Computer coders make an average salary of $63,903 per year in 2020. Beginner programmers get paid about $50k, and experienced coders earn around $85k.
Introduction to Coding Salaries
Perhaps you’ve always had some interest in becoming a computer coder, and now you want to know what that process will be like. Maybe you’re considering a change because you want to move your life forward, and a career in technology is a great way to do that. People arrive at the decision to become a professional coder for lots of different reasons. Whatever your reason is, it’s natural to wonder what the journey is going to look like and what how much programmers make when you’ve finally entered the field.
Answering these questions is important for many reasons. A lot of folks who enter coding bootcamps have lives, families, mortgages, and responsibilities. Taking a chance on the unknown is one thing at 19, and quite another thing at 31.
Given all the hype around technology, coding bootcamps, and the huge fortunes amassed by software developers like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, it can be difficult to get a sober perspective on what your own prospects are likely to be.
Luckily, you have Career Karma. In this piece we’re going to discuss the process of becoming a coder and how much computer coders make.
How Do I Become a Coder?
There are nearly unlimited ways people get their start in coding, from tinkering with gaming source code in their early years to completing formal PhDs in computer science.
But in general, they tend to fall into the broad categories of learning to code on your own, going to college to learn to code, or attending an accelerated program like a coding bootcamp. Determining which one is right for you will depend a lot on your background, learning style, and life situation.
Learning Computer Programming on Your Own
Some of the most prolific and well-respected coders on the planet have never set foot in a software engineering classroom. Famed developer Eric Raymond, one of the architects of the open source movement, states right on his resume that he’s never had any formal training. But make no mistake about it, this is a difficult way to go. It will require discipline, consistency, and resourcefulness.
There are a couple of different approaches you can take to learning to code and create software programs on your own. One is quitting your regular job, living on your savings, and devoting every waking hour to writing computer code.
The advantage of this approach is that you drastically shrink the amount of time required to become job-ready. Estimates vary, but if you really keep your head down and have even a little bit of coding talent, you could be writing code and employable in six months or a year.
One disadvantage is that it’s an incredibly intense entry into the world of coding. To decide if this is the strategy you want to use, ask yourself if the idea of designing a large-scale learning project is the sort of thing that excites or terrifies you. Do you have experience in self-directed studying? Do you usually finish the things you start or is this something you struggle with?
The other approach you could take is more gradual. You could start by reading one coding book or completing an online tutorial in your spare hours. This would be ideal for a person who likes the idea of learning to code but isn’t sure what their aptitude is or doesn’t have the savings required to stop working altogether.
Going down this path, the biggest challenge is likely to be staying motivated. I recommend setting regular benchmarks to achieve and making friends with coders who can help you overcome obstacles and keep you accountable.
Going to School to Become a Computer Coder
If self-learning sounds like something that won’t fit well with your current situation, you might consider the old-fashioned route of attending a school to learn to code. Before the rise of bootcamps this was the only option besides teaching yourself.
Colleges tend to be expensive and require many years to complete, but with loans, financing, online options, and accommodations for non-traditional students, this is less of a deal-breaker than it once was. As someone who has done both college and a bootcamp, I can tell you that there’s a lot of theoretical ground you’d cover in college that you barely even touch in the three to six months in your bootcamp. If you have the time and money, it’s a perfectly acceptable way to break into tech.
Is Going to a Coding Bootcamp Worth It?
Bootcamps have come a long way since the first entrepreneurs began trying to fill a need in the education space. There are now dozens of bootcamps specializing in everything from UI Design to Data Science. You can attend in-person or online and gain skills by working intensively on projects of increasing difficulty.
Answering the question of whether attending a bootcamp is worth it depends, again, on how you like to learn and where you’re at in life. There’s no question that they’re much faster than spending four years in college, and unless you’re an extraordinary self-learner, they’re probably quicker than going it alone, too.
I found my bootcamp to be both rewarding and exhausting. I don’t think I could’ve covered the same ground in the same time on my own, even if I worked full-time at it. Overall, I’d say that unless you have a specific reason to avoid the bootcamp experience you should seriously consider attending one to learn how to become a computer coder. So how much money does a programmer make?
How Much Money Do Coders Make?
Facing the prospect of hardcore studying and a drastic career change, you’re probably curious as to what a coding career salary will be. While coding is as intellectually stimulating as music, learning foreign languages, or chess, most people aren’t willing to throw themselves into their learning unless it leads to better economic prospects. So what do computer programmers make?
The very short answer is that coders do tend to be paid pretty well, but their ultimate earning potential is influenced by a variety of factors.
It Depends a Lot on Your Experience
As with brick laying and basket weaving, you tend to get a better coding job salary the better you are at coding, and by far the best way to get better is to work at it for a long time. Another effect on a computer programmer’s salary is the number of programming languages they know. The average salary for a developer with less than a year of experience is a little over $50,000/year in the United States. This isn’t riches, but it’s pretty good compared to most other entry-level positions.
It’s hard to say what experienced developers make because it can vary widely, with the people who build frameworks like Ruby on Rails pulling down millions of dollars. But on average, a ‘late-career’ developer with many years of experience can expect to earn $85,000. More than enough to live comfortably.
Your Pay Will Change Based on Your Specialization
The term ‘computer programmer’ can refer to many different careers, and what a person specializes in will impact their pay. While ‘data science’ isn’t exactly the same thing as coding, the two do overlap quite a bit. The average salary for an entry-level data scientist is $85,000, tied with the average of a late-career developer. A machine learning engineer just starting out can expect to gross approximately $90,000.
One of the exciting things about becoming a programmer is that there’s not much of a ceiling on your potential earnings. If you can learn to build algorithms that successfully trade the stock market, you can basically write your own ticket.
Credentials Do Still (Kind of) Matter
There’s a popular idea about the programming world that literally the only thing that matters is being able to code. This has some truth to it, but it’s important to remember that in many sectors formal credentials do still matter.
I don’t have hard data on this part, but I do know a lot of programmers and I’ve gone through the process of transitioning into a technical career from a non-technical one. Most of the people from my bootcamp who quickly got high-paying jobs either had experience in the field or advanced degrees in technical subjects. Those, like me, who didn’t have these things, had to wait longer and take jobs that were on the lower end of the pay scale.
Ultimately, a lot goes into determining how much you’ll be paid as a computer coder. But if you work hard at it and constantly widen your knowledge, there’s almost no limit to what you could be earning.