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Matt Upham
Matt Upham

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The best learning path for coding - the different routes

How to Learn to Code (for beginners)

So you want to learn to code or become a software engineer but don't know where to start? Below I'll be breaking down the 3 main ways to learn when you're just getting started.

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The Traditional Path

The first avenue of learning how to code is getting the traditional undergrad degree. You can get any type of tangential tech degree that involves coding (electrical and computer engineering, robotics, etc), but the most straightforward way to becoming a software engineer is to get a computer science degree.

With a traditional degree, you get out of college with a potentially large network of peers that you can keep in contact with throughout your career. This can help you with jobs, advice, and other opportunities. Also, large companies will most likely come to your career fair specifically in order to seek out students for internships. This can increase your chances of getting experience during college, before your first full time job.

A huge drawback is that colleges don't usually teach the most up to date skills. Most computer science degrees are very theory driven, and chances are you won't come out with hot skills like web development, data science, or AI, unless you've done some learning on your own.

The Alternative Program

The second way of learning is by going to a coding bootcamp. This is the avenue that I took after finishing college with an Industrial Engineering. I found that the coding bootcamp really fit my learning style, and was one of the best investments I've ever made in my life thus far. These bootcamps are generally 3 months long, can be competitive to get into, and are generally geared towards people trying to make a career change.

With a coding bootcamp, and major plus is that they're created with small groups of students in mind for the best learning experience. Bootcamps also can iterate much quicker than traditional educational institutions, so they are much more on top of teaching in demand skills in the industry. They provide arguably the best environment to learn how to code as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Coding bootcamps can require a large upfront cost to get into. Less bootcamps in 2019 are offering the model where you pay after getting your first job. These bootcamps also are not certified educational institutions, which could be a turnoff for some. Lastly, you will most likely have to drop everything (including a job) for 3 months in order to go to a bootcamp. While some offer part time remote bootcamps, these can take up to a year to complete. It's much more efficient to do the 80 hour a week, 3-month route.

The fully Self-taught route

The final avenue you can take is the self-taught route.

This route is great because it's free or low cost. There are so many online resources you can use to supplement your teaching. Another thing to consider is that you will need this skill anyway if you pursue this career path. Gone are the days when education is over after you get out of school - you'll need to be consistently learning to stay up with trends and new technology throughout your career.

Some cons of this route are that there is no structure or external pressure provided. You are really on your own. This is potentially the longest of the three avenues to becoming a software engineer. The hardest part is that you "don't know what you don't know", and there's nothing guiding you in the seemingly infinite world of technology. The final and biggest con is the confidence issue. The hardest part of technology (in my opinion) is not the technical aspect, but the confidence part. Imposter syndrome is real, and when it hits, you'll have nobody to talk to or relate to. You'll need to find someone to relate to, whether it's an in-person or online community.

Final Thoughts

Overall, there are many avenues you can pursue depending on your stage and life and financial position. I would recommend for anyone younger to think about getting a college degree or going straight to a coding bootcamp. If you've already pursued a different career path and want to make the switch, start with the self-taught route to see if coding is for you, and then go into a coding bootcamp.

If you already have external mentors or other people who can guide you, go the self-taught route. But you'll need some kind of reference to keep you on course throughout the journey. This is just my advice, but depending on your situation, feel free to do whatever suits your needs, learning styles, etc. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!

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