Programming Your Path to a Coding Career

by Emily Starbuck

July 3, 2018

Over the past few decades, employment in computer programming and software development jobs have grown significantly. Oregon’s employment in the computer systems design industry alone grew by 69 percent from May 2008 to May 2018. Demand also exists for workers with coding skills across an array of industries from manufacturing to health care.

This fast growth has inspired many people to learn how to code – but what does coding actually entail? Code is the framework for all computer programs, mobile apps, and websites. There are hundreds of coding languages with unique commands and syntax for executing programs on different platforms. As computers and smartphones become more and more necessary for our daily lives, workers with coding skills have also become essential for many businesses.

Coding Skills Are in Demand

Many occupations that require coding skills are projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations in Oregon over the next decade. The most common occupation is software developers for applications, which is projected to grow more than 32 percent from 2017 to 2027, compared with the statewide average growth rate of 12 percent. One occupation, computer programmers, is projected to decline over the next decade, possibly due to a shift in employer demand for developers with the ability construct and design applications and software as a whole. Computer-based and coding occupations also typically pay more than the statewide average. The annual average wage for all computer occupations was just over $83,000 in 2017, compared with just under $51,000 for all occupations.
Oregon employers are having difficulty filling positions in these occupations. In 2017, the Employment Department’s job vacancy survey of employers found that 68 percent of openings for computer and mathematical occupations were difficult for employers to fill, slightly higher than the 64 percent average for all occupations. There were 260 vacancies reported for software developers alone, with employers saying 98 percent of those were difficult to fill. A lack of applicants was the most common reason jobs from all occupational groups were difficult to fill. The current availability of computer and
coding positions combined with the projected growth in these fields make training for these occupations a good investment for job seekers.

Training Providers Range from Bootcamps to Colleges

Luckily, there are several routes to a career in coding, ranging from traditional four-year degrees to short-term code schools. There are costs and benefits to each option, and the right path to take depends on your prior education and experience, your ultimate career goals, and your ability to invest time and money into training.

Code schools, also called coding boot camps, are a recent phenomenon that have grown quickly. Since the first boot camps opened in 2012, the number of boot camp graduates has grown from 2,000 students to nearly 23,000 students, according to a 2017 survey of North American code schools by code school directory Course Report. On average, coding boot camps last 14 weeks and cost $11,000, a smaller investment than a four-year university program. The intensive nature of these boot camps mean students usually cannot work during the program, which is a financial barrier to entry for students without additional income or prior savings.

Employers are open to hiring graduates from these non-traditional schools. Course Report found that out of the 1,450 code school graduates surveyed in 2017, 75 percent were working full-time with a median salary of $65,000. Eighty percent of graduates surveyed were working in a job using the skills they learned in boot camp. However, students that already held a bachelor’s degree or higher in any field before attending boot camp had higher employment rates and higher salaries than those without a college degree, suggesting that employers still value traditional higher education.

According to data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), over three times as many students graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science than completed code school in 2017. Four-year university programs in computer science cover a wider variety of topics than code schools due to general education degree requirements. This makes university graduates more well-rounded than code school completers. However, university programs may be slower to respond to current trends in the software industry, and do not provide such intensive training in specific in-demand programming languages as code schools do.

Notably, code schools are outpacing traditional degree programs in diversity. Forty percent of code school graduates surveyed by Course Report in 2017 were female, compared with 19 percent of computer science degree recipients. Several code schools prioritize reaching out to underrepresented groups in the tech community. Ada Developers Academy in Seattle is a tuition-free code school aimed at women and gender diverse individuals, while Hack Reactor’s San Francisco-based Telegraph Track focuses on growing the number of people of color and women in the tech industry. These boot camps provide the same intensive classroom training as other code schools, but also focus on leadership development, brand building, and networking assistance to support diverse engineers during boot camp as well as post-graduation. It may be beneficial to aspiring programmers from underrepresented groups to take advantage of the holistic resources offered by these code schools.

Resources to Start Coding

If you already hold a bachelor’s degree, or if you are interested in learning a specific coding language, a coding boot camp might be the right choice for you. Currently, there are five code schools in Portland that offer in-person instruction: Thinkful, The Tech Academy, Epicodus, PDX Code Guild, and Alchemy Code Lab. There are also many online code schools and bootcamps available to students across the country; a directory is available here from Course Report.

If you are brand new to the world of coding, there are many free or low-cost training options available online. One of the largest resources is Codecademy, which offers free coding classes covering basic programming concepts in popular languages like Python, Ruby, and JavaScript. Other free and low-cost online resources are available here. Self-paced classes and videos available from these sites are a good way to see if coding is the right path for you before investing more time and money into a coding boot camp or degree program.

Whichever path you choose, gaining knowledge and hands-on experience coding will make you a desirable candidate for tech jobs with many employers in Oregon.

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