The short answer is yes. You can become a programmer without earning a university degree in computer science or software engineering.
The longer answer is a bit more complicated. Starting your career without a degree will mean doing quite a bit of self-study and self-training. You need to be a hard worker and highly motivated to succeed.
The truth is, this field is big (there are hundreds of programming languages!) and it’s changing all the time. Even with a degree, you’ll spend a lot of time studying new tech and teaching yourself new skills.
So this begs the question: If you don’t want to go to university, what’s the best way to get your programming career off the ground?
For this post, we spoke to some successful programmers and web developers who didn’t get degrees to find out how they made it happen. We also looked at some industry data on how much training today's programmers get and how they learn new skills.
Plus, we explain exactly what to expect from shorter training options—like our Programmer Analyst diploma—and what extra skills you might need to actually get hired after graduation. Let's get started.
Data Shows Many programmers Don’t Have Degrees
Every year, Stack Overflow surveys thousands of developers on their skills, professional roles, education, and the software development industry in general.
In 2018, they surveyed over 100,000 developers.
FreeCodeCamp did us a big favour by analyzing the results and pulling out the biggest insights. Take a look at these stats related to education and experience.
☑️ A quarter of all developers don’t have a university degree
☑️ 1 out of 3 developers with Bachelor degrees had majors unrelated to computer science or software engineering
☑️ 87% teach themselves new skills through short courses and by studying online documentation (self-study)
☑️ Most developers have less than 5 years of professional coding experience
What Do the Self-Taught Programmers Say?
Taka Mineta lives in Montreal, Canada. He holds the very impressive title of Senior Web Solutions Architect at Toon Boom, a hugely successful animation software company. How did he get there?
According to Taka, he started out with just a few college courses in C++ programming and web development. He thought about doing a computer science degree, but it never worked out.
The rest, he says, he learned through trial and error and self-study. Learning by doing: that’s what Taka believes is truly essential for success in this industry.
“A degree is useful to nail the base of programming. But going to university doesn’t guarantee anyone a job in this field. You need to dive in and get some real work experience. I spent a lot of time teaching myself new programming languages and pushing myself hard to expand my skills.
I started small, got experience at different companies, and proved my abilities by providing effective client solutions. In the end, you don’t need a degree to get good results.”
Next we have Chao Zhang, who decided to take a college-level Programmer Analyst training program. Chao is now a full-stack software developer at Jesta I.S., an international company that produces software solutions for retail businesses.
Chao didn’t have time to go back to university. He already had a degree in electrical engineering. He wanted to switch careers and get a programming job as quickly as possible.
“I wanted to build something great in the digital world. But I knew getting practical experience is the key to success in this field. I chose Programmer Analyst training because it’s fast and includes an internship. I needed real work experience to kickstart my career.”
Read our full interview with Chao right here.
Chao got hired straight out of his college internship with Jesta, a global software company that designs enterprise solutions for retail businesses
Chao says the 15-month course gave him a solid foundation in programming. But he had to fill in some gaps on his own, through self-study and hard work.
“To get a programming job you need to know at least one to two frameworks, and you need to be good with different environments and tools. But you can’t expect to learn them all from one training program because there are so many different frameworks, tools, etc.
Most college programs are very condensed. You move quickly through the material, and jump over some of the theory and topics. That means students have to do a lot of study and practice on their own. This is how I landed a job after graduation.”
No Matter What, It’s All About Continuous Learning
It's obvious from both Taka and Chao’s stories (and the 2018 developer survey) that continuous learning and independent study are essential for everyone in programming—with or without a degree.
The learning doesn’t stop once you get a job, either. You’ll always be adjusting to new technologies and coming up with creative solutions for clients.
You need a particular mindset to do well in this industry. Specifically, you can’t be someone who simply sits back and becomes complacent the minute you get your first programming job.
Almost 34% of the developers surveyed by Stack Overflow said they wanted a more advanced role within the next 5 years. 25% said they hoped to start their own business. These are ambitious people!
The Bottom Line: The most successful programmers aren't necessarily the ones with fancy degrees. They’re the people who really push themselves to learn more and do better every single day. You can’t learn passion and dedication in school. You either have it or you don’t.
What to Expect from a Diploma in Programming
So let’s say you’re looking for some basic training in programming. You don’t want to dig through a bunch of free courses online or try to teach yourself the basics.
You want the discipline of a school setting and access to an experienced instructor. Or, like Chao Zhang, you need real work experience for your resume and want a training program that includes an internship.
Plenty of private and public colleges offer diplomas and certificates in programming. A quality course teaches you the basics you need to hit the ground running. From there, it’s up to you.
At Herzing College Montreal, we deliver a 15-month accelerated Programmer Analyst diploma program. We teach popular programming languages and applications required in a software development environment:
☑️ Microsoft VB.Net applications
☑️ Object-oriented programming with JAVA
☑️ Database design and development with SQL Server
☑️ Mobile technologies
The program also includes an intensive 14-week internship at a local company. The primary focus is hands-on training in a real software development environment.
Our goal is to kickstart your programming career with foundational skills and some real professional experience.
Want to find out if the Programmer Analyst program is right for you?
Click below to explore the training and see a detailed course list. Chat live to get your questions answered, or request free information by email. We’re here to help!