If you've been on Tech Twitter (like, ever) you're probably familiar with the discussion on whether or not a degree is required to become a web developer.
It's a good question. And the answer is, as you would expect, not that straightforward. But it's definitely something worth reflecting on when you're beginning your coding journey - should you go to university to study Computer Science (the "traditional" path), or can you make it some other way?
So let me start by saying: I studied Software Development (basically equivalent to CS) at university for 3 years to get my Bachelor's degree. I've been employed as a front-end web developer for 4 years (1.5 part time while studying, 2.5 fulltime). So I can mostly speak to the pros and cons of this approach, as it's what I'm most familiar with. Though you'll be surprised how much I had to learn on my own to become a web developer (despite my studies).
But let's start with the pros of getting a degree:
- You'll build a network of likeminded individuals very naturally
- It will teach you discipline and force you to be consistent in your learning
- You'll end up with a piece of paper that some companies care about (which will likely also start you at a higher salary)
- You'll get a fundamental understanding of a wide range of topics regarding computers
All very compelling reasons! So let's take a look at the main downsides of studying for a CS degree:
- Takes 3+ years to complete
- Not all topics will be relevant / interesting to you
- Often very theoretical, while actual development in the industry is entirely practical
- In my opinion, not nearly enough focus on web development
But with these cons, you might be wondering - what's the alternative to getting a degree? Are there even other ways to succesfully break into the industry?
Yes. Yes there is.
The other common paths are either: 1) entirely self taught or 2) coding bootcamp.
The cool thing about teaching yourself is that you can learn on your own time. Even as little as an hour each evening can build up over time, and you can fit practice in around your current job / lifestyle. The hardest part is finding the right learning path, and then staying motivated for weeks and months while you're just building your skills and struggling a lot.
That's where I think bootcamps can be useful. They provide similar pros as a degree (network, forced consistent practice, certificate of completion), but with less of the cons (shorter time span, usually centered around web development, very practical with lots of projects). Bootcamps do require heavy intensity in a short period of time and can also be quite costly, though. And you gotta make sure to do your research, because a bad bootcamp is way worse than not joining one at all.
Now for me personally, studying at university was the right decision. I didn't know that I wanted to be a web developer when I started, so it helped to get a sense of different programming fields. I also met a lot of great people and got my first web dev job through a university event. And I was just at a time in my life where going to school made sense.
But if you're considering a career switch into tech, the self taught or bootcamp options might suit you better. It'll be less time intensive and more flexible, and you can still get some amazing skills and land a job through those options.
Just know that, no matter which path you choose, you WILL have to study and work a lot on your own too. That's simply the only way to get really good at web development over a long period of time. Embrace this fact, and I'm positive you can make it as a developer.
With or without a degree.
I'm Mads Brodt — a developer, author, teacher, creator and blogger. To keep up with all of my writing, follow me on Twitter or sign up with your email above 👆