Pursuing Software Engineering Without a Degree

Reading Time: 6 Minutes

In a world where technology develops faster than you can say the word “code,” the intriguing path to becoming a software engineer no longer rests on a stuffy old degree. Learning the skills necessary to work as a software engineer will take time. It can take a long time (months, even years) to become proficient in everything from programming languages and tools to API design before you can apply for your first job as a software engineer.

In this article, we will discuss what a software engineer is, whether you need a degree to be a software engineer, and how to do software engineering without a degree.

What Exactly Do These Software Engineers Do?

Software engineers create, design, and build the software that runs our computers, smartphones, and other electronic gadgets. They solve problems, enhance performance, and develop new features to guarantee cutting-edge software. They are the wizards who are writing the code for our digital future.

Technical Skills Necessary to Be a Software Engineer

Can you become a software engineer without a degree? Without the skills discussed in this section, becoming a successful software engineer is impossible. Let’s take a deeper look at these skills: 

Problem-Solving Skills

Imagine a software engineer as a hero who always solves a problem. What makes this field so interesting is your capacity to take on challenging issues and provide creative solutions.

Programming Languages

Programming languages are comparable to the different colors on an artist’s palette. Each language has its characteristics and applications, whether Python’s simplicity or JavaScript’s diversity. Learning to use these languages is like learning to paint with various brushes, allowing you to bring your digital ideas to life.

Team Skills

You rarely work alone in software engineering. The key to success is collaboration. Working with other engineers, pooling your resources, and coming up with innovative solutions is the name of the game.

Communication and Soft Skills

Communication is essential in this industry. You must explain technical concepts in simple terms and show your work to various audiences. The capacity to work well with others, expressed by traits like empathy and flexibility, is as valuable as technical expertise.

Do You Need a Degree to Be a Software Engineer?

The short answer is no; software engineering without any degree is a reality nowadays.  Without a degree in computer science or a similar discipline, it is possible to become a successful software engineer with the right talents, experience, and mindset. Many companies are happy to recruit skilled people despite needing a four-year degree because they have enough faith in their abilities.

Expenses to Anticipate in the Initial Stages

There are various financial expenses and considerations to consider when pursuing a career in software engineering without a formal degree. While not having to pay for tuition can be a significant advantage, there are still expenses associated with gaining the necessary skills and experience. Here are some of the potential financial costs:

  • Online Courses and Tutorials: You may need to invest in online courses, tutorials, and educational resources to learn programming languages, development tools, and best practices. Websites like Udemy, Coursera, and Pluralsight offer courses ranging from free to several hundred dollars. 
  • Books and Study Materials: Purchasing textbooks, coding books, and study materials to deepen your knowledge can be a cost. While there are free online resources, some prefer printed or premium resources. 
  • Development Tools and Software: Depending on your chosen technology stack, you may need to buy software or development tools. For example, some software development environments and IDEs require a license fee. 
  • Hardware: You’ll need a computer with sufficient processing power and memory to develop software. You might need to invest in a new computer if your hardware is outdated.
  • Certifications: While not always necessary, certifications can boost your credibility as a software engineer. These often require an upfront cost for study materials and exam fees.
  • Online Coding Bootcamps: Some people opt for online coding bootcamps, which are intensive training programs that cost thousands of dollars. These programs often offer job placement assistance. For an affordable option that offers a one-on-one mentoring experience and a comprehensive learning approach, consider Altcademy’s affordable coding bootcamp program.
  • Networking and Meetup Fees: Attending tech meetups, conferences, and networking events can benefit your career but may come with registration fees.
  • Side Projects and Personal Projects: Building a portfolio of personal projects is important for landing jobs. Costs associated with these projects (e.g., domain registration and web hosting) can add up over time.
  • Job Search Expenses: The job search process may involve travel expenses for interviews, professional attire, and background checks.
  • Living Expenses: While not a direct cost of education, if you are transitioning to a new career or taking time off work to study, you’ll need to budget for living expenses during this period.
  • Health Insurance and Benefits: If you are leaving a job or not pursuing a traditional degree program, you may need to consider health insurance and other benefits typically provided by employers.
  • Taxes and Self-Employment Costs: If you freelance or work as a contractor, you must account for taxes and potentially self-employment costs.

Budgeting for these costs is vital, as well as making informed decisions about where to allocate your resources. Remember that specific expenses vary widely depending on location, chosen path, and personal circumstances. Additionally, there are many ways to minimize costs, such as using free resources, exploring scholarship opportunities, and carefully evaluating which expenses are necessary for your career goals.

Salary Overview for IT Professionals without Formal Education

The salary of a software engineer without a degree can vary significantly based on several factors, including location, experience, skills, and the specific company or organization. While not having a degree may impact initial earning potential, it’s important to note that many employers in the tech industry prioritize skills and experience over formal education. Here’s a general overview of what a software engineer without a degree can expect in terms of salary:

  • Entry-Level Positions: Software engineers without a degree typically start in entry-level positions, such as Junior Software Developer or Junior Web Developer. In the United States, the median annual salary for entry-level software developers can range from $60,000 to $80,000 or more, depending on the abovementioned factors.
  • Experience Matters: As you gain experience and build a strong portfolio of work, your earning potential increases. Mid-level software engineers can earn salaries from $80,000 to $120,000 yearly. 
  • Location: Salaries for software engineers can vary significantly by location. Tech hubs like Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City typically offer higher salaries to compensate for the higher cost of living. In these areas, even entry-level positions may offer six-figure salaries. 
  • Specialized Skills: Software engineers with specialized skills or expertise in high-demand areas like machine learning, artificial intelligence, blockchain, or cybersecurity can command higher salaries than those with more general skills. 
  • Certifications and Training: Obtaining relevant certifications and completing additional training can boost your earning potential. Certifications from reputable organizations like AWS, Microsoft, or Google can demonstrate your proficiency in specific technologies. 
  • Freelancing or Contract Work: Some software engineers without degrees work as freelancers or contractors, which can offer more flexibility but may come with income variability. Contract work can pay well, but it may not include benefits like health insurance or retirement contributions. 
  • Networking and Building a Reputation: Building a strong professional network and a reputation for delivering quality work can open doors to higher-paying opportunities.

It’s important to note that these salary ranges are approximate and can vary based on individual circumstances. Additionally, the tech industry is known for its rapid changes, so staying up-to-date with emerging technologies and trends can be essential for long-term career growth and increased earning potential.

While a degree can be helpful, many software engineers have successful careers without one by focusing on acquiring valuable skills, gaining practical experience, and continuously learning and adapting to the evolving tech landscape.

Steps to Become a Software Engineer With Any Degree

To become a software engineer without a CS degree, follow these steps:

Enroll in a Course and Get a Certification

You can get a head start on a career in software engineering by enrolling in a competitive coding course and passing the necessary certifications. These courses offer a strong theoretical groundwork for future growth.

Keep Practicing With Coding Projects

In the field of software engineering, experience is the best teacher. Participate in coding projects regularly to consolidate your knowledge and acquire helpful experience. You can enhance your coding skills by practicing regularly. 

Connect With Other Programmers

Making connections with other developers is highly beneficial. Participate in online communities, go to meetups, and work together on projects. Learning from others and sharing your knowledge is crucial to rapidly developing.

Practice Reading Codes and Debugging

Understanding and troubleshooting existing code is a critical ability. Become an expert problem-solver by regularly reviewing codebases and engaging in debugging practices.

Build Portfolio

To become a software engineer without a computer science degree, your portfolio is an alternative to your degree. Make a solid and diverse portfolio of your work to present to potential employers. It’s a testimonial to your skills and proof to show potential companies you’re qualified for the job.

Get Feedback From Experts

Get the opinions of seasoned experts in the field. You can improve your work with the feedback they provide. Negative feedback can be transformed into a positive learning experience.

Search Related Jobs

Seek out software engineering positions that fit your experience and interests well. Don’t give up on finding your first job in the field; keep applying and improving your resume. Perseverance is often rewarded.


So, do you need a degree to be a software engineer? A university education is no longer required for valuable employment in software engineering. In the end, what matters are your abilities, dedication, and constant learning. 

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

Join our list for exclusive tips, content and a welcome gift – our ebook on how to engage your team and boost profits.