How to become a developer: A beginner’s guide

An open laptop with lines of code on the screen
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The world is becoming more digitised as businesses look to become even more connected, which is great news if you’re a developer. The job market and opportunities for developers are massive, where they can work on everything from developing video games, creating user-friendly websites, or building offerings around new technologies like AI.

The past few years of the pandemic have also helped to speed up the adoption of new technology through digital transformation. A report from McKinsey in May 2021 found that 65% of leaders had increased their spending on digital and technology during the pandemic, despite belt-tightening elsewhere in the business.


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Additionally, 64% of businesses thought that looking towards 2023, most companies will need to build new digital businesses to stay economically viable while 21% said they would have to embed digital technologies in their current business model. With this increased focus on digital predicted to continue, it’s probably a smart decision to start a career as a developer. So, you might be wondering how you can become a developer - and what exactly it is that developers do?

A day in the life of a developer

During their day-to-day activities, developers will carry out a variety of roles, but they’re considered to be programmers since they also write code. Despite this, the main part of their role can be found in designing software architecture for commercial services and products.

Developers have a key role in every part of an app's development, from the planning stages to implementation, where they monitor the complete web or software development process. This is why they work shoulder-to-shoulder with programmers, instructing and leading them on which programming language to use when building an application.

Other important parts of this job include updating product documentation, directing testing procedures, and customising off-the-rack computer programs. Developers must also make sure the program continues to work properly once the app has been deployed, and ensure they pass any feedback to the programmers to make changes if needed.

How to get hired as a developer

It’s time to take a look at the seven steps you can follow to become a developer, now that you’ve got to grips with the broad responsibilities this role covers.

1. Pick a niche

To take your first step on the path to becoming a developer, you’ll have to choose a niche.

There’s a wide range of choices to select from, so we’ve explained below the different types of developers you’ll encounter the most, and what their duties are to aid you in making your choice.

  • Frontend web developer: Builds the user interface, aesthetics, and layouts of a website — basically everything a user sees and interacts with within a product.
  • Backend web developer: Maps websites to corresponding servers and databases by devising a functional logic between them.
  • Full-stack web developer: Plays the role of both frontend and backend developer.
  • Mobile developer: Optimizes applications for mobile devices and possesses an intricate knowledge of iOS and Android operating systems.
  • Game developer: Designs and implements interactive gaming experiences on various platforms, using specialised toolsets.
  • Application developer: Creates full custom applications for computers, browsers, mobile phones, and tablets.

One thing is evident: No two developer roles are the same. This is also why two developers may learn different programming languages. Besides, a big part of selecting a programming language to learn is assessing the various use-cases for it.

For example, Python is often an excellent choice for web development, but the same isn’t necessarily true for mobile computing.

Once you have your preferred niche in place, you can move to the next step: learning.

2. Learn to code

There are a few ways to learn how to code.

The traditional way would be to get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in software engineering or computer science.

An associate’s degree program can offer you basic education in computer programming, and it takes as few as two years to complete. A bachelor’s degree, on the other hand, takes four years but gives you all of the skills you need in the field and a deeper understanding of other subjects, including information technology, database systems and network administration.

That said, heading back to college may not be a viable option if you already have a degree in another field. This brings us to the nontraditional way of learning: Enrolling in a coding boot camp. Boot camps are short, intensive training programs offering hands-on learning for select programming languages.

Depending on the program structure, a camp can last several months, and you get a certificate in the end. Many companies hire boot camp graduates along with college graduates, making boot camps worthwhile alternatives to classroom learning.

3. Prepare to learn new skills

Technology is always evolving and so are coding techniques. Be prepared to remain on top of developments in the development space and broaden your skill set. This is a crucial supplement to your education and background knowledge of the subject.

Luckily, there are certification programs to help you on the way. Here’s a checklist of developer certifications you don't want to miss:

4. Join a community

Online communities are great for networking and connecting with like-minded individuals. StackOverflow, GitHub and CodeProject are popular forums for starting a discussion, sharing solutions and asking for help when you’re stuck on a line of code.

Consider them the social media of computer science where you can make valuable contacts while learning.

If you aspire to move out of the virtual realm for a change, opt for meetups and technical conferences. Better yet, participate in hackathons and coding fests with your code buddies and see who wins the challenge.

5. Get creative

Put your skills to test by building personal projects from the ground up. It could be a chatbot, a game or anything that challenges your mind. Once you complete a project, share the finished code with a coding network or community for constructive feedback and comments.

Recreating existing projects and adding your own twist to them is beneficial as well.

6. Learn more as an intern

Nothing beats the experience of solving a real-world business problem as an intern. Because many internships are part-time, you can continue your education or regular job while picking up these valuable skills.

Upwork and Fiverr are great for finding remote ad-hoc projects. It’s also worth looking into startups, as many are very welcoming of aspirants willing to learn on the job.

7. Make a stellar portfolio

How do you stand out from tens of thousands of applicants applying for the same jobs you are? The answer lies in a portfolio.

A portfolio, which is a compilation of documented work and projects, gives potential recruiters a look at your abilities, which may increase your chances of getting hired.

The way ahead

A developer is, first and foremost, a programmer and programming languages are the meat and potatoes of all things related to web and software. While there are many languages to choose from, start by selecting at least two. Python, Java, PHP and C# are some of the most in-demand programming languages.

As you master new languages, apply them to real-world problems to reinforce your skills and motivate yourself to keep learning.

One line at a time, code your way to the developer job you’re striving for.