With the advancements in technology and the increase in demand for tech jobs, many people are switching careers to become software developers. Computer science is a growing field that is known to pay well, but it does require programming knowledge to land your first job. There are many ways to do this-some people opt to learn code themselves, some attend bootcamps, and some earn degrees. When I decided to get into the tech industry, I opted for an associate degree.
Why did I want to switch careers in the first place?
I didn’t start college settled on one major; I enjoyed many fields, and I had no idea what I wanted to continue learning. I ended up going for a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Conservation with a minor in English. After graduating in 2017, I struggled to find a job. I worked multiple food service roles to get by, and I was frustrated that I wasn’t advancing my career. I started looking at other options. There are a few software engineers in my family, and they spoke of their jobs fondly. I did well in the computer science courses I took when I was previously experimenting with majors, and it seemed like a booming industry. I decided upon taking a few community college courses in computer programming.
I took a few summer classes, and as I predicted, I enjoyed learning about coding. My parents urged me to get an associate's, so I set upon that path. I was accepted at a local community college where courses cost much less than a public or private university. Although this degree was in computer programming and development, I was required to take classes on various topics. I learned about networking, algorithms, data structures, agile, databases, and coding languages. like Python and C++.
As I was eager to get experience, I often perused the job postings from my university and joined a LinkedIn group for my major. After taking classes for a year, I was able to land an internship that my college had advertised. Even as an internship, it paid more than I made in my previous food service roles. It also provided me with the opportunity to gain more experience working with networking concepts and coding. The best part? It led to a full-time role when I graduated.
Key Benefits of Getting a Degree
Establishes connections. Even community colleges develop reputations in their communities. You are likely to run into alumni and students who may not even be in your field, and this can help open job opportunities. Many departments are determined to find their students jobs, so they will likely post internship and job openings available and get you in touch with their industry contacts.
Alumni benefits. Many colleges offer career services to both students and alumni. If you need help interviewing or creating your resume at any point in your career, you can utilize your college’s services. There also may be career fairs limited to students and alumni, which shows that employers are interested in hiring students like you. Coding bootcamps may also offer job support, but colleges will have a wider range of preparation available as they have experience beyond the field of software development. Plus, if you decide to switch industries, a university would still have career services to offer as they are not limited to one field.
Learn more than just coding. While coding is a crucial skill to have, it is important to learn about other concepts, such as algorithms and data structures, to complement your coding abilities. Computer science degrees focus on more than coding, and they also typically require general education classes like writing to ensure your skills are well-rounded. If you’re not set on one type of job, a degree might also spark your interest in another field in tech (networking, data science, technical writing, etc.) that you can pursue.
Degrees show you completed different competencies. While degrees do not mean everything, some positions require them. If you have a degree in a different field as I did, that may carry over with a bootcamp. Some recruiters may still be looking for a degree specifically in computer science. If you do not have a degree at all, you may run into job postings that turn you away before they even test your skills. Degrees are also relatively consistent among colleges, so your employer may be more familiar with the skills you learned and the courses you had to take.
Affordable. Community college courses are usually fairly affordable, and many have transition programs if you want a more advanced degree. Community colleges are also a great option if you’re not positive about the career switch (although if this is the case, you might want to try a cheaper online course from a learning site like Udemy to verify coding is right for you). A four-year degree from a public or private university would certainly be the most costly option, and bootcamps usually have a high cost for such a short period of time.
Online option. While universities offer in-person classes, they also offer online options (or a hybrid of the two). This can be beneficial if you want a flexible schedule or have transportation issues.
Is it worth it to go with a boot camp, or should you take on a degree? The decision is up to you. If you wish to advance your programming skills, you should figure out how much time and money you are willing to spend and how soon you expect to start your computer career. Coding bootcamps typically occur over a shorter period of time, which means you will have to devote more hours daily within that period to coding. A degree can be more flexible but will take at least 2–4 years depending on whether you want to start with an associate or bachelor's degree. You’ll have to determine if you have to balance your learning amongst other responsibilities, such as work and family. Look through job boards and understand what requirements are needed for the jobs you want. Do they require a degree, or do they offer benefits to further your education?
Both will likely impress employers, and it’s up to you to showcase what you learned in job applications and interviews. Regardless of how you decide to learn to code, there are still other factors that you will have to account for to be successful in advancing your tech career. You will have to consistently:
- Make connections
- Browse job boards
- Update your resume
- Work on your own coding projects
- Attend networking events/hack-a-thons
- Research potential companies you would like to work for
- Speak with other programmers about their positions
Coding bootcamps and computer science degrees are both hard work, but if you are interested in a programming position, they will reward you greatly. You will constantly learn new things as technology evolves. You’ll get frustrated at times, but you’ll feel great when you finally create a solution.
Overall, I am satisfied with my additional Associate’s degree. It helped me narrow down my career aspirations, gain work experience, and land a full-time position. It may not have been an unusual choice (especially as I already had a degree beforehand), but it has allowed me to finally advance my career in a promising direction.