You've heard the stories of 3-month bootcamps leading to six-figure starting salaries, and college dropouts becoming Silicon Valley billionaires.
But you're also wondering: what does this mean for me? Am I too late? Surely tech is saturated by now. Will I actually be able to get a coding job? Is it really worth it for me to learn to code?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for tech workers in 2021 is high (and still growing). That means plenty of job opportunities and enviable salaries for those with the right skills.
But to know if it's worth it for you, you'll first need to figure out if coding is something you actually enjoy.
Why is coding in demand?
The "learn to code" movement is not new.
In fact, it's been around for a few years now—steadily gaining traction since 2011—and showing no signs of stopping any time soon:
The reason coding gets called 'the most in-demand skill of the future' is not just because of the tech industry.
As well as companies where software is the main product, many other kinds of businesses—think manufacturing, health care, finance—already rely heavily on technology, and many more will do so as time goes on. That means a plentiful supply of jobs for people who know how to code.
The benefits of learning to code
Being successful in tech is by no means easy or guaranteed, but it's likely be a stable and very lucrative career choice in 2021 (and beyond). There are still few other fields that are as versatile, intellectually challenging, and accessible—even if you have no formal education.
Impressive job prospects
Even with all the efforts of the past few years to get more people learning to code, there's still no shortage of job opportunities. From the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Employment of computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 12 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. These occupations are projected to add about 546,200 new jobs.
If you haven't worked in a high-demand field before, it's hard to imagine what it's like to have companies compete to hire you, and multiple recruiters reaching out to you every day to try to tempt you away from your current role. But once you're established in tech, that's what happens!
Pay varies depending on factors like specialization, seniority, and where you live. But I don't know of a country or region where tech salaries are not consistently above average. Looking at the U.S. again as an example:
The median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations was $88,240 in May 2019, which was higher than the median annual wage for all occupations of $39,810.
Valuable life skills
Even if you don't want a full-time job as a software developer, tech skills are becoming increasingly important in everyday life, and having basic coding skills can help you in more ways than you realize. After all, developers are expensive. Should you ever find yourself needing one, you might just find it's something you know how to do yourself!
How is it different than it used to be?
On the positive side, there is now a wealth of information out there aimed at helping complete beginners learn to code. If you have an internet connection, it's theoretically possible to learn everything you need to know, for cheap or free, from the comfort of your couch.
But technology is a fast-moving field. That means that for every year that goes by, there will be many new things to learn (and also many things that fall out of favor, so they're likely not worth spending time on when you're just starting out).
If none of this makes any sense, that's okay. The point is that this is not a field where anything stands still.
You need to cut through the noise
As a beginner, with so much information now available at your fingertips, learning efficiently is both more difficult and more important than it used to be. One of your biggest challenges will be figuring out what to learn, and in what order.
Having a solid, structured plan for your learning (so you can focus on what's important and avoid everything else) will be crucial for your success. This is why coding bootcamps have risen in popularity in recent years, as they can provide that: a structured framework of topics to learn, at a set pace. But bootcamps are not an option for everyone, and they come with their share of pros and cons.
Using a combination of books, online courses and YouTube videos, it is possible to design a curriculum for yourself. But jumping around between different learning sources like this can mean a lot of wasted time. For example, it's very easy to have overlap and accidentally cover the same beginner material multiple times, or miss important things leaving gaps in your knowledge, or get distracted learning about something irrelevant. And when you barely understand what any of the new concepts are, it's easy to become overwhelmed.
This sounds like a lot. Should I even bother learning to code?
To answer this question, you need to figure out if it’s worth it for you.
The only real way to know if you'll like coding is to try it, but there are certain personality traits you can check for which could help you figure out whether coding is right for you.
The uphill struggle phase
When you first start learning to code, it will be frustrating. You will constantly be running into concepts you don't understand. Things will break and you won't know why. At this stage, it's hard to even know how to start trying to figure out what's wrong (this process is known as "debugging", FYI). It will feel like every corner you turn, you hit yet another roadblock.
If you're learning alone, going through this as a solitary experience can be quite discouraging (and is one reason so many people give up).
The good news (it gets better)
As you improve and your knowledge grows, you'll hit fewer roadblocks, and learn more strategies to get yourself unstuck when you do.
But the general pattern of 'run into problem, spend time figuring it out on your own' is a core part of any coding career. It never goes away, even for the most experienced programmers. So if this doesn't sound like something you could deal with, that's an indication that coding may not be for you.
So how do I start?
Once you've decided to learn to code, there are many ways to go about it. You could go back to school to get a Computer Science degree, or apply to a coding bootcamp, or teach yourself through books or online resources. The right choice for you will depend on your budget, timescale and how you like to learn.
Whatever method you choose, these things will be beneficial (if not essential) for anyone's learn-to-code journey:
- A goal: Why are you learning to code? What do you want to achieve?
- A curriculum: Pre-made or DIY, you need structure to work towards your goal
- Practice: You'll need projects to build (putting theory into action is when you really start learning)
If you can stay consistent, work hard, and stick with it, learning to code will be more than worth it—you’ll be on your way to one of the most fulfilling, useful, and potentially life-changing skills you can learn.