The team at RecWorks are often asked for advice on the best way to learn Java and start a career in Java development.
Although there isn’t one simple answer to the question, in this post we have drawn on our own experience as recruiters as well as that of senior developers in the London Java Community to provide an overview that we hope will help Java learners understand their options a little better.
Before we get to the options of taking a degree course, a non-degree course and self-learning there are three general points to note:
– You can find general career and training advice via the links on the GOV.UK website https://www.gov.uk/search?q=career+advice
– Before enrolling on any course or buying any self-learning materials it can be well worth investing time in learning how to learn. Some examples that have been recommended to us are the Coursera courses https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn or the “Head First” books that provide the basic psychology http://shop.oreilly.com/category/series/head-first.do
– When employers are selecting potential candidates to interview for a job, they look to see that the candidate has the knowledge and skills that the role needs and that the candidate has real enthusiasm for coding. This means that in addition to any qualifications employers almost always want to see evidence of the coding that a candidate has done. There is more about this below but as a general rule the fewer formal qualifications a candidate has, the more evidence of coding skill employers want to see.
If you are looking to start a career in software development, and haven’t already got a degree such as a BSc in Computer Science, it is worth considering whether you can take a degree course. Not only do graduates of well regarded degree courses often have extra confidence through knowing they have been well trained, but holding a good degree makes it easy for a prospective employer to see that the candidate has learned all the basics and is likely to be a capable junior developer.
Before committing to a degree course you will need to check out the many alternatives available at traditional colleges and universities as well as via online study to make sure you choose the one that works best for you. There is information about Higher Education in the UK, including the Open University, on the GOV.UK website https://www.gov.uk/higher-education-courses-find-and-apply
Degree courses often have specific entry requirements and they all take time and commitment, as well as generally being expensive, so a degree may not be an option for everyone. There are ways into a career in software development without a degree that may work for you.
If taking a degree course is simply not possible, or if you already have a degree in a subject related to Computer Science but want to learn Java, a non-degree course might be perfect for you.
An Internet search will soon show you many, many Java courses run by a wide range of providers including local colleges, online providers and freelance instructors. The expense, the amount of teaching/support on offer and the quality/depth of training will vary widely between different courses so please do check out your options carefully. Make sure you ask the providers any questions you have before committing – such as any data they have on the prospects for people who have trained with them: do the majority go into employment as a developer or do they go on to take further courses?
The GOV.UK Further Education pages include some background information: https://www.gov.uk/further-education-courses
Not everyone needs to take a formal course to learn Java. Self-learning might work for you, or you might choose to mix and match non-degree courses with self-learning. There are some excellent self-learning resources available online and, of course, in books.
– The Java certifications can be a great way to learn about the core language primitives/principles, much in the same way you would learn the alphabet and grammar with a foreign language. However, remember that the real learning begins when you try and ‘speak’ the language in a variety of environments/situations
– Finding a mentor to help structure self-learning can be invaluable. Joining an active, supportive community like the London Java Community is a great place to start.
How to show a potential employer your skills
However you learn your coding you will need to make sure that your CV includes evidence of your skills and knowledge. It’s also important to be aware that getting work as a developer is not just about qualifications and that even a first class degree in Computer Science from a top university may not be enough by itself to get you your first job in software development. It’s about having a genuine passion for coding.
We recommend that you compile a list of your personal coding projects to create a portfolio that demonstrates your skills and your commitment to coding. As we mentioned above the rule of thumb is that the fewer formal qualifications you have the more evidence of skill and knowledge you’ll need to provide in your portfolio.
Provide links to online projects – which depending on the aspect of development that interests you could include websites you have worked on, blog posts you have written, and/or GitHub or Stackoverflow projects you have contributed to. You may also have taken part in some coding competitions/challenges or hackathons that give employers an insight into what you can do. For each example, in addition to providing the link, explain briefly what you did, what tech you used and the problems you solved.
When you are ready to apply for jobs
RecWorks can help. Our area of expertise is roles in the Java ecosystem in London. We have links to companies with Graduate recruitment programmes as well as roles for junior and experienced developers and we’ll be happy to help.
Please also check out our Developer Careers Guide blog posts (just search Developer Careers Guide in our blog) for extra hints and tips including how to get the best from recruiters you work with, writing a CV and preparing for interviews.