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Career Development, Coding

Train to Become a Software Engineer

General Assembly
June 12, 2024

Our Software Engineering Career Guide Series:

If you’re contemplating a career in the dynamic field of software development, you’ll be pleased to know that the path to becoming a software engineer is now more accessible than ever. Whether you’re a recent high school graduate looking to make your way in the world, or an experienced professional considering a career change, the opportunities for software engineer education and training are well within your reach.

But first, let’s make one thing clear: 

Do You Need a Degree to be a Software Engineer?

The short answer? No, you don’t need a degree to be a software engineer; skills and experience matter more.  

In fact, software engineer education requirements have been shifting toward value skills  more than degrees for the past five years.

Although there was a small uptick in degree requirements during the mass retirements at the height of the pandemic, more than half of today’s open software engineer positions require no degree.

It’s a trend that reflects the thinking of some of tech and HR’s most vocal visionaries:

Elon Musk — CEO of Tesla and SpaceX — once said of his two bachelor’s degrees: “I think colleges are basically for fun and to prove you can do your chores, but they’re not for learning.” Musk famously sought to hire employees without conventional college backgrounds — which is now also true at Apple, Google, and Netflix.

Outside “Big Tech,” Christie Gragnani-Woods, Bank of America’s Senior VP and Head of Talent Acquisition, explains: “We look for people that can adapt to changing demands and requirements because, as we’ve all seen in the last couple of years, everything has changed so much. [The] ability to be flexible, adapt, learn new things, and be able to be agile in this ever-changing world we live in is important to us.”

Eliminating degree requirements for software engineers is a great leap forward — for filling those vacant seats, and more importantly, for diversifying teams, opening the door to innovation, and paving more inroads for individuals and companies to get the skills they need.

3 Pathways To Becoming a Software Engineer 

Software engineer training can be pursued through three primary avenues:

  • Bootcamps: Quick entry into the field, ideal for career changers.
  • College Degrees: Comprehensive education, beneficial for long-term growth.
  • Self-Study: Highly flexible, requires significant self-discipline.

Let’s compare how each stacks up against the other:

Bootcamps vs. College Degrees vs. Self-Study

Your choice of software engineer training hinges on your personal circumstances, such as financial resources, time availability, learning preferences, and career goals. 

Software Engineering BootcampSoftware Engineering DegreeSoftware Engineering Self-Study
Duration3-8 months4-6 yearsVaries from weeks to years
Cost$5,000 – $20,000 $45,000 – $116,000+1$0 – $16,0002
CurriculumReal world, hands-on skills Broad, theoretical knowledgeNarrow, niche
PrerequisitesNoneHigh school diplomaNone
NetworkingCohort-based learningAlumni networksNone
InstructorsIndustry pros, mentorsProfessors, TAsNo live instructors
Flexible SchedulingHighLowHigh
ServicesJob placement assistanceCareer fairsIn some cases, certification
1., 2.

In short: while attending college can be a fantastic option for those with the time and resources, it is not an absolute necessity for becoming a software engineer. Bootcamps offer an alternative path that can be just as effective for those looking to enter the field quickly with practical skills.

Software Engineer Training Options

Rather than sticking your toe into the ice-cold waters of higher education, sometimes the best teacher is the plunge into relevant knowledge and refreshing skill sets, absorbed through an immersive, accelerated online bootcamp. 

Tailored for industry newcomers, this type of software engineering training provides flexible schedules and affordable prices, so working professionals can take courses online — often for the cost of one public college semester.

Bootcamps’ intensive, practical learning prioritizes real-world applications, hands-on projects, and immediate problem-solving over theoretical knowledge, training you on the most popular tools and cultivating job-market ready skill sets.

Specialized tracks in areas like web development and data science allow students to customize their education. The cohort model fosters community and networking opportunities. And most programs include career services — like resume workshops and job placement assistance — giving you a head start in your career.

With dedication, you can land a job within 180 days of bootcamp completion, leveraging your skills, portfolio, and network connections. This accelerated pathway to employment is a key advantage of bootcamps for those new to the tech industry.

Choose a General Assembly Software Engineer Bootcamp Path

Founded in 2011, General Assembly is one of the first software engineering bootcamps in the world — and it’s still one of the best. With a placement rate of over 90%, General Assembly graduates frequently find employment within months of completing the program — a testament to the bootcamp’s effectiveness in preparing students for the job market. Curriculum is continuously updated to meet industry standards, ensuring that students learn the most current technologies and methodologies. Select the level of education that suits your schedule. 

Online Software Engineering Immersive Event
Get a glimpse of the life of a bootcamp learner. Meet the instructors and check out potential projects you’ll work on. From cost subsidies to career support, get all the admissions info you need before enrolling in a bootcamp.
Free Coding Skills Online Curriculum
Gauge your interest and aptitude for the software field. Learn how to build a website using HTML and CSS over a two-hour session — a perfect, no-strings way to test the waters, pick up a few skills, and gain hands-on practice.  
Software Engineering Part-Time Bootcamp
Spend 6 hours/week over 8 months gaining tech skills. Through expert instruction, market-aligned material, and practical projects, you’ll develop code, work with GenAI, and build full stack web applications. 
Software Engineering Full-Time Bootcamp
Spend 40 hours/week over 3 months learning remotely through live classes, instructor-led practice, and self study. Gain skills in Python, Agile and scrum, testing and debugging, and cloud computing, setting the stage for a developer or engineer role. 
What’s Your Available Time Commitment? 

Frequently Asked Questions About Software Engineer Training

There are many signposts along the road to a rewarding career. “Do I have what it takes to make the switch?” “Will my financial investment be worthwhile?” “How soon can I get started?” you may wonder. The answers to these questions — and getting onto the right software engineer training track — can take you fast and far.

Is Software Engineering Hard to Learn?

The difficulty of learning software engineering varies greatly, depending on how you perceive and tackle the learning process. The following aspects can make software engineering either difficult or easy for you to learn.

Software Engineering
Is Hard To LearnWhen You Have…
Software Engineering
Is Easy To Learn
When You Have…
Lack of Background Knowledge:
If you have little to no experience with programming or computer science concepts, you might find the initial learning curve steep.
Strong Interest and Passion:
If you have a genuine interest in technology and solving puzzles, the learning process will be more enjoyable.
Rudimentary Problem-Solving Skills:
Software engineering requires strong analytical and problem-solving skills. If you’re not accustomed to thinking in a logical, structured way, it might take time to develop these abilities.
Logical and Analytical Thinking:
A natural aptitude for logical reasoning and problem-solving can make understanding programming concepts more intuitive.
Poor Mathematical Proficiency:
Certain areas of software engineering, like algorithms and data structures, require a good understanding of mathematics. Struggling with math can make these topics more challenging.
Strong Skills in Mathematics and Logic:
If you have a strong foundation in mathematics, you’ll find it easier to grasp algorithms and other computational concepts.
Limited Persistence and Patience:
Learning to code involves a lot of trial and error. If you get easily frustrated by bugs and errors, you might find it difficult to push through obstacles.
Hands-On Practice:
Practical experience through projects, internships, and coding exercises helps reinforce theoretical knowledge and builds confidence in your skills.
Significant Time Constraints:
Mastering software engineering takes a significant amount of time and practice. Balancing your studies with other responsibilities can be challenging.
Access to Resources:
Having access to good learning resources, such as high-quality online courses, tutorials, and mentorship, can significantly ease the learning process.
Resistance To Change:
The field of software engineering evolves rapidly. Keeping up with new languages, frameworks, and best practices can be overwhelming if you’re closed to the idea of continuous learning.
A Sense of Community and Support:
Engaging with a supportive community of learners and professionals can provide motivation, answer your questions, and offer valuable feedback.
An Ad-Hoc Approach: 
Learning without a clear roadmap and support system — unsure where to focus or how to evolve your skills — is challenging. Jumping between topics without fully understanding them leads to knowledge gaps, lack of coherence, and frustration.
A Structured Learning Path:
Following a well-defined curriculum or learning path can provide a clear roadmap and prevent you from feeling lost or overwhelmed.

By understanding these factors and tailoring your learning approach accordingly, you can make the journey of learning software engineering more manageable and enjoyable. In many ways, software engineering bootcamps can help you overcome many barriers to success. 

Are Software Engineer Bootcamps Worth it?

The value of bootcamp software engineering training is maximized with: 

  • Clear Career Goals: If you have well-defined career goals and a specific area of software engineering you want to enter, a bootcamp tailored to that niche can be highly beneficial. Working alongside your bootcamp mentor can help you explore the field.
  • High-Quality Curriculum: Bootcamps with a comprehensive and up-to-date curriculum that covers both fundamental and advanced topics in software engineering provide a solid foundation and practical skills.
  • Experienced Instructors: Learning from industry professionals with real-world experience offers valuable insights, fresh skills, and mentorship that aid in your transition from education to employment.
  • Intensive, Hands-On Learning: Bootcamps emphasize practical, project-based learning that can help you quickly gain the skills, experience, and portfolio needed to enter the job market in a strong position.
  • Robust Support System: Access to career services, such as job placement assistance, resume workshops, and interview preparation, enhances your employment prospects after graduation. 
  • Networking Opportunities: Connecting with peers, instructors, and industry professionals through the bootcamp opens doors to job opportunities and collaborations.
  • Time and Financial Investment: If you are able to commit the necessary time and financial resources to complete the bootcamp, you can expect a relatively quick return on your investment. 

How Long Does It Take To Become a Software Engineer?

Your background, learning pace, and desired level of expertise can all affect how long it takes to become a software engineer. However, in general, there are both longer and shorter paths to achieving this goal.

The Long Route: College Degree 

The traditional route provides a comprehensive education, covering both theoretical and practical aspects of computing. You’ll gain a deep understanding of computer systems, algorithms, data structures, and software development principles, while gaining industry experience through internships or co-ops. But don’t be fooled: on average, it takes six years to finish a so-called “four-year” bachelor’s degree. 

The Short Path: Coding Bootcamp

Bootcamp training is one of the fastest and most progressive paths to becoming a software engineer. These intensive, immersive programs sprung up to teach fundamental, in-demand skills in a short period through practical, project-based learning and real-world applications. The curriculum covers essential programming languages, frameworks, and tools that are in high demand in the job market. With a full-time course of study, beginners can gather everything they need to become employable in the field in just 12 weeks, and coding bootcamp graduates typically find entry-level positions as junior developers or software engineers within 180 days.

Wondering if a career in software engineering is a good move? Sign up for our next info session to learn more.


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