How to become a programmer
Five years ago I wrote an article on how to get a job as a web developer, but the market has changed. Code schools are now more prevalent and the concept of working as a programmer is more mainstream than ever.
Because of the increased interest in software it's become much harder to get an entry-level job in the industry. If you have ten, five or even two years of experience as a programmer, it's relatively easy to find work but getting that first job is hard. Here is are my tips on how to do just that:
- Attend a code school
- Make an internship happen
- You have to love it
- Anyone can program
1. Attend a code school
Going to a code school accomplishes three things: 1) it exposes you to code and helps you learn if you like the craft, 2) It gives you time in the saddle so you have hours of coding logged and exposure to the tools used in the industry and 3) it can provide you with connections to the industry including both potential employers and a peer group. The best thing about a code school, when compared to a college degree is that it is extremely low cost. Many code schools cost between $4K to $10K, though it will not give you the same in-depth knowledge that you would get from a four-year degree in Computer Science.
2. Make an internship happen
IMPORTANT:I did not say find an internship. Software internships are extremely rare and if you wait for one you will be waiting a long time. This is because most software companies are myopically focused on a series of short-term goals: investment, IPO, sale, etc., and as such they are not configured for or incentivized to do training. Our first intern applied at our company while she was still in school, and we had no internship program at our company. We were terribly unprepared but her persistence and determination convinced me I should give it a shot. And while we were not a great place to intern (we had no experience) she ultimately was able to get a start in the industry and is still employed to this day. Expect to not make much money for the first year or so. This is important because the biggest cost to your employer is the time you will be taking from the people who will be mentoring and teaching you.
3. You have to love it
If you don't like to program, no amount of money or primo benefits can make it worthwhile. Like many crafts, programming is rigorous, demanding and the prevailing culture can be difficult to navigate. That said, for people who get the bug (pun intended), there is nothing like it. After four months at a code school you will know if you love programming or not.
4. Anyone can program
The flip side of needing to love programming is that anyone can do it. And I don't mean any young white college-educated man, I mean anyone of any age, creed or gender. There is no programmer "type" no matter how many people will try to tell you otherwise. I've worked in this industry for almost two decades and my first real understanding of code came six months after I was first exposed to it. Don't get discouraged. Just like learning to read and write, anyone can learn to program and I would encourage you to give it a try.