If you’re looking for a job in software engineering, it can often feel like having a degree is an essential part of snagging your first gig. But, what if you’ve already completed a degree in something else, or university study just isn’t for you? Can you still get a software engineer job without a degree? The good news is yes, yes you can.
Software engineering is a huge deal both in the UK and beyond. According to ITPro, demand for developers with skills in blockchain has grown by more than 500 percent in recent years, while more generally companies report a struggle to find the right people. One recent study found that half of all businesses were under pressure from a “digital skills gap”.
In short, while companies are looking for people with a high level of technical ability, there simply aren’t enough good people to fill the gaps – so there’s ample opportunity for candidates who don’t have a computer science degree on their CV. There’s still a lot of stuff to think about though, and you’ll need to put in a lot of prep to make your way through. Here’s our guide to everything you should be thinking about.
Focus On Your Technical Skill Set
Even if you don’t plan on getting a degree, you’ll still need to be able to prove to recruiters that you’ve got the technical abilities to get things done. To put it another way, there was a reason Peter Parker had to prove his worth before he officially joined the Avengers.
There are a whole host of ways you can boost your technical credentials, from short courses and bootcamps to simply teaching yourself and giving it a go. Here are a couple of things to consider, but remember it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ kind of deal. Take a look at all the options and focus on the ones that fit you best.
The main thing you should be looking at when learning is what skills are actually in demand right now. Sure, making an iPhone app might be a slick thing to show your mates, but companies might be more interested in other skills right now.
Take a look at a selection of job adverts with a highlighter in hand and pull out the requirements that just keep coming up. When you’ve decided what coding languages and skills should be your priority, make sure it matches up with what you’re planning to learn.
Bootcamps and Short Courses
For those of us that need a bit of structure to actually get things done, boot camps and short courses are a good starting point for getting the basics under control.
Generally, Bootcamps cost between £4-8,000 and last between nine and 12 weeks, but some companies offer partial scholarships or a chance to get your money back if you don’t snag a job as a result. Switchup has a good, in-depth guide to courses across the globe.
Short courses online are also a good option – they’re generally cheaper and allow you to pick and choose the skills you think are most needed or in demand. Take a look at coding hubs like Treehouse or Codecademy, which give you access to a whole range of courses from £15 a month.
It’s also worth browsing traditional online learning sites like Udemy, FutureLearn or Coursera too – they collaborate with respected institutions such as universities, colleges and tech companies, giving your free or cheap access to individual modules.
Free Online Resources and Teaching Yourself
Outside of a regimented course structure, there’s nothing to stop you just giving it a go for yourself and working it out along the way. After all, it’s a strategy that’s worked pretty well for most of the main characters in almost any movie you’ve ever watched.
There are also tonnes of free resources to take a look at if you need small introductions or hit a wall with your coding. FreeCodeCamp, for example, has a huge amount of free online resources, as well as a forum to vent your frustration and a news section with loads of “how to” articles. If you’re more into video, take a look at channels like DigitalCrafts, The New Boston, or LearnCode.academy.
Stack Overflow is also a great wealth of knowledge. Free to join, the forum is essentially filled with developers and coders asking and answering each other’s questions. So, if you hit a hard wall, you’re more than likely to find someone has already asked the question – and someone else has already answered it.
Make Sure You’ve Got A Really Strong Portfolio
Whether or not you have a degree, one of the main things businesses will expect of a software engineer is a strong portfolio. And it goes without saying that it becomes even more important if you don’t have a formal qualification in computing or coding behind you. Firstly, it’s about pulling together a diverse body of work, before pulling it together in a way that will impress recruiters.
Pulling Together Your Portfolio
In the same way your learning should reflect the skills employers are looking for, so should your portfolio. Make sure you keep on top of industry and recruitment trends and try to include a selection of projects that tick the boxes.
Equally, it’s worth thinking about other things you can add to your portfolio that aren’t just solo projects. Take a look at coding meet-ups like Code Up UK or Hacks/Hackers and look out for sprint events where you create with a small team of other coders, often to a tight deadline. Similarly, big tech companies like Google will often run competitions, where you’ll be tasked to solve specific problems.
Making Your Portfolio Really Stand Out
Once you’ve got a decent body of work together, it’s important to present it in the best possible way. Recruiters won’t be taking a deep dive into your work during the first round of hiring, so it’s all about making sure your portfolio is intriguing enough at a first glance.
Putting Your Portfolio In The Right Place
As a software engineer, you should be looking to develop both a strong website and make your mark in the community, so make sure you’ve got a GitHub page too. If you can afford it, grab your own domain name too – typically it’s about £7 a year for something basic like yourname.co.uk.
Use your website to really hone in on the areas of work you want to be known for – think carefully about the kind of products you’re best at creating and who the client commissioning you would be and try to make it appealing to that person. It isn’t just about raw code, it’s also about creating a visually appealing portfolio.
Essentially you’re looking to build a website that sells you as a freelance software engineer already, with some solid examples of work you’ve already done.
Personalise Your Portfolio For Each Job
While you won’t be changing your website or GitHub each time you apply for a job, you certainly should be switching up the portfolio you physically send in with your application. In the same way you wouldn’t send the same cover letter in for two different jobs, don’t send the same work examples in the same order. And if you were sending in the same cover letter, this really is the time to stop. We beg you.
We’ve banged on about highlighters quite a lot in the piece already, but your portfolio really should be guided by what they’re looking for in the job description. And highlighters are really useful for working that out. Pick pieces that show the skills they’re looking for to lead your portfolio and use the rest to show stuff that will complement and add to your skillset.
The Words Are Just As Important As The Projects
While it’s true that the most important thing in your portfolio is your project, that doesn’t mean your words don’t matter. At whatever company you end up working at, as a software engineer you’ll be interacting with people who don’t work on the back end of projects.
From clients to designers and managers on your team, you’ll need to be able to clearly and concisely describe your work to those without an engineering background. Put this into practice in your portfolio and make sure your descriptions are a plain English rationale of what you’ve put together.
Have A Strong Job Hunting Plan
Finally, if you’ve got the point of actually searching for jobs, make sure you’ve thought thoroughly about your approach. The jobs market is competitive at the best of times, and if you’re looking to get a software engineer role without a degree, you need to make a plan.
Look For Companies Keen To Hire Non-Grads
It might sound like you’re searching for a needle in a haystack, but there’s a lot more kickback to just hiring graduates than you think. With Google at your fingertips, it’s easy to find CEOs and hiring managers who have publicly talked about how they want to bring in people from a diverse range of backgrounds. Once you know who’s open to it, focus your applications there.
Equally, it’s worth considering other routes into a software engineer career that are built for non-graduates. Hundreds of employers every year run apprenticeship schemes for software engineers and developers, with built-in learning and opportunities for progression. You may also want to consider applying for more junior roles more generally which can get you in the door.
Always Highlight Your Strengths In Your Application
It sounds obvious, but think critically about your application to each job and play to your strength every time. As a non-grad applicant, you may find you have different weaknesses to those who have studied a degree. It’s not a problem, but something you should be aware of when you’re putting together a job application.
For example, if you have taken on training with a bootcamp or short course provider, you may want to put this high up in your CV or application to highlight your commitment to the career. On the other hand, if you’re mostly self-taught, it’s better to start off with some really strong work samples to show what you can do from the offset.
Remember A Lot Will Hinge On The Interview
A final word here – no matter how polished your CV and portfolio is, they can only take you so far. Getting the job will also hinge on performing well at interview, which is just as much about preparation as anything else.
As with any job interview, make sure you’re clued up on the company and what your role without it would be, but also make sure you’ve got an answer prepared for any obvious questions about your lack of a university degree.
Employers aren’t there to trip you up, and if you haven’t got a degree, any questions about this are a chance for you to show off what you have done and your enthusiasm to get stuck in. “When interviewing candidates for a job, the most important thing many hiring managers look for is enthusiasm,” writes James Burt for The Guardian. Honestly, it can’t be overstated.
“It’s not uncommon to interview someone who is qualified for the job but doesn’t seem to actually enjoy working with computers. Technical knowledge can be picked up if you have the aptitude, but you can’t fake enthusiasm.”