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It’s no secret that aspiring software engineers need specialized skills to break into the profession. But while a computer science degree is certainly helpful, it isn’t the only way to build expertise. In fact, with so many universities struggling to accommodate increased demand for computer science majors, alternative routes for learning are more important than ever.

Whatever your learning style, budget, or time allowance, there’s a career path that’s right for you. Here’s a closer look at your options for meeting the education requirements for software engineers so you can make an informed decision to support your professional goals.

Do you need a college degree to be a software engineer?

The short answer is, it depends. While entry-level and mid-level jobs tend to be more flexible on software engineer degree requirements, senior positions often require them due to their leadership responsibilities. Meanwhile, certain types of roles within software development demand a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree because of the work involved — for example, cybersecurity infrastructure. 

A bachelor’s in computer science is the best degree, but one in a related fieldNo Computer Science Degree? You Can Still Become a Software Developer (such as engineering or software development) is often also sufficient.

Ultimately, the proof is in your portfolio and in being able to demonstrate expertise in software applications and software systems through projects, work experience, certifications, training, and more.

Alternative paths to becoming a software engineer

With the average cost of tuition for computer science degree programs ranging from $38,496 to $66,000 per year, going to college can be a big investment. Luckily, alternative paths now exist that make it possible to learn new skills more affordably and quickly than a four-year degree.

Associate’s degree

An associate’s degree is a two-year course designed to help you get your foot in the door with an entry-level, full-time software engineering position. These programs cover the basics of programming, such as languages and web development, and prepare you to earn your bachelor’s degree should you wish to continue with higher education.

Independent training

While challenging to execute independently, it is possible to learn necessary software engineer skills through self-driven study. This typically entails a combination of online courses, white papers and books, communities like GitHubHere’s Why IT Newbies Should Join GitHub Immediately, and industry events. But it requires a fair bit of self-disciplineFoolproof Tips for a Successful Software Engineering Journey, as well as the time and energy to do copious amounts of research.

Professional bootcamps 

Bootcamps are self-contained programs designed by experts to help you master the fundamentals of software engineering and successfully pass technical interviews. Some, like TripleTen, offer mentorship and career preparationWhat’s Inside: TripleTen Software Engineering Program as well. Most are designed to fit around your commitments, making it easier for working professionals to transition careers.

Examples of real career paths from successful software engineers

Talk to enough software engineers and you’ll discover that no two career paths look alike. Some get their start with a bachelor’s in computer science, while others change course mid-career with a professional bootcamp. Here are two stories from TripleTen graduates for inspiration.

Isabelle Cuisset

On paper, Isabelle Cuisset had it all: A dream career in luxury fashion and a peripatetic life among Europe’s biggest cities. But after 20 years of constant motion, she was ready for a change. A small fashion project during the pandemic gave Isabelle the direction she needed. After building the project’s WordPress site, she was inspired to invest in TripleTen’s bootcamp and used her new skills to launch her own boutique web design and development studio. Two years later, Isabelle feels more energized than ever, splitting her time between luxury fashion and creating bespoke web pages for independent consultants, artists, and designers.

Desiree Bradish

As a college student curious about tech, Desiree Bradish had built a game that brought together a community of nearly 15,000. It was a fun side project, but she decided to move away from coding to pursue a career in graphic design and animation instead. Five years and lots of long hours later, Desiree knew she wanted a change, but wasn’t clear what that was until she found herself furloughed during the pandemic. Determined to return to tech, she enrolled in TripleTen’s bootcamp and landed an entry-level job within weeks of finishing. Now a full-stack engineer, Desiree loves that her new career sets a good example for her family.

Necessary skills for software engineers

Whether you plan on becoming a front-end engineer, game developer, back end developer, or other type of software engineer, you’ll need a healthy mix of soft skills and technical capabilities to succeed. Here’s a snapshot of some of these skills and why they’re important.

Technical skills

Technical skills span coding and programming (such as expertise in relevant programming languages, like JavaScript or HTML), data structures and algorithms, and testing and debugging. They’re important because they let you perform the responsibilities of your role. You can learn more about which technical skills matter most by software engineer type here11 Types of Software Engineers and Programmers: See Who You Can Become.

Soft skills

Soft skills are important because they help you add value to your team and thrive in your role. Potential employers want to see your approach to solving problems, collaboration, time management, learning, attention to detail, and more. You can read more about why soft skills are important for software engineers and how to cultivate them hereThe Significance of Soft Skills for Software Engineers.

Industry demand and career outlook

While 2023 brought heightened volatility to the industry, software engineer positions remain some of the safest in tech. In fact, it continues to place on lists of in-demand tech jobs year after year, alongside other specializations such as data science and DevOps. Best of all, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that software engineer employment will grow 25% by 2032.

In addition, market intelligence firm IDC estimates that there will be a global shortage of 4M developers by 2025. If this trend continues, the US alone could face a shortage of over 1.2M software engineers by 2026Four Reasons Why Junior Developers Will Find Work in the U.S.. Add in new, emerging technologies and the need for digital transformation across industries, and you can see why there’s so much opportunity in the field.

Become a software engineer with TripleTen

Learning to code gets a whole lot easier with support from tutors who’ve been in your shoes. Our Software Engineering Bootcamp provides regular one-on-ones and the opportunity to attend daily office hours with experienced professionals. It’s just one of the many reasons why graduates have trusted us with their training, with 89% finding tech jobs within six months!

Is a bootcamp right for you?

Discover your ideal path to tech by taking our quiz.

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