How Long Does it Take to Learn Coding?

If you’ve ever considered making your mark as a programmer, you’ve probably wondered — how long does it take to learn to code?

No one could blame you for being intimidated by the idea; to the average layperson, programming seems like a complicated endeavor. After all, a talented coder can build a website, design a database, and build an app that hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people use daily.

But intimidating or not, programming poses a fantastic career opportunity for ambitious learners. If you can learn to code, you can set the groundwork for a rewarding, secure career. 

There is a tremendous demand for coding professionals across a wide variety of projects and industries. According to U.S. News Money, roles in software development score 8.2 out of 10 when it comes to job satisfaction. Software development also currently holds the top-ranking spot on U.S. News Money’s 100 Best Jobs, Best STEM Jobs, and Best Technology Jobs lists.

A list of the best ranked technology jobs

But coding doesn’t just open the door to lucrative career prospects, it also offers countless opportunities for self-expression, creativity, and innovation. Coding jobs can challenge and inspire you to new professional heights. However, if you’ve only just begun considering coding as a career, you may be unsure of how to start moving towards your career goals — or how long the process will ultimately take.

So, how long does it take to learn to code? Truthfully, the process can take anywhere between several months and several years, and often, the final timeline is up to you.

Let’s break down your options.

Learning to Code in 4+ Years

Many people get their education in software development primarily through their studies at college or university. A formal college degree in a field related to coding and software development typically takes four years. If you also want to explore postgraduate education, such as a master’s or a Ph.D., it can take even longer. 

However, investing that time can provide excellent returns. An undergraduate degree in programming usually imparts a comprehensive theoretical and practical background that can help students prepare for and land their first job. 

Going to college is also a commonly traveled educational route. According to Stack Overflow’s 2020 Developer Survey, nearly half (49.3 percent) of surveyed professional software developers have a bachelor’s degree. Another 25.5 percent have a master’s degree, and 3.3 percent have taken the time to obtain a doctorate degree.

There are several advantages to learning how to code through a formal college program. For one, you’ll be surrounded by inquisitive peers and have ready access to experienced instructors and professors. Enrolled students have an abundance of opportunities to stock their professional portfolios with class projects and gain experience through college-facilitated internships. 

You can expect to emerge from a university computer science program with marketable skills and a comprehensive understanding of the theoretical concepts that underlie coding as a practice. You’ll also benefit from having a college degree on your resume. In one line, employers will know that you have the basic skills and foundational knowledge necessary for an entry-level programming job. 

On the other hand, if one of your first concerns is the length of time it takes to learn coding, a formal university degree may not be what you are looking for. 

That said, if you feel that college is the best educational route for you, you may want to pick a major that will prepare you for a job in software development. According to Stack Overflow’s 2020 survey, the most popular majors for professional developers include the following:

  • Computer science, computer engineering, or software engineering (62.6 percent)
  • Other engineering disciplines like civil, electrical, or mechanical engineering (9.3 percent)
  • Information systems, information technology, or system administration (7.9 percent)
  • Natural sciences, like chemistry, biology, physics, etc. (4.4 percent)
  • Mathematics or statistics (3.6 percent)

College is an excellent educational option, but it is by no means your only option. If you’re looking for a fast-tracked learning experience, you may want to consider one of the alternative paths outlined below. 

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Learning to Code in 1+ Years

How long does it take to learn to code if you want to take your education into your own hands? 

The answer is likely a year, though that timeline can extend depending on how dedicated you are in a self-directed capacity. But, if you’re a particularly motivated and self-sufficient learner, you may find that independent study fits your educational needs far better than a formal program.

Coding is a practical skill, and one of the best ways to learn is through practice. It is possible to gain all of the programming knowledge you need to thrive as a developer through books, online tutorials, and self-directed courses — provided, of course, that you have the time, energy, and self-motivation to stick to your program.

If you’re worried about not being taken seriously without a traditional degree, don’t be. According to Stack Overflow, only 9.7 percent of surveyed professional developers believe that formal education is “critically important” to becoming a developer. Moreover, almost 16 percent said that a structured educational program was “not at all important or necessary.”

The self-directed route offers a few notable positives, too. Consider the following:

  • You have more flexibility in when, how, and what you learn. 
  • You can focus on concepts, projects, and coding languages that are most of interest to you. 
  • You can learn at your own pace, accelerating your training when you have more time.

Coding is a fantastic field for people who enjoy teaching themselves new skills. There are countless opportunities to independently use your coding skills, such as getting involved with open-source projects, writing apps, and otherwise putting your code into use. 

Self-directed learning also offers a logistical benefit, as it tends to be the easiest to schedule around work or family responsibilities. It is also one of the cheapest learning approaches, as it doesn’t require tuition and can be completed with inexpensive tutorial subscriptions and books.

On the other hand, successfully teaching yourself how to code requires a tremendous amount of motivation and accountability. You need to create your own overarching “curriculum” from the books and tutorials and then hold yourself to your goals and deadlines. 

Making connections and landing internships may also be more challenging on a self-directed path, as you won’t have opportunities baked into your learning experience. It is worth noting, too, that while a formal education isn’t strictly necessary, having a diploma or certificate can assure employers of your capability. Without one, you may need to take extra steps to convince potential employers of your skills, such as building out your portfolio or seeking out volunteer job opportunities before you finish your schooling. 

Additional Resources:

Learning to Code in 3 to 6 Months

How long does it take to learn coding if you’re looking to fast-track your education or want a quick career upgrade? 

If you want to upskill quickly, you should consider enrolling in an intensive, skills-based boot camp program. 

Like conventional undergraduate degrees, many boot camps offer instructor-led, curriculum-defined learning experiences. However, they require less time and money to complete, as they focus on imparting marketable skills instead of providing a comprehensive overview of theory and practice. 

The time to complete a program may vary, depending on whether you choose a full-time or part-time schedule. However, these intensive programs typically conclude within three to six months. 

Many boot camps are designed for people who want to change or quickly upskill in their careers. Curricula are typically skills-driven, offering training on in-demand languages and capabilities, and provide learners with the opportunity to create portfolio projects. 

As the curriculum for UCF Coding Boot Camp explains: “We know that prospective employers care about what you can do, not just what you say you can do, so hands-on training is at the center of our program. In 12 or 24 weeks, you’ll gain a wide set of coding skills, put them into action, and graduate with an impressive portfolio of projects.”

It is worth noting, too, that employers tend to like boot camp programs and their graduates. According to a 2017 survey conducted by Indeed, 72 percent of surveyed employers believe that boot camp grads are “just as prepared and likely to be high performers” as job candidates who hold a conventional computer science college degree. Twelve percent of employers believe that boot camp grads are even more prepared for professional roles.

Statistics that show what employers think of coding boot camps

There are definite advantages to a coding boot camp. Learners can garner critical skills quickly and have the support and structure of a formal curriculum and instructor. Boot camps are also attractive for their flexibility; often, enrollees can choose from a menu of virtual, in-person, full-time, and part-time options. 

All that said, boot camps do not offer the conceptual or theoretical background that a conventional degree would, and they tend to be more expensive than independent learning. Consider your learning needs and circumstances before you settle on a path!

Additional Resources:

In the End, the Timeline is Up to You

These timelines aren’t set in stone. Other factors, including where you are in your career, your professional or family obligations, and your financial situation can all play a part in determining how long your coding education will take. 

All three of the paths outlined above offer fantastic learning opportunities — but which one is right for you? Here are some questions to consider as you mull your options. 

Where Are You Starting?

It may sound obvious, but the more experience that you already have as a programmer, the less time you will need to complete your education. 

If you already code as a hobby or have previously invested in a few coding courses or books, you may be able to speed through a coding boot camp or make do with a few additional self-directed courses. However, if you have no experience as a coder, you may need to take a little more time to obtain your foundational skill set. 

How Much Time and Resources Can You Devote to Learning?

The time it takes to learn to code may depend on the time and resources you have at your disposal. If you have the money and availability to spend several years gaining an in-depth education, you may want to opt for a college degree in computer science or another related field. 

However, if you have other professional and financial obligations that prevent you from taking on a full-time university degree program, a boot camp may be your best bet for obtaining an education without breaking the bank.

Before committing to an educational path, sit down and take stock of your resources to see which programs are — and aren’t — financially feasible. 

What Are Your Learning Goals?

Don’t feel as though you need to choose a single educational path! You can mix and match learning experiences to suit your goals and objectives — it’s not an all-or-nothing choice. 

Let’s say that you wanted to gain a comprehensive understanding of programming theory and practical skills. Usually, your goals would necessitate a four-year college program — but what if you can’t make a full-time, multi-year commitment? 

You improvise. Instead of enrolling in an undergraduate program, you further your theoretical knowledge by buying a few textbooks and embarking on a few self-directed online courses. Then, after you are satisfied without your foundational knowledge, you enroll in a boot camp and undergo intensive, skill-oriented training. From start to finish, this two-part process might take up to two years on a part-time schedule — much faster than the four-year, full-time commitment that a conventional degree demands. 

By designing your own timeline, you can expand your knowledge and skills to suit your interests without straining your schedule or available resources. You can weave different educational routes into an approach that suits your interests and learning goals; all it takes is a little creativity!

So, ask yourself again: How long will it take you to learn to code?

The answer is up to you. 

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