Don’t: Feel like you need a traditional education

This is the third article in our “12 Dos and Dont’s of Becoming a Web Developer” series.

Most of us have been told since we were little kids that we’d have to go to college in order to make something of ourselves.  Maybe you have a degree and are looking to switch fields (as I was a few years ago, with my B.A. in English Literature) or maybe you never finished and are looking to go back.  Whether you’re looking into a four-year program, a graduate program, or one of the “bootcamps” that seem to be popping up in the last year or so, I’m here to tell you something very important.

Don’t feel like you have to spend thousands of dollars to learn how to program.


Seriously — take it from someone who knows (and has two degrees and the six-figure debt to back it up.)  You absolutely do not need a degree or certification in this field to find a job.  Some jobs may require them — if your dream is to be hired by Google or Microsoft, a Computer Science degree will help (and you should probably stop reading this article now) — but for every job that requires a degree, there will be five that don’t.  (Not a scientific statistic. By the way, did you know that 70% of all statistics are made up?)  Most of the developers at Doejo never finished college, and they’re some of the smartest and hardest-working folks you’ll ever meet — but they’re not shackled by student loans.  It’s the modern-day indentured servitude.

Are there any advantages to going to school for web development?  Sure.  It’s going to be easier to have someone who is paid to answer your questions and curate material for you, and a piece of paper is never going to hurt you; you’re never going to not get hired because of your degree.  You also may have an opportunity for some networking, which may get your foot in the door for your first job.  It’s also possible that it will give you the slight competitive edge to beat out another candidate — again, for your first job.  Once you have a few years of experience under your belt, nobody will care.

But there are marked disadvantages as well, especially if you go through a traditional degree program.  While bootcamps may teach you cutting-edge skills and best practices (albeit with a high price tag and generally over a very short period), most traditional degree programs are going to be at least several years behind the industry standards.  (If they mention the word ‘Dreamweaver’ in any of their course descriptions, turn and run as fast as your legs will carry you in the other direction.)  You may learn some good theoretical principles that will fit nicely into your tool belt down the line, but the best way to learn to be a good developer is to get hands-on experience building websites with tools that people actually use today, not five years ago.

If you have someone willing to pay the tuition bill for you, it might be worth it.  However, if you’re thinking about taking on thousands — or tens of thousands — of dollars in debt for a piece of paper, listen very carefully to what I’m about to tell you.

They will not teach you anything you can’t learn on your own.

It won’t feel that way sometimes, if you decide to go the self-taught route. You may have to work a little harder, and you will have to hold yourself accountable, but they don’t have the magic formula for becoming a good web developer.  The best way to learn to become a web developer is to pull your hair out trying build some really crappy stuff, learn from it, and build something a bit better the next time.  You don’t need to pay anyone a ton of money to choose educational materials for you and tell you what sort of crappy stuff to build while you’re learning — because that’s mostly what they will be doing.  Unless you have rich parents or are willing/able to plunder your savings, you’re going to spend years paying off the debt that you accumulated for a degree that you don’t even really need.

The brutal truth is that the beginning stages of learning to become a web developer can sometimes really suck.  You’ll feel overwhelmed, you’ll feel like throwing your computer out of a window, and you’ll feel like there’s no way you’re ever going to learn this shit and be good enough.  You’re going to go through that whether you’re self-taught, in a bootcamp, or working through a traditional degree program.  You’re smart enough to get through it, and you don’t need to pay a ton of money for someone to pat you on the head and tell you that.  Nail down the basics, then find someone who will pay you to learn.

How do you learn the basics, you ask?  Check out my next article on some awesome beginner resources to set you on the right track.

Articles in this series:

Filed in: Web Development