Skip to main content
  1. Learn
  2. Software development
  3. Posts
  4. How to get into software development: Experts share top tips

How to get into software development: Experts share top tips

PostsSoftware development
Brandi Gratis

Brandi Gratis

December 06, 2023

Nowadays, joining the tech industry is like watching Stranger Things: everyone is doing it. People from all kinds of backgrounds and generations are looking to venture into tech in hopes of job security, excitement, and competitive pay. One of the most popular roles many are looking to pursue is the software developer. And everyone is looking for helpful tips on how to get into software development.

While plenty of successful software developers hail from the biggest and best universities, many are self-taught. Regardless of the road taken, there’s plenty for new and up-and-coming software developers to learn. And who better to learn from than those who have come before?

We asked some of our favorite experts about their top career advice for software developers in today’s workforce. Here’s what they had to say.

Self-taught software engineers vs degrees

Q: What skills do self-taught programmers commonly lack? What should a self-taught programmer study to get up to speed with their formally-educated peers?

Chris Newhouse, CTO at APPSTEM

“One of the biggest differences I’ve seen between self-taught programmers and their formally-educated peers is the way they approach solving problems. People who go to the effort to teach themselves new skills tend to be very self-sufficient and often forget the benefits of collaboration. With the time and budgetary restrictions in software development, it is important to take advantage of the worldwide development community and build off of the work of others instead of reinventing the wheel.

“Self-taught programmers also tend to have a much more purpose-driven education than those who learned in school. They may have had some kind of game or web application they wanted to create and then sought out the requisite skills to do so. Because of this, they tend to miss out on some of the theory that underscores modern software development. Any self-taught developer could benefit highly from an e-learning course on data structures and algorithms. While the concepts in such a course aren’t necessarily used every day on the job, they do teach developers to be far more thoughtful about the approaches they take to solving problems.”

Jesse Curry, Director of Development at Haneke Design

“The biggest deficiency that I see in junior developers, self-taught or otherwise, is poor source control. In order to work effectively in a collaborative environment, one must be very familiar with their SCM. At Haneke Design, we use Git as the distributed nature makes branching and merging almost effortless. When new developers start, we’ll often see code being overwritten or “lost” to an old branch; we spend at least the first six months reinforcing the importance of maintaining a sound branching strategy and working intentionally.”

Meenakshi Agarwal, Co-founder of TechBeamers

“Self-learning is a unilateral but great approach to enhancing one’s skills. Most trainers and professionals recommend it. However, it is more useful when proper guidance is available along. Otherwise, it gets tough and makes people struggle. As a consequence, they may lack a few essential skills during the course.

  • Coding Style: It relates to the use of poor indentation, commenting, improper variable and function naming conventions, etc. I have experienced that some of the self-taught programmers miss on applying the right coding style and give more emphasis on implementing the business logic. The code, they produce could be technically fit but gets less readable and hard to maintain in the long run.
  • Unoptimized Code: It is another skill that self-taught programmers ignore to consider. Sometimes the books do not cover everything that you might need in real-time. Writing code is one thing, but doing it in an optimized manner is another.
    • A less efficient code may work in a low-tier environment but can tear it apart in a high-load situation. For developing an enterprise-class application, performance is critical.
    • Such skills are hard to acquire by self but learning under expert supervision could fill up such gaps timely.
  • Modularity: It is the art of breaking a large project into modules and sub-modules. One can do it if he is well aware of the functional and OO (Object-oriented) programming paradigms. Any solution that demands new features should adopt either of the development methods.
  • Design Patterns: This skill also comes with education or experience. A single problem may have one or more than one solution. With the right set of design pattern knowledge, you can decide what is best for your application. You may make mistakes during the course and gradually select the right pattern or learn from some professional who has already passed through the same phase.”

Gareth Dwyer, Python expert at Codementor

“It varies a lot depending on the self-learning process. Many self-taught programmers learn by doing, gaining practical experience in frameworks and tooling, but skip out on the less commonly used theoretical components that are covered in formal education. This means that many self-taught programmers have a weaker understanding of algorithms and data structures, and this often leads to them writing far less efficient code by not using hash tables, sets, arrays, and linked lists in appropriate contexts. They tend to use inefficient constructions such as nested loops even when this is not necessary, and may often have more trouble finding the most efficient solution to a given problem.

To mitigate this, self-taught programmers should take theoretical courses in Algorithms and Data Structures, and try to work in an environment where they can get their code reviewed regularly by someone who can mentor them on these aspects.”

Advanced programming

Q: What are some advanced concepts in programming that most average programmers have never heard of?

Chris Newhouse

“While a lot of developers have heard of cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, most haven’t explored them in a real use case. A lot of people don’t know how easy cloud computing companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are making it possible for anybody to investigate these technologies. Every month new and exciting APIs are released that allow developers at home to try out new use cases for artificial intelligence, including natural language processing, speech translation, computer vision, document understanding, and much more.”

Gareth Dwyer

Again, this varies a lot with different backgrounds. Version control tools such as Git are still not used in many cases. Although there has been huge growth recently, there are still many dev teams that are using antiquated and unsafe development practices by copy-pasting source code between their local machines and servers, using names like to keep track of new releases. This is not scalable and leads to huge issues.

Jesse Curry

“My favorite is Currying ;)”

Software developer skills

Q: What do you need to learn and do to become a successful software engineer?

Meenakshi Agarwal

“A software engineer is successful when they can quickly understand the functional requirements of a project, does their work in a structured way, and can demonstrate the job done with ease and confidence.

“To achieve success, a software engineer should learn the following:

  • Software Engineering Fundamentals: They should know about various development models like SDLC, Extreme programming, and Agile. It is essential to understand what are the key roles, and responsibilities, and how to operate in such themes.
  • Problem Solving: It is an ability that comes from the inside. One can strengthen it by facing problems differently and trying to solve them with different approaches.
  • Effort Estimation: When an engineer gets some tasks, they need to provide the effort estimates. It could be a regular activity for a project but is something critical for project delivery. It also involves splitting a big task into smaller parts to bring clarity. Those who learn the effort estimation techniques and do it right, win the trust of the stakeholders.
  • Commitment: The last thing one would expect from a software engineer is a broken commitment. Irrespective of how dynamic the IT field is, each software engineer should prevent delays from happening. On-time delivery has two-fold benefits, first is the room for new feature additions plus the trust of customers. Such individuals get high regard and tend to become more successful in their careers.”

Chris Newhouse

“Every software product is a collaborative effort. Most products are created by teams, and over time all software changes hands as the makeup of development teams shifts. Being a successful software engineer requires the ability to be a cooperative and flexible team player, no matter how independent your work might seem. Some of the most important skills that get overlooked are the less technical ones: documenting code, working collaboratively with others to plan and execute projects, and reviewing the code of other engineers. These skills will serve you well in any development role.”

Gareth Dwyer

“There are many paths to success in software engineering, but the key to all of them are:

  • Becoming an expert in some programming languages and tools. You should be able to write high-quality code that eloquently solves the problem you are tackling at a reasonably fast rate. You should use your tools effectively. Although it’s possible to write software in Notepad.exe while typing with two fingers and not following any best practices around good coding style, this is ultimately going to slow you down a lot. You should learn to type, learn to use the advanced features of your IDE or text editor of choice, and learn about the advanced features in your languages of choice.
  • Grow comfortable with thinking about the bigger picture of what problem you’re really trying to solve. You can add some value by taking well-defined tickets off a queue and writing code to spec, but to advance in the field you’ll have to learn to add more value by thinking about the “real” problem. This will allow you to make appropriate tradeoffs without having to constantly ask for clarifications from others.
  • Improve your communication. In the end, it’s unlikely that you’ll advance on your own. In order to work effectively with others, you should constantly improve your verbal and written communication skills — something that takes just as much practice as coding itself and can often be as or more important.”

Jesse Curry

“Empathy is one of the most important skills that one can develop when building software for others if you cannot place yourself in the shoes of your user, anything you create will only superficially solve their problem.”

Software developer salaries

Q: What is the best career advice for a software developer to earn a higher salary?

Chris Newhouse

“Software development is a challenging field to find a place in, given the breadth of technologies, platforms, programming languages, and industries involved. It can be tricky to decide when to be a specialist and when to be a generalist.

“Every company wants to hire a versatile engineer — someone who can tackle any problem thrown at them, even if it involves new technology. It is important to not get pigeonholed into a single programming language or platform. At the same time, the highest salaries are commanded by those who have unique expertise to bring to a company. Cutting-edge technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the Internet of Things are all novel and complex enough that true experts are rare, and can get quite a premium for their knowledge.”

Gareth Dwyer

“Take initiative. There’s a massive shortage of technically skilled people globally and no end of problems to solve. It’s also easy to become a ‘code monkey’ — someone who pulls tickets off a queue and fixes bugs, but it’s hard to grow like this. Learn how to communicate with different groups of people, understand different aspects of business such as sales, marketing, and finance, and apply your technical skills where they are most valuable.”

Jesse Curry

“Keep your technical skills sharp and learn to work effectively with others; being “right” doesn’t have much value if no one wants to work with you. Don’t worry about other people; just work to be better every day.”

Meenakshi Agarwal

The main forte of any software developer is programming. They should have excellent programming skills to grow in their career. The following career advice could be useful:

  • Choose an In-demand Programming Language: Instead of following the crowd pattern, one should do research and learn the programming language that is in high demand. If you have hands-on using it, higher are your chances to get a salary hike.
  • Contribute to Open Source: You can make a strong footprint online by contributing to an open-source project. Most companies prefer a candidate’s profile with such out-of-the-box abilities. Also, if you have some innovative product to showcase, then share it on platforms like GitHub, BitBucket, etc. It could then be visible to a broad audience.
  • Out of the Box Thinking: Try to think out of the box. As a developer, you are responsible for unit testing. Think about automating it. Go further, use DevOps stuff like Jenkins or Bamboo, and schedule a CI job for test runs. Collect code coverage of your tests, prepare a summary, and share it with the superiors. Such initiatives pay well at the time of yearly increments and influence salary hikes.
  • Invest in New Technologies: A growing skill set is necessary for any software developer. They should be aware of the latest tech trends. For example, Data Science and machine learning are quite popular areas in the industry these days. One can think of investing some out-of-office time to develop these skills. It can help in changing jobs quickly and even bring more in-house project opportunities.
  • Work for the Customer: Many software developers don’t need to deal with the customer directly. However, in product companies, it happens often. If you get a chance, then give your 100% to solve such problems. These are lifetime experiences which yield high monetary benefits in the long run.”

What you wish you’d known

Q: What are some things you wish you knew when you started programming?

Gareth Dwyer

“Although software development is often thought about in isolation, it is more like learning to read or write than it is like medicine or accounting. Although some people read and write purely for the sake of reading and writing, more often, people read and write in order to solve problems in other fields than literature. Learning to program is a great first step, but the real value lies in finding out how programming can be applied to other fields to solve problems.”

Jesse Curry

“Some of the most popular software is backed by the ugliest source code. While we always strive for technical perfection the most important thing that a software developer can do is ship. I don’t want to encourage anyone to purposely write bad code, but sometimes it’s more important to hit a deadline or get something into the marketplace than it is to spend another week refactoring (and since I didn’t mention it before, read the Refactoring book, it’s seriously one of the best books for a professional software developer to read).”

How to get into software development

Embarking on a career in software development is an exciting journey that welcomes individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Whether you’re a recent graduate, contemplating a career change, or a self-taught enthusiast, the tech industry offers a multitude of entry points. To guide you through this transformative process, we’ve compiled these essential tips to provide valuable insights into the key steps for aspiring software developers.

  1. Define Your Motivation: Understand why you want to pursue a career in software development. Whether it’s a passion for problem-solving, a fascination with technology, or the allure of creating innovative solutions, a clear motivation will guide your journey.
  2. Explore Educational Paths: Evaluate your educational options, considering formal education and self-taught routes. While some successful developers emerge from top universities, many are self-taught. Identify the approach that aligns with your learning style and resources.
  3. Build a Strong Foundation: Regardless of your educational path, focus on building a solid foundation in programming languages, algorithms, and data structures. Online courses, coding boot camps, and university programs can offer structured learning experiences.
  4. Engage with the Community: Join developer communities, both online and offline. Platforms like GitHub, Stack Overflow, and coding forums provide spaces to connect with experienced developers, seek advice, and collaborate on projects. Attend local meetups and conferences to expand your network.
  5. Work on Real Projects: Apply your learning by working on real-world projects. Create a portfolio showcasing your skills and projects, demonstrating your ability to solve practical problems. This tangible evidence will be valuable when seeking opportunities.
  6. Master Source Control: Develop proficiency in source control tools like Git. Understanding version control is crucial for collaborative development, and it’s a skill often emphasized by industry professionals.
  7. Embrace Continuous Learning: Software development is a constantly evolving field. Cultivate a mindset of continuous learning, staying updated on industry trends, emerging technologies, and best practices.
  8. Contribute to Open Source: Consider contributing to open-source projects. This not only enhances your coding skills but also allows you to collaborate with experienced developers, gain real-world experience, and make a positive impact on the community.
  9. Build Soft Skills: Recognize the importance of soft skills. Effective communication, teamwork, and empathy are integral to success in a collaborative development environment. Develop these skills alongside your technical expertise.
  10. Create a Personal Brand: Establish your online presence by creating a personal brand. Maintain a professional portfolio, engage in discussions on relevant platforms, and showcase your expertise. A strong online presence can attract opportunities and connections.
  11. Seek Internships and Entry-Level Roles: Look for internships or entry-level positions to gain practical experience in a professional setting. These opportunities provide valuable insights into industry practices and help you build a professional network.
  12. Stay Resilient and Persevere: The journey into software development may have challenges, but resilience is key. Stay committed to your goals, learn from setbacks, and persevere through the learning curves.

By incorporating these steps into your journey, you’ll be well-equipped to navigate the multifaceted landscape of software development. Embrace the learning process, connect with the vibrant developer community, and take proactive steps to turn your aspirations into a thriving career in this dynamic and rewarding field.

Equipping yourself for success in software development

Learning from other’s successes and mistakes is a great way to make more informed decisions on where you want to take your own career trajectory. Follow those you want to emulate, avoid pitfalls you know you’re likely to make, and take your own risks whenever you find yourself in new territory. And most importantly: share what you learn with those around you. You never know how much it can help those to follow.

As you navigate this dynamic field, having the right developer tools at your disposal becomes a crucial aspect of ensuring efficiency, collaboration, and seamless project management.

In the realm of project management, code management, and version control, Backlog is a comprehensive solution tailored to the needs of software development teams. With features designed to streamline workflows, enhance collaboration, and provide a clear overview of project progress, Backlog proves instrumental in achieving project success. Its user-friendly interface, coupled with robust functionality, makes it a valuable asset for developers at all levels.

For those engaged in the intricate process of developer diagrams and planning, Cacoo stands out as an invaluable tool. Offering a collaborative platform for creating a wide array of diagrams, flowcharts, and wireframes, Cacoo facilitates effective communication and visual representation of ideas. Whether you’re conceptualizing system architectures, mapping out workflows, or designing user interfaces, Cacoo empowers developers to bring their visions to life.

By integrating these tools into your software development journey, you not only enhance your technical capabilities but also foster a collaborative and efficient work environment. Backlog and Cacoo serve as catalysts for seamless project execution, enabling you to focus on what you do best – crafting exceptional software solutions.

As you continue to refine your skills, build your portfolio, and engage with the vibrant developer community, consider the role that powerful, intuitive tools play in elevating your capabilities. Backed by the right tools, your journey in software development becomes not just a career but a fulfilling and impactful adventure in the realm of technology.

This post was originally published on August 30, 2019, and updated most recently on December 6, 2023.



Subscribe to our newsletter

Learn with Nulab to bring your best ideas to life