How to become a developer: A beginner’s guide

Seven stepping stones to building a successful career in development

Developers are changing the way we perform everyday tasks. From web developers creating responsive websites with easy-to-use navigation and clear call-to-actions account for faster checkouts and exceptional browsing experience to game developers feeding our growing love for gaming, development jobs are everywhere.

The mobile app development industry is thriving too, as 194 billion app downloads were registered in 2018 — up from 178.1 billion in 2017. Experts predict 258 billion downloads by 2022, a rise of 45% over five years.

With all this growth likely continuing for many years, now is a great time to kick start a career as a developer. 

But, what exactly does a developer do? And how do you become one? We tackle the answers to these questions and more below. 

A day in the life of a developer

On a typical workday, developers wear many hats, but, because they also write code, they’re programmers before anything else. However, the bulk of their job lies in designing software architecture for commercial products and services. 

From planning stages to implementation, developers supervise the entire software or web development process. They work closely with programmers, leading and instructing them on the programming languages to use for building an application. 

Directing testing procedures, updating product documentation and customizing off-the-rack computer programs are other important aspects of this role. Post-deployment, it’s a developer’s goal to ensure the program continues to function unerringly and pass feedback to the programmers along the way.

How to get hired as a developer

Now that you understand the finer details of the craft, let’s cover the seven steps to becoming a developer. 

1. Pick a niche 

The road to becoming a developer begins with selecting a niche. 

There are plenty of options to choose from, so we broke down the various types of developers you’ll see more often and a bit about what they do to help you make an informed choice.

  • Frontend web developer: Builds user interface, aesthetics and layouts of a website — basically everything a user sees and interacts with on a webpage.
  • Backend web developer: Maps websites to corresponding servers and databases by devising a functional logic between them.
  • Full-stack web developer: Plays the role of both frontend and backend developer
  • Mobile developer: Optimizes applications for mobile devices and possesses an intricate knowledge of iOS and Android operating systems
  • Game developer: Designs and implements interactive gaming experiences on iOS and Android platforms 
  • Application developer: Creates custom applications suited for computers, mobile phones, and tablets

One thing is evident: No two developer roles are the same. This is also why two developers may learn different programming languages. Besides, a big part of selecting a programming language to learn is acknowledging the use-case of it. 

For example, Python is an excellent choice for web development, but the same isn’t true for mobile computing. 

Once you have your preferred niche in place, you can move to the next step: learning.

2. Learn to code

There are a few ways to learn how to code. 

The traditional way would be to get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in software engineering or computer science. 

An associate’s degree program can offer you basic education in computer programming, and it takes as few as two years to complete. A bachelor’s degree, on the other hand, takes four years but gives you all of the skills you need in the field and a deeper understanding of other subjects, including information technology, database systems and network administration.

That said, heading back to college may not be a viable option if you already have a degree in another field. This brings us to the nontraditional way of learning: Enrolling in a coding boot camp. Boot camps are short, intensive training programs offering hands-on learning for select programming languages.

Depending on the program structure, a camp can last several months, and you get a certificate in the end. Many companies hire boot camp graduates along with college graduates, making boot camps worthwhile alternatives to classroom learning.

3. Prepare to learn new skills 

Technology is always evolving and so are coding techniques. Be prepared to remain on top of developments in the development space and broaden your skill set. This is a crucial supplement to your education and background knowledge of the subject. 

Luckily, there are certification programs to help you on the way. Here’s a checklist of developer certifications you don't want to miss:

4. Join a community

Online communities are great for networking and connecting with like-minded individuals. StackOverflow, GitHub and CodeProject are popular forums for starting a discussion, sharing solutions and asking for help when you’re stuck on a line of code. 

Consider them the social media of computer science where you can make valuable contacts while learning. 

If you aspire to move out of the virtual realm for a change, opt for meetups and technical conferences. Better yet, participate in hackathons and coding fests with your code buddies and see who wins the challenge.

5. Get creative

Put your skills to test by building personal projects from the ground up. It could be a chatbot, a game or anything that challenges your mind. Once you complete a project, share the finished code with a coding network or community for constructive feedback and comments. 

Recreating existing projects and adding your own twist to them is beneficial as well.

6. Learn more as an intern

Nothing beats the experience of solving a real-world business problem as an intern. Because many internships are part-time, you can continue your education or regular job while picking up these valuable skills. 

Upwork and Fiverr are great for finding remote ad-hoc projects. It’s also worth looking into startups, as many are very welcoming of aspirants willing to learn on the job.

7. Make a stellar portfolio

How do you stand out from tens of thousands of applicants applying for the same jobs you are? The answer lies in a portfolio. 

A portfolio, which is a compilation of documented work and projects, gives potential recruiters a look at your abilities, which may increase your chances of getting hired. 

The way ahead

A developer is, first and foremost, a programmer and programming languages are the meat and potatoes of all things related to web and software. While there are many languages to choose from, start by selecting at least two. Python, Java, PHP and C# are some of the most in-demand programming languages of 2020. 

As you master new languages, apply them to real-world problems to reinforce your skills and motivate yourself to keep learning. 

One line at a time, code your way to the developer job you’re striving for.

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