Career Paths for Coders - dummies

By Camille McCue, Sarah Guthals

Part of Helping Kids with Coding For Dummies Cheat Sheet

The really neat thing about learning to code is that you can literally apply it to pretty much any other passion in life, and any other field. Our biggest piece of advice for coders in high school and college who are considering computer science as their career path is to first choose a passion outside of coding, and then figure out a way to apply coding to that passion. This doesn’t have to be a requirement, but it’s a lot of fun and really inspiring to have older kids discover that they can mix their love of rap music to their new-found excitement of computer science and make a career out of it. One of Camille’s former students, Sean, is finishing a degree in both electrical engineering and Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin — he’s found his passion building more “socially intelligent” robots.

Software companies

The most commonly talked about career path for someone interested in coding is to work for a software company — such as Google, Microsoft, or Facebook. These companies typically hire folks who have degrees in computer science (Bachelor’s through PhD), although have been known to hire from bootcamps and people who are self-taught. Camille had a fabulous student, Ellie, who recently earned a physics degree and then attended a coding bootcamp. . . and she just landed a position as a front-end engineer at Swift Navigation! For many companies, though, the degree isn’t what matters, only the skill set coders possess. GitHub, for example, is a company that doesn’t require candidates to even list what school they went to, instead asking for a technical portfolio. These companies typically provide a lot of benefits, such as high-paying jobs, good benefits, and flexibility in schedule. Coders are usually the focus of the company, and employees can work on cutting edge technology.

Freelance coding

One of the really neat things about the computer science industry is that you do not have to join a large tech company to be a part of the field! People all around the world with varying levels of formal education, from being self-taught to having PhDs in computer science, become freelance coders. Sites, such as Upwork, help coders find people who need code written for them! A lot of freelance coders will work on web development or mobile development, because those projects tend to be more contained and have clearer cut lines regarding ownership. This is a great career especially for those who want to live in places where fewer technical jobs are available. One of Sarah’s cousins does this so they can live right next to Yosemite Park in California!

Entertainment companies

Most forms of entertainment these days involve an incredible amount of coding. For example, most movies have huge teams of software engineers for special effects and animation. A few of Sarah’s friends from school joined companies such as Pixar and Disney to help create some of the most amazing features — such as the hair on Rapunzel in the movie Tangled! Aside from movies, video games are huge efforts by hundreds and thousands of software engineers over year; for example World of Warcraft took nearly five years to make! Companies such as Blizzard (creator of World of Warcraft) and Riot Games (creator of League of Legends — a favorite of Camille’s son, Carson!) employ thousands of artists and engineers to produce games. Even the music industry has software engineers, creating soundboards, using algorithms to create new music, and discovering new ways to engage with their audience. One of Sarah’s favorite concerts was a Taylor Swift concert where wristbands were left on the seats in the stadium and lit up according to the music and where you were sitting, creating an incredible light show within the audience during the performance! Finally, entertainment parks are filled with software engineers; most notably Disney’s Imagineers are some of the most innovative when it comes to in-person customer experience.

Non-software focused companies

In today’s world, pretty much every industry and company has a need for a coder. Smaller companies might use existing software or get freelance coders to help. For example, small companies might use something like Wix or Squarespace to create their websites, both of which provide an easy-to-use interface for high quality websites. Camille’s son, Ian, launched his first startup — Spark Skill — as a teenager, doing his own coding to build his company website, engage in digital marketing, and grow his business through analytics! But larger companies, with more specialized software needs, might hire coders to make software specifically for their needs. For example, companies like Target hire software engineers to build the mobile apps, website, and behind the scenes software for sales and inventory. Working at non-software focused companies can be fun, because the software can have a direct application other than just “software.”

Any other industry

The really neat thing about knowing how to code is that it can be useful in pretty much any other industry and context, without it being the main focus of your career. Camille teaches her high school statistics students how to adjust their code on a Sushi Slots app in GameSalad to incorporate expected value computations so that it “pays back” at rates favorable to both the players and theoretical casino. One of Sarah’s high schoolers asked why she should learn how to code, when her dream was to be a preschool teacher. In this situation, Sarah recommended that the future teacher might want to create an app for her preschool students to learn their colors. Sure, there are apps out there that probably do this, but maybe you might want to include pictures of items within the classroom, to help reinforce the concepts even more. In any case, having the ability to code could give you the power to enhance and improve your job in ways you didn’t expect. Furthermore, even if you don’t code within your job, you will most likely interact with some kind of software, and that software will most likely have a problem. At this point, you will most likely have to interact with the IT department, and the more you understand about computers and coding, the more likely you are able to explain and help IT resolve your issue.