Can I teach myself to code?

In my spare time, I help classically-trained musicians like me transition to software developers. One of them recently asked me, “I don’t have £8k to spend on a bootcamp. Can I just teach myself to code?” Here’s my answer (disclaimer – I’m a bootcamp grad so this is not first-hand experience).

Yes, you can learn to be a developer without going to a bootcamp (or getting a CS degree). I know this, because people have done it. So let’s discuss what a bootcamp does, and how you can replicate that yourself.

A good bootcamp should give you two things:
1. A structured learning environment
2. A foot in the door at job interviews

Let’s talk about the structured learning environment. Writing software professionally generally involves working as part of a team. This almost always means using git, creating pull requests, reviewing code, writing documentation, and can also mean working in a sprint schedule, daily standups, and pair programming.

Because you do a bootcamp with other people, you have a built-in team. Different bootcamps do this in different ways – at Makers we paired daily and then had group projects in later weeks. This meant that we learned to use these critical software skills like git and were comfortable especially with pull requests and reviews.

The structured part is more obvious – you pay money to someone to create structure for you. Can you create the structure on your own? That depends on your own motivation and discipline.

I’m considering the course content as part of the “structured learning environment” and I won’t delve deeply into it here. But figuring out what to learn (as opposed to how and where) is its own challenge!

So let’s talk about job interviews. Bootcamps usually have relationships with companies and can get you past initial screening. This (in my opinion) is one of the most important things about a bootcamp – what sort of job can they land you afterward?

The good news is that you can network on your own as a developer by attending meetups, communities such as CodeBar, joining Slack groups devoted to topics you’re interested in and getting active on Twitter. (And in fact if you’re attending a bootcamp, you should do this anyway.)

And once you’ve learned a bit of code, probably the best way to build your portfolio, experience, and network all at once, is to contribute to open source projects. Find a project you’re passionate about, check that they have a good code of conduct, and dive in!

Good luck with your code journey 🙂

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