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5 Tips to Become a Developer Without a College Degree

July 22nd, 2022
He is 19 years old and joined KWAN at 18. He didn’t go to college... but he guarantees he doesn't have any above-average capabilities. PHP developer and KWANer Hugo Rosa explains how you too can become a programmer without going to college!

Not only is possible, it's more accessible than it seems!

To be a programmer at the age of 19 is not easy, but it's not impossible either. I would say that what matters is not the age, but the dedication and effort. I joined KWAN at the age of 18 and, unlike most of my peers, I have not attended any bootcamps nor taken any college degree. Not yet.

That being said, I would like to share some learning strategies for those who aspire to learn to program without attending college:

1. Being self-taught

It's not easy and it doesn't work for every subject and everyone, but I consider that being self-taught is the best quality one can have, because you can always get the information we are looking for if you keep searching!

How? By researching everywhere and in every way possible.

In fact, it was through the ability to learn on my own that I was able to learn programming long before I got my professional training - and believe me it helped a lot to get me where I am today.

And it is so easy to obtain information nowadays!

For example, on Youtube you can find all kinds of videos, from fun and relaxed classes to more serious and complex ones. You even find the famous Crash Courses that I highly recommend: very long classes with 3 to 7 hours of content. One of the content creators I recommend is Dani Krossing, here's an example. As for a Crash Course, I recommend the channel Traversy Media, which makes lots of such videos.

There are also platforms like Udemy and Codeacademy which I personally don't love because you are paying for content that you can find for free on YouTube. On the other hand, if you pay for the course you most likely get more support from the teacher, which can be very important for some people.

Finally, it's very important to write.

Don’t think that you can just watch videos to learn how to program and wait for Dobby to show up in your room and create the code for you (sorry about the Harry Potter jokes!).

It's crucial to put into practice everything you learn.

Working on projects is one of the best parts of being a programmer, and once you have the power of programming in your hands, you will realize that you can create any tool that suits your needs.

For example, to create a budget I don’t use Excel like muggles do. Instead, I make a website that is not only visually more elegant than a spreadsheet, but also does complex calculations with all the conditions and “if not’s” that I want.

Here it is:

2. Professional programming course (for the high schoolers!)

Yes, taking a professional course is not for everyone, since there are age restrictions, but this is how I started my programming education.

Here's an advice that applies to any area of training: get the basics before you start the course. That’s precisely what I did. The content lectured during the course wasn't totally strange to me and that helped me a lot!

The professional course I took is called “Management and Programming of Computer Systems Technician” and at the time it included subjects such as “Operating Systems”, “Computer Architecture”, “Communication Networks”, “Programming and Information Systems”, etc.  

There are other professional courses in the field of technologies available in Portugal, such as “Computer Management Technician”, “Computer Programming Technician” and “Computer Equipment Management Technician” but, in my opinion, they don’t prepare the students very well, especially if the goal later on is to take a college degree or a specialization course.

However, the truth is, in Portugal, vocational courses still have a bad reputation and are not often considered as a good career path.

And yes, some people take advantage of the evaluation system of vocational education to get through the module (for example, they take the exam at the end of the year and don’t show the slightest interest during the rest of the time). However, only those who really work hard are rewarded, and the grades show exactly that.

I would also like to highlight the internships at the end of the course in companies, from startups to multinationals. I developed several projects throughout the course, such as the “Let Me Farm”, which aims to facilitate farmers in the exercise of their profession, reducing the frequency of visits to each plantation by obtaining live data of the state of each environment and of each animal, if any.

The huge challenge for those who take a vocational course is to catch the attention of recruiters when they, very often, only approach professionals with a college degree.


And here, the big suggestion is to build yourself within the course. Create a resume that shows how much you can do. Doing projects is not for everyone, especially when they involve advanced technologies and you can apply the knowledge needed to develop it. 

Believe me, with a college degree or not, if you are able to show this to a recruiter, they won't be indifferent!

3. Programming bootcamp

Do you have 7000 € to invest? Then this option is for you.

I know several people who have attended bootcamps and I know that there are several options, including the most famous here in Portugal, the Code Academy. For those in Brazil, to get training in React and Javascript, check the bootcamp programs of Rocketseat.

What are the benefits of a bootcamp?

When you learn on your own, you will probably make mistakes without realizing it. In a bootcamp, however, the mistakes you might make will be pointed out by the teacher, corrected, and avoided next time - and this will most definitely accelerates your learning!

Now, the best part: when you finish the bootcamp you will have recruiters interested in you!

Remember to mute your mobile phone at night, otherwise you won't be able to sleep soundly. 😂

Through a bootcamp, your path starts in a sea of wanna-be programmers who want to come out with programming skills, and ends with an easy way out into the job market! 

It's definitely a good option for those who can afford it.

4.  Play, a lot

This one is for you, gamers, who do little more than eat chips directly from the package on your belly while shooting computer characters (I don't resonate with this at all 😂 ).

And now you ask:

What does playing games have to do with programming?

In most games there are community servers, or if not, there are mods and plug-ins that we can add to the games. Yes, modifications external to the game... and made by whom? 

Exactly, programmers. 🤯

Is there a more exciting way to learn programming than through your favorite game?

You will be able to acquire various skills, such as knowledge of design and three-dimensional calculations needed to build the characters and manipulate them through the game. You will also be able to improve your knowledge of optimizations and even learn some techniques (such as not forming polygons on faces hidden from the user), etc.

Developing modifications for a game and learning all that it requires is a process that takes dedication. But the thought of being able to play it with your friends (or your packet of chips) knowing that you have contributed to it... isn’t that an exciting challenge?

If your answer is no, then I’ll give you an extra incentive.

In some games, such as Minecraft, there is a giant market for programmers, designers, and builders. In this very little-known game, building maps is a profession for those who are good at it, just like programming.

You will be able to learn Java/Kotlin/etc. with ease if your goal is to modify the game, as these are the languages that allow you to make these modifications.

And now comes the fun part: if you're really good you might end up working as a Game Developer for your favorite game company! 🤩

Isn’t that amazing? Believe me, it has happened before! 

The creator of the mod “Aether”, for the game mentioned above, started working for the company that developed the game for which he made modifications. Right now, he is making pretty interesting money for someone who used to program mods as a hobby... because these, for the most part, are free for the community.

There are several other games besides Minecraft. I would say that any multiplayer game that allows you to modify the server is a learning opportunity. However, this is the main goal of some games, such as “Code.org”, “RoboMind”, or even “CodeCombat”. Oh, and of course for exercises and tests you also have “Cyber Dojo”, “Elevator Saga”, and “Code Wars”.

5. Learn logic, not just syntax

Don’t fall into the temptation to be a coder. If your goal is to learn how to program for real, being a coder will totally act against your goal.

But what is a coder? Simple, it is someone who can only write code.

One example of how to avoid being a simple coder is to learn more about logic beyond syntax. There is no point in knowing how to do something simple if later, when you are asked to do something complex that requires some logic, you can't even think of the beginning of it.

You may even know the meaning of words in another language, but if you don’t know the rules for structuring a sentence, you won't be able to communicate.

The programmer is the one who develops, designs, and comes up with a solution using structured logic in connection with an existing programming language, and has experience in it.

And don’t fall into the myth: to be a programmer you don’t need to know 100% of the language at all times. Ask any senior if they don’t have to go over the language documentation from time to time. 

If not, you’re looking at a genius, so ask them for lessons!

Besides understanding basic tools, it is important to have a basic knowledge of more advanced tools. This way you will find it easier to adapt to the different scenarios of each project.

But nobody is expecting you to know everything about everything, okay? 😉

In fact, when you finally get your first professional opportunity as a programmer you will soon realize... that you don't know that much and there's stills a lot to learn!

Remember when you used to study hard for a test, and then the teacher would not put anything you studied on the test? That's how it feels when you start working as a programmer.

But don't worry! A few months later you will already feel like you are on the beach drinking a fruit juice with an eco-friendly straw. 😎

At least until you face the next challenge!

5 Tips to Become a Developer Without a College Degree: Final Thoughts

Being a programmer is not for everyone, just as being a doctor is not for everyone. But in fact, being a programmer without a college degree is quite possible (I wouldn’t say the same to an aspiring doctor, though!).

Unfortunately, in Portugal, most companies prioritize certification over people’s intelligence and knowledge. A college degree not only helps you acquire the knowledge you need - it also guarantees you the certification of that knowledge. 

And yet, I know several programmers without a college degree who are amazing at their job.

So yes, it is possible to become a programmer without getting a college degree, but be prepared to hear several no’s throughout the recruitment processes. I have been there and I know how frustrating it is.

Fortunately, at KWAN there is no such prejudice and so here I am!

If you find yourself in the situation I was in before I joined KWAN, here’s your chance to join this fantastic company. Fill out the form and introduce yourself.  👋

Now, here is a tip for companies.

If there is a shortage of programmers in the market, how about starting to hire juniors, who have the agility and ease to learn anything, and help them become seniors?

Or perhaps start hiring programmers regardless of how they learned to program, whether through a professional course, college degree, bootcamp programe, or completely self-taught? 

This is it!

Any questions? Please, use the comment section. I may be able to clear any doubts. All kinds of questions are welcome, don’t be shy my friends! 🤗

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