How to get into software development

James Milligan, Global Head of Technology at Hays

What qualifications do you need to work in software development? How easy is it to transfer to a development job? What’s the best thing about working in the sector?
I recently spoke to some of our software development recruitment experts from around the world to find out the answers to these questions, and many more. In this blog, you can read insights and advice from:
  • Edmond Pang, Cyber Lead (APAC)
  • Edward Fletcher, Business Director (Software Development) for Technology, Australia & New Zealand
  • Juliann Deegan, Business Director for Hays Technology, UK & Ireland
  • Max Wilcock, Senior Business Manager (Software Development) for Technology, UK & Ireland
  • Olivier Pacaud, National IT Business Manager, France & Luxembourg

1. Are there any specific qualifications someone needs to work in software development?

Max (UK&I): Development is a career in which you can be entirely self-taught, or you can progress through education. It’s really dependant on the individual as to how they get started. Going beyond this, there are a wealth of certifications you can get for each different language or technology, such as Microsoft Certified, or AWS Certified.
Juliann (UK&I): While it may be old-fashioned, I personally think a lot of companies still look for a degree.
Edmond (Asia): I agree with Juliann – 99 per cent of the time in Asia, employers seek to hire someone with a bachelor’s degree in tech, such as Computer Science. There are a lot of certifications available that would be advantageous, but not compulsory. Also, in Asia, some tech companies require a Software Developer to take a coding test prior to offering them a job.
But in Singapore, the Government has been encouraging mid-career switches to IT to fill talent gaps, so we’ve seen that employers are focusing on the candidate’s current skillsets – rather than their education history.
Edward (ANZ): While degrees aren’t required in Australia and New Zealand, certifications in software development, computer science or other related disciplines are viewed highly.
Olivier (France): Engineering qualifications are often sought after by employers in France. But on the other hand, examples of program achievements and technical test results can make a big difference to an applicant’s chances.

2. What’s the best software development job to begin your career in?

Edward (ANZ): Entry-level programming roles, or front-end roles that are fairly simplistic in nature are your best starting point.
Juliann (UK&I): In my experience, C#, Java, or JavaScript.
Max (UK&I): I think it depends on the technology you choose. I’d suggest the best role would be one that allows you to work with physical interaction in an office with Senior or Lead Developers. There is no substitute for the knowledge you can pick up from being involved in those kinds of tech discussions that don’t always happen remotely.
Edmond (Asia): It also really depends on where your passion is, as passion will lead you to learning more and growing faster. For example, you could start off as a Mobile Engineer if you have an entrepreneurial mindset, and have ambitions to one day building your own mobile app. Or you could begin your career as a Data Engineer, in the hope that you develop into Machine Learning.
Olivier (France): Taking all the advice above into account, I think that, generally, a great starting place is to be working in an environment whereby you can participate and be involved in projects from start to finish.

3. How easy is it to transfer into a development role from another tech role?

Max (UK&I): This is difficult to answer. Whilst it’s certainly possible, I think it’s a lot more common to transfer into a development role internally, than to leave a company in one tech role and start as a Developer elsewhere.
Juliann (UK&I): I would say that it’s easy to get onto the relevant courses, but the difficult part may be getting hired. Ultimately, development isn’t just a 9am-5pm job; it needs to be a passion in which you commit to continually learning. So, if you’ve started your career in a different tech role, the key thing is being able to demonstrate your commitment to development to the hiring manager.

4. Do you have any advice for those who are struggling to break into development?

Edmond (Asia): Enhance your coding skills as much as possible, because you will need to demonstrate to an employer that you have the skills needed to do the job. That means you need to live, eat and breathe code, by:
  • Joining online communities to learn from global programmers
  • Working on your own projects and writing your own programs
  • Taking on freelance programming for small projects
All the above will improve your coding skills, and also demonstrate your passion and level of expertise to any potential employer.
Edward (ANZ): You could also attend one of the many software meetups or conferences online, and hang out with people who are already in the industry. There are lots of free short courses you can do online to upskill as well. And finally, get yourself on platforms like Stack Overflow or GitHub.
Max (UK&I): My advice is to make sure you focus on all the other things that surround the application process too. There are loads of touchpoints when you come into contact with an employer; the first email or direct message, your CV and portfolio, follow-up messages, and of course the interview itself. There are four key things I’d suggest all budding Developers do:
  1. Work on your social media accounts, because you can be sure employers will be looking at those
  2. Build up your personal brand. Post regularly on social media; comment on things, pose questions, share blog posts and articles about the dev world (especially the controversial ones!)
  3. Connect with people who have the power to hire you – heads of departments, creative directors, senior or lead creatives, etc.
  4. Have work examples ready – you must be able to demonstrate your passion, not just talk about it in place of no commercial experience

5. Does the experience of working in development differ depending on the size and scale of the business?

Max (UK&I): Yes, generally speaking, the smaller the organisation, the broader the role is. That then requires the Developer to wear more than one hat. But those working in larger organisations tend to have very defined responsibilities, which can sometimes be viewed as a negative; being pigeon-holed.
Edmond (Asia): I think there are pros and cons either way. Some Developers prefer to work with smaller companies so they can take on multiple roles and see through a full SDLC more often. Equally, others prefer to work in larger tech companies to manage and collaborate with multiple teams in a more structured way.
Other than a company’s size or scale, the experience also differs depending on how much emphasis or investment the business is willing to invest locally. Most large global companies would have development centres set up in Asia, but invest more heavily in other regions. Hence teams in Asia may not get to work on the latest technologies, products, or projects.

6. And finally, how would you sell a career in software development; what is the main motivation for those working in the industry? What do they love about working in development?

Max (UK&I): The stack they are working with has always been, and I suspect always will be, their number one motivator. This is closely followed by the project being worked on; Developers are seriously motivated by ‘tech for good’ and working on projects that make a measurable difference, or where they can see the outcome of what they are doing.
I think it’s very difficult for Developers to communicate what they do to non-technical people, so being able to say ‘I built a system which helps people manage their illness’, for example, is valuable to them.
Edmond (Asia): Apart from the great career progression, people love working in development because they get to solve problems in an environment where they are always learning new technologies. And Product Developers enjoy building and having ownerships of their products. It’s the journey of creating something from scratch, and seeing it go live into production, that gives them a strong sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Juliann (UK&I): Similar to Edmond, I think that one of the biggest motivators for Developers is the opportunity of gaining exposure to new technologies. What do they love about working in development specifically? Solving problems, and constantly learning.
Edward (ANZ): I agree with Edmond and Juliann – development professionals typically find the problem solving, creative and innovative elements of this field highly motivating. They are at the forefront of new technologies and are trained in, and learn, new tech. Many also love working in great tech companies with modern progressive cultures that pay attractive salaries and offer an excellent work-life balance.



James Milligan
Global Head of Technology at Hays

James Milligan is the Global Head of Technology at Hays, having joined in 2000. In his role, he is responsible for the strategic development of Hays' technology businesses globally.