Realistically speaking, what sort of career can a self-taught developer lead? (career ceiling)

I’m most concerned about salary, as that is 100% of my driving force, but I understand that COL differences can make that a bit of a meaningless discussion.

So I wanted to ask was this: What could say, a 22 year old college graduate, achieve in the software world? I understand that Web-development and full-stack development is what freeCodeCamp pushes, but what can of income do those employees make? Does the lack of a CS degree hold them back?

For perspective, I am a recent college graduate in a non-employable field of study (liberal arts). I had originally intended on attending law school - however, I realized to obtain the type of career I wanted, I would have to waste 3+ years of my life in what is likely the most elitist industry in the economy. If you don’t attend the top schools in the country (racking up hundreds of thousands in debt) you’re quite frankly wasting your time. While I could likely attend a lower-institution for a full ride, I couldn’t get into those top schools as I need to score in the top 97+% and I can’t break 90th percentile. To put this in perspective, most self-taught junior devs here are going to make more than a fresh lawyer 90% of the time.

I have very little math skills and little-to-no prior coding/programming experience. I am teaching myself using this and everything else 5+ hours everyday, but I’m not the brightest individual and it takes time. I’m willing to go back to school later on but I want to make a respectable salary first and foremost; assuming I practice every single day and work on cracking out 10+ projects in the next 6 months, is that achievable?

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It’s going to depend on a lot of things. First and foremost, what you can do and where you live.

Generally, if you’re taking a corporate job, you’ll start as a Junior Developer or Developer. Whether you get there in six months depends on you. Practice, make stuff, network (join slacks and meetups), and apply for jobs.

There are a few places you can check on the salaries. Glassdoor, Comparably, and LinkedIn will all give you an idea of what a dev/junior dev makes. It’s wide ranging depending on area, expertise and gullibility in the marketplace.

I say gullibility because there are plenty of places that treat junior dev as a bottom rung role. It’s not, and you should not work for less just to get experience or exposure…but it will certainly come up.

On education. Bootcamps are super new. College degrees in web development are less than 10 years old at most places and don’t keep up with current trends. Most legitimate places are going to be focused on what you can do, not what paper you have (though most want to see some sort of paper).
After being in web dev for 20 years with a writing degree, I went back to school. The only the degree really helped with was it helped put me higher on the list of applicants. There are lot of applicants out there…the shortage is because most don’t know what they they are doing.

Focus on being able to prove you can build and troubleshoot. Network.

Lastly money focus…look it’s fine you want to be paid well…but honestly, if you don’t love this it’s going to suck. I’ve seen plenty of kids and adults get into this field for the money, and they burn out quick, if they aren’t kicked out because its a high stress, highly changing field. You will always need to be learning, evolving and changing what you do. This isn’t a place you can sit around until you retire. And if you don’t love code, you will be unhappy.

As always YMMV. But good luck to you.

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There are a few places you can check on the salaries. Glassdoor, Comparably, and LinkedIn will all give you an idea of what a dev/junior dev makes. It’s wide ranging depending on area, expertise and gullibility in the marketplace

Looks like junior web dev jobs in my area would result in doubling my current salary. Bottom 10% would still be about a 25% annual boost, likely more as I have no benefits.

Thanks for the advice.

Lastly money focus…look it’s fine you want to be paid well…but honestly, if you don’t love this it’s going to suck. I’ve seen plenty of kids and adults get into this field for the money, and they burn out quick, if they aren’t kicked out because its a high stress, highly changing field. You will always need to be learning, evolving and changing what you do. This isn’t a place you can sit around until you retire. And if you don’t love code, you will be unhappy.

I don’t hate coding. I appreciate it significantly more than any other STEM subject. But it is a reality of the economy that you really cannot obtain a decent salary or lifestyle (or let alone, feed a family) with a liberal arts degree unless you have additional financial support or go to an elite institution. There are edge cases, but iirc, lawyers have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession.

Needing to constantly learn should be seen as a good thing. The careers where you can just sit back and retire like that are often elitist, stagnant, based on seniority, and often have nepotistic origins. Needing to constantly learn means you can always try to out-compete competition by knowing more than them, and you can do it from the comfort of your home (as opposed to say, a welder). \

There are very few high-paying fields that aren’t high-stress. You can usually only have 2 of the following:

  1. High-paying
  2. Decent work/life balance
  3. Open to everyone
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Actually, that’ s one of the nice things about dev. If you’re smart, continue to learn, and enjoy coding, you can have all three of these as a web dev. :smiley:

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Bit of a rant here but…

I genuinely hate it when people say you “have” to love to code to do this…

No…

You don’t…

You “have” to have the desire to not be homeless…

You “have” to have the desire to put food on the table…

You “have” to have the desire to hopefully earn enough to have a comfortable living, to not be in debt, to be able to go on holiday and occasionally buy some nice things.

You dont need to want to make love to code, you don’t need to have to dream in code…

You need to realise one thing…

We work to live, not live to work.

mic drop

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You may work to live, but that’s not me. If I don’t love what I’m doing, I won’t do it well. I love to code, I love to teach, and I’m passionate about elegant design. If you don’t actually do what you do for some other reason than the dollar, it will show in your work and you will burn out soon.

I am a college dropout. The first class at NEIT in Computer Programming, and truly was not happy with their curriculum. So I quit school and went my own way. I continued to learn, I was curious about languages as a whole, but at that point, I was going in a very different direction.

Then I got married, and there were children and pets and mortgage and expenses. So yes, I found a job and busted my butt and provided for my family. Working 90+ hours a week at a thankless job, and coming home to a family that appreciated what they had, but commiserated that I was miserable to provide it. But I continued to learn and grow on my own. Because I realized I did love coding, and I was good at it.

I worked, at that point, as a tech on hybrid networks. Macs running on a Windows NT server, or on Novell Netware. Not much chance to write code, but my boss saw that, on my own time, I was playing in PHP. It didn’t interfere with my work for him, if anything it made me more able to handle it, though I was burning out.

I left there, and became an independent consultant. I still worked with him, and his clients, but I also developed my own client list. My hours cut back to a more reasonable 55 or so a week, and my family was better provided for.

Then, based on a few interviews and the knowledge I’d taught myself (and yes, the passion for elegant code I showed in those interviews), I landed a job working at or under 40 hours, making twice what I had as an independent. I had found a way to do what I love, and those who saw my work saw my passion.

If it’s about not being homeless, there are other ways. I’ve been a landscaper, a cabinetmaker, a farm hand, an apple picker, a short-order cook, and a few dozen other jobs. They all allowed me to support myself, and my family, to some degree.

Sure, those are reasons to have a job. But if you are not passionate about what you are doing, you’re wasting your time.

yes, as a self-taught developer, there are a lot of great possibilities. Of course, following a path like FCC and getting certifications will show prospective employers or clients that you have the skills, and the discipline. But they are not necessary.

Passion, however, truly is.

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What people can tolerate is situational. Different people have different limits on how much work they can do without passion. And, the work load will vary depending on the person, which will further stress how much one can do with or without passion.

Programming can be extremely tiresome. And, depending on a person’s fitness, condition and environment, it may truly be impossible for them to handle the straining tasks that programming entails; like researching, debugging, etc.

Anyways, this has gotten sort of off topic, so in response to the main point, I definitely say to check out services like glassdoor to see salaries to get an idea for what you can make in your area.

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Exactly I could not agree with you more. Anyone can do something when they feels like doing it. You cant really be successful in any field if you wait until you feel passionate and feel like doing something. You do not have to love to do something in order to not get burnt out.

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Maybe true, but the money can’t be reason enough. Working as a cabinetmaker and landscaper to support my family made sense at that point. But I knew, always, that these were not my career. They were not my passion.

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I agree with you but it kinda varies from person to person. Money affects different peoples motivation in different ways. Playing league of legends will not pay my bills. So I am working on jobs (currently) that i don’t really like. I am not passionate about coding but I like it enough to make it a career. If i make it here I will not be working on something I am passionate about but something I like doing.

I don’t disagree with you. However, the reality of dev is that if you’re just coming to punch clock, life will be difficult. I’m not saying live to work. I’m saying that enjoying this working time will drag a person down if they don’t enjoy the work on some level. As I said later, much in this industry lends itself to a great work-life balance with known exceptions. Those exceptions tend to be horror stories…

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A college degree (a CS degree is the best for programmers/software developers) basically gets you in the door for the interview. Past that its the skills you have.

You can easily go to a great school and be a horrible horrible programmer. You can also not go to any sort of college, be self taught and become an excellent programmer.

In a similar regard, you can be very bright but be a terrible programmer. You can also not be that bright, but you can become an excellent programmer over time. As long as you can learn and improve upon yourself, you can get better every day. No one wakes up and just is suddenly a great programmer. It all comes with time and practice.

I went to a 4 year college and learned a few things, but learned most of my current skill set on my own time. I hate math, and hardly got thru high school (I didn’t care) and barely got accepted into the college I went to. I became the programmer I am today by grinding to get experience. My approach to learning is very much “jump into the deep end”. I heard web development is big and is getting bigger every day, so I started to learn web development as hard as I could. I did this by building multiple projects, trying to learn everything and anything by trying to use it. You would never catch me watching videos on how to do something, you’d instead see me reading the docs and trying to just straight up trying to use the tech I wanted to learn.

It could of been a new language, a framework, a build tool, or even an operating system (I installed Linux on my school laptop so I had no choice but to use it). I jumped in as soon as possible and fought my way thru all the issues that blew up in my face.

All you need is time, grit and an internet connection to become a programmer. If you want to become a great programmer then you just need to iterate thru learning more and more.

I may be different than you in the regard I like the challenge, I like the struggle. The fact programmers get paid well is a nice plus, but I would of went into this even if I was doing it for minimum wage (kinda sorta haha) Don’t go into the field if you hate it, but just want to get paid. Programming is hard and is a real struggle, but if your like me you, like it, and enjoy it then its totally worth it. It’s not something you just learn, stop learning and get paid. You start, find problems, and solve them for a living. Every day should be a learning experience.

Finally, I want to point out that it’s not that important if you pump out 10 projects, or 1 nice project. You want to focus on learning, so you could spit out 10 boring React projects, or just one super fancy full stack app. Employers only care about what you know and can do, the number of projects is just a number.

Good luck, and don’t be afraid of how long it takes, as it does take time, it’s a matter of if you have the time, and the grit to get thru learning even the hardest subjects. Since the only way you fail is if you give up on yourself and stop. :smile:

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Life is not easy. Most of the job fields that pays well can be difficult. Web development is not an exception.

I don’t disagree with you. However, the reality of dev is that if you’re just coming to punch clock, life will be difficult. I’m not saying live to work. I’m saying that enjoying this working time will drag a person down if they don’t enjoy the work on some level. As I said later, much in this industry lends itself to a great work-life balance with known exceptions. Those exceptions tend to be horror stories…

I’ve never actually met someone who was highly paid and “loved their job”. Every doctor, engineer, programmer etc I’ve met says more or less that they just don’t hate it. Yeah if you going to work makes you want to shove a gun in the roof of your mouth that’s a problem, but the reality is the United States strongly detests the lower socioeconomic classes so any career that doesn’t lead to money is an eventual disservice to yourself and your family. Not to get political, but that is the reality of life. Your health, children’s future etc. is entirely 100% determined by finances.

Easily, 80-90% of people aren’t in a career they “love”. That’s what get me into this detestable mess in the first place.

@Virgil

“Easily, 80-90% of people aren’t in a career they “love”. That’s what get me into this detestable mess in the first place.”

Do you have a scientific source for those numbers? I’m very curious as to where you pulled them from, because they appear farcical at first glance.

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“Easily, 80-90% of people aren’t in a career they “love”. That’s what get me into this detestable mess in the first place.”

Gallup did a world-wide poll/study, it varies but country but generally only 15% of people reported enjoying their jobs. 85% said it was only to pay the bills.

I have a very strong suspicion that 15% are also happy because of compensation, not some vague “passion”.

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I find it interesting that stress-related illnesses are also on the rise, and that there are considerable studies about just that. Googling “correlation between stress related illnesses and job satisfaction” reveals quite a number of interesting results. The point isn’t that you can’t do it or shouldn’t do it or will suck at it if you don’t love what you do, it’s clear that you can function quite effectively at anything, if you choose to. It’s a personal choice, though – if I find that I don’t enjoy my work, I will not perform to my fullest potential, and I personally can’t stand the thought of doing less than my best. If I will consistently underperform because I’m not happy with my job, I will find a way to do something else, something I do love or enjoy.

That said, we’ve completely derailed the OP’s original question. Realistically, a self-taught developer is not limited in her career potential. The discipline and dedication of the individual to pursue their education will usually show through in the interviewing process (if you’re lucky), and once in place, the self-taught individual can (not necessarily WILL, but can) do quite well.

Gallup is not a credible source. They have a conflict of interest since their business model revolves around increasing employee engagement for profit. And, after reviewing the sources on their own page, they do not appear to be peer-reviewed.

They claim 87% disengagement on the page you link. However, another article on their website claims that engagement is at 34% (https://news.gallup.com/poll/241649/employee-engagement-rise.aspx) and has a historical chart, which doesn’t show anything close to 87% disengagement since 2000. My best estimate is that the web page that you link was made in 2016, which would be ~32.5% engagement using my source, way off from 87% disengagement. And, this leads to my final point that the website’s information contradicts itself.

Anyway, I haven’t gone too hard on researching this yet, but I intend to around lunch time in an hour to see if maybe I missed something or misinterpreted some details. I just wanted to share my preliminary results.

edit: In order to avoid making a new post, I’ll just edit this in. Thanks Virgil for letting me know about the source of that discrepancy. I didn’t realize the rest of the world had such a vastly different rate than the U.S. The stats make a lot of sense to me now.

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Gallup isn’t a 100% objective source, but their a few sources on the subject that are. I would say the overall increase in mental health issues, increase in suicide rates/opiod abuse, and decreased life expectancy are maybe trends of a certain problem.

The reason for the discrepancy you pointed out is because you are looking at the U.S. engagement rate, which is higher than the worldwide average. The U.S. engagement rate is 34% as opposed to the world’s 13%.

I haven’t been able to find any academic journals on the subject but I also don’t have access to any until this evening.

Regardless, the only reason anybody is here to learn coding is for the salary. I struggle to conceive of why else they would be here.

Really? That may be your reason, but don’t impute that as a general. I am here specifically because I am passionate about both coding and teaching. Just saying, and just me.

Again, though, this is getting away from the OP’s question. Either start a new thread, or perhaps move it to a private direct message thread. Not an admin, just some advice.