The Rise of the Self-Taught Programmer

And Why You Should Join Us

Cory Althoff
The Self-Taught Programmer


The Myth

“I want to learn to program, but I heard companies don’t take programmers without a degree seriously” was one of the comments left on a Facebook post advertising my new book, “The Self-Taught Programmer.” Unfortunately, this idea is not uncommon. Fortunately, it is wrong.

The Truth

Some of the most successful people in the world are self-taught programmers. President Obama awarded self-taught programmer Margaret Hamilton the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work on NASA’s Apollo Moon missions. Steve Wozniak bought a Fortran book in high school and taught himself to program. Then he invented the personal computer and co-founded Apple, the largest company in the world. Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and Square, is a self-taught programmer. So is Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram and Tumblr founder David Karp.

Margaret Hamilton and her handwritten NASA code

Who We Are

Silicon Valley legends are not the only ones that have successful programming careers without getting a CS degree. 69% of developers that responded to Stack Overflow’s 2016 Developer Survey Results said they were wholly or partly self-taught.

Stack Overflow 2016 Developer Survey

Self-taught programmers are running companies and working as software engineers from Silicon Valley to Tel Aviv. And more of them are joining our ranks every day — learning to program by reading books and by visiting websites like CodeAcademy, Go Self-Taught, and Stack Overflow to improve their skills.

And we don’t disregard computer science either. We can explain what polymorphism is. We study data structures and algorithms and can even traverse a binary tree. Whiteboard coding tests won’t scare us away.

An Example of a Binary Tree

But not everyone wants to learn to program to become a full-time software engineer. Many people have degrees and even advanced degrees that make them valuable experts in various disciplines. These experts won’t necessarily have the time or inclination to go back to school to earn a four-year Computer Science degree. But when these experts learn to program on their own, it gives them a powerful advantage in their area of expertise. It allows them to do data analysis, for example, or automate tedious tasks to free up their valuable time. Self-taught programmers are a community of any and all people that deal with computers, communications, and data — not just for those wanting to become full-time professional programmers.

The Self-Taught Advantage

We also have an inherent advantage. In my book, I explain,

“As intimidating as it is to work with people who have bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.Ds in computer science, never forget you have what I like to call the “self-taught advantage.” You are not reading this book because a teacher assigned it to you, you are reading it because you have a desire to learn, and wanting to learn is the biggest advantage you can have.”

“The Self-Taught Programmer” by Cory Althoff

Why We Program

Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, said,

“Most good programmers do programming not because they expect to get paid or get adulation by the public, but because it is fun to program”

and I agree. The best reason to learn to program is not because you think it will get you a high paying job. It is because programming is insanely fun. Once you discover this for yourself, you will have no problem becoming the title of Cal Newport’s excellent book, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.”

Ignore the Naysayers

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t learn to program, or that companies won’t take you seriously. It’s become trendy now to write articles about how you shouldn’t learn to program. Last year, TechCrunch published an article called “Please don’t learn to code.” In 2012, Jeff Atwood wrote a viral article with the same name. Don’t listen to them.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t learn to program, or that companies won’t take you seriously. According to the Wall Street Journal, by 2020, there will be one million unfilled programming jobs in the United States. With such a severe shortage of programming talent, companies cannot afford to ignore us. They cannot afford not to take us seriously. They need us. Never forget that.

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