How To Know Whether Learning To Code Is The Right MoveBy Skillcrush
Feb. 17 2022, Published 8:18 a.m. ET
Should I learn to code? As a software engineer coming from a non-traditional background (I was an English and Psychology major), I get asked this question by so many different people — from students on the brink of graduating college to people switching careers later in life.
Learning to code can be a big investment of time, energy, and money, so it makes sense that people want to know whether learning to code is something that could pay off for them before they commit to trying it out.
If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re wondering the same thing. Whether you should learn to code or not is, of course, ultimately up to you! But I hope to give you a way to navigate this fork in the road based on your interests and what you’re looking for in a career.
1. Why did I learn to code?
I’m an English and Psychology major who had a variety of jobs before I started coding. I began my coding journey seven years ago because I wasn’t satisfied with my work at the time — I didn’t find it creatively fulfilling. A coworker recommended looking into web design and I thought it was a good idea.
I tried out online coding courses and ended up loving using language in such a tangible way. After months of going through online courses and researching other ways to learn, I decided to commit to it as a career and joined a bootcamp. Seven years later, I’m still learning and enjoying the journey.
2. How to decide if learning to code is right for you
You should consider learning to code if:
You want to be a developer. One surefire way to tell if a career as a developer is right for you is to put in some solid hours actively coding — because that’ll be primarily what you do on the job!
For example, let’s say you want to manage a website for yourself or your business. You could hire someone to build it, but with even a little knowledge of HTML and CSS you could learn to do the work of maintaining it. Spending time figuring out how to make code work on your own, even for basic HTML and CSS projects, is a great way to see if it’s something that could interest you as a career.
Over time, if you find that you like writing the code that makes designs come to life and making a website interactive, that could be a sign front end development might be a career you’d enjoy. If you enjoy the idea of setting up your website’s architecture (the way information is organized and structured on a website), back end development might be up your alley. If being responsible for how your website looks, how it’s set up, how it runs, and keeping it running sounds like it could be fun to do for a living, you may find that learning to code and becoming a full stack developer is the right choice for you.
You like solving problems. Like developer Stephen Bly says, coding might be a good fit if you enjoy problem solving for problem solving’s sake. Do you enjoy completing puzzles, brain teasers, and breaking down large questions into smaller logical components? If so, you may want to give coding a shot. You’ll have to go through lines of code to fix a bug or figure out how to leverage existing code to build something new on a day to day basis. This requires a problem solving mindset.
You might also enjoy coding and choose it as a career because you want to solve a social problem or because you want to help a specific set of users. As a developer, you’ll come across opportunities to develop software within healthcare, real estate, human resources, and many more other fields. I’ve met a lot of engineers who are highly motivated by their companies’ missions and think about technology as a vehicle for progress.
You are curious how tech works. If there’s a part of you that wonders how websites and apps work under the hood, learning to code would be a great start in answering that question. Learning the fundamentals of HTML and CSS, for example, would help you understand what elements create a webpage and how those elements are styled.
You love to keep learning and refining a craft. Picture this: a new version of a framework came out while you were away on vacation. Your next project has to use the new version. Or, your manager found a new library that helps everyone test their code better. They sent you a link to look into it further. These are things that happen on the job.
You’ll most likely have to keep learning all the time to stay relevant and have the most opportunities. The challenge can of course be fun, but it’s totally understandable if that’s not what you want to do. When asking yourself if you want to code as a career, ask yourself how you feel about honing this craft.
You like working with computers for long periods of time. This is a large part of the job. Sure, there are other roles in tech, like product manager and engineering manager, in which you’ll be interacting with people. Sure, you’ll have meetings with product managers, designers, managers, and more to build a product. However, as a developer, you will be working on your computer for hours. If you don’t like sitting at a desk and looking at the computer for long periods of time, then learning to code might not be for you.
Coding as a career might not be the best fit for you if:
You're already satisfied in your career path. That’s amazing! Congrats! But you’re here reading this article…so I’m guessing you’re wondering if it’s a skill you should pick up anyway. Even if you’re not looking to change careers, coding may be a useful skill to have in your toolbelt.
For example, if you experiment with code and find that it’s not what you want to do professionally, having some basic coding skills is useful in other ways — you can use basic coding skills to automate tasks at work, express your artistic side by building a website, or make small web games for fun.
While learning to code may not be a great fit career-wise, you can still do a lot of fun projects with code if you want to treat it as a hobby.
You don't want to build apps, websites, or other tech products. There are so many ways to use your growing coding skills — from building websites to working on self-driving cars — but if you don’t enjoy the process and you feel unfulfilled by putting time and energy into launching and maintaining products, you likely won’t enjoy being in tech.
You're not interested in how tech works. At times, you’ll have to dive deeper to figure out how something works in order to debug. That could entail reading documentation on the language you’re working with, learning how to use a library, and more. If the frustrations outweigh the joy you have in developing or you find the process boring, this might not be the most suitable career for you. There is a lot to learn in order to make software work and work well.
3. The benefits and challenges of learning to code
Still not sure if you should learn to code? Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of learning how to code, as well as some of the challenges that come along with the experience.
What are the benefits of learning to Code?
Let’s face it. The job prospects are pretty great for developers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the average growth rate for software developers jobs is slated to grow 22% from 2019 to 2029. That means it’s pretty unlikely you’ll go through the work of learning to code and find that there are no jobs available to people with technical skills. In fact, the opposite is more likely!
The average salary, according to Glassdoor, for a software developer is $95,645. Incomparison, the median household income was $68,703 in 2019 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While it’s not a good idea to get into tech just for the higher than average salaries, taking home a great pay check is definitely a perk, and can hugely impact your quality of life.
Our world is increasingly reliant on technology, which means that when you learn to code, you’re acquiring skills that you can directly apply to life in all kinds of tangible ways. (It’s kind of like the opposite of sitting in calculus class and wondering if it will ever be useful to you.)
Coding skills are transferable and relevant to other roles. Even if you learn to code but don’t want to become a developer, there are other tech-adjacent roles such as Email Marketer and Technical Project Manager where a base-level understanding of coding is helpful.
Flexibility. All you really need is a computer to do your job as a developer. This allows more and more companies to give flexibility to coders to work from home — or from anywhere with internet. You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to code either, so you can work as a freelance developer and gain even more flexibility.
Low Barrier to Entry
Anyone with access to a computer and internet can learn to code because there are so many paid and free coding courses available online. It’s not like other kinds of career changes that might require sinking years and years (or tens of thousands of dollars) into getting the education you need.
Challenges Of Getting A Job In Coding
In short, there are a LOT of reasons to learn to code! But what are some of the downsides?
Once you’ve tried out coding and decide you like it, it can be expensive to pursue further learning. If you’re thinking about becoming a developer but haven’t started coding, I highly suggest experimenting with online courses and free resources to try it out before making larger financial commitments.
This way, if you start coding and find that you don’t like it, you can switch gears. This is way easier to do before you invest a lot more of your time and energy to answer the question of whether coding is right for you. You might even learn about other interesting roles in the industry when you start familiarizing yourself with the tech space.
Even though you can develop some great coding skills in months, it will still take some time to get hired. Getting into tech isn’t instant, even if it can be fast! It could take several months to find the role you want. For example, early on in your coding career, you might have to take some work that feels a little less advanced than what your new skills qualify you for. And it might take time to get into a role that you’re not just qualified for, but that also challenges you and helps you grow.
Just like in any career change, the first job you land isn’t always the dream job. It takes time to get established in your new field!
People look to Big Tech’s employment demographics as a yardstick of diversity within tech. Unfortunately, there has been little change in diversity. For example, the percentage of Black employees at Facebook has only increased from 3% to 3.8% over six years. In 2020, only 32.5% of Google employees identified as women.
Like in other industries, discrimination is an issue in tech that causes challenges when it comes to finding employment and gaining promotions. Because there is a lack of diversity, you may have trouble finding mentors who identify in the same ways as you and understand your experiences. However, there are ways to help and ask for help, and, hopefully, encouraging groups of people with diverse experiences to get into tech will eventually make the tech field a more equitable place.
4. What should I know before learning to code?
There’s so much out there to work on and build! In the beginning, it might seem like you’ll be making the same types of websites forever, or like you’ll always feel like you’re slogging through your projects — but building the things you want will come easier as you keep learning and practicing. And, as we previously talked about, learning and practicing are crucial if you want a career in tech.
And that goes hand in hand with having some patience. While you may be revved up to dive into code and get that first gig, you might have to take a long road of learning and practicing before that happens. Some roles may be more accessible than others in the short-term. Freelance gigs for WordPress development or email development, for example, are typically more attainable than software engineer roles at high-paying startups. But those aren’t unattainable! And if you’re deeply interested in coding and you enjoy the process, the journey to getting the job you want can actually be pretty fun.
5. Myths about learning to code
During my initial chats with people who were wondering if they should learn to code, I started to notice some preconceived notions about what a day in the life of a coder looks like, and what personality traits coders tend to have. Unfortunately, these myths made them second guess their ability to pick up coding skills. Let’s debunk a few of these myths now — so you can feel more assured going forward in your coding journey.
You have to be a “math person.”
Whether you identify as a “math person” or not, you can pursue and be successful in attaining a career in web development. In the last seven years, I’ve only had to use my mathematical skills a few times (for basic math!).
You have to be a Mark Zuckerberg.
There are all sorts of people — of varying ages and backgrounds — who find their way to coding and make it a career. Even if you don’t feel like you fit the stereotype of a “traditional” developer, you belong in tech.
Coding will become boring after you learn it.
This is another reason why it’s not important where you start (front end vs. back end) as long as you’re interested in what you’re learning and you find the right resource to guide you correctly and in a manageable way.
This originally appeared on Skillcrush.