Software development is an in-demand and rewarding career field. Programmers, developers and software engineers garner high salaries, and these jobs routinely rank high for flexibility and job satisfaction. It's not always an easy field to break into, but it's certainly not impossible.
The Road To An Entry-Level Position
Figure out which specialty you'd like to work in. Programming is a diverse field; do you want to be a web programmer, a game programmer or a business applications programmer? The subfield you choose will determine the programming languages you will need to learn.
Learn at least one programming language. This is common sense, but the languages you learn can affect your marketability when searching for an entry-level position. For example, if your interest is web development, then PHP would be a better choice than Cold Fusion. The demand for PHP programmers has steadily increased over the years, while Cold Fusion developers are becoming a relic. Make sure that you learn a language that is current and used in the industries in which you seek employment.
Get experience and training. You need some degree of training and experience in programming to score a programming job. Below are some common routes of getting there:
Alternative #1: The Bachelor's Degree
While software development--and the rest of the Information technology sector-- has become more open to pulling recruits from varying backgrounds and educational levels, getting at least a four-year degree or higher in a related field is usually the most direct and most utilized route. A bachelor's degree in computer science or computer information systems will prepare you for entry-level positions in programming. Degrees in physics, engineering and mathematics often require some programming courses, or accept programming and software development courses as electives, so it's possible to get academic programming experience outside of CS or CIS.
Alternative #2: An Associate's Degree
While a Bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field is a great boon when searching for a programming position, it's usually not the only academic credential that employers are ready to accept. For entry-level and junior positions, many employers look favorably on an associate's degree. An associate's degree is typically earned through two years of study and is usually awarded by junior colleges and community colleges. Obtaining an associate's degree is a great option if you do not have the time or financial means to devote yourself to a bachelor's degree; community/junior colleges are usually very affordable, and many offer night classes to cater to working individuals. While an associate's degree alone will not get you into a very high-end company like Google or Microsoft, it's usually sufficient for a beginning position at a good number of companies.
Alternative #3: Certificates of Completion
Certificates of completion are usually offered alongside associate's degrees at most community and junior colleges. The difference between an AA degree and a certificate of completion is that the certificate requires less units, and is usually focused solely on one area of study, while an associate's degree may require courses and electives outside the breadth of your area of study. If you're already established in a career or have a degree in a non-IT field, a certificate of completion in software development or a set of programming languages is a great way to transition into software development. In addition, many schools that offer certificates of completion will allow you to transfer the units you completed for the certificate into an AA program, so you can initially get a certificate of completion and later convert that into an associate's degree after completing the remaining classes.
Alternative #4: Industry Credentials
Like a certificate of completion, an industry certificate demonstrates that you have obtained a minimum level of competency in a field. Unlike a certificate of completion, however, industry certificates do not generally require attendance at an academic institution, though many schools offer training for the certification exams.
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