How Do YOU Become A Developer?

A data based approach using Stack Overflow’s developer survey data from 2017.


There are many competing views when it comes to breaking into a ‘tech job’ , specifically when that job is aimed at the newest and hottest fields : artificial intelligence, data science, autonomous vehicles, or blockchain development, to name a few.

You may have heard statements like “you need to have a PhD to be a Data Scientist” or “you need a degree in Computer Science to become a Software Engineer.”

Now, I have a personal viewpoint on the reality of these statements. You likely have your own viewpoint. But what does the data suggest? The future of what is required to move into developer roles is based on the ideas of those who are currently on the path to be leaders in the space. That is, current developers will determine the truth of these statements into the extended future.

Part I: How to Break Into the Field?

But the question I was most interested in was

“Let’s pretend you have a distant cousin. They are 24 years old, have a college degree in a field not related to computer programming, and have been working a non-coding job for the last two years. They want your advice on how to switch to a career as a software developer. Which of the following options would you most strongly recommend to your cousin?”

Here you can see in descending order the proportion of individuals that selected particular methods as being helpful to breaking into the field. The clear leaders are Online Courses and Books.

A little more than 20% of respondents suggest taking online courses, and more than 15% suggest books. There are a number of additional suggestions from taking courses in bootcamps and universities to participating in hackathons and contributing to open source libraries.

Figure 1: How to Break Into the Field?

The data here are aggregated over all developers in the survey, but it could be more interesting to know how job satisfaction, salary, or how developers that are comfortable with specific programming languages feel about different avenues to break into their specific field of development.

Part II: How do the different methods relate to salary and job satisfaction?

In the chart below, I was interested if breaking into the field with certain methods would lead to jobs with higher satisfaction or salary. The blue bars represent a comparison of job satisfaction to the average job satisfaction (which is represented at 0.00), while the red bars represent a comparison of salary to the average salary of those provided in the dataset.

Figure 2: Job Satisfaction and Salary Comparison

Before discussing the results of this visualization, it is worth noting that the raw values on the x-axis mean very little. Scaling was done to be able to easily compare one group to the next in a way that kept the visual consistent with mathematical truths for how the categories compared to one another.


In this article, we took a look at how to break into the field of becoming a developer according to Stack Overflow 2017 survey data.

  1. We gathered the advice of the masses as to how to break into the field, which showed that the masses leaned toward less expensive methods, which also require a lot of self motivation.
  2. We then looked at the how different methods were related to job satisfaction and salary. This showed that there was a common thread that these two items often move together.
  3. Finally, we looked at the bias associated with this advice. We found that those who broke into the field by earning a higher formal degree were much more likely to suggest others do the same.

The findings here are observational, not the result of a formal study. So the real question remains:

How will YOU break into the field?

To see more about this analysis, see the link to my Github available here.