You don’t need to shell out money and attend a four-year college to work in software engineering. For example, Google doesn't(opens new window) require a degree in computer science for most software engineering positions, and many smaller tech companies also regularly hire Software Engineers without a degree.
A software engineering career can also help you land a six-figure job without a degree. With tech firms adding 411,400 new positions(opens new window) in the next decade, there are many career opportunities—and the average base Software Engineer salary in the United States is $116,962(opens new window).
Software engineering is one of the most in-demand jobs in 2023, and demand will continue to grow throughout the decade. Learn how to become a software engineer without a degree as webreak down the responsibilities of a Software Engineer and explore alternatives to college.
What does a Software Engineer do?
- Computer programs
- Medical devices
- Mobile applications
- Operating systems
- Video games
- Virtual training simulations
Software Engineers may participate in every stage of the software development lifecycle. For example, they can plan, design, test, and maintain software applications.
Here are the typical responsibilities of Software Engineers:
- Design, build, and install new software systems
- Use programming languages like C++ and Java to write code for software applications
- Detect and fix bugs in code
- Collaborate with other professionals like Graphic Designers, Project Managers, Stakeholders, Technical Writers, and UX Designers
- Complete quality assurance testing
- Develop standard operating procedures
- Maintain and optimize existing software for peak performance and speed
- Pitch new features and products to internal customers and stakeholders
- Peer review code created by other developers
- Create documentation
- Continually learn about new software development techniques and tools
Many Software Engineers also specialize in a type of software development—e.g., front-end, back-end, or full stack. There are many differences between front-end and back-end development, while full-stack development combines the two.
Front-end Developers design features the user sees when interacting with software. They focus on creating accessible, functional, and visually appealing elements. For example, a Front-end Developer may be responsible for building a consistent user interface across a website. They can also optimize digital content for Search Engine Optimization and test products.
Back-end Developers focus on developing a software system’s underlying databases and complex functions. They ensure the application stores and transfers data, performs functions correctly, and keeps information secure.
The typical responsibilities of a Back-end Developer include designing an application’s architecture and building an application programming interface (API) to transfer data.
Full stack development
How long does it take to become a Software Engineer?
You can secure an entry-level software engineering job in over a year if you enroll in a program like Multiverse. In our software engineering program, you learn the computer science fundamentals of a college degree and the coding skills of a boot camp—in 15 months. We also offer something colleges and boot camps don’t—work experience with job placements at top employers.
By analyzing job advertisements, you can better understand how long it will take you to launch your software engineering career. Browse postings for the job titles you plan to pursue and the engineering projects you want to create. These ads can help you compare the experiences, skills, and tools that each position requires.
You can also get a sense of the company benefits, salary, and work-life balance that each job title provides. This information can help you estimate how long it will take to develop your skills.
How to become a Software Engineer without a degree
You can also draw on a wealth of resources to develop the knowledge you need to become a Software Engineer. With these strategies, you can gain technical and professional skills much faster than it takes to complete a four-year college degree.
Conduct informational interviews and explore engineering roles
Informational interviews are casual conversations with people in positions you may be interested in pursuing. You can learn how to become a Software Engineer and determine if the field is right for you by conducting informational interviews. Use these simple steps to arrange an informational interview.
1. Find interviewees
Finding people to interview can seem daunting, especially if you have few connections in the tech industry. These steps can help you get started:
- Use LinkedIn to research people with the types of positions you’re interested in
- View the employee directories of companies you’d like to work for
- Search for Software Engineers on social media
- Draw on your network to see if your coworkers, family, or friends can connect you with Software Engineers
- Attend networking events, such as conferences and career fairs
- Draw on your alumni network if you’re participating in an apprenticeship
As you start interviewing people, you can also ask them if they can refer you to other professionals you could approach.
2. Make your request
After you identify relevant professionals, you can send them a polite email requesting an informational interview. Your email should include three elements:
- Opening - briefly introduce yourself and explain how you found them
- Purpose - politely request an informational interview and explain the topics you hope to address during the meeting
- Conclusion - propose a meeting format (in person or virtual), suggest potential meeting times, and thank the reader for their time
3. Prepare questions
You should always bring a list of open-ended questions to your informational interview. Research your interviewee’s qualifications and accomplishments ahead of time so you can tailor your questions.
Examples of informational interview questions include:
- What are your daily responsibilities?
- What types of projects do you work on in this role?
- What do you like and dislike about your job?
- What certifications, skills, and training did you need for this position?
- What skills should I prioritize learning if I want this type of role?
- What new skills have you gained since starting your job?
- What challenges do you face in your job?
- Are there any professional development resources that you’ve found helpful?
- Do you have any tips for someone pursuing a software engineering career?
4. Send a thank you
Always send your interviewee a sincere thank you note within one to two days of your interview. This small gesture shows appreciation and can help you develop a lasting connection with your interviewee.
Build the required technical and soft skills
Review job postings for your preferred position and compile a list of common skills employers require. It can help you narrow down the skills you need to learn for your desired career. However, you can skip this by taking a structured program with a curriculum instead of self-teaching.
Here are must-have technical skills for Software Engineers:
- Data structures - As you build a software program, you’ll use specialized data structures and algorithms to organize and store information. For example, you can use an array structure to rank game players on a leaderboard or store contact information in a mobile application. Many affordable online courses and YouTube courses can help you learn data structures.
- Debugging - You’ll often need to debug your code by finding and resolving issues. You can learn debugging skills by creating practice projects, like a basic mobile application or website. When you encounter an error message, Google it to find solutions to remove the bug. You can also participate in debugging challenges and watch debugging tutorials.
- Source Control Management (SCM) - tracks and compiles program code modifications. SCM allows a software engineering team to work on a project’s code separately and helps resolve conflicts when the team combines updates. Git is a popular open-source SCM used by many companies. You can read the Pro Git book(opens new window) and use free online tutorials to learn this management system.
All Software Engineer jobs also require soft or interpersonal skills, including:
- Collaboration - Software Engineers typically work on project teams, so strong collaboration skills are essential. You can hone this ability by practicing active listening and communicating your workplace expectations and personal relationships.
- Patience - Expert Software Engineers remain calm and collected when they face unexpected obstacles. Develop patience by working on challenging coding projects and persisting in facing difficulties.
- Problem-solving - You’ll frequently debug code and solve other problems as a Software Engineer. You can use strategies like brainstorming, visualization, and researching possible solutions to improve your problem-solving abilities.
Master in-demand programming languages
Coding is an integral part of software engineering. Use these strategies to start learning this fundamental skill.
- Identify programming languages aligned with your career goals
You can study job advertisements to determine which programming languages align with your career goals. Here are a few common software engineering career paths and popular programming languages used in each role:
- Back-end Developers - utilize more robust programming languages like PHP, Python, and Ruby. If you want to work with databases, you should also learn SQL. You can use this language to retrieve, organize, and manipulate information stored in databases.
- DevOps Software Engineers - handle development and operation tasks. Because DevOps perform many roles, they need a broad knowledge of programming languages like Java, Golang, and Ruby.
- Mobile Developers - often use Kotlin and Swift to create mobile applications.
- Learn fundamental concepts and skills in your chosen languages
- Mobile applications - Smartphone applications like Enki(opens new window) and Encode(opens new window) allow you to learn foundational coding concepts on the go. These apps typically include short tutorials, mini-coding challenges, and games.
- Join online communities - Code enthusiasts gather in online forums to swap tips and troubleshoot errors. You can expand your knowledge by reading and participating in these discussions. Active communities include the Coding Forums(opens new window), the r/learnprogramming(opens new window) subreddit, and StackOverflow(opens new window).
Practice with coding projects
Once you’ve learned the basics, low-stakes practice projects are one of the best ways to level up your skills for a software engineering job.
Popular ways to practice coding include:
- Coding challenges - Many websites provide free coding challenges for all levels of expertise. These exercises invite you to test and hone your coding knowledge by completing increasingly complex projects. Coding challenge websites often have forums where you can learn from peers.
- Freelance projects - As you gain technical proficiency, you can offer freelance software development services. Platforms like Fiverr (opens new window)and Upwork (opens new window)can help you connect with potential clients and generate income as you build your skills. This work allows you to get paid to learn code. You’ll also strengthen your interpersonal skills as you interact with clients.
- Hackathons - During these collaborative events, you can gather with other programmers to create software applications over 24 or 48 hours. Some events, like Hacktoberfest(opens new window), encourage participants to develop open-source projects for real users.
- Volunteer - Consider donating your coding services to a nonprofit organization. For example, you could boost your web development skills by updating a local animal shelter’s website.
Seek feedback from others in your field to learn how to evaluate and improve your projects objectively.
Explore software engineering courses and apprenticeships
You can enroll in free or low-cost software courses to learn fundamental software engineering concepts like data structures and web development. However, these classes often don’t allow you to gain practical work experience or pair your coursework with a hands-on apprenticeship for optimal learning.
With a Multiverse software engineering apprenticeship, you earn money as you learn. The program is an entirely tuition-free structured learning opportunity. We work with employers to fill talent gaps. Once you apply, we can place you in an apprenticeship with a top company.
Create a portfolio
A digital portfolio showcases your coding projects to potential employers and clients. A well-rounded portfolio of creative and practical projects will highlight your professionalism and skills.
- An “About Me” section highlighting your qualifications and skills
- Projects you created during apprenticeships, coding challenges, and volunteering activities
- Your resume
- Your contact information
Build a personal brand
Developing a personal brand allows you to showcase your abilities and qualifications to employers. This strategy also lets you strengthen your professional relationships and expand your network.
Methods for building a personal brand include:
- Create a personal website - Create a website where you share projects and blogs about the tech industry. This website can also host your portfolio.
- Generate content - Share your insights about the tech industry by posting on LinkedIn and other social media websites.
- Develop resources - As you sharpen your skills, you can create educational resources like video tutorials and social media posts to share your knowledge with others.
Optimize your resume
Potential employers spend an average of seven seconds (opens new window)reviewing your resume, so you should aim to make a solid first impression. Fortunately, it’s easy to create a standout resume if you follow a few essential tips:
- Customize your resume for each position by incorporating keywords from the job ad throughout the document
- Write a tailored executive summary that highlights the most valuable experiences and skills you’ll bring to the position
- Don’t exceed one page
- Include links to your portfolio and professional social media pages
- List any tech-related certifications and credentials you’ve earned
- Use bold font, bullet points, and white space strategically for easy skimming
You can also ask acquaintances in the tech industry to provide feedback on your resume and cover letters.
When it comes to job hunting, who you know is often as important as what you know. Research shows that forming shallow connections(opens new window) with people in your field can make it easier to land a job. These acquaintances can help you learn about job opportunities and put in a good word if you apply for a position at their company.
Effective networking strategies include:
- Join professional organizations for Software Engineers and other tech professionals
- Attend in-person and virtual networking events for the tech industry
- Volunteer for industry events, such as conferences
- Engage with Software Engineers and other tech experts on social media
- Participate in online communities for tech professionals
- Follow up with connections regularly via email or social media to stay in touch
Interviewing for your dream software engineering job can be an exciting but nerve-wracking experience. This process typically involves several stages to evaluate your coding abilities, personality, and fit for your company. The proper preparation can help you appear confident and professional.
Here are five tips to help you ace your interview:
- Practice taking online coding assessments so that you’re ready to solve problems during the preliminary screening stages
- Use online resources like interviewing.io (opens new window)to arrange anonymous mock coding interviews with expert Software Engineers
- Research standard behavioral questions(opens new window) that you may be asked during an interview and practice answering them with a friend or colleague
- Prepare a list of questions to ask your interviewer to get a better sense of the position and company culture
Becoming a Software Engineer without a degree FAQs
Is it hard to find a job as a Software Engineer without a degree?
Many people successfully become Software Engineers without a degree. However, landing a first job in any field often requires dedication and time. You can stand out to potential employers by completing an apprenticeship, developing relevant skills, and creating a portfolio.
Do Software Engineers get paid less if they don’t have a degree?
In some cases, you may earn a lower salary if you don’t have a college degree. But education is only one of many factors influencing salary. Employers also consider certifications, geographic location, experience, skills, and other aspects when determining a salary offer.
Do you need experience to become a Software Engineer without a degree?
Getting a high-paying job in the tech industry without experience is possible. But employers still want to see evidence that you have the necessary skills. You can demonstrate your qualifications by tailoring your resume for the position, participating in a Multiverse apprenticeship, and earning relevant certifications.
Begin your software engineering journey without a degree
Software engineering is a booming career path with many exciting opportunities for tech lovers from all backgrounds. With the right preparation and resources, you can land a position at a tech company without a computer science degree—and the hefty student loans.