When I was growing up, I really wanted to become a programmer, but I assumed that the only way to do that was to go straight to college after high school and get a four-year degree in Computer Science. I was very wrong, but I wasn't alone in thinking that.

My colleague Kim Maida, Auth0’s Community and Technical Content Manager, recently asked a simple question about non-traditional backgrounds on Twitter that went viral:

As a self-taught developer with a background in liberal arts and finance, I loved reading all of the replies. Here are some of my favorites:

Jen Looper, senior dev at Progress and founder of Vue Vixens:

This exchange between Ayşegül Yönet at Microsoft and Ben Lesh, Angular and RxJS core team member from Google:

Rob Wormald, Angular core team member at Google:

Ward Bell, President of IdeaBlade and Fashion Icon:

And possibly my favorite story from Elisabete Baker:

These replies to Kim's tweet are fun and encouraging, but are they indicative of a wider trend?

The Need for Non-Traditional Developers

Kim’s not the only one to have struck this chord with people. There’s a growing trend of being vocal about non-traditional backgrounds in tech. For example, Dr. Donna Malayeri had a huge response to this tweet:

As a result, she followed up with an experiment:

Finally, Ashley McNamara from Microsoft shared her own experience as a self-taught developer:

The thousands of engagements with these threads are indicative of the growing gap between available tech jobs and people graduating with computer science degrees. In a 2013 blog post by the Obama administration called Computer Science is for Everyone!, the The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer-science-related jobs available but only 400,000 computer science graduates.

"According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer-science-related jobs available but only 400,000 computer science graduates."

In 2015, The Atlas published an interesting chart showing college computer science graduates compared to open computing jobs in the US:

Atlas chart of computer science graduates vs. open jobs. Source

We're even ahead of schedule for the 2013 prediction. In 2017, there were already 1.3 million software jobs, according to Trilogy Education Services. Code.org asserts that 58% of all new jobs in STEM are in computing, but only 10% of STEM graduates are in Computer Science. Finally, the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment of software developers is projected to grow 24 percent from 2016 to 2026.

Non-Traditional Backgrounds at Auth0

When I started college at the University of Florida, I was originally a computer science major. I had always wanted to learn to code and I assumed that college was the only way to learn. Back then, there was no YouTube, no Codecademy, no Treehouse, and no Pluralsight. There was also no Twitter to tell me about what it meant to be “self-taught” or even what a “web developer” was. So, I trundled off to college hoping that a degree in computer science was the answer.

Somewhere in between finishing up Calculus II and signing up for Differential Equations during my freshman year, my hope began to fade. According to the computer science curriculum, I wasn’t even slated to take a computer class until my junior year. Until then, it was math, math, more math, and some physics for good measure. I decided to switch to liberal arts, where I eventually got a degree in religion (a hybrid of history and sociology). Along the way, I continued to work my way through tutorials on PHP, HTML, and CSS to do a little bit of web design as a hobby. I was convinced, though, that since I had given up on formal computer science education, my dreams of becoming a “professional programmer” were dead.

I couldn't have been more wrong. After five years in financial sales and operations, I longed to learn and create again. With the help of some coworkers in the software department of the brokerage I worked for, I started to learn C# and JavaScript. Eventually, I got my first professional programming job and the rest is history!

My story isn't unique at Auth0, though. Let's hear from some of my amazing colleagues about their backgrounds and how they got into tech.

Conclusion (and Some Inspiration)

It's clear that a formal degree in computer science is no longer the only path into tech. If you're looking at switching to tech and need some inspiration, I've got a few podcast recommendations for you:

"A formal degree in computer science is no longer a requirement to get a job in tech."

Good luck on your journey and don't forget — we're hiring!

About Auth0

Auth0, the identity platform for application builders, provides thousands of customers in every market sector with the only identity solution they need for their web, mobile, IoT, and internal applications. Its extensible platform seamlessly authenticates and secures more than 2.5 billion logins per month, making it loved by developers and trusted by global enterprises. The company's U.S. headquarters in Bellevue, WA, and additional offices in Buenos Aires, London, Tokyo, and Sydney, support its global customers that are located in 70+ countries.

For more information, visit https://auth0.com or follow @auth0 on Twitter.