Tips on how to become a software developer

How do I get started as a developer? This is probably the question I get asked the most on social media. I run a page on Instagram called @thedevelife, with 47k followers at the time I’m writing this. That question comes up at least once a day. It is also a hard question to answer.

Sometimes people get glamoured by the pictures they see on Instagram of a dude attempting to be code at the beach on a sunny day. I’ve been a programmer for more than ten years, and I have not been able to code at the beach efficiently. I have attempted it a couple times, but it did not work out for me. At least in my experience that has been the case. What I’m trying to say is that sometimes people want to become programmers for the wrong reasons. Aspiring developers like the freedom being portrayed in social media, but sometimes that is all it is, just a portrayal. There is a lot of freedom that comes along with being able to work from any place with a WiFi connection, but there still some limitations. There are a lot of good things that come from being a programmer, the biggest, in my opinion, is knowing that someone out there is using an application you built in their everyday life. I became a programmer because I love to create cool shit and then eventually the perks of being a programmer came along.

When I give advice to someone on how to get started, I lead with the following questions.

What do you see yourself doing as a developer?

Do you see yourself working on the front-end, back-end, maybe programming for mobile devices?

Depending on the answer to these questions, the steps anyone looking to become a developer should take might be slightly different. There isn’t an answer that fits all situations. Also, I cannot provide advice on areas I have not enough experience with like Big Data, AI or IOT. I am familiar with back-end development, mobile, and web development being my strength (my kung-fu is pretty strong when doing work for the web), so if you want to pursue any of those areas I have deficiencies on, I apologize (sad face), I can’t be of value there.

Let me start with bad news first. If you aren’t able to sit in front of the computer for long periods of time and work late nights, sorry to say this might not be for you. I say this because you will have to work long hours to develop an application worthwhile, once that application goes live you might be required to work even longer hours. If the app goes down for whatever reason, you will be expected to show up in the office (or get online at 3AM) to help resolve the issue. At the very least you will have to respond as soon as possible, even if you are working on another project. If you don’t like the sound of this, maybe being a developer might not be for you.

Something else you will need is to have is a mind of a problem solver. I have met programmers who struggle because they are not able to solve a problem or are not resourceful enough to look and find the information that will aid them to resolve the issue at hand. You will not be expected to have a swift solution to every problem that is thrown at you, but the expectation of you being able to solve issues will definitely be a factor in your success as a dev.

Now that we got all the negativity out of the way let’s get into something more constructive. Don’t try to take on too much too fast. I suggest you get proficient at one thing at a time before moving onto learning something else. Figuring out where you want to end up working will help with this. If you’re going to be a full-stack web developer, focus on either the front-end or the back-end until you learn it, then and only then move on to the other. Trying to learn both at the same time might overwhelm you. Let’s explore or this scenario a bit more. Let’s assume you will choose to learn the front-end first, then move on to the back-end and you know your way around a computer, but have not taken any computer science courses.

Front-End Web Development

HTML, CSS and Javascript. Those are the main things you will need to learn to be able to build a UI. JavaScript can be used on the back-end, but in this case, JavaScript will be used for the UI. HTML and CSS, go hand in hand, and without being familiar with those two, you won’t get far, so I advise you learn these first. Then you can get familiar with JavaScript, pure JS without jQuery or any other framework or library. I would only devote enough time to learn how to access DOM elements (by the way if you don’t know what some of the acronyms or terms mean, I will make a list at the bottom of the most common ones) and make simple manipulations to HTML elements. Once you feel comfortable moving around the DOM, I recommend choosing a JavaScript framework. I like ReactJS (technically, React is a library, but many refer to it as a framework), there is also Angular and VueJS which are very popular. All have their pros and cons, the reason why I chose React is that is the most versatile, and once you know ReactJS, the learning curve to learn React Native is small, this will be an advantage if you ever want start building mobile applications. Take some time to do some research and pick the one you think is the best.

Mobile Development

Like web development there a few flavors you can choose from. You can be a truly native developer and learn Java or Kotlin to develop for Android then learn Swift to code for iOS devices. Or, you can choose React Native for which you need to learn JavaScript and develop for both platforms, Android, and iOS at the same time. I personally chose this route because using React Native is just a hop away if you are already familiar with ReactJS. React or React Native will require you to have knowledge of JavaScript. Another advantage is that if you start with mobile development using React Native moving your skills to web development the learning curve will be minimal.

Back-End Development

Here is where you can choose from a plethora of frameworks, some of them are PHP, Python, Java, Ruby On Rails, NodeJs and many more. The best approach for planning out your back-end is to develop a RESTful API your web application or mobile application can access to be able to send and retrieve data securely. All the frameworks or languages mentioned above can help you achieve this. The frameworks I work with are .NET Framework and .NET Core with C# as the language of choice. Again, I was pragmatic with my approach I chose C# because I can build applications for many platforms and there is a ton of documentation on how to get started with Web APIs. The main thing to keep in mind is to make sure you can reuse your code and/or web API(s) as much as you can.

I don’t expect this to be a guide on how to become a developer. I would look at it more like a set of tips that I wish someone would have shared with me when I was starting out. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, you can find me at @chesco.me or @thedevlife on Instagram.

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