Becoming a Software Engineer in the UK - a career guide
Software development is a career field which has lots of benefits: remote work, high pay, intellectual challenge and a casual work environment, in most cases. Many companies also allow you to work whenever suits you - this is known as working asyncronously or "async" for short.
And the best part? You do not need a university degree to become a developer!
In this article I'm going to go over lots of questions I see people asking about becoming a Software Developer in the UK. Buckle up!
Is there a shortage of programmers in the UK?
Programmers are in high demand in the UK. There is not enough supply of programmers to fit the needs of the burgeoning tech scene in Britain. More and more industries are becoming digitised - it's hard to think of a purchase that people make nowadays without reaching for their computer or phone.
This problem has got worse as Brexit has meant many Software Engineers left the UK to work on continental Europe. High salaries in the US also draw UK developers away from homegrown companies, which increases the shortage. In recent years the UK government has spent £100m in training new Computer Science teachers in secondary schools.
Some 66% of employers in a UK survey said that the shortage of developers was hurting their business. Another study by MIT found that UK employers plan to increase their developer headcount by 68% compared to figures in 2020. There has been a huge increase in the number of coding bootcamps and online learning platforms in recent years, which also point to a big market demand for coders in the UK.
How much does a Junior Software Engineer make in the UK?
Like most jobs, salaries for Junior Software Engineers have traditionally varied depending on where you live with the highest pay in London and the South East, followed by other tech hubs such as Cambridge, Edinburgh, Manchester and Bristol.
The good news is that due to Covid, remote work has become even more common than it already was. This means that salary differences have tended to level up to London levels for developers working remotely from smaller cities.
It's now realistic to earn a London Software Engineer salary while working from a town or city in the UK with a much cost of living. You can even work from rural areas if you can get a good broadband connection.
Remote Junior Software Engineer job salaries typically range from £30,000 to £40,000. Some employers may offer slightly less or more. Knowledge of in-demand devops skills like AWS or Azure will usually mean a higher salary. In certain cases, salaries can be over £60,000 as this advert for a Junior Java Engineer at Lloyd's bank shows:
What would be a Junior Front-End Developer's salary in London?
How do I become a developer in the UK?
Without the time and expense of going to university in the UK, you have a few options to become a developer.
- Teach yourself coding online
This approach has pros and cons. It's definitely a lot cheaper than either university or a coding bootcamp. You can conceivably learn from a relatively cheap course such as Zero to Mastery for less than £224 a year. Hannah went from working in retail to becoming a Software Engineer after taking that course.
You also get to learn exactly what you want. Don't want to learn enterprise software like Java at a bootcamp? You don't have to! You can tailor-make your own programme when you teach yourself.
This freedom to choose your curriculum could also be a disadvantage if you become overwhelmed with the choice of coding languages, frameworks and libraries you can learn. At a coding bootcamp the curriculum is chosen for you whereas you'll need to decide yourself what is good to learn.
You'll also have to motivate yourself on your own.
- Go to a coding bootcamp
Coding bootcamps in the UK have their own advantages and disadvantages. A clear advantage is your teachers will decide what you need to learn and you don't have to use time and energy deciding what is valuable to learn.
Coding bootcamps also usually provide career support. This could take the form of reviewing your CV or even introducing you to local employers at meetups. Many coding bootcamps earn money when companies hire their graduates so they are incentivised to find you a job fast.
Coding bootcamps also provide you with company as you'll experience the ups and downs of learning to code with other people. This can also improve your career network in the long run.
Danielle switched career with Makers bootcamp in London. She was able to get a job at Vodafone as a Junior Software Engineer.
Do you need a degree to be a Software Engineer in the UK?
No! You definitely do not need a university degree to be a Software Engineer in the UK. The country has many reputable coding bootcamps who supply the UK's blue chip companies with Junior Software Engineers every year. The UK is also generally more open to self-taught developers who haven't been to university or a coding bootcamp.
There is a huge demand for Software Engineers in the UK and so companies tend to be slightly more willing than the US to hire developers who do not have Computer Science degrees.
Is London good for tech jobs?
London is an excellent place for finding tech jobs as it's the main centre for the UK tech industry. Not only does London have the most startups in the UK, it also has the City, one of the most most important financial cities in the whole world.
Added to that, you have the fact that most UK government jobs are based in London. These jobs offer less pay but greater security and pensions than working in the private sector.
Is London a good place for a Software Engineer?
Yes! Aside from London being an excellent place for finding a Junior Software Engineer job, it's also a good place for people in tech in general. London boasts lots of meetups for developers and startup founders where you can meet other Software Engineers.
London has a world-class transport system with the newly opened Elizabeth Line (or Crossrail, as others call it) providing high speed travel from west to east, including one of the world's busiest airports, Heathrow. London also has a high speed railway to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam and it's easy to travel to other UK tech hubs like Bristol, Cambridge and Edinburgh.
London is also home to lots of co-working spaces and cafes are generally very laptop-friendly.
Why is the average Software Engineer salary lower in the UK than in the US?
Although Software Engineer salaries are high compared to other UK jobs, it is fair to point out they are a lot lower than US developer salaries. So why is this?
- Venture capital is bigger in the US
Venture capital funds, mostly based in and around San Francisco, channel phenomenal amounts of money into startups in the US. As investors are eager to own a piece of the next billion dollar company, they are happy to fund hundreds of startups if just one of their startups is successful. This means each time a startup raises capital from investors, there is a lot of money to spend on Software Engineer salaries. This inevitably has pushed up salaries in the UK.
In comparison with the US, the venture capital scene in the UK is relatively small. Investors in the UK generally have less money and so when they fund startups, they have less money to pay for salaries so pay in the UK is lower as a result.
- The US has a far bigger consumer market
A further reason that pay in the US is higher is simply the fact that there are more consumers there. As of June 2022 the US has population of around 500 million whereas the UK has only 66 million.
Let's imagine a scenario: Company A is a budgeting app based in the US. It charges $10 a month and has a potential market of 500 million people. If every man, woman and child bought their app, they would make $5bn a month.
Company B is a budgeting app but it's based in the UK. It also charges $10 (or £10!) a month to it's market of 66 million people. If every Brit buys their app, they would earn $660m a month.
So you can see that companies in the US with their far bigger market have a huge advantage!
One caveat is that there are many remote companies with offices in London, such as Veed, which offers salaries competitive with San Francisco and New York.
So there we have it! You can realistically earn up to £40,000 as a Junior Software Engineer in the UK. We've gone over the fact that you can teach yourself to code or go to a coding bootcamp and you don't need a degree.
Salaries tend to be higher in London but as remote work has soared in recent years, you can often be paid a London salary while working in a cheaper city in the UK. While British pay for developers won't be able to compete with US companies, it's higher than average UK salaries. Added to that is the fact that there is a major shortage of Software Developers in the UK.
All these factors combine to make Software Engineering an extremely lucrative path in the UK.