And some predictions for the future.
The following advice is suitable for anyone aspiring to get into the software industry but will be related closely to my past self and that which I wish I had known, or had believed in, when I was a teenager in high school.
TLDR; University is not required for this field. There’s no guarantee of a job just because you get a degree, and there’s no guarantee of unemployment just because you don’t go. The main thing employers want to see is past experience through a portfolio of work. That portfolio is your life, so build it up and share it. Be proud of it and most importantly, start as early as you can!
None of the images used are of me or relate to me personally.
1. High school
You have a penchant for drawing and you enjoy it so much that you spend much of your free time drawing sketches. You’re good for your age but what you don’t realise is you’ll become bored of it sooner or later and then you’ll have lost the thing that makes you stand out in classes. This is either because of imposter syndrome or because you get a D in GCSE level Art.
You aren’t bad, but you must not have followed the directions of the exams to the T. Either way, it was kind of a good thing as when you apply to college you won’t be able to take Art at A level, and then you’ll opt for Computing which leads you to where you are now.
You are very good in ICT classes, and business studies, but find those subjects a little mundane even if you do enjoy using a computer in your spare time. You don’t understand that they are only mundane to you now because you are forced to follow along with the tutor’s instructions rather than carve your own path. That, and you never get to make anything of your own. A spreadsheet on excel to calculate equations was fun to you for a few moments, when you were figuring out the exact equation to input and making the cells dynamic, but I don’t think you ever caught on to why.
After school you enjoy videogames a lot. Maybe a little too much. But don’t worry, that feeling goes away once you find a passion that’s both productive as well as engaging – like web developing.
You still believe that all of the programs on your computer are made by Wizards, and that they must have been born smart and had to have gone to Harvard. After all, the only software you came into contact with was Microsoft made, or videogames.
Back then the web was still young, static and boring so I’ll forgive you for not making the connection earlier that websites don’t have to just be electronic encyclopedias. YouTube was around but again, it was made by Wizards.
You attempt to apply for A level Art but you don’t make it as you had to have a C or greater in it. Makes sense. Oh well. You also now have a huge disdain for exams, and realise that if you take a BTEC course you won’t have to do any – only coursework. Seems like a good choice. You got an A* in ICT and business studies, so Computing BTEC seems like a good idea.
College is a breeze, so much so that you wonder if it’s a front for something more insidious. Probably not though. You leave with the maximum grade as did more than half of your peers.
3. University part 1
All of your friends are going to Uni and you don’t know what you want to do, so you obviously follow them. A little more experience in the software industry would have gone a long way here. A bit more research would too.
You never could plan things until they are almost upon you
You opt for the Computing foundation degree. There was the option to learn Game development but you thought that it would make you look like a gaming addict to the older generations who would be receiving your CV, if they themselves weren’t game developers.
The Computing course was roughly half programming, which was strange because it was completely absent from the college course you just took called Computing. You don’t have a clue what’s going on but neither do many of the students there. Only a few had actually experience with programming before, and it was all self taught.
The only language taught is C++, and while you find it fun, you think it’s strange you only see the results in a command line window. Little do you know but finding a job that utilises C++ by the time you are graduating is right in between impossible and improbable.
The two year course, while much harder than college, is still a breeze. You leave with a great grade, but before that there comes a choice: Extend university and join year 2 of a 3 year Software Engineering degree, or leave with the foundation degree alone?
You still don’t feel ready to get a job in the field, and neither do you know what it is exactly that you want to do, so you extend your education again.
4. Uni part 2: Software Engineering
Oh. This course turns out to be much much harder than the previous one. You actually have to do work at home!… Not something you’re used to. You don’t even understand entire modules at times. Learning about a CPU cache? You do enjoy a couple though – just the practical software development ones.
One of the modules is Web Development, which you enjoy quite a bit. It was your favourite subject by far. Something about writing code in your IDE and then instantly seeing the results of it in your browser by refreshing the page felt great.
You still don’t research the field however, and just take what you learn in class at face value.
For your third year project, which is worth the grade of two regular modules, you make a live note-taking application called Notable. It’s no Google Docs, but it works. You now know this stuff is no longer made by Wizards, but still people more skilled than you. After all you did use PHP and MySQL with setInterval AJAX calls to the database to check for updates. Not ideal. You did learn about socket.io in your research, but don’t think you can implement it, so you stick to what you know.
Your education retention is not as good as the other students, you feel. You revise and study for the first time since your GCSEs, but still struggle.
After the course, you leave with a decent grade, considering you struggled so much midway through, and Notable didn’t compile when it was demo day.
5. First web development job
You end up taking a temp job for a while, but end up quitting in frustration of the environment. You weren’t struggling for money after all, and it was Christmas, so you relax a bit before looking for more jobs. In late January you start looking again, but this time you focus on Web development as it’s what you want to do.
You only get a call for one interview, but that’s all it took.
Now it’s two years since you started your web development job. At first you enjoyed the work but it was hard, you were tired after work and you just wanted to go home and play videogames. That’s okay, as you still did 8 hours of work each day. You did earn the relaxation time.
8 months into the job you decide you are comfortable enough with what you are doing at work and decide to make your own portfolio. It is crap, but, it’s yours. You are so shocked that you’ve managed to set up hosting and DNS records all by yourself, that you don’t care.
Your skills slowly develop as you work on the job, and work on your portfolio outside of hours. You start to read about the field as it’s now fun. You’ve finally got your head and heart in it, research is as entertaining as it is educational.
You start to explore technologies that you don’t even use at work. Industry standard stuff like Laravel, REST APIs. React JS comes soon and that’s going to be a blast. Once you have these things under your belt, you end up utilising what you know in your job. The new website your team works on is better than any from the company’s past portfolio.
My point is…
University is not required for this field. There’s no guarantee of a job just because you get a degree, and there’s no guarantee of unemployment just because you don’t go. The main thing employers want to see is past experience through a portfolio of work. That portfolio is your life, so build it up and share it. Be proud of it and most importantly, start as early as you can!
It’s never a bad time to start, but there is a better time to start, and that was yesterday.
If you had known you’d be a web developer at point 1, you could be a millionaire by now… with some considerable luck. A twitter clone is not out of the realms of achievable to you now, so imagine if you had had that idea, and were there first.
2 would have been an excellent time to realise it. The gaming was fun but it doesn’t mean a thing to you now. Software development is even more fun, and it can take you places in life.
If you had realised at point 3 you’d likely have a successful blog or YouTube channel with all of the knowledge you’d have had time to gather between then and now.
You kind of realised it at point 4, but you didn’t really act on it. To be fair though, you spent a lot of time working on and studying for the courses at University. There wasn’t a great deal of down time.
Congratulations! Somewhere at point 5 you finally began to act on your own and took it upon yourself to improve your skills and expand your knowledge of the field. You also grew your own interest in it to the point where you enjoy it as a hobby as well as a job.
At least you’re still young, so have plenty of time to learn, and there’s a great amount you still don’t know. Now is the time to start predicting the future, given your experience of the past. The web environment changed monumentally in the last ten years, and we can’t know for sure what it will look like in the next ten.
- Web apps are becoming as powerful as native applications – and you don’t even need to install them. Cloud based services will take over using the power of search engines and instant cross device compatibility. Example 1 – Photopea (Photoshop clone) Example 2 – Discord (Online chat, video call, voice call, file transfer)
- AI and machine learning can automate a lot more than you probably think it can. Don’t get caught up, assuming what you do now – you will do forever. Software is much cheaper than your wages. The ability to educate yourself is your most valuable skill. AI can even be creative and produce music, art.
- The companies who control our data currently will be the masters of the new world. The web is leaking into real life and has been for a long time. It started with fully internet reliant jobs, like mine, and now the real world relies on the internet. It’s reasonable to assume that information about the people who use the internet is one of the most powerful assets you can own.
You might not know how to use the above information effectively just yet, but it’s a good idea to keep it in the back of your mind. At least you won’t be surprised by what happens next.