How to Become a Coder Online — A Guide to Coding Career Paths & Salaries

The modern world runs on code. Digital programs underpin our business tools, social media platforms, and banking apps. Coders stand as the builders, mechanics, and innovators of our online worlds; their work provides countless small conveniences that most of us take for granted.

Coders are undeniably invaluable — and if you want to join their ranks, read on! We’ll explain how to become a coder, as well as the various career paths, job prospects, and earnings you can expect.

How to Become a Coder Online in Five Steps

If you want to become a coder, there are specific steps you should take to promote a higher chance of success and satisfaction in your career. Regardless of your previous experience, following these five steps can help you start learning how to become a coder and secure a job that aligns with your interests and skills.

1. Challenge Some Misconceptions You Might Have

Myths around who can — and can’t — code abound. Many of these misconceptions are harmful and could hamper your goal of becoming a successful coder if you’re not aware of them. Consider the following negative stereotypes and debunk them to pave a clear way to professional success.

Myth #1: Coders are prodigious mathematicians and computer wizards

Computer and programming skills are not intuitive; they are learned. This means that, even if you lack insight into how to code right now, you can reach a point of expertise with enough dedication and hard work.

Subscribing to the belief that coders are natural geniuses serves only to limit you and how you view your potential.

Myth #2: Coders are all young, white men

Despite what pop culture might suggest, the coding industry isn’t nearly as homogenous as you might think. That isn’t to say that certain demographics aren’t currently overrepresented in programming — the stereotype does have some basis in truth. However, diversity and representation are improving.

According to Stack Overflow’s 2020 Developer’s Survey, the majority (70.7 percent) of professional developers are white or of European descent. The next most-represented group is South Asian (9.6 percent), followed by Hispanic (7.8 percent), Middle Eastern (4.8 percent), East Asian (4.2 percent), Southeast Asian (3.9 percent), Black or of African descent (3.6 percent), multiracial (1.6 percent), biracial (1.2 percent), and indigenous (0.8 percent).

The same survey further found that women constitute around 12 percent of the programming workforce, and developers over 35, nearly a third. While there is certainly room to improve, anyone — regardless of age, gender, experience, education level, or class — should feel comfortable pursuing a career in coding.

It is worth noting, too, that there are nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving diversity in programming — check out Women Who Code and Code.org for encouragement and representative inspiration!

Myth #3: All coders are introverted gamers

Attitude is more important than personality traits and hobbies, so while you might be compelled to believe that coders fall into these categories, it’s important to recognize that these traits are not universal. You do not need to enjoy or be skilled at video games to succeed as a coder, and likewise, your personality will not determine how well you can code.

Other common misconceptions include beliefs that coders must have expensive equipment and be fluent in English to succeed. These are also not true. While these things can sometimes help, depending on what you’re doing, they are not essential — or even necessary — for most coding projects.

For the latter misconception, it is essential to note that programming was invented in English-speaking regions and many programming languages use English words. Still, an intermediate understanding of the English language will often suffice when learning how to code.

2. Set Specific Goals

When you decide to pursue a coding career, you should recognize that there is not a single definitive path to take. You will have many roles to choose from, including web programmer, software engineer, and full stack developer (to name a few). Before you begin your education, setting specific goals for your career will be immensely beneficial. Doing so will give you direction and guidance as you get started.

Identifying the kind of coding career you want to secure should be a task you take on early in your coding education. Many different jobs draw on coding expertise, so your options will be plentiful. However, choosing the roles that appeal to you the most will help you tailor your education, especially in terms of which programming languages you decide to learn.

You’ll find an exploration of some of the most common and desired coding career paths in a later section to help you learn more. Before you start learning how to become a coder, take the various career options into account and develop a plan for optimizing your time and energy.

3. Obtain an Education

When pursuing education options, you may choose to complete an online degree, an online coding bootcamp, or a self-directed course, all of which present different advantages and disadvantages.
College degree
Earning a traditional college degree in computer science or programming is a sound choice, especially for individuals who do not have a degree, although it is not strictly necessary.

Generally, a college program can provide you with an in-depth education, more opportunities for application and practice, and marketable skills that are translatable across fields. The considerable time commitment and cost of a college degree are, of course, the most significant downsides to this path.

Online bootcamp

If you have financial or schedule-related concerns but want a formal education, an online coding bootcamp could be the ideal solution.

Lasting an average of three to six months and costing a fraction of what college tuition typically would, bootcamps are intensive, short-term courses that can prepare you for a career in coding. Like college programs, bootcamps offer deadline-based projects, instructor support, and many networking opportunities.

Unlike other options, they are flexible. Often, bootcamp courses offer part-time, online, or nighttime classes that can be slotted in around other professional or personal obligations.

Many employers tend to value successful bootcamp learners, too; according to one recent study from HackerRank (PDF, 2.4 MB), nearly one in three surveyed hiring managers have hired bootcamp-trained programmers. Of those, 39.2 percent say that such candidates are just as capable as college-taught programmers, and 33 percent say they are more qualified.

Why? According to the survey, hiring managers believed that programmers who came through bootcamp courses could pick up new languages quickly (71 percent), had strong practical experience (61 percent), and were eager to take on new responsibilities (52 percent).

A graph that shows the top reasons why employers say they value successful bootcamp learners.

Bootcamps are a great educational option for hard-working learners with short timetables or limited budgets!

Self-guided study

Those who are strapped for time or don’t want to commit to a formal program may consider taking a self-guided educational approach. Countless online sites provide coding tutorials, lessons, and even fully fledged curricula! These range in price — but be aware, cost isn’t always an indicator of quality. Thoroughly vet all online courses before you enroll!

While a self-directed course could be ideal for those who prefer to structure their own lessons and move at their own pace, this route isn’t for everyone. Self-directed education is entirely reliant on your willpower, dedication, and commitment; if you’re a chronic procrastinator, you may find yourself putting off your career transition forever.

That said, these tools can be valuable even if you pursue one of the other options and simply need to brush up on the basics — so don’t be afraid to check them out!

4. Network for Success

As in any other field, networking is critical for success as a coder. Make use of social networking sites and connections through your alma mater; even if you earned a degree in a different field, you might connect with relevant individuals who attended the same university and get insight into the industry from them.

Whenever possible, you should make an effort to attend networking events. In the current era, many of these events are held online. While some aspects of networking events (like connecting with other professionals between panels) are not as feasible through a virtual format, you can still learn a lot from presenters and connect with other attendees on social media following the event.

Generally speaking, job boards do not reveal every opportunity on the market. Through a professional network, however, you will undoubtedly be exposed to more opportunities and have a greater chance of securing a job that makes use of your skills and also appeals to your interests or passions.

Additional Resources:

5. Take Steps to Break Into the Field

Entering the tech industry can seem difficult as an outsider, but by taking the right steps, you can demonstrate your knowledge and set a solid foundation for your career. Here’s how you can prepare for your first entry-level job.

Build a portfolio

Regardless of the path you choose, it is crucial to compose a comprehensive portfolio of your work as you complete your education and begin looking for a job. Your portfolio should showcase what you have learned through class or personal projects; some examples might be games, websites, and social media site prototypes.

Keep in mind that you do not need to include everything you’ve ever done; in fact, doing so would likely be detrimental, as the quantity of your projects could overshadow the quality of your top accomplishments.

Depending on the career path you have determined for yourself, you may choose to include specific projects in your portfolio. Consider the necessary or most desired skills for the positions you choose to pursue, and when you compose your portfolio, do your best to include examples that show your expertise in these areas.

Additional Resources:

Craft an effective resume

When applying to coding jobs, you need to make sure your resume provides an accurate, comprehensive, and compelling record of your skills, education, relevant experience, and goals. You should include a brief objective or mission statement at the top of your resume to provide insight into what you value and what you hope to achieve in a coding position.

Listing your relevant skills — such as which programming languages you know — should come next, as these will help employers verify whether you would be a good fit for a given position. Aim to follow this section with relevant experience; if you do not have any experience in the tech field, you can determine what transferable skills you have learned from other positions and include those. At the bottom of your resume, share your education records and be sure to spotlight any notable accomplishments, awards, and certifications.

Your resume, combined with your portfolio, should illustrate your experience, abilities, and goals. By doing so, you’ll be able to craft a compelling resume that builds off of your portfolio and demonstrates to employers what you could accomplish if they hired you.

Secure an internship

While not always necessary, a coding internship could provide invaluable opportunities as you progress through your career journey. If you perform well, you could land a full-time position — or, at the very least, accumulate professional experience that boosts your standing in hiring managers’ eyes. Additionally, you may make meaningful professional connections through an internship, which can contribute to a valuable industry network and open a larger pool of career opportunities.

Just like with networking, you may be able to utilize your alma mater for internship opportunities. Companies may also list internships on job listing sites, so keep an eye out for those as well.

When applying for internships, make sure your resume and portfolio are updated and accurately depict your accomplishments to date. Additionally, you should strongly consider making a GitHub account, as many programmers find that this site is invaluable for showcasing coding projects.

If you follow the steps outlined above, you will increase your chances of obtaining a practical coding education and ultimately securing a satisfying job as a coder.

Coding Career Paths and Associated Programming Languages

As mentioned previously, there are a variety of coding careers out there, and because of coding’s sheer ubiquity, the industries in which coders are needed are numerous. When you set your initial coding career goals, you should carefully consider what jobs you would actually want to do as well as the specific skills and languages you will need to succeed in those roles.

Popular Career Paths

Coders often fill specialized roles for companies across industries. Because of this fact, it is important to consider your options and identify the roles and responsibilities that most appeal to you before embarking on a coding career path. There are various types of coding careers, and while the following four are not the only ones available, chances are, most coding-related listings will fall into these categories.

Programmer

Of the coding careers, computer programmers are the ones who utilize coding skills the most, as their role is focused entirely on writing, debugging, and polishing computer programs to optimize their function. This role is among the most straightforward for coders. If you are interested in practical coding and computer science, landing an entry-level programming job might be a reasonable goal.

Software engineer

Software engineers are often tasked with designing and tinkering with software and systems to improve efficiency and productivity. Typical roles include software quality assurance engineers and computer systems engineers. Much of the engineer role relies on practical problem-solving skills, so coders who fit this bill should consider an engineering role as their goal.

Web developer

Web developers are responsible for the appearance and functionality of the various tools, applications, websites, and digital resources we use daily. Developers come in three primary varieties: front end, back end, and full stack. Let’s break these categories down further.

  • Front end developers: Front end developers control everything that users can see. Interactivity, design, and functionality are the primary concerns of these developers.
  • Back end developers: These coders are responsible for coding everything “behind the scenes” — the server-side code that gives websites and applications their functionality. Back end developers also use databases that store and manage the massive amounts of data that sites and apps need to run correctly.
  • Full stack developers: These professionals blend the two above roles into one. Full stack developers are versatile coders who know front and back end languages and are well-versed in database management, design, and site infrastructure.

See also our guide on how to become a web developer.

Data analyst

Data analysts use a combination of programming and marketing knowledge to identify data trends, assess the success of software or business initiatives, and implement meaningful changes for the sake of efficiency or effectiveness. The demand for analysts is projected to grow at an above-average rate over the next decade, so this field’s growth potential is excellent.

While objectively more technical than a standard analyst role, you may also find the data science field appealing. Data scientists typically require more training before they can secure a position because their roles combine skills such as programming, analysis, engineering, and data visualization.

Top Programming Languages

As we mentioned during our discussion of the front and back ends, the languages you will need to learn will vary depending on your preferred programming specialty.

While one in five hiring managers in the U.S. is language-agnostic when screening new candidates, many tend to gravitate toward a few trendy languages. According to HackerRank (PDF, 2.4 MB), these include JavaScript (59.6 percent), Python (51.6 percent), and Java (38.1 percent).

A graph that shows the top languages American hiring managers look for when hiring developers.

Below, we’ve included a brief overview of these (and other) desirable computer languages that coders may want to consider learning.

JavaScript

JavaScript is an invaluable language that coders use to create dynamic website features such as animations, drawings, forms, and buttons. As you might expect, the language is primarily used for front end development; however, it has some limited functionality on the back end as well.

HTML

HTML (which stands for HyperText Markup Language) is one of the most accessible computer languages. However, its applications are relatively limited; as a markup language, HTML is expressly used to create and structure text. That said, it is a foundational programming language and, therefore, undoubtedly worth studying.

CSS

Cascading style sheets (CSS) tend to work in tandem with HTML. This convenient language is used to determine various on-page text attributes including size, color, and position. If you start to learn how to code without any prior experience, tackling HTML and CSS will be a great place to start.

SQL

Structured Query Language (SQL) is a domain-specific language used for manipulating relational databases. Despite having limited capabilities and being most effective with smaller databases, SQL is one of the most-used languages globally. It is beneficial for coders who plan to work with databases.

Python

When it comes to being user-friendly, Python tends to outrank the other computer languages, making it a prevalent choice among novice coders. Python is a versatile language that can be used for development as well as engineering, machine learning, and data science.
For more information, see our beginner’s guide to Python basics.

Coding Salaries & Job Outlooks in New York & the U.S.

As you consider how to become a coder, it’s important to research the job prospects of such a pursuit, especially if you are planning to change careers entirely. Fortunately, the tech industry is rapidly expanding, and the need for skilled coders across the nation is unlikely to diminish in the near future.

Web developers, for example, have an above-average job outlook through this decade. Similarly, software developers have a projected 22 percent increase in jobs between 2019 and 2029.

Coders can find employment in virtually any state; still, it is crucial to keep in mind that geographic location, as well as prior experience and skill sets, can influence job availability and salary. The state of New York employs around 13,000 developers — more than most other states. In New York, developers earn a mean salary of $82,910, which is above the national average.

That said, as we continue to navigate the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and remote work persists, you should be aware that many companies are considering making adjustments to wages to account for employees who work outside of their local area. The growing trend of remote work could ultimately help make national wages more balanced across geographies as employees leave more expensive urban areas.

In short, the job prospects for coders will likely be promising for the foreseeable future. Still, it is crucial to consider the influence of remote work on potential wages as you begin your job search, especially if you currently reside in an area with a high cost of living.

Should You Become a Coder?

Learning how to become a coder can be a productive and engaging path for anyone interested. It is entirely possible to enter the tech industry as a coder within a short period, even without prior experience or education; the need for skilled coders extends across all sectors. If you want to make a career change or pursue this passion, you should feel empowered and get started today.

Wondering how? Check out Columbia Engineering Coding Boot Camp. This course offers an immersive and flexible learning experience taught by top-notch coding instructors. Learn the fundamentals through hands-on coursework — and get started on the path to your new career.

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