How Long Does It Take To Become a Software Engineer without a Degree?
Do you know you want to become a software engineer but don't necessarily want to invest significant time and money into getting a four-year degree?
Perhaps you already have a degree in something else and are looking to switch careers to software engineering without having to go back to college. Makes total sense—and we see it all the time.
The good news is that you have options! The bad news is—well, there isn’t really any bad news. You just have some work to do to understand the different pathways available to you and which one will yield the best results in the least amount of time.
3 Ways to Hack into the Software Engineering World
There are a few common ways people hack into the software engineering world (pun intended). Let’s take a look at how to become a software engineer without a degree.
1. The “go it alone” path
The first option is teaching yourself, and there are a few key benefits to this approach. It’s cost-effective, for one thing. There are plenty of freely available resources at your disposal. And if you’re highly disciplined and intentional about mapping out your schedule and committing to a long-term strategy, you can certainly make it work.
But here’s the thing. . . the success rate for teaching yourself is actually pretty low. Why? Because life tends to get in the way. Major life events like job disruptions, marriages, and new babies can easily throw you off track—and even smaller inconveniences can derail the best-laid study plans.
Even if you do succeed at sticking to a study schedule while you learn to code on your own, you won’t have the support of mentors and peers to help you along the way. As a result, you may not have experienced coders to turn to when you have questions or need help working through challenges. The result? You might end up spinning your wheels: getting stuck on a particular concept, focusing on the wrong programming language for a coding newbie, or using faulty methodology.
Sure, you’ve probably seen success stories online about people successfully embarking on a solo coding journey. But keep in mind that social media tends to highlight the good and filter out the bad. The silent majority of people who pursue software engineering independently fail despite their best efforts because they simply aren’t set up for success.
How long does it take to become a software engineer following the “go it alone” path? Anywhere from 6 months to 4 years—and that’s if you’re successful.
2. The “tech-adjacent” path
If you’re already in a tech-adjacent role (e.g., marketing, IT, customer success at a startup), you may be able to make a strong business case to your manager that learning to code is important professional development that will make you a better asset to the company.
The key is finding someone internally who can help you customize a curriculum specifically for your current role. There may even be someone in the organization who has taken this path already, in which case you can follow a pre-established training plan.
What exactly the training will look like depends largely on the budget. It could be a self-paced learn-to-code program, in-person training, or something in between. Most commonly, employers provide a clear budget for online learning, and your manager or HR department will hold you accountable for achieving defined learning outcomes.
How long does it take to become a software engineer following the “tech-adjacent” path? About 2 to 6 months, with the caveat that you’ll need to gain some experience programming in your tech-adjacent role post-training before you can reasonably be promoted within or hired elsewhere into a true software engineering role.
3. The “immersive education experience” path
The most effective path toward becoming a software engineer without a degree is investing in an intensive learning program like Launch Academy’s immersive coding bootcamp. In an immersive setting, expect to dedicate yourself to learning code full-time for several months.
Bootcamps may be offered online or in-person, and they typically require some financial and life planning, as you won’t be able to work during the experience. These programs focus on teaching you the maximum amount of content in the minimum amount of time, with an emphasis on job skills to make you a more marketable candidate after graduation. Launch Academy’s bootcamp is 18 weeks total, with 10 of those weeks being fully immersive.
Here’s what you can expect from an immersive bootcamp that you won’t get from the other options:
- A highly structured curriculum designed to help you maintain momentum
- Support, feedback, discipline, and accountability from instructors and peers
- A focus on the most in-demand programming languages and relevant skills to ensure you are hireable in today’s software engineering job market
- Access to career services during your job search
The bottom line is that a coding bootcamp delivers the best learning outcomes in the minimum amount of time. How long does it take to become a software engineer following the “immersive education experience” path? Anywhere from 12 weeks to one year. We’ve found that the sweet spot is 18-24 weeks.
The bottom line is that a coding bootcamp delivers the best learning outcomes in the least amount of time.
To be clear, you should also anticipate a 3-6 month job search for any of these options (unless you choose the tech-adjacent path and are seeking an internal promotion). With that said, a bootcamp like Launch Academy can also help you land your first software engineering job, just as we have for so many graduates of our program!
No matter which approach you choose, we wish you the best of luck! If you’d like to learn more about Launch Academy, download our syllabus.