How To Become a Software Engineer Without a Degree

Software developers are in demand and highly paid, with a median salary of over $110,000. With the growing shortage of skilled tech talent, jobs are plentiful. Companies are offering increasingly competitive wages and benefits packages. If you're interested in breaking into the software development field but don't have a computer science degree or the time to go back to school for one, you might think you're out of luck. 

This article will cover what a software engineer does and if you need a degree to become one. We'll also discuss what you can expect to earn without a degree, what skills you'll need, and the best way to develop them. Feel free to skip around to the sections that interest you the most using the table of contents. 

  • What Does a Software Engineer Do?

  • Do You Need a Degree To Become a Software Engineer?

  • How Much Does a Software Engineer Make Without a Degree?

  • How To Become a Software Engineer Without a Degree

  • Tips for Starting a Career in Software Engineering Without a Degree

  • What Type of Skills Should a Software Engineer Have?

  • How to Prepare for a Job Interview as a Software Engineer

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Software engineers design and build computer programs for various platforms, including web and mobile applications, computer games, robots, and networking systems. They are also responsible for maintaining, auditing, and improving those systems. Software engineers work with many other professionals such as data scientists, project managers, and designers to create and support digital products. 

A major part of a software engineer's job is identifying what the client needs and how to provide it. Software engineers are sometimes referred to as software developers, software designers, programmers, or web developers. Different companies may refer to their software engineers by other names. The job descriptions may differ slightly, but they are all considered part of the development team. 

Two software engineers collaborate on a project.

Do You Need a Degree To Become a Software Engineer?

You do not need a degree to become a software engineer. Software engineering is a very technical job that depends on up-to-date hard skills. Because of the rapid rate of advancement, you'll need to embrace a lifelong learning mindset. One-third of the skills required for IT jobs in 2017 are already obsolete. 

While that may seem depressing, it's good news if you're looking to break into the field. Even software developers with degrees will need to update their skillset continuously. A survey by Course Report found that software engineers who graduated from bootcamps earned roughly the same starting salary as those with a college degree, and they paid significantly less for their education. 

How Much Does a Software Engineer Make Without a Degree?

Course Report's latest survey of over 3000 bootcamp graduates found that they had an average starting salary of $69,079. This compares favorably to Salary.com's reported average of $72,739 for entry-level software engineers. Unsurprisingly, studying before starting a bootcamp and taking longer courses earns higher starting salaries. 

According to the survey, graduates from a bootcamp that's longer than 16 weeks earn approximately $8000 more than graduates of 8-week long bootcamps, and students who self-teach before bootcamp earn roughly $3000 more than those who don't. As they gain experience, bootcamp students continue to increase their salaries. The average salary for second jobs was $80,943 per year, and by their third jobs, their salaries had jumped to $99,229 per year. 

How To Become a Software Engineer Without a Degree

Although becoming a software engineer without a degree is possible, it's not an easy process and requires a commitment. You'll need to learn web development tools and platforms, programming languages, and client-and-server-side technology. You can learn all of this independently or sign up for a course or bootcamp. 

No matter how you choose to learn, here are some tips for making the process easier: 

  • Create your own projects

  • Find a mentor or support group for guidance and encouragement

  • Put together an impressive portfolio 

  • Practice for the technical interview 

The UMass Global Software Engineering Bootcamp provides the opportunity for you to incorporate all of these aspects into learning software engineering. 

Tips for Starting a Career in Software Engineering Without a Degree

Getting your first job as a software engineer can be challenging, particularly if you don't have a degree. Fortunately, there are many different ways to prove your proficiency, which is the primary concern of hiring managers. The most effective way to show you've got the skills is with a portfolio of public, working apps. Go beyond your bootcamp or class projects. Creating unique projects will set you apart from other bootcamp graduates. 

Don't assume the job description is written in stone. While you shouldn't apply for a job you're grossly unqualified for, go ahead and send in a resume if you meet most of the requirements. This hiring manager suggests ignoring requirements for a college degree and applying as long as you can handle the tech requirements. 

What Type of Skills Should a Software Engineer Have?

Most people understand software engineers need to know computer languages and systems. While this is true, tech skills aren't enough. Software engineers need a combination of hard and soft skills that include design, programming, problem-solving, and communication. A good software engineer will have the following skills: 

  • Coding ability in languages such as Java, Python, C++, or Ruby

  • Software development, which involves working with users to design, develop, and test software solutions

  • The ability to work as part of a team

  • Good verbal and written communication skills, including the ability to discuss tech concepts with non-techy people

  • Object-oriented design

  • Testing and debugging software

  • Version control

  • Problem-solving and critical thinking skills

How To Prepare for a Job Interview as a Software Engineer

The best way to prepare for a job interview as a software engineer is to practice. Developer jobs almost always include a technical interview. Sites like LeetCode can help you prepare for a technical interview. You can work through as many problems as you need to until you feel comfortable. CodeInterview lets you practice pair programming. Some bootcamps, like the UMass Global Software Engineering Bootcamp, will offer interview tools. It also includes 60 hours of optional technical interview prep, including prepping for whiteboarding and coding interviews.

However, don't get so caught up in preparing for a technical interview that you forget about the other aspects. Practice talking about all of the projects in your portfolio, particularly any challenges you had to overcome. It's also a good idea to research the company you're interviewing so you'll be prepared to talk about how you can add value to the company. 

Taking the First Step Toward a New Career

The field of software development is constantly evolving. There are more options than ever for learning software engineering and beginning a rewarding career. For students wondering how to become a software engineer without a degree, you'll still need to devote a lot of time and effort to learning the hard skills you need. 

By learning software development, coding, object-oriented design, coding, and the other tech stacks engineers need, you'll have a competitive edge in the job market. Putting together a solid portfolio of original work and practicing for the interview are the final steps in starting your new career.

A good bootcamp curriculum that guides you through the process can make switching fields much easier. The UMass Global Software Engineering Bootcamp provides students with one-on-one mentor support, a student advisor, and a career coach. You'll learn the fundamentals of programming, the most popular tools and technologies, the best practices in software engineering, and create capstone projects for your portfolio. Learn more about the bootcamp curriculum here.