Demand for software developers continues to soar: Here’s the cheapest (free) way to start a tech career

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Software is eating the world. According to U.S. News and World Report’s annual survey, “software developer” is the best job to have for 2018. The survey utilizes data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to rank positions based on factors such as industry demand, growth rates and work/life balance. The BLS estimates that annual pay for software developers, or programmers, now averages over $108,000 across the country.
However, software jobs tend to pay much higher in the San Francisco-Bay Area.

Indeed.com calculates that salaries for senior level programmers Silicon Valley range from $150,000 to $180,000 annually depending on the city. Competition is now so fierce that $250,000 per year is not unheard of for top software talent. And that doesn’t even take into account the stock options that many tech companies offer. At some fast-growing Bay Area companies, gains from options can dwarf the already high salaries.

Lest you think that software won’t impact the Central Valley, many of our local manufacturers and food processors rely on these critical applications to drive efficiency gains and remain competitive in the global marketplace. A previous column highlights the region’s rapid rise as a software hub due in large part to demand by local food and beverage producers.

Agricultural software companies are now a key focus for many venture investment firms. Agtech startups pulled in $320 million in investments last year, a three-fold increase over 2016. John Deere’s recent acquisition of ag robotics and machine learning startup Blue River Technology for $305 million further validates software’s crucial role in the Central Valley’s future.

So how can you participate in this software boom?

To be honest, programming can be difficult to learn and will take several years to master. Actually, the technology changes constantly so you will never become a true Jedi Master (techie humor). This field requires a dedication to continuous professional development. The traditional path of going to a four-year university to study software engineering is the most common but can be prohibitive for many who are already in the workforce and have ongoing expenses.

In the last several years, reputable code academies, or programming schools, that utilize working software professionals to teach and prepare students for entry-level positions have sprung up in San Francisco and other major cities. Unfortunately, many of these code academies are quite expensive and can cost as much as $30,000.
Another option is the low-cost online courses that are now available. However, most people find it somewhat difficult to learn a technical discipline like programming without live on-site guidance and coaching. So what’s the solution?

FREE CODE CAMP.

Thanks to the dedication of its founder, Quincy Larson, and a group of other generous software professionals who have contributed countless hours to develop the curriculum, non-profit Free Code Camp’s self-paced lessons now include 2,800 hours of interactive coding challenges and web development projects. The original curriculum focused on MongoDB, Express.js, AngularJS, and Node.js but now also provides certificates in data visualization and back-end. Free Code Camp students also contribute to open-source projects for other nonprofits. The combined study and project work translates into approximately one year of full-time coding.

According to PC Magazine, “Free Code Camp’s coolest and arguably most-useful feature is how it directs you towards a nonprofit project you can join to use the coding knowledge you’ve gained for the benefit of the world.”

Once finished with the lessons and projects, a student will have both the training and the experience in software development to get a job in the field … and have helped worthwhile nonprofits along the way.

In addition to the interactive learning web platform, an online community forum, chat rooms, projects and helpful publications, one of the most effective ways Free Code Camp helps new coders is through its in-person meetups. There are nearly 1,800 Free Code Camp meetup groups worldwide located in 160 countries.

Fortunately, the Central Valley already has strong chapters in Sacramento, Modesto and Fresno. Stockton’s group should be meeting more regularly later in the year. Sacramento’s Free Code Camp chapter is led by Billy Le and a volunteer group of professional programmers who dedicate their time to help new software students achieve their career goals.

Modesto’s Free Code Camp meets weekly in the newly-opened ValleyWorx (www.valleyworx.com) tech co-working space. Lead organizer Michael Pimentel’s wealth of knowledge in software development and work to build up the tech community in Stanislaus and southern San Joaquin County has been instrumental in growing that chapter to nearly 200 members.

Many former Free Code Campers have received job offers and are now working as high-income bracket, tax-paying software development professionals. According to Free Code Camp, access to their educational resources have enabled more than 8,000 individuals to obtain their first developer jobs and more than 10,000 Campers secure higher level positions.

Although larger companies still require four-year degrees to work as a programmer, many small and medium-sized firms are increasingly willing to waive that requirement for talented, capable software developers.

The growing number of software jobs in the region as well as our proximity to Silicon Valley makes a career in software development a potentially lucrative opportunity for many Central Valley residents. Consider joining a local chapter of Free Code Camp. Having an onsite coach and friends help you through the lessons will increase your chances of success and make the journey much more enjoyable.

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