I’ve been a software engineer for 13 years. It’s a great career! Before I became an engineer, I had a Bachelor’s degree in a Hospitality/Tourism, but was unhappy with my job opportunities, and the budgetary challenges that came with it. After some thought, I realized I wanted to move into software engineering.
Then and now, and how the options have changed
Back then, at least where I’m from, code schools did not exist. Nor was there much in the way of online courses. So, I decided to go back to school to get a second Bachelor’s Degree. Four years and approximately $50,000 later, financed over 30 years at 4.75% APR, I had a degree in Computer & Information Technology with a minor in Computer Science. For these loan terms, an additional $45,298.06 in interest was tacked on, making this loan, at full maturity, worth $96,894.06. Yikes.
Did I get a job right away with great pay and benefits? Yes! In fact, I got one two years before I finished my degree. What got me this job? The ability to code, which I learned as part of my university studies, and the privilege of a short internship. Did I have to get a Bachelor’s degree to learn to code? Maybe at the time, but this is not true today.
Today, code schools and online options like Coursera, Udemy, and Pluralsight are prolific. Based on the research I did, the average cost for a full time code school program is around $12,000. Coursera subscriptions for specializations can be as little as $39 per month. And with the online studies, it is possible to maintain a full time job as well. These are more affordable avenues where a person can absolutely learn to code, and on their own schedule.
But what about the theory we learn when studying Computer Science?
Theory can be learned as you progress in your career. In my own experience, it was only after learning to code that much of the theory made sense to me. In my own journey, the data structures, algorithms, and theories of computation I studied were not absorbed while I was in university. They did not become meaningful to me until many, many years into my career. And at this point I found myself taking Coursera and Pluralsight courses to relearn them once these concepts became relevant to my professional endeavors.
Deciding on what matters to you
I wanted a job that challenged me and paid the bills. I did not go to school because the abstract theory interested me. I knew that writing code felt exciting and creative! I did not feel the same about Calculus III. If mathematics and data structures get your engine running, by all means seek a university degree in Computer Science! The world needs you! But, if you’re looking for a fulfilling and challenging craft, you can certainly kick start your software engineering career by learning to code without the Bachelor’s degree.
So if you’re thinking about going back to school to learn a new skill or to switch career paths, my advice to you is … consider your options before committing to a university degree, and the years and debt that often come with it. Motivated learners can be successful with alternatives and can get started sooner in their exciting coding careers!
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