Whether your struggling to find a job, your current job isn’t making you happy or you feel you don’t have the right qualifications to start a fun rewarding career, it’s never to late to get involved and start a career as a software developer.
I count myself very lucky to be a software developer. There are so many new challenges, things to learn, opportunities, and the salary is pretty good.
Where I live an average salary for a developer is really well paid and as long as you put the effort in a lack of education or a degree does not matter. Companies are not always looking for qualifications, they are looking for work experience, good attitudes, people who invest time in their own career etc. There are many other job types which in order for you to get the role you wanted you’d need to have a degree as well as completing training to get the same sort of salary as a software developer. I’m not saying to not try hard at school, of course having a good education, qualifications and a degree are fantastic things to have and give you a great foundation to build on, but not having them shouldn’t mean that you cannot reach your goals and I’d argue this is definitely the case if you want to have a career as a software developer.
There are so many opportunities out there to learn and get involved. The internet has opened up a world of free resources, blogs, videos, access to local user groups etc. that anybody with access to a computer can get involved which is amazing and the majority of this is free! I have been a software developer for the past 8 years in the same companies/roles/salary as people with computing degrees, and yet I struggled through education and have just a handful of GCSEs. Sometimes things don’t work out how you hoped no matter how hard you try but there’s always hope even when you think there is none. In computing it’s really never too late to dip your toes in the water and kick start you’re new career!
When I was younger I always struggled at school, I could never concentrate, I was easily distracted and really struggled to listen. My parents bought a computer and I was always fascinated with it but I didn’t really know what to do with it other than play games or browse the internet over a painfully slow dial up connection! At comprehensive school I wasn’t interested in many of the subjects, and I especially didn’t like Maths or Science. In my final year at comprehensive school I sat my GCSEs, 16 years on I can still remember people discussing learning plans and the amount of time they would be putting in to revising and attempting mock exam papers and looking back I still don’t know why I did nothing? Perhaps I was too distracted by other things, or in with the wrong crowd, ultimately I don’t know but I only had myself to blame. I have never known what I wanted to do when I left school and I guess this also didn’t allow me to focus on topics which would drive me toward any type of goal.
Results day was quite strange, I didn’t think I would have decent results but hoped I’d get one or two pass grades, I hadn’t thought ahead far enough to consider requirements for getting in to college. My results were better than I expected; B, Geography, C, English Language. D, Maths. I don’t think my dad was particularly happy with my results. My dad had gone to college and did well in education and so he wanted me to go to college. I spent months after leaving school lazing around, going out with friends, it was great fun at the time. All this wore off though quick enough when I didn’t have money to go out much anymore. I remember my dad one morning telling me to jump in the car as he drove me to the local college. When we got there I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, I knew I liked computers but always thought this would require good grades in both Science and Maths. I don’t remember what was said or how I managed to get on the course but I left that day signed up to a GNVQ Intermediate college course in basic computing.
During the first year of college I struggled to get in to many of the different subjects, part of the computer course involved also attending a maths lesson as well an one other which I often avoided going to. I remember on numerous occasions being warned that I would fail my course if I didn’t attend all classes and yet I continued to avoid them. An old school friend was also in this class which I hadn’t seen for over 6 years and so I found I still didn’t go to these extra classes, I just sat around at the park with him and a bunch of others probably up to no good. Somehow I managed to get through the year and passed the course, quickly my dad was keen to get me signed up to the next year of college. At this point I knew I was OK with computers but wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a software developer. My old school friend had struggled in the last class and failed and so he wanted to try electronics. I decided I would join my friend and signed up, perhaps I could turn my hand to fixing computers instead I remember thinking? It turns out there was quite a bit to electronics then I first envisaged!
Two months in to the course my friend dropped out, he decided college was a waste of his time. A few more weeks passed, I really wasn’t enjoying the course, I had no money and hated the lessons and so I dropped out. I remember not wanting to stick with computers at all, there was just too much to learn, I didn’t know which area I wanted to focus on and how could I cram all that knowledge in over two more years of college as well as university? Over the next couple of years I tried a number of different jobs to get an income by working at local supermarkets, shoe stores, catalogue shops, and cold calling, until finally I ended up as an administrative assistant at the civil service.
The civil service was great, I had a decent wage, a secure job, most of my family worked here and so I was happy. It was very odd that the majority of my colleagues had degrees in various subjects and yet we were all working in the same place inputting documents in to a system. I was told that many employers also wanted ‘x’ amount of years experience and so it was really difficult sometimes (especially where I live) to get the type of job you set out to get after completing university. When I was 19 I passed my driving test and I’ve probably been skint since having my first car! I think it was at this point I started looking for promotions at work to earn a little extra money to start paying off small loans, and my overdraft as debt started to build up. Over time I began to notice people moving between roles and departments, getting experience and these people were all eventually getting promotions which meant a pay rise. Over the next year I tried to do the same to gain skills and knowledge of the wider business which enabled me to get my first promotion at the company.
A couple of years later my wife was expecting our first child and another promotion opportunity came up but within a different department. There were 4 roles to fill as software developers building internal intranet applications. Since dropping out of college I’d avoided computing as I didn’t do particularly well and it appeared as though you had to have done well in higher education in order to get an interview as a software developer as well as know quite a bit. I was already a civil servant and had good business knowledge and so applied for the job. Only 4 people including myself applied, I believe they had to fill the roles and so we all got the job. Slowly though over time in the role I gained the knowledge and experience in order to do my job well and actually became pretty good at it. As my confidence and skills progress I was also able to start mentoring others within software development at my workplace.
Looking back I was lucky to get the role and realise I lacked both knowledge and experience but it was my business knowledge which got me the opportunity. I was unaware of the many amazing things both online and offline which are available. You don’t have to leave getting a career in software development down to luck or worry because you didn’t do so well at school or college. There are so many free resources out there that offer you free training so you can learn everything which is relevant to land you potentially your first software developer role at a company.
I’d recommend joining local user groups to continue your learning too. These are fantastic places to meet new people, find out about new opportunities as well as learn and share knowledge and skills – plus most provide free pizza and beer! If you cannot find a user group near you, why not set one up? All you need is to create an event and people will come along, you would be surprised how many companies also offer to cover the beer and pizza as they want to come and meet everyone and eventually get them to apply to work at their company.
Over time I have invested a lot of time in developing myself and others which has been a lot of hard work but has meant I have been able to leave the public sector after being a developer there for 5 years and move on in my developer career. Possibly like many others money is an issue and so you may worry about buying books, going on training courses etc? I have four children so cannot attend lots of training course but there is so much you can do that doesn’t cost a penny. Go to a library and use their computers, pick up a book, read blogs, organise a meet-up and bring the knowledge to you! This is exactly what I did over two years ago – I created a local tech meetup (Swansea Software Development Community) and a software developer conference (SwanseaCon - an Agile Development & Software Craftsmanship conference) - which was a little scary as I’d never been to one. Organising these events have allowed me to gain lots of new knowledge and skills as well as give back to the community and make lots of new connections, I couldn’t recommend running or going to local meet-ups and conferences enough.
Don’t be put off by grades or not knowing everything, just go for it. There really is no better time to start a new career.