Becoming a professional developer is a goal for many reading this. You’ve heard about the high salaries, flexible lifestyle, and growing number of opportunities in the development field. But as someone just starting out, how do you plan for that first job in software development?

I became a developer, myself during a “boom” period for software development. In the late ninety’s, companies were only just discovering the power of the internet to grow commerce. Everyone was trying to get online and establish a new sales channel. The shortage of of new developers was palpable. Today we also hear quite about the “developer shortage.” While some would argue that outsourcing has helped alleviate the shortage, there is no argument: We’re going to need more software developers than we’re going to produce over the next 10 years.

The Future

So what are we expecting for the field over the next 10 years? Check these figures out:
Job in software development

In interest of full disclosure, these figures come from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics– The organization that tracks things like this. The BLS separates the jobs of “programmer” and “software developer” in to two different categories, for reasons I will never understand. The programmer category averages less money– but still a good living by most measures.

Another measure of how well software developers are doing is this chart which shows how much developers at top tech firms are being paid on average.

Starting Salaries at Top Tech Firms

Not bad for working at Walmart, right?

The Shortage

For years, the types of jobs we’re discussing went to people who held computer science degrees. These difficult two or four year programs were the only ticket to a first job in software development. While degree holders will always have jobs available to them, increasingly it is those without formal computer science degrees who compose the plurality of those working in the industry. Take a look at the chart below. The biggest category of working developers today are those who are self-taught, with just over a third holding computer science degrees at the undergraduate level.

Most working in development are self taught

In fact the gap between those working in the development field and the number of computer science degrees will only increase. By one estimate there will be 1.4 million computing jobs by the year 2020. However, we’ll only have trained 400,000 computer science students at that point. The result? a deficit of nearly 1 million computing professionals.

The number of open jobs in software development is numerous, even today. A search of job aggregator Indeed at the time of this writing indicates over 47,000 jobs currently open with the title “web developer”. But, a formal job in industry is not the only path for those seeking their first job in software development.

Where the Jobs Are

You can find developers working everywhere, in nearly every type of company and every size company. Traditional corporate jobs are plentiful. In these types of jobs you’d likely work on a team maintaining large systems. In smaller companies you the first job in software development you may find yourself in, could be as a solo developer maintaining the company web site and mobile apps. The burgeoning startup sector is another place where jobs are plentiful. Most startups depend on a development team to continue work on their digital products.

If you’re looking for a career long on flexibility, and short on formality, you may find that freelancing is for you. While you may find freelancing difficult as a new developer (because of a lack of mentors and support systems), if you pick your projects carefully, you can have all the benefits of the freelance lifestyle.

So now that you know they lay of the land, without further adieu, here’s the Six Steps To Your First Job in Software Development:

Six Steps To Your First Job in Software Development

Six simple steps to your first job in development. I promise: This works… every time!

Step 1: Assess Where You Are

Time for a little self-reflection.

Where are you in your current career? Why are you dissatisfied? Why would a career in development prove more satisfying? Are you looking for more money? Do you seek stability and opportunity. A strong self-assessment will make sure you’re pointed in the right direction and motivated throughout your journey.

It’s also time to assess the road ahead. What’s your experience with development? Have you built your own app, or never written a line of code before. This is not meant to discourage you but to give you a realistic perspective on the road ahead, because the next step is:

Step 2: Fill in Education Gaps with Highly Targeted, Specific Training

I think the biggest mistake people make when they start looking towards their first job in software development is that they start planning going back to a college or university. This is neither necessary nor cost effective. A university education will get you to your goal, but, it’s a long, expensive, circuitous path.

You want to find specific programs that are targeted towards your career goals. Opportunities exist online for just this type of training. As a starting point you might want to check out LearnToProgram’s own Start Now Program for those who are just starting out.

Step 3: Earn Relevant Certifications and Accreditation

A degree does have value. Primarily a degree validates that you attended courses and learned enough to earn passing grades. It validates the achievement of completing the degree program. It doesn’t gauge how much you know, but it is an indicator. As someone who learned development “non traditionally” you need something to validate your learning. That’s where certifications come in.

If you’ve coded a bit before, you should check out our Certified Web Development Professional program. Like any good certification program, it provides an opportunity to validate what you’ve learned through your own certification transcript page and allows linkage to your LinkedIn account page.

Step 4: Complete Projects

Now, it’s time to start building stuff. The most important thing about this facet of the process is that you go through the complete development cycle, from project planning to maintenance.

You should choose projects that are relevant to your career interests.

If you want to develop mobile applications, you should develop mobile applications from beginning to end– including releasing them in the relevant app stores. These projects could come from the nonprofit community or simply be projects that you want to complete and sound fun.

If you want to be a professional web developer, you likely already know of organizations that need volunteer assistance with their web site. The idea here is to get professional level experience and to do professional level work.

Step 5: Build a Portfolio Highlighting Your Strengths and Knowledge

A portfolio isn’t just for designers.

A portfolio of your work is one more piece of evidence to convince an employer that you “know what you know.”

Your digital portfolio should show the projects you’ve completed, and, note the languages and technologies used. If you worked with others on the project, your role should also be mentioned.

Step 6: Find Your First Job in Software Development

If you’ve completed all the other steps, it’s time to grab your resume, certifications and portfolio and hit the streets. Best of luck!

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