How to become a software engineer without a degree?

When I was a child, I wanted to become a successful software engineer. I thought that was the only thing I wanted to do in my life. At that time I didn’t knew the difference between a TV and a computer. Once, when I was asked to start the computer for the first time — I started searching for a remote controller. That felt so embarrassing then and funny now.

I used to work since childhood. My first salary was 600 Indian rupees, at that time — it was big amount for me. The job? Brooming and washing glasses. I have worked on so many things — a warehouse worker, a salesman, furniture repairer, a construction worker, electrician helper and many more.

This way I passed my 12th grade. I was super excited — I felt like I passed the first step of my education. The 6th May was the day of the engineering entrance exams and on 5th May i.e. 1 day before my mother died.

I became psychopath and lost the engineering entrance exam opportunity.

However, with time, I started recovering my mental health and started working for a corporate company. This was my first corporate job, because teenagers are not allowed to work for corporations.

The next year during the entrance exam time, I came to know that the fees of engineering was too high. I started looking for education loan and applied to multiple nearby banks however because of our family’s lower financial status all the banks decided to refuse my application.

When things start looking too difficult, we humans look up to god. I consulted to our Imam about the situation. He made my life more difficult by letting me know that loans are forbidden because of the interest component in Islam.

It felt like my dream of becoming a successful software engineer is falling apart. He said to me one thing:

Don’t lose faith. Allah didn’t forbidden interest loans so you could not complete your education. Keep faith.

At first — it felt like madness to me, what was this guy saying? No loan?

My mother had taught me that with hard work and dedication I can be successful. She never mentioned loan. I knew my mother was always right and moved on. For me the definition of success was the title of software engineer — that’s it. It was looking impossible to get this title without loan which was anyways not possible but I had faith.

I didn’t had a study room so I used to go to the nearby graveyard to do the studies. There was nothing, just a few signs — so much was below and beyond.

In that grave silence, things started making sense to me. Learning was not just reading or writing — I could get the deeper meaning of knowledge.

I was so obsessed about becoming a software engineer that I started learning technology myself. Few of my friend relatives were into programming studies. I asked them to give their used books so that I could read them.

I was from an Urdu medium school and the programming books were in English so it was quite difficult to understand the concepts because of the language shift. So, I started saving money and finally purchased an Oxford dictionary worth 90 rupees at that time. For each word, I skimmed through that little book’s 1000 pages and wrote the meaning. In a few days, it started looking like a very old book because of over use.

I started working plus learning much harder since 7 in the morning till 1–3 am in the night. I went through this routine for my entire graduation, roughly 3 years. Like study room, I didn’t had my personal computer to write programs and test them so I asked for one from my employer. They noticed me coming everyday to office 3 hours before and doing something crazy on the computer.

After some months they started getting a lot of requests for their software services. I was a self taught programmer and they probably saw me a perfect fit for building software. It was the start of the second year of my graduation and they offered me to become an officially on-paper software engineer. It was like dream coming true. I was not doing any engineering degree, I was not doing any special course and I also didn’t had any official degree in hand then why these people trust me so much that gave me this position?

Anyways, I felt so humbled and grateful for this. The tester was very strict, he said that he will give me 3 questions to solve in 7 days — do google, ask experts, ask anyone, do cheating or whatever but just answer them.

As I remember, the questions were about coding web crawling, data structures and xml. I solved them using my analysis and research and finally got in the department.

This way I finally became an official software engineer in the first semester of my graduation! Seemed like a dream come true.

There was still a glitch. I was just a software engineer but what about being a successful software engineer?

There is no limit to being successful, if that’s money I’m the most paid developer (based on my age, technologies, years of experience etc) in India according to Payscale.

However, there is literally no limit to being successful. It’s a practice. Success is a continuous process. I’m still learning, falling short and improving.