Definitive Guide on How to become a Software Developer (in 2020)

How to become a software developer

Last Updated on August 9, 2020 by Gunnar

Software development is a lucrative career that many people want to get into, but it can be hard if you do not know where to start. Let me show you how to become a software developer and land those high-paying jobs.

There are quite a few myths about programming floating around on the internet – most of them are wrong. Some claim that it is impossible to become a software developer if you haven’t gotten a computing degree.

When I got my first programming job back in 1998, writing Java code the Madrid Stock Exchange, I was a fresh university-dropout with 5 semesters of Mathematics and Philosophy under the belt.

From there I moved on to administrating an Oracle database and programming Java beans. Eventually, I landed a high-paying job as Senior System Architect in a listed company in Berlin, Germany. All of this without a college degree.

The road from not knowing anything about computers to landing my first full-time job was pretty straight forward. In this guide, I will show you how to become a software developer in 2020.

Become a software engineer isn’t as hard as you might think. It is going to take dedication and a bit of time, like most things. The good news is that you can start building projects very quickly.

So, if you want to know how to become a software developer, read on!

What Is the Difference Between a Software Engineer and a Software Developer?

There is not much of a difference between a software developer and a software engineer. Both of these are terms used to refer to a person who writes the code for software such as an operating system, a video game, a mobile app, etc.

Companies use these terms interchangeably, often referring to the same thing. When doing searches related to “software engineering,” you should also type “software developer” to have more results.

What You Need to Become a Software Developer (3 Things You Must Have)

To become a Software Developer, you need to develop yourself in three main areas; Skills, Knowledge, and Experience.


A Software engineer needs to have more than just the ability to code. The following soft skills will help you to succeed in the software industry;

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Excellent listening and communication skills
  • Ability to work in a team

You can develop your soft skills by constant learning. Do not be a know-it-all. Learn to be more polite to the people you interact with. Also, be an active listener and always give clear verbal communication.


Although not having a degree cannot stop anyone from becoming a software engineer, gaining knowledge will give you an edge as a software developer. For starters, you need knowledge of multiple programming languages.

The easiest way to gain knowledge is through self-learning. You have to invest time in getting information on the area where you have knowledge gaps.

This does not mean you have to enroll for a degree course. There are many big companies that do not require you to have a degree such as Apple, Google, Facebook, eBay, etc. They only require skills and experiences.

You can still get the necessary knowledge by other routes. You can enroll for a short online course or attend a technical boot camp. Often such training lasts for two to three months, arming you with enough crucial knowledge to land you entry-level jobs.


Experience is arguably the most critical among the three. You should seek to gain experience on use of various programming languages, and how to use different computer systems and applications. Experience gives you confidence in handling future tougher tasks.

Practical Steps to Follow to Become a Software Developer

Choose a programming language

With so many options available, most people struggle with making a decision on which programming language (and framework) they should start learning. The programming language you choose will depend on which area of software development you prefer.

Some popular languages with beginners are Python, Java, and Ruby.

Python is one of the easiest languages to learn. Python can be used to build almost anything, from web apps to data analysis. Ruby is mostly known for web apps and is also easy to learn. Java is famous for video games and mobile apps esp Android apps.

If you aim to be a web developer, you could also learn PHP or Html5.

You should not try to learn everything at the same time. You need to realize that once you are conversant with one particular language/stack, it will be easier to transition into a new one.

Since you are trying to become a software engineer, you should first learn the basics of programming fundamentals. It’ll help you to learn to think as a software developer.

A great place to start is Ruby. Some of the companies that use it are; GitHub, Hulu, Kickstarter, and Airbnb. It is readable and easier to get comfortable with compared to other languages.

It is open-source, which means there are plenty of resources and a community of developers, all accessible for free. Ruby will give you a good foundation and help you learn other languages later.

Spend Time Doing a lot of Practice

The stack you learn will be made meaningful by you practicing what you learn. You must dedicate time to practice and become proficient in the craft. To become a software developer, you will have to dedicate time every day for learning and practice.

There is no shortcut to this.

If you hope to land a job as a software developer, practicing for hours on end is the price you must pay.

Utilize tools used by other Software Developers

From the very beginning, you should accustom yourself to real problems, rather than just solving theoretical problems. Doing this will help you learn core coding concepts.

You need to acquaint yourself with tools that real software engineers use. Some of the most widely known are;

  • Git/GitHub
  • Bitbucket
  • The command-line-interface

If you do this, it will be easier for you to settle into the world of software development once you land yourself a job. It also saves you the hassle of having to begin learning from basics later on.

Join a software engineering community

When you are still trying to find your way in the whole new world of software development, you need to connect with like-minded people. Being part of a community of developers will make a huge difference.

It will be the determinant of whether you succeed or fail in this venture.

Being part of a community of software developers will provide you with a support system when you get stuck or feel unmotivated.

By observing and learning from experienced developers, you will be able to get a better understanding of how to do things, therefore making faster progress.

You can easily join many online communities and get invaluable help. Join the ones related to your area of learning.

Work on actual coding projects

It is not enough to simply gain a lot of knowledge by reading many tutorials and watching videos. You must put your skills to use.

What software developers do is solve real problems. When you work on real problems, you get to advance your learning and prove to potential employers that you are qualified.

You can choose to work on individual or group projects. Try building apps, games, and other soft wares that solve real-world problems.

Courses You Can Take Online (Paid and Free) to Gain Software Engineering Skills

Learning software development does not have to be a costly affair. There are many free as well as low-cost sites from which you can gain skills as a software developer. Here is a breakdown of some of the most popular and their cost.


It is among the best sites for learning software development. Actual university professors teach the courses at Coursera.

Although you can learn for free, you have to pay a cost ranging between $30 and $100 to earn a verified certificate and have access to content unavailable for free courses.


It is the perfect place to start for those who have no idea of where to begin. Codecademy is free but charges a monthly cost of $15 a month to allow access to additional content, real projects, and community support.

It is great for all people and at any level of experience.


Treehouse has partnered with major tech giants such as Amazon to offer quality services. Treehouse provides video content and coding challenges at a monthly cost of $25.

However, for those who want to get a certificate, they have to part with $199 per month.


A proven site for both new and experienced software developers, Udemy has both free and paid courses. The courses are very affordable. The cost of different courses ranges between $15 and $200.

Paying for an individual course grants you lifetime access to that content. Some of the courses taught on Udemy are; Python Frameworks, HTML, APIs, CSS, etc.


Founded by MIT and Havard University in 2012, it is one of the top online learning sites. edX guarantees you top-notch learning. Being an open-source and not-for-profit makes it a great place to start for new learners.

However, to get a certificate after completing a certificate course, which can take on average 6months, you are required to pay a minimum of $100 (depending on the type of course) to get a completion certificate.

MIT OpenCoursewares

For anyone seeking to go deeper in their knowledge of software development after learning the basics, MIT is a great site. All the content for the subjects they teach is freely accessible on their website to everyone without the need for an account.

Content relevant to software development includes topics related to Python, Java, C, C++, and MatLab. If you are serious about software engineering, you should maximize MIT’s free courseware site.

Types of Software Developer Jobs (And Their Required Level of Expertise)

Software development, as an industry, keeps shifting. Constant Innovation brings with it new areas of specialization and ways of doing things. There are always new terms popping up to describe different types of software engineers.

Job Ads can reflect different titles depending on what position different companies want to be filled. Below is a list with short descriptions and the required level of skills for some of the most common types of software developers.

Note that this list is not exhaustive. There are many paths that your career as a software developer can take. You can opt to stick to one path. But you can always change as you keep improving your knowledge and skills.

Front-end Developer

Also called Client-Side Developer, is a developer specializing in programming visual interfaces. They spend much of their time tweaking the aesthetics and layouts of UI and sorting cross-browser compatibility problems.

Their job involves writing code that will run on the web browser on the site users’ computers.

Income range: $76,652-$97,403

Competitiveness: Highly competitive. But competition comes only from full-stack and back-end developers.

Back-end Developer/Server-Side Developer

A Back-end developer deals with the designing, implementation, functional core logic, and performance of software running on machines that are remote from the end-users.

Compared to front end systems that are simplified by a user-friendly UI, back end systems tend to have a complex nature. Therefore, the developer needs to be able to integrate various services and employ their skills in databases, catching systems, data storage systems, etc.

Often they work with programming languages such as Python, Java, C, C++, Ruby, Perl, Scala, etc.

Income range: $66,762-$108,580

Competitiveness: Highly competitive. But need to have top-notch skills

Full-stack Developer

Developers with an ability to do both front-end and back-end work. They have the required skills to create a fully functional web application.

Income range: $50,000-$110,940

Competitiveness: There is a high demand for them due to their knowledge of both front-end and back-end.

Middle-Tier Developer

Refers to a developer that can do a bit of either front end or back end work but is not specialized in any. Neither are they full-stack developers. Such a developer writes non-UI code, which runs in a browser and talks to non-core code running on a server.

Income range: $55,671-$81,303

Competitiveness: Not very competitive as companies seek specialized developers.

Mobile Developer

It is a developer who writes code for applications used on mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. Due to the increase in demand for smartphones, this has emerged as a major software developer title.

Such a developer needs to have a good understanding of mobile operating systems such as Android and iOS and their development environment and frameworks such as Objective-C, Swift, and Java.

Average Income: $107,000

Competitiveness: There is an influx of web developers, hence, high competition in the field.

Game Developer

Type of developer that has specialized in writing games, although they can fall in any one of the above categories. They also tend to have specialized knowledge and skill in creating interactive gaming experiences.

They use frameworks such as DirectX, Unity 3D, WebGL, and languages such as C++ and Java.

Income range: $44,412-$104,500

Competitiveness: Highly competitive, but you need to be very creative.

Data Scientist

They Specialize in writing data sets analyzing software. The job involves handling predictive modeling, data visualization, statistical analysis, and machine learning. To be one, you need to be able to use languages such as Python, SQL, and R.

Income range: $80,762-$118,493

Competitiveness: Highly competitive if you have experience. Easily get hired at top companies.

Security Developer

Such a developer works as an ethical hacker. They find ways to test the vulnerability of software systems so that they can be fixed to avoid being exploited by malicious hackers.

You need to have a good understanding of the patterns used to attack software systems and be able to read source code, such as C and C++. You should be able to write in languages such as Ruby and Python.

Income range: $73,262-$110,800

Competitiveness: Are on high demand as people seek to safeguard their systems against cyber attacks.

Is it Hard to Become a Software Engineer or Get a Job?

The truth is that it is not easy. Sometimes it can be quite frustrating. However, it is not impossible. Many people have succeeded by self-learning and networking and landed successful careers as software developers.

The hardest part is mastering the skills and knowing where to search for jobs.

Everyone’s career path is different. Some land jobs in industry-leading companies such as Google, Intel, and HP, while others join quickly-rising startups and still become successful.

On average, statistics indicate that for the past 4years, 100% of software developers land jobs within 180 days of their graduation.

How to Get a Job as a Software Developer

Know what your end goal is in software engineering

You should make up your mind on what you want to achieve based on what is most desirable to you. You could decide to either work at an established company, join a new startup at an industry you adore or prefer to work on a building team.

Making this decision will help you narrow down the options of where you want to work and give you focus in your job search.

Build your professional network

Apart from just applying for jobs, you need to build your professional network. According to statistics, 40% of new hires come from referrals from friends and employees.

Connecting with people who work in the companies you want to join can lead to recommendations when there are job openings. Some ways to network are; attending tech meet-ups, volunteering, and speaking at events.

Have an online presence

You should also increase your visibility on online platforms. Build professional profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter, GitHub, and have a Personal Website where you can even do Blogging.

Become a valuable member of online communities, and opportunities will land your way.

Join Freelancing Websites

Once you have built your professional portfolio, join the online marketplace. There are many freelancer websites where you can create an account and begin earning once a potential client accepts your proposal.

The most popular sites are; Fivver, Upwork, PeoplePerHour, which focusses on tech, and Workna and 99Designs, which are best for designers. Other less known sites are; CleverTech, TopCoder, and Gigster.

You can increase your results when searching for jobs online by look for postings of both “software engineer” and “software developer.” Be ready to take an entry-level position, and climb the ladder as you grow your skills.

How Much Does a Software Engineer Make?

Based on Glassdoor salary data, of about 200,000 software engineers, the annual pay range is between $71,000-$145,000. An article by US News places the average yearly salary of a software developer at $103,620.

In the US, in 2020, only 4% of college students study computer science, which translates to about 450,000 students, yet there are 1.4milion computer jobs.

The demand is higher than the supply, which shows that there is very little competition in the software industry.

You determine the duration it will take between when you acquire the skills by learning, and when you begin earning. The sooner you develop your skills and become good at it, the sooner you will start earning.

For some, it can be as soon as 6months after they start learning, while for others, it can be 2years. The pay is also determined by your level of experience and the region where you work.


Follow the steps outlined in this guide on — How to become a software developer, and you will succeed. If you put in the work, you will grow to be among the best software developers.

Blogging Academic - Gunnar Mallon
Gunnar Mallon

Dr. Gunnar Mallon is a full-time Assistant Professor at the University of Groningen and passionate blogger. Join Gunnar and over 10,000 monthly readers on to learn how to start a blog like an academic. Gunnar also publishes academic journal articles on the topics of statistics, education, and climate science.

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The blogging academic - online education
About Gunnar Mallon

I put over a decade’s worth of experience, writing modules for some of the world’s top research universities into writing to 10,000 readers worldwide about creating engaging online educational content.

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