploying the project can be an excellent test of patience. After completing the project, it may need updating or debugging. Patience will also come in handy when working under tight deadlines or with other developers and coworkers. 

  • Programming skills: All software developer jobs require some level of coding skills. There are many different types of programming languages to choose from, although some may be more approachable than others for beginners. In the next section, we'll discuss programming languages that align with specific software development goals. Consider reading through each one and starting with the one that most closely aligns with your interests.

Choose an area of focus.

Nearly every modern business employs software developers. As a result, you have a variety of industries to choose from. It can be challenging to know where to start as a beginner. However, selecting a niche area of software development can help you sharpen your focus to hone your skills. The next few sections outline a few different types of software development and how you can get started in each one.

How to become a financial software developer

A financial software developer is someone who creates and maintains software in the Fintech industry. Fintech is short for financial technology. Due to the sensitive nature of financial data, developers who want to create software applications for a financial tech company should consider studying cybersecurity. Python is a commonly used programming language in this industry. It's also considered to be one of the easiest programming languages to learn.

You can get started today by enrolling in the Python for Everybody Specialization offered by the University of Michigan. This beginner-friendly course introduces fundamental programming concepts with an emphasis on data structures and databases, an excellent starting point for future Fintech developers.

Read more: What is Python Used For? A Beginner's Guide

How to become a game software developer

If you're interested in learning to develop games, you might consider learning to program in C++. C++ is one of the most popular game-developing languages. It's known for its flexibility and controllability. Game development includes everything from virtual reality (VR) development to mobile apps to console games and software.

Read more: What is C++ (And How to Learn It)

How to become a full-stack developer

A full-stack developer is essentially a jack of all trades. Prospective employers value full-stack developer skill sets because they indicate that you can work with both the back end (server-side) and the front end (customer-facing side) of an application. For someone to be considered a full-stack developer, they would also need to have knowledge of UX/UI, databases, and sometimes graphic design. It also helps to be familiar with a few widely used languages like Python, Ruby, HTML, and JavaScript. Having these technical skills gives you the ability to create and fix pretty much any part of an application.

If you're interested in obtaining the full-stack skill set, you can master the fundamentals with an industry leader in technology through the IBM Full Stack Software Developer Professional Certificate. You'll learn to deploy and scale applications using tools and languages such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and React while building out your own GitHub portfolio.

Read more: What is a Full-Stack Developer?

What is GitHub, and why do I need to use it as a software developer?

Git is free version-tracking software for code and is the industry standard. It allows developers to save snapshots of code (commits) as they work on a project and lets them roll back to an earlier version of the project. It enables developers to safely experiment with new features with a reduced risk of introducing bugs. GitHub is a code-hosting platform that allows collaboration on projects from anywhere, sending code after making a comment. Being familiar with both tools is essential in working as a software developer.


General-purpose programming

If none of the above specializations caught your eye, consider learning a beginner-friendly, general-purpose programming language like Python. General-purpose programming languages are highly versatile and can be used for a variety of applications. The language you choose may depend on what you want to build with code. Python is very popular and has a reputation for being easy to learn, Swift is great for building iPhone apps, and video games are typically built with C++, Godot, Unreal Engine, or Unity. Check out the article below for additional guidance:

Read more: What Programming Language Should I Learn?

Start learning to develop software today with Coursera

Whether you're on a job hunt or want to learn how to create software development projects on your own, online courses can be an excellent starting point. You can build a solid foundation of software developer skills with Google's online course, Crash Course on Python.

Article sources

  1. Zippia. "Software Developer Education Requirements," Accessed August 2, 2023.

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