June 30, 2022
In this third and final part of a three-blog-miniseries about the path to a software engineering career we’ll discuss how to transition into software engineering from other professions.
Software engineering is one of the hottest job markets in the world. It’s a highly technical career that is very in demand, has good job security, and comes with great pay and benefits. As a result, many professionals from other roles or industries changed their careers and became software engineers (SWEs).
People have pivoted their careers into software engineering from all different kinds of backgrounds, both technical and non-technical. Finance, business development, accounting, product management, data science, and design are just some of the fields current SWEs used to work in.
You can become a developer from any career path. Of course, some transitions can be easy while others can be quite challenging, but in the world of software engineering there is no inherent barrier based on prior pedigree or background.
SWEs don’t just write code all day; they are engaged in designing, documenting, testing, and communicating, so despite having a different previous career, you can still possess valuable prior experience relevant to software engineering.
In your previous job, did you prioritize tasks and make sure the most important projects were finished on time? Did you complete a project after balancing the need for short-term deliverables and the long-term goals of your team or company? If so, congrats! You already share similar prior experience with software engineers.
Technical skills are even more transferable. Some common technical skill overlaps SWEs have with other professions include:
Technical writing - this includes specs, documentation, design documents
SQL - many business analysts and data scientists’ bread and butter
Python - commonly used by any job that deals with data or statistics
If you’ve researched how to break into the software engineering (SWE) industry, chances are you have come across bootcamps (or coding bootcamps). These programs are essentially crash courses designed to help you get a tech job (software engineer, data scientist, QA engineer, etc.) as fast as possible.
Bootcamps are designed for adults with little to no programming and computer science experience, and it aims to provide students all the necessary education to start their careers as developers.
Naturally, many experienced developers and professionals in the tech industry are skeptical of bootcamps. After all, how effective can cramming a 4-year college education into a 3 to 6-month course be?
The results of bootcamps are somewhat mixed. There are definitely many success stories of bootcamp graduates landing stellar jobs as developers, tripling their salary and happily working their way up to an accomplished career.
But there are also horror stories of bootcamp students being fired months on the job because they couldn’t do the work.
The two greatest advantages of bootcamps are time and cost. For students, bootcamps can provide a quick way to transition careers and ramp up, and because of its short duration bootcamps typically only cost $10,000 to $15,000 USD, and we say ‘only’ because by comparison, a 4-year undergraduate degree can easily cost 6-figures or more.
While the time and cost savings seem like a huge win, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
Many software engineering and other technical jobs today still require a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent, and to most employers a 16-week bootcamp just doesn’t qualify. Of course, students can look for job listings that don’t have this requirement, but doing so can severely limit career mobility and options, and competition can be much greater among bootcamp graduates.
In general, we think that bootcamps can be great options for adults that already have college degrees looking for a career pivot.
Anybody can apply to jobs, but getting invited to an interview is the hard part. When you apply to developer roles, you’re competing against tens if not hundreds of SWEs who have been professionally coding since college. So, how do you stand out?
Just because someone has more experience in the software industry doesn’t mean s/he is more qualified for a particular developer job than you. The software engineering industry is huge, and people can be gurus in certain subdomains and know next to nothing about others. Use this to your advantage.
If you are focused on landing a job as a frontend developer, work on as many frontend projects as possible, and get familiar with all the current frameworks and tech stacks frontend developers are using.
That way, even though you’ve only been exposed to programming for a short time period, you can attain more hands-on experience than more tenured candidates.
Reach out to your network. Talk to that friend at Apple you haven’t spoken to since college, and ask for advice on how to break into top tech companies. In general, people in your network should be supportive of your career transition (plus, it also makes them seem important!).
Good mentors can help you perfect your resume, provide pointers on interviewing, and even conduct mock interviews with you. You can also learn what the industry is like, the pros and cons of the job, and how career trajectories look.
Finally, there’s referrals. Referrals are your best shot at getting interviews, and you should get as many referrals as you can. Ideally your referrers should not only work at the company you’re applying to, but they should also occupy a similar role. For example, it’s better to be referred by a fellow SWE for a developer position than a friend in the accounting department.
Assuming you have no prior work experience in software engineering or a tangential role, you need to clearly demonstrate the work you’ve put into this career transition.
This includes publishing your side projects on your own website and the source code on Github, sharing your portfolio of work on LinkedIn, and being active in developer communities (asking questions, answering questions, participating in discussions).