How To Start Learning Software Engineering for Free
Dec 16, 2020
woman learning to code

Software engineers are responsible for building and maintaining the software we use every day, from desktop and web browsers that make our lives easier, to the network and operating systems that make healthcare successful and security robust, to the mobile apps that rule our lives and schedules. One thing is certain, as technology becomes more integrated into our lives, the demand for qualified software developers will continue to increase.

Whether you are a seasoned programmer or a coding newbie, becoming a software engineer is easier than ever before thanks to free coding bootcamps and online coding programs. So, is it really possible to become a software engineer without paying anything upfront? This post will help break down your options and help get you started… for free!

What is a software engineer?

Software engineers build digital products, database programs, and computer systems for businesses by applying programming languages to user-focused applications. Some software engineers hold degrees in computer science, information systems, information technology, or software engineering, while others are self-taught or have endorsements or certifications from coding schools or online coding programs.

Software engineers work in collaboration with designers, data scientists, and project managers to identify methods to support their processes and projects. In addition, they review code, fix bugs and programs, design prototypes, analyze and identify client needs, develop functional software to test, and meet with other developers, clients, teams, and stakeholders. Software engineers may work with artificial intelligence, servers, or anything in between, but regardless, they write and maintain code using programming languages.

Pro Tip: Despite popular myths online, anyone can become a software engineer, regardless of background. Although jobs of the past required a college degree, today’s job market requires robust and comprehensive soft and technical skills, which will be put to the test in any technical job interview coding challenge.

That said, when deciding on a free coding camp, be sure to invest your time wisely in a program that will not only get your feet wet, but immerse you in content.

How to become a software engineer for free 

Becoming a software engineer requires discipline and commitment, but if you are ready to dive in it is also one of the most sought after and highest earning tech jobs in the market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of software engineers is expected to grow 21 percent by 2028, and last year US News & World Report ranked software developers as the #1 best job in the world. It’s no wonder, then, that there are many free, low-cost, and low-risk ways to get started on the path to becoming a software engineer. 

Today you will find many free coding schools and free coding bootcamp options available through a simple google search, but it is important to vet your options. Take note of which have quality instruction, which will be worth your time, and which will satisfy your educational criteria in meeting your end goals.

First, consider which free web development courses will teach you the skills you need to master to become a software engineer. For instance, some programs focus mainly on the fundamentals of software engineering such as interfaces, conventions, layering, algorithmic complexity, hashing, caching, concurrency, cloud computing, security, and relational databases, and focus less on newer programming languages, frameworks, and libraries. Some may move faster than others and programs may be part time, full time, or self-paced. Regardless, each will have unique benefits to the individual. 

Some free coding bootcamp courses may fit your needs, and you can compare these against bootcamp ratings lists like SwitchUp, but be aware that while these courses are commonly only 2-3 months, they may only teach a few specific programming languages. Programs like Udacity and Coursera offer free courses such as “Version Control with Git”, which can be helpful introductions to version control systems and other basics, although not all program offerings are free and not all courses offer certifications. Other free services such as HackerRank and CodinGame can help you learn algorithms, assess your problem-solving skills through problem solving challenges, and improve programming skills, but for most aspiring software engineers they may be best suited as refinement and practice tools to master individual skills.

Self-paced options like FreeCodeCamp are popular for individuals looking for a self-directed experience with a certification option. This is often a useful teaching tool for those new to coding who wish to learn enough to pass entrance exams for other online programs, and although not as rigorous as other programs, it can be useful on the path to becoming a software engineer. Keep in mind, however, that many self-paced programs may not include real world experience, portfolio building opportunities, and computer science curriculum, so even if you complete a free code camp, you may need additional training to be prepared to interview or present your portfolio.

Other options, like Lambda School’s Full Stack Web Development Program, take a more comprehensive approach, teaching fundamentals along with known and new languages and frameworks. Schools like Lambda teach students how to become a web developer by modeling the skills to learn new languages and frameworks as well, not just the ones taught in the program, giving alumni a useful edge in the field.

While some free code camp and online programs are one hundred percent free, others have additional paid certification options or even Income Share Agreements, making traditional loans or tuition models a thing of the past. Take HarvardX for example. Their free, 12-week CS50 Introduction to Computer Science course teaches computer science basics with the option to purchase a $90 certification. Their course provides a broad and dense spectrum of information and familiarity with concepts, frameworks, and languages, but may not provide the time needed to grasp and practice all concepts used in software engineering. 

Lambda School’s Income Share Agreement (ISA) takes a new approach. Lambda’s ISA defers tuition payment until after students have graduated. Once students begin making a salary of $50,000 per year or more, they pay 17% of their post-Lambda School salary for 24 months (or the equivalent of $4,166.67 per month). The ISA is capped at a maximum lump repayment of $30,000, so Lambda graduates won’t pay more than $30,000 under any circumstances. And if a Lambda grad does not get a qualifying job, they do not pay Lambda a dime. This means Lambda School has incentive to instruct and support students at a high level, and incentive to maintain buy-in for student job success and mastery. To find out more about the benefits of our unique program, visit the Lambda ISA page.   

How to choose the best free coding course for you 

With so many free, low-cost, and low-risk online choices, knowing where to begin your journey toward software engineering can feel overwhelming. When working with little or no budget, it can be important to select the best choice that will hold you accountable, keep you motivated, teach you the most up-to-date languages and technologies, and prepare you for the job market. 

While an online coding camp certification may sound good on paper, consider what skills you will actually come away with and bring into a real-world setting. Ask yourself the following:

1. How will your program help build your portfolio? 

2. How will your program give you opportunities for critical testing steps throughout to refine your skills and build your confidence?

3. How will your program support you beyond the data (mentorship, peer-to-peer support, portfolio help, job coaching, and a professional software engineering community for networking)?

4. How will your program prepare you to interview or quickly adapt to new technologies once you are in the field? 

5. What will the real costs be to your time and learning potential if you select the wrong program? 

Explore Lambda School

Lambda School offers comprehensive 6-month full-time online Web Development and online data science courses that include the added bonus of high-quality, real-world job training including live instruction, Computer Science coursework, technical resume and interview preparation, group labs projects which can be used for an individual’s portfolio, and an invaluable peer-to-peer support network. Furthermore, Lambda partners with a network of companies to match students with potential employers, giving Lambda alumni a leg up in comparison to bootcamp students who may be learning and networking completely on their own. This means that although Lambda’s ISA may take a small percentage of a student’s income after graduation for a brief time, a Lambda Alumni may have a greater chance at landing a job and may have higher earning potential as a software engineer.

Whether you are new to coding or a seasoned pro, your path to becoming a software engineer is in your hands but does not need to impact your pocket book. If you are ready for the challenge, Lambda School’s full-time web development program is here to help support your dream. To find out more, visit our Lambda admissions process page or apply now.

Want to learn more? Leave your details:


Get 4 weeks of engineering at no cost.
We'll pay them for you. Learn more
Become a Full Stack Engineer in 6 months
Learn more
Become a Data Scientist in 6 months
Learn more
Meet our instructors at Lambda's online events
See upcoming events
Meet our instructors at a virtual event
See upcoming admission events
Become a Backend Developer in 9 months
Learn more
Is Backend the right course for you?
Take our quiz
Is Full Stack the right course for you?
Take our quiz
Quiz: Which course is right for you?
Take the quiz
Quiz: Which course is right for you?
Take the quiz
Start learning to code for free
See our free online mini course
Start learning to code for free
See our free online mini course
33% of our students are underrepresented minorities.
See Diversity at Lambda
33% of our students are underrepresented minorities.
See Diversity at Lambda
Browse our graduates available for hire.
See all
Browse our graduates available for hire.
See all
Is Data Science the right course for you?
Take our quiz