How to Become a Software Engineer from Scratch: Ultimate Career Change Guide

The opportunities brought by the ongoing technological evolution led to a constant high demand for software engineer jobs. Unfilled vacancies call for software development talent with high adaptability and attracted job seekers who aspire to higher salaries. According to U.S. News, the median software engineer salary lies around $107,510. Remote software engineer jobs also increased, bringing flexible working modes that allow software engineers to work from home or freelance. 

More consider a career change as a response to this new era, or find online software development jobs to live more freely. However, before making dramatic decisions, one should probably conduct research to understand the fundamentals and requirements of working as a software engineer or a software developer. 

This article walks you through the basics you need to know on how to get into software development. Follow the steps to become a software engineer and make a plan using the resources below.

5 Steps to Become a Software Engineer

Step 1: Learn about different coding career paths.

First and foremost, clarify and learn about different coding career paths. Software engineering is the general terms of the following roles, including differences in job duties, qualifications, and talents. 

You should understand the specific details or inquire others to know what their work is really like, their software engineer salary, or what fits your personality to know what to learn to become a software developer.

8 common coding career paths:

  • Front-End Engineers are often called web developers. They often work with UI & UX designers to realize visible, tangible interactive elements using HTML, CSS, and Javascript.
  • Back-End Engineers use Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to deal with the undergoing databases and infrastructure, logging systems, and caching systems. Responsibilities include creating and maintaining the structure of server-side information, debug, and realize cross-department demands. 
  • Full Stack Engineer is a combination of front-end and back-end engineering. They are able to develop a project from start to finish, tackle databases, build user-facing websites, or communicate with clients during different phases of software development. 
  • QA Engineers, or quality assurance engineers, create and run comprehensive or automated test plans to improve the software. They identify quality issues to bring out feedback or meaningful resolutions.
  • DevOps Engineer reduces the gap between developers and IT operations. It aims to shorten the system development life-cycle by bringing out quick change of an application as well as maintaining its reliability. 
  • Security Engineers identify possible security threats by pinpointing, documenting, reporting system weaknesses. They ensure sensitive or valuable information is kept confidential and plan strategies to prevent malware or hackers’ attacks.
  • Mobile Application Developers, like its title, work on installable mobile applications. Installable software bundles include coding, binaries, assets, back-end services (data access with an API), and testing on targeted hardware devices. 
  • Data Scientists collect data from various sources to analyze valuable insight. They proactively fetch and create data structures, creating machine learning-based tools, and present information by visualizing data. Knowledge of R, SQL, and Python is a must.

Be clear with your end goal, so you know what to study to become a software engineer. There will be changes, but planning ahead would make you more adaptable to them and less hesitant in decision-making. Understanding what you’ll have to do will make your career change to software engineer smoother.

Step 2: Choose the paths based on your interest and goals.

After deciding on the software engineering role that best suits you, coding language knowledge is the next thing you’ll learn about how to become a software engineer and what do you need to be a software engineer.

10 trending programming languages:

  1. Python aimed for better readability and clear structure. It is the dominant coding language used for general purposes but ideal for crunching heavy data and text analysis. Big technology companies like Wikipedia, Google, Pinterest, Instagram, and Reddit were all built using Python. 
  2. Java, which is different from Javascript, is famous for cross-platform compatibility, meaning that a code written for a PC would encounter fewer problems while functioning on a mobile (“Write once, run anywhere”). Java is the basis for most Android operating application systems.
  3. Kotlin is a relatively new coding language for Android app development that is designed to interoperate with Java. On 7 May 2019, Google announced that Kotlin programming language is now its preferred language for Android app developers. Many Android software developers turn to Kotlin as a result.
  4. Swift is a programming language designed specifically for iOS and OSX systems. It is based on Objective-C but has simpler syntax, meaning more developer-friendly and easier to debug.
  5. C#, or C sharp”, is introduced by Windows to replace Java for writing Windows programs, as part of its .NET initiative. It is used for general purpose, but also known for its object-oriented design. 
  6. C++ and C are related, as C++ is an improvement on the C language in the way it stored and organized information and object-oriented characteristics. C is a more basic machine language that works across operating systems, like Mac, Windows and Linux. 
  7. Go or Golang is an open-source, statically typed coding language initially developed by Google. It combines the advantages of multiple languages like C’s performance and readability like Python. Go focus on simplicity, speed, cross-platform, and multi-processing.
  8. PHP was the first language designed for dynamic web development. WordPress is written in PHP, and is used for server-side back-end engineering.
  9. JavaScript is a front-end web-developing coding language that works on client-side. It runs almost on all browsers, and makes websites interactive. It has no relation to Java, and is more related to HTML or CSS.
  10. Ruby is similar with Python for the same belief to make coding more similar to human linguistics. Lately it has been popular due to the web-building framework, Ruby on Rails’ growing market share.

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Step 3: Gather online & offline resources for learning how to code.

There are endless resources to assist your career change to a software engineer. Collect available resources to keep them handy at all times. Making good use of resources ensures more solid progress.

Top 5 ways to learn coding online & offline:

  • Online coding courses ranged from general to specialization for you to choose from. First consider your needs or time limits, and pick the one that suits you best. 
  • Books may be less up-to-date than online sources, but they are solid theories that would lay your fundamentals. Books clarify the logistic mechanics behind the result and coding must-knows. 
  • Joining a community network is another way to approach software engineering responsibilities. Their experiences might dispel your uncertainties about what to learn to become a software developer, how to become a software engineer without a degree, or how to get into software development. 
  • Join or start offline coding activities in your city to find supportive friends. The benefits of face-to-face discussion are that you can always stop when having a question in mind. 
  • The governments also hold out regular coding programs or financial subsidies for the cooperating agencies.

Even if you don’t meet the software engineer education requirements, you can include these experiences in your entry-level or senior software engineer resume. Remember, a fixed path does not exist, but knowing where the helpers are makes your career change to software engineer easier.

Step 4: Work on coding side projects and build an online portfolio.

A portfolio best demonstrates proof of software engineer qualifications. For those without a relevant degree, combining your hobbies with software engineering can fill the gap of lacking software engineer education requirements. 

Suppose you have unique expertise or interests. Integrate them with coding to develop side projects. On your career change to software engineer, you’ll definitely write one or two projects.  

How to build a portfolio for a software engineer:

  1. Start with choosing an interesting topic and decide the coding languages. The coding language should align with the job niche you aspire and wish to apply for. Read job requirements to define associated libraries and tools that are common to your niche. 
  2. The next step is to determine the size of your project. Two weeks or a month of intensive and continuous work is sufficient to get a functional project completed early. You can add new features or refine your project afterward. 
  3. Document the problems you’ve solved and reasons for using a particular approach. Emphasize the process in your portfolio rather than showing off fancy functions without explanation.

This medium article by Filipe Silva might inspire you if you haven’t thought of one. A major software engineer qualification is a good portfolio. Listing side-projects in your portfolio collection showcases your ability and passion for the industry.

Step 5: Sharpen your programming skills for the job hunt.

Besides your software proficiency, you should also notice practical experience related to the software engineer industry.

There are channels to gain working experience before landing a job. You can practice essential software engineering soft skills like communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, or scheduling, through various activities. These experiences are supplementing coding exercises to list as software engineer qualifications.

4 ways to beef up a software engineer resume:

  • Hackathon is a design-sprint-like intensive event that gathers software engineers, UI designers, industrial designers, or other experts to develop functioning hardware or software. It focuses on team-working and problem-solving skills. 
  • Volunteering to work as a software developer for non-profits is also a great coding practice to improve your coding mastery and bring real changes for the world. There are remote code-teaching or software-developing volunteer vacancies available on or corporates’ websites. 
  • Open Source Projects are projects that are free to use, study, modify and distribute for any purpose and anyone. By lowering the barrier to adopt and collaborate, a project can be spread and improved more widely and quickly.
    An open-source project allows other software engineers or users to provide feedback, advice, functional problems, and solutions. You can look through Github and examine others’ open-source projects as programming practice. 
  • Internships and entry-level jobs offer opportunities to work on real projects
. The benefit of an internship is the advantage of getting right to work without extensive training and onboarding. An entry-level job is another way to quickly adapt to the industry working environment and absorb like a sponge.

Online Coding Course & Exercises

Do you need a degree to be a software engineer? Not necessarily! 

Most software engineers or computer programmers start their careers with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Luckily, there’s no need to panic or give up if you don’t have one. Online coding practice or computer programming courses provide abundant resources to learn the basic coding for beginners. 

More often than not, you can request certificates that are recognized or acknowledged by most companies. There are also coding practices and assessments for self-learn-beginners like you. CakeResume Coding Tests might act as a quality guarantee if applicants don’t have a computer science diploma. 

Here are some best websites to learn coding for you to check out. How long does it take to become a software engineer? Most computer programming courses have overviews and the amount of learning hours for students to follow through. It varies widely depending on personal devotion, but you’ll never run out of materials to learn programming online.

Here is a list of best websites to learn coding & programming online below.


An online interactive platform that sets out to “create a world where anyone can build something meaningful with technology, and everyone has the learning tools, resources, and opportunities to learn programming online.”  It has helped millions of people learn to code and provides an enjoyable learning experience.

A non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools. They focus on increasing students from diverse backgrounds and underrepresented groups to engage in computer science coding for beginners’ lessons. They offer courses in over 45 languages such as Japanese, Bahasa Indonesia, Hindi, and more.

Khan Academy

It offers a wide range of free introductory online coding courses, mainly built on Youtube. Their coding courses include JavaScript, HTML/CSS, and SQL. 


A career-oriented online coding courses website that teaches not only coding & programming but also subjects like business and marketing. Indonesian, Vietnamese, and 8 other languages are available on their website. 


It features open courses held by prestigious US universities. You can find credit-eligible, advanced, or master-level computer science programmes on their website to learn programming online.


It offers various programming practices known commonly as “kata” to power up your programming proficiency. They form a software engineering community with gamified rankings and honor through completing, contributing, or proposing quality kata solutions.

Free Code Camp

An interactive learning platform with online community forums, chat rooms, publications, and local organizations to make learning web development accessible to anyone. Their curriculum intends to use “pair programming” to overcome students’ doubt about their adequacy of skills.

Coursera & Udemy

These two are popular platforms that provide a wide range of selections. Anyone can teach Udemy courses, so it’s cheaper compared to Coursera. You can find all sorts of topics with a shorter learning time. Coursera, on the other hand, is more academic and accredited but also more costly if you need a certificate from a reputable university.

There might not be a best way to learn coding, but try out these online coding practice platforms and stick to the coding practice sites that match your language needs, learning habits, or financial concerns. Challenging yourself might just be THE BEST way to learn coding.

Top 5 Software Engineer Resume Tips

Finally, you have reached the stage of writing an entry-level software engineer resume. Here are five professional tips from CakeResume on how to write a software engineer resume. Take notice of these tips to avoid common mistakes and write an impressive software engineer resume.

💡 Tip 1 - Use Quantify results in software engineer resume.

Always use quantified results to substantiate your accomplishments. Hiring managers are more sensitive to numbers. Use data and metrics to quantify and back up your previous effort. Calculated results are easier to interpret than job duties descriptions.

💡 Tip 2 - List programming skills by categories.

Similarly, categorize your skills to create a concise and HR-friendly resume. Use job roles such as front-end or machine learning as categories, then bullet point programming languages below. 

💡 Tip 3 - Highlight soft skills. 

When considering what kind of skills to put in a software engineer resume, remember that soft skills are as equally valued as coding skills. Soft skills like collaboration, problem-solving mindset, scheduling, or conflict resolution are big helpers in the practical workspace. Having an engineer who’s an awful communicator is probably more harmful than not having one.

💡 Tip 4 - Include side projects & online portfolio.

Portfolios are hard-proof if you are unsure what kind of skills to put in a software engineer resume. Developing a personal portfolio website that includes your side projects is a way to stand out. An ideal portfolio website should reflect your personality and explicitly present the process of your work. 

💡 Tip 5 - Tailor your resume to a specific job.

Suppose there are several companies you are applying to. Highlight each of their differences to tailor your software engineer resumes. Learn common phrases in the company's culture and use exact terms in the job description to make the resume ATS (Applicant Tracking System) compliant. Submit different resume versions with different keywords, even if responsibilities are similar. 

Overview For Your Career Change Plan

Now you have the idea of how to get into software development! Let’s recap on the key takeaways. 

  1. Research and understand the software engineering role you are targeting. 
  2. Choose the language that suits the position, understand its positioning and orientation.
  3. List available resources to map out your path and learn in depth.
  4. Take online coding courses or coding tests to earn certificates.
  5. Prepare a portfolio and update regularly to document new projects.
  6. Challenge yourself by participating in coding activities or entry-level jobs.
  7. Learn how to write a software engineer resume using tips or free resume templates from CakeResume.

Your career change to a software engineer might not be easy, and there will be frustrations ahead. Luckily, you are not alone. Establish your software engineer networks of support to make your career transition more successful.

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