Want to Become a Programmer? The Truth Behind 10 Common Myths

Feb 02, 2015 - Joe Matar
Thanks to strong demand and high median annual wages, more and more people are pursuing careers as computer programmers. At Coding Dojo, where I’m an instructor, we see lots of eager students who want to break into the industry. But many of them are discouraged by myths they hear about what it takes to become a coding whiz. Today I want to debunk those myths, so anyone who wants to learn new skills or earn more money can move more swiftly toward a job in this industry. Here’s the truth behind 10 common myths about becoming a developer.

Myth #1: I need to be a prodigy to be a developer

Reality: People often think programmers are a special breed of humanity, born with scientific calculators for brains. On the contrary, developers are ordinary people who simply have a passion for programming. And like in any profession, talent only gets people so far, as work ethic and discipline truly determine success or failure. If you’re curious to learn programming, don’t worry; it’s not as difficult as it may seem. At its core, programming is simply a form of communication between two entities — in this case, a developer and a computer. At a fundamental level, your task as a developer is to give instructions to a computer on how to build something, such as a website. But of course you don’t simply say, “Computer, build me a website.” It’s more complex than that. In a nutshell, programming is like writing meticulous instruction manuals in a special language, which only computers and other programmers can interpret. If you know how to communicate with others, you can learn to program.

Myth #2: It’s too late for me to become a developer

Reality: The truth is it’s never too late to become a computer programmer. Lots of coding bootcamps work with students of all ages and from a wide variety of backgrounds. Many enroll with little programming experience. As long as they put in the required work, they’re able to find great success, both in the classroom and in the workforce after graduation. Even though you may be starting your career in programming later than you would have wished, you’ll find that you have everything you need to succeed with the right preparation and work ethic.

Myth #3: I need a Computer Science degree to become a developer

Reality: Have you noticed all the coding bootcamps popping up around the world? These bootcamps wouldn't stay in business long if they weren't succeeding as viable alternatives to conventional schools. (Disclaimer: I work for one.) Every month, graduates of these bootcamps — who often begin the camps with limited experience in programming — land jobs as developers. And if you throw in the increasing popularity of free online learning platforms like Codecademy, it’s evident that learning to program is not an opportunity exclusive to formal institutions. Programming is like almost any profession: if you’re good at it, people will pay you for your skills, regardless of how you got there. (Click here to tweet this sage advice.)

Myth #4: I need serious math skills to become a developer

Reality: To become a developer, you don’t need to know how to approximate a definite integral using a parabolic variable. You don’t even need to know what this means. All you need is basic algebra, logic, strong problem-solving skills, and most of all, patience. This doesn’t mean developers never use advanced math. If the project at hand requires complex mathematical computation, then you will definitely need to brush up on your math skills. However, there are many plugins and libraries available to run calculations for you. All you have to do is implement the plugin or library into your code, so being extremely proficient at math is not necessarily required to become a developer.

Myth #5: I need to learn the “best” programming language to become a developer

Reality: A common question beginners ask is, “What is the best language to learn?” It’s a good question, but also a misguided one. No computer language is “better” than another, in the same way that French is not “better” than Spanish. Just as the benefit of a spoken language depends on what country you are visiting, the benefit of a computer language depends on what you need to do. A better question to ask is, "Which programming language should I learn first?" If you want to be a great developer, you’ll need to master multiple languages. The best approach is to start with the fundamentals. If you want to be a web developer, start with HTML and CSS, which are the foundational languages of the web. If you’re more interested in general computer programming, focus on languages that have a lot of online documentation and tutorials to supplement your learning, and don't worry about the “best” language. As your learning progresses, the strengths and weaknesses of each language will reveal themselves. Once you graduate a bootcamp, or complete other required coursework and projects, it’s time to start interviewing for a job as a web developer. Here are a few more myths for this phase of your career transition.

Myth #6: Graduation is just the beginning

So you enrolled in a reputable coding bootcamp, showed up every day, drank enough Red Bull to kill a real bull and graduated with a solid understanding of OOP, MySQL, Heroku, and 20 other terms that are not, it turns out, foreign swear words. It’s smooth sailing from here on out, right? Wrong. Too many coding bootcamp alumni assume that graduation marks the end of their journey when, in truth, it marks the beginning.

Myth #7: A development job will come to me

Web developers are in strong demand, and most coding bootcamps have resources to help you gain employment. But that doesn’t mean you can sit back and wait for the employment offers to come flooding in from the job fairy. While you’re waiting, other graduates are actively marketing themselves, snatching up jobs that you might be more qualified for — had you bothered to apply. Instead, you need to be highly proactive with your job search. If you didn’t establish a good relationship with your bootcamp’s career center, reach out to them now and then follow up every 2-3 weeks to stay on their map. Motivated coding bootcamp alumni apply to multiple companies a day; start with companies in your extended network and then utilize resources like job search sites. This process will require research, outreach, and a strong cover letter (which you will need to customize for each company). Finally, create a GitHub profile before you graduate and do some learning repos to show you’re up to snuff.

Myth #8: I’m done learning

By the end of your coding bootcamp experience, you will have learned a lot of skills. However, that doesn't mean your learning is complete. Just as you forgot half the French you learned in high school because you stopped using it after graduation, you’re going to forget programming languages you learned but don’t use on a daily basis. To prevent this from happening, work on personal projects that force you to use languages and software you never work with on the job.

Myth #9: I no longer need my classmates

The students you went through coding bootcamp with are your greatest professional resources. Even that weird bearded guy who left Cheetos dust on every keyboard he touched is going to be a senior developer one day…. so make sure you stay in touch. Whether it’s a simple “how ya been?” email every few months or starting a monthly poker night for your cohort, you need to keep those relationships strong. Many coding bootcamp alumni (such as Coding Dojo’s own AJ Agrawal, co-founder of Alumnify) have created successful ventures with fellow students; if you didn't do this while you were a student, it’s not too late to start. Just reach out, keep those relationships strong, and let the power of your network do the rest.

Myth #10: I’ll nail interviews without preparing

Even with proper training, it’s still up to you to keep those interview skills strong. Think of interviewing as a muscle — if you don’t use it, it atrophies. Be sure you practice answering questions before every interview, even if it’s in front of the mirror. Even more important is to practice the common tests that interviewers give. Some companies use technical interviews while others might give you a coding challenge that you’re expected to solve overnight. There are many good resources to help you prepare for these, but a particularly good one is Cracking The Coding Interview. Last but not least, don’t forget the basics. Keep your resume updated with your skills and knowledge, and list your Coding Bootcamp under your education section. Do your research so that you know what the company does and can ask intelligent questions. Make sure you dress appropriately. And don’t forget to send a brief thank you email after your interview is complete. The road to becoming a programmer is not an easy one, and a career in computer programming is not for everyone. However, as you consider your next steps, know that many people — none of them more “destined” to be a programmer than you — have found success and happiness through computer programming. As long as you keep that in mind and remain aware of the truth behind the myths, you’ll be in a good place to pursue your passion and future career. Michael Choi is founder and chief instructor of Coding Dojo, which offers a 12-week immersive web development boot camp for high school/college students looking to pad transcripts/resumes, professionals looking to reinvent their careers or entrepreneurs looking to start a web-based business.