By Joel Lee
Programming jobs may not be as prestigious or easy to land as they once were, but the industry is still booming with opportunity. If you want to start a career in programming, you absolutely can. Anyone who tells you it’s “too late” is either lying or out of touch.
That being said, not all coding jobs are equal.
Would it be nice if video game developers could be paid the same as database engineers? Of course! But that simply isn’t realistic. Since landing a programming job can be tough in the current landscape, consider focusing on one of the following concentrations to improve your chances of success.
Programming job titles are vague, to say the least. “Software developer,” “software engineer,” “computer programmer,” and “application developer” can all point to the same job. Yet at the same time, one company’s “software developer” could be vastly different from the same title at another company.
Don’t bother with job title particulars. They all involve the same general process: gathering feature requirements for the software, designing a solution, and implementing said features. When searching for a software developer job, it’s more productive to look at industries instead:
- Finance — Financial systems are some of the most advanced in the world, complete with complex algorithms, statistical analyses, and tons of data to be processed every day. Speed and security are of utmost concern. It’s high-pressure work that can burn you out fast, but if you can keep up, smart programmers are always in high demand here.
- Government — Programmers are needed at all levels of government, for everything ranging from basic grunt work to the design and maintenance of vast systems. If you have expertise in computer and network security, you can even aim for clearance-restricted positions. Government work may not be exciting, but the benefits tend to be great.
- Legacy — Technology is always advancing and most programmers focus on keeping up with new trends, but most long-running businesses operate on older tech stacks. Two types of jobs exist in this realm: maintaining/expanding legacy systems or porting legacy systems to newer tech stacks. Remember, what’s modern today could be legacy tomorrow.
According to Pew Research, approximately 72 percent of Americans owned an internet-connected smartphone in 2015. Many other countries reported similar figures: 67 percent in Canada, 68 percent in the U.K., 77 percent in Australia, and a whopping 88 percent in South Korea.
And those numbers are still on the rise.
- Startups — First things first, joining a tech startup is risky. About half of all startups fail within the first five years. But if you’re young, single, ambitious, and persistent, it can be a dream worth chasing. Note that you don’t have to be a world-changing success like PayPal or Instagram. Even moderate success is still success.
- Games — Like startups, games involve a ton of risk. You can pour months or years into a project, release it, and sell zero copies. Or you can spend a few weeks on a side project and end up with a smash hit like Angry Birds. A less risky route would be to work for an established mobile games company like Zynga, King, or EA Mobile.
If you choose to pursue this, you must know that there are three kinds of web developers: front-end developers, back-end developers, and full-stack developers. The languages and technologies you need to learn will depend on which type you want to be.
- Full-stack — A full-stack developer handles both front-end and back-end. You can be a freelancer or an employee, but in either case, you make the website design come to life andimplement the logic and data that keeps it persistent. It’s a lot of work, but full-stack developers are often in higher demand and tend to command higher wages.
Any software solution that involves data likely uses databases for storing that data. Smart database design is necessary to minimize complexity, optimize performance, and make sure the data can be easily queried and accessed by any program that needs it.
While databases go hand-in-hand with web development, that isn’t the only field where this is important. For example, governments and banks have massive internal databases. And because databases are so mission critical, dedicated database developers are often in high demand.
If you decide to specialize in databases, there are two major database types that you should know about. Mastering both would be ideal but not strictly necessary depending on your industry:
- SQL — Pronounced “sequel,” these are the traditional kind of relational databases that have been used in computer programming for several decades. Whereas SQL is the language itself, multiple relational database management systems (RDBMS) exist. The most popular are MySQL, PostgreSQL, Microsoft SQL Server, and SQLite.
- NoSQL — A non-relational database type that offers more flexibility, scalability, and speed of development at the expense of less built-in structure and integrity. You also lose the universal SQL method of querying databases. NoSQL is currently quite trendy in web and mobile development (thanks to MongoDB, Redis, and Cassandra), but SQL is still more popular and in higher demand overall.
Tips for Landing a Job Successfully
Or perhaps you’ve made it this far and decided that programming isn’t right for you. If so, that’s okay! It takes a certain kind of person to enjoy and succeed as a programmer. Fortunately, there are plenty of other tech jobs you can pursue instead.