Whether they go by the title coder, developer, software engineer, hacker, or programmer, those who can help create computer programs, apps, sites or systems are in hot demand — and you can earn a high salary writing code without a formal education.
Bloomberg calls the software development job market “the highest demand market in 20 years,” with the unemployment rate in this sector at half of the unemployment rate overall.
The newswire writes:
“While companies are writing bigger checks, they are also adopting new strategies to find engineers for an economy where software is penetrating even mundane processes. Companies are focusing more on training, sourcing new talent through apprenticeships, and looking at atypical pools of candidates who have transferable skills.”
As every single vertical of our professional and personal lives is moving online — to phone apps and functions, voice-activated artificial intelligence like Alexa and Google Voice, manufacturing and retail systems — anything involving a screen and digital communication.
Lambda School has a creative solution: The online school offers free training online by deferring tuition until you get a job — can help get more people into the field with less risk of taking on student debt.
While computers are replacing humans in many ways, someone must do the back-end work that creates and runs that technology. Programmers are the professionals that create software that runs our phones, computers, apps, websites, and systems.
If you have technology skills already or you simply want to learn, a career in coding and computer technology could be a safe bet. Keep reading to find out what coders do, how well this job pays, and how to get started in this growing field:
- How to become a coder without a college degree
- What kind of tasks do coders/programmers do?
- What skills do you need to be a programmer?
- How much do coders/programmers earn?
- Where to find coding jobs
How to become a coder without a college degree
If you want to become a coder, there are two main avenues to get you there. You can either earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field, or you can take steps to learn some basic computer languages and coding skills from home.
The fastest way to become a coder is to focus on web development since this is one area that is bursting with potential. Pretty much every business needs a website these days, right? With a solid background in coding and some basic experience, you can begin providing coding services in your area or online.
Step 1: Take coding courses online.
The good news about coding education is that all kinds of colleges and organizations offer free resources you can access online.
Codeacademy offers courses and industry-recognized certificiates in web design and development, data science and visualization, mobile and game programming, cybersecurity and more. Dozens of courses and programs for beginners through professionals, for affordable, unlimited access starting with a free trial, and $19.99 per month maximum.
Lambda School is a certificate program that takes 6 to 12 months to complete, and you only start paying tuition once you start earning at least $50,000. Graduates work at Apple, Google, Nike, Bank of America, IBM and other Fortune 500 companies.
Step 2: Learn by doing by practicing coding from scratch.
Spending time figuring out computer markup languages such as HTML and CSS on your own. Practice makes perfect, and that you’ll learn a lot by making your own mistakes and figuring out how to fix them.
Python is a great, universal language to learn because it is commonly used and easy to understand and use. There is a large, free programming community and open documentation that makes Python a very accessible and flexible tool for all levels.
Step 3: Build a few websites or apps on your own.
Take the time to visualize, create, and build your own websites or apps. Try and fail, then try again. The best way to gain the experience you need is to try and fail on your own until you finally succeed.
Step 4: Look for new clients, either paid or pro bono.
Once you have some products that showcase your own work, offer your coding services for free at first so you can get some experience under your belt. Find potential clients online through websites like Fiverr.com and Upwork.com, or by asking people you know who might need help. Here is how to quickly launch your own blog or site to showcase your work.
Step 5: Use FlexJobs to find junior programmer jobs.
Coding for beginners — where to learn coding online
Whether you are a beginner, or an experienced programmer who is ready to learn a new language or coding skill, there are several solid online courses for you.
Codeacademy is a leading, recognized site for developer, coding, web and app development, data science, machine learning and related skills. Courses typically run 6 to 10 weeks, and are taught by experienced industry leaders. Price is $19.99/month for unlimited access. Codeacademy reports 45 million students have taken its courses.
Codeacademy’s monthly fee includes courses in:
- HTML & CSS
- Web Development
- Data Science
- Computer Science
- Developer Tools
- Machine Learning
- Code Foundations
- Web Design
- Game Development
- Mobile Development
- Data Visualization
edX is a platform on which nearly 200 top universities offer a wide range of academic and continuing education courses — including from Harvard, Berkeley, MIT, University of Texas and more. 100% free.
Lambda is a unique program in which you can earn a certificate in data science or full-stack web development in 6 to 12 months full-time. You do not pay for your degree until you earn at least $50,000 — and then tuition is paid in monthly installments. Benefits of Lambda:
- No-pay guarantee: “Lambda School reduces the financial risk for our students by charging no upfront tuition, so if you decide Lambda School isn’t right for you, simply withdraw by the end of the first unit with no tuition obligation or penalties.”
- Free career coaching and job-search training.
- Widely recognized certificate. Lamba graduates work at Nike, Google, Apple, Target, IBM, Citi and other major companies.
Lambda has two payment options:
- Lambda’s model is built on Income Share Agreements (ISAs) in which students pay no tuition upfront, and agree to pay back 17% of their income post-graduation for two years, but only once they’re making $50,000 or more.
- Pay tuition upfront for a 50% discount (this option is temporary, because of COVID).
Also, Lambda offers full-time options starting each month this summer for Data Science and Web Development.
Lambda gets mixed reviews online, so do your homework before signing on. Learn more about Lambda School >>
Simplilearn is another leader in online learning in digital developer skills, but a level up from Codeacademy. Simiplearn offers master certificate programs taught by leaders from major tech companies like Uber, Google, Microsoft and Facebook.
Simplilearn courses are self-guided, come with 24/7 assistance and support, and practical assignments, learning tools and guides. This is closer to a more traditional academic training with exams and a certificate award.
The Simplilearn website is robust, and each course description describes the real-life applications for the skills being taught, as well as salary and job market data. Courses start at around $700 each, and include lifetime access, as well as use of related courses for free.
Course topics include blockchain, digital marketing, big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, full stacks developer, ITIL and Six Sigma.
What kind of tasks do coders/programmers do?
We already mentioned how coders use source code to get computers to do what they want using their own language. However, the tasks involved in speaking with computers is more complex than that.
Tasks can also vary widely depending on the type of work a coder does most. A coder who works for a computer programming firm may work on a specific project for years, for example. A self-employed coder may instead focus on helping a startup build an app.
If you plan to work as a self-employed coder who operates their business from home, you will likely want to focus on code used to build websites, including HTML and CSS. Learning to understand and use these languages can go a long way toward helping you secure clients who need this type of help, and you can learn a lot of these skills on your own.
Still, coders from all industries perform many of the same tasks no matter what kind of work they do. The main workplace tasks of coders include:
- Use computer languages to build websites and applications
- Use computer languages to help clients with front-end and back-end development of their websites and programs
- Write computer programs in a variety of languages including Java and C++
- Update existing programs per client or employer specifications
- Create and test new code for various projects
Keep in mind that this list is not all-inclusive. Coders who are self-employed and working from home may find themselves taking on additional tasks such as marketing their business. Work-at-home coders also need to do their own bookkeeping (or hire it out) and communicate with their clients directly.
The good news is, coding is mostly solitary work. Whether you get a coding job you can do from home, work as a self-employed coder, or pick up a full-time job in a physical office, you won’t have to interact with people all day long. Most coders work independently on their projects once they know what their clients or employers want, which can be a huge plus if you’re not huge on working in teams (right here — that is why I for years I have written at home, all by my lonesome — and loved it!).
What skills do you need to be a programmer?
This may seem obvious, but the main skill you need to become a coder, developer or programmer is a broad understanding of at least a few of the most popular computer languages.
You don’t need to become an expert on every language out there since technology is always changing, and new source code is created all the time, but you need to be proficient in at least a few that are used frequently in your area of coding work.
It also helps to have a general curiosity about technology and its applications. You don’t need to be obsessed with computers, but you need to feel comfortable working with one for the bulk of your workday.
Additional skills you’ll need include:
- Problem-solving skills that allow you to troubleshoot and solve problems on your own
- Self-reliance and discipline since you’ll mostly be working alone
- Logic that allows you to assess and understand computer languages that may seem complex or confusing to others
- Attention to detail since computer languages must be correct to work how you want them to
- Patience to deal with numerous tedious and lengthy processes, especially since coding can be a painfully slow task on its own
- An excellent memory since you’ll need to pull all sorts of information from the depths of your mind
- Communication skills that allow you to effectively talk to clients and employers to gain insight into their needs
While some coders work for computer programming and design firms, others work in industries such as finance and manufacturing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that 5% of computer programmers are self-employed. Because so many businesses need the help of coders, professionals who work in this field are not limited to a specific industry.
How much do coders/programmers earn?
Salaries for coders can vary a lot depending on their level of skill and the type of jobs they take on. However, the fact that technology continues to take hold of our lives means that these workers are often paid handsomely for their knowledge and expertise.
Also, keep in mind that experts in some computer languages can earn a lot more than others. According to this Medium article by ChallengeRocket, a tech recruiting firm, a senior Java developer can earn between $74,000 and $130,000 since that particular computer language is in high demand. An Objective-C specialist eans $108,000 to $112,000. An expert in Python could expect to earn $105,000 or more, but someone who mostly works with SQL may top out at around $70,000.
The lesson here? Become an expert in the coding languages that pay the most!
This sounds like a lot of money either way, but there are many factors that go into those salaries, ranging from how efficient you are to the coding languages you know, your experience, and even where you live. Coders in coastal cities and state capitals may earn more than rural coders due to an increase in demand for their skills as well as the higher cost of living in those areas, for example.
Also, note that self-employed coders could earn a lot more — or a lot less — depending on the type of work they do and the amount of work they take on. If you can fill your work calendar with clients and focus on one task such as building websites, you could earn a nearly unlimited income.
At the end of the day, it’s a great time to become a coder since the demand for computer skills only seems to increase each year. The BLS notes that jobs with computers will increase 13% during the decade the ends in 2026, and that’s twice the pace of all other jobs combined.
Where to find coding jobs
Remember how we said coders were in demand? They are, and you should find work much easier as a result. Here are some of the best places to search for your first coding gig:
- Check out job boards such as ZipRecruiter.com, Indeed.com and CareerBuilder. Both feature an ever-changing roster of entry-level and advanced coding positions, some of which are seeking remote workers.
- Lambda students receive free career coaching and job-search training.
- Create a profile on Fiverr.com and/or Upwork.com. Use the platform to find coding work for individuals and businesses.
- Create a profile on FlexJobs.com. This website connects individuals seeking remote work with companies who need coders and other computer professionals. (Use FlexJobs promo code FLEXLIFE to get a discount.)
- Update your LinkedIn profile to note your renewed focus on coding. You want to make sure your profile shows up in searches if someone is looking for a coder in your area.
To market yourself to potential clients, create a website that showcases who you are, and what you offer. Coding skills in action!
Find a domain name now for your business, before someone else grabs it!
Pros and cons of being a coder/programmer
Becoming a coder is a smart move if you love computers and working alone, but that doesn’t mean this job is perfect. Some of the main pros and cons of coding work include:
- You can build your own business and work at home
- Coders earn excellent wages for their skills and expertise
- Coding jobs should be in demand for decades to come
- You may not need a college degree to work as a coder
- You will do almost all your work on a computer and by yourself (could be a pro or a con)
- Technology is always changing and adapting, so you need to be a lifetime learner
- You may earn less if you only become familiar with source code that isn’t in high demand
What is the difference between a coder / programmer / developer / software engineer / hacker?
Depends on who you ask. These terms can all be interchangeable, according to some. Others argue there is a difference in skill level and expertise (see below). However, all these titles can all be referred to as a programmer. Roughly, it goes like this:
Coders are the least experienced level of programmers and are usually beginners skilled in just one coding language. Typically, a developer or programmer (see below!) creates the code, and assigns the task of code writing to a coder. Some people are offended by the term “coder” and prefer “junior developer or “junior programmer.”
A hacker is someone who creates something new using code. This person is also a programmer, but not all programmers are hackers. Hackers are considered more innovative and creative than a developer.
Programmers and developers
The titles “programmer” and “developer” are often used interchangeably and are more experienced than coders — typically capable of writing error-free code in a minimum of two to three coding languages.
Programmers and developers often oversee a software development project from start to finish, and are held responsible for the design and project management of developing an application.
A developer tends to be formally educated in computer science or engineering, whereas the other job titles may not require any formal education at all — but proof of competence.
Software engineers rank higher than programmers and developers, and are typically fluent in at least three programming languages and are responsible for high-level design and architecture of a product.
Engineers oversee the programmers and developers, who implement the more detailed aspects of the design. A software engineer is often responsible for setting up servers, tackling security, networking, hardware devices, etc.
Someone assigned to document, dissect, and understand the need for the software. Usually, someone working directly with users to qualify and quantify their needs, but is not usually adept enough to know how to solve it. Mostly the folks who can communicate well, but lack the technical capabilities to deliver.
Architect / Designer
Someone who has strong development experience. They also have conceptual skills to see the larger picture of how the software fits into the company’s larger systems and goals.
Heavily involved in the ‘why’ and not just the ‘how’. A software architect/designer has strong leadership, communication and management skills. This rule often combines the Developer and Analyst skill sets, and also has a lot of experience in the trenches with programming/coding.
Reality of being a programmer?
Programming has a ton of benefits, but also is not for everyone. Here is what one Reddit complainer wrote:
More work-from-home career opportunities:
Bookkeepers can earn a salary, or build a business earning $60+/ hour, which can be more than $100,000 per year. Entry-level bookkeeper jobs can pay $20/hour. Bookkeeper Business Launch is the top-rated online video course to help you start and run a successful, 6-figure bookkeeping business.
Or, learn more about the industry at How to become a bookkeeper.
If you’re great with words, detail and grammar, you may also be interested in a proofreading career, which can pay $15-$30 hour from home, on your schedule. Proofread Anywhere is a great online course that teaches you how to get started, land clients and run a proofreading business.
Have a passion for writing, too? Check out Earn More Writing.
I’ve got even more work-from-home job opportunities here in this post.