Become a Java programmer without a college degree

Being a pro on Java doesn't necessarily mean you need a college degree. You just have to take the right steps.

Java is more than an island in Indonesia or slang for coffee: It's one of the most popular programming languages in common usage throughout the web. If you're dreaming of a career in software programming, certification in Java is a popular route to establishing recognizable credentials.

Java is very popular because it inherits the tradition and style of C and C++, but is developed with emphasis on simplicity - making it is easier for a beginner to understand. If you're already an expert in C or C++, then Java is almost effortless to learn. Secondly, Java has portability independent of the platform, which means Java can be executed on most computer environments. This has definitely helped Java prevail in gaining an advantage over other languages. Third, Java uses automatic memory management, which automatically clears out garbage for the programmer and retrieves memory. And it's free!

To be an expert in Java, you don't necessarily have to get a college degree. You just need some initiative, a desire to learn and knowledge of the right steps!

Computer literacy

This sounds simple but it's certainly very important: To become a Java programmer, you'll need to become computer literate beyond just surfing the internet or sending emails. There are plenty of resources out there on the net for you, but you need to be able to find and utilize them. You'll need to know how to download, install, and use necessary programs in order to prepare the Java environment to get you started. Do you know how to access and use Java files? Do you know what Java file editors and compilers are, what they do, or where to download them? These are all questions you need to have clear answers for before you start your Java career.

First, a brief explanation of a file, an editor and a compiler:

An editor is where you write, fix and save your code. You can save files in the format appropriate for your programming language, in this case, Java. Learn more here A compiler "translates" your saved code. Since the computer does not "understand" our human-readable high-level language (source code), we need to translate it into "machine-readable lowest-level language" (machine code) for the computer. Learn more here

Here's the procedure: First, the programmer creates the instructions on the editor and the code is saved in a file. The compiler takes the code and translates it. Finally, the computer reads the "translated code" and executes it.

To download a Java Editor: here

To download a Compiler: Eclipse, Oracle, NetBeans

Note: Make sure you read the directions before you download anything and select the tool you want, so that you install the right things. And of course there are tons of other Java editors/compilers out there that are equally useful! (Feel free to list your favorite resources in the comments.)


Now that you understand how to get your basic Java environment set up, you can move on to the next step-writing your first line of code.

As you know, receiving a college degree in computer science or joining a face-to-face Java instruction program would require you to put in a lot of effort in a short span. It might not be the best choice for you if you can't dedicate a lot of time to your studies, especially if you have a full-time job.

Self-learning might be a better choice because you can pace yourself in the process, decide when to study and for how long; everything is pretty much up to you.

Here are some great sites that offer self-paced, online Java training courses:


For purchase:

You don't have to limit yourself to just online resources. Another good way to learn Java is through books. There are plenty of good books available everywhere and you can get them for pretty cheap. For example, take a look at

Professional certification exams

Once you've studied Java using all kinds of resources, you may feel comfortable pursuing a professional certification.

Like a final exam in a college class, the professional certification exams measure your understanding and proficiency of Java. Instead of receiving a grade, you'll earn an accredited certificate indicating your mastery. This addition to your resume will help you stand out in the eye of your future employer.

But what kind of certification exams should you pursue? There are various test providers out there. A reliable test administer is the Oracle Corporation, which is the current developer of the Java language. This is a test provider that employers definitely trust. Sun Microsystems is also a good choice (as it is now part of Oracle).

The procedure for obtaining a certificate could be a little complicated because there are a lot of  options at the different levels of Java expertise.

So before you choose an exam to take, you need to understand your own skill level and standing. Here are some guidelines for you. We'll use the Oracle Certified Exams as an example. Oracle Certifications have various types and levels of exams spanning Java fundamentals to advanced programming.

Oracle places their Java certifications in three categories:

  • Standard Edition (SE)
  • Mobile Edition (ME)
  • Enterprise Edition (EE)

Within each category, there are also different levels of exams, which will be talked about in a moment. First, take a look at this chart.

As you can see, there are three different categories. Within each category, there are several levels. The Standard Edition covers the fundamental skill sets that are needed to be a Java programmer; you would need to pass at least the professional level of Standard Edition in order to move on to the upper level within SE, which is the Master, or move on to the upper categories. The arrows (both blue and black) indicate that prerequisites are needed to take that exam. For example, in order to take ME1 or any EE professional-level or expert-level exams, you would need to pass a SE professional-level exam (SE5, 6, or 7).

You can choose your career path based on which certification you pursue. If you just want a certificate showing you have some skills in Java, then Associate SE5/6/7 or Professional SE5/6 are the ones to choose. (Note: Professional SE7 requires you to take Associate SE7 first.) They don't require any prerequisites and are excellent certifications for showing your fundamental understanding of Java. If you want to go a little bit further in depth, consider taking Master SE6 or Professional SE7. If you wish to create mobile applications applying Java, then ME1 is the choice for you. EE is for more business-oriented applications and requires a strong and solid basis of Java. Master EE5 is the most difficult exam available now and has a little different exam content.

Click on the links below to access explanations and details about each exam (exam numbers, objectives, content, prerequisites, &c). I also attached links to study material for some of the exams. These study courses are different from the self-learning material I provided in the section above. They are specifically targeted for the exams you wish to take and they introduce a lot of useful strategies to help you pass the exams.

You can also check the minimum score requirement to pass each exam here.

Standard Edition:

Oracle Certified Associate

Oracle Certified Professional

Oracle Certified Master

Exam: Oracle Certified Master, Java SE 6 Developer

Mobile edition:

Oracle Certified Professional

Exam: Oracle Certified Professional, Java ME 1 Mobile Application Developer

Enterprise edition:

Oracle Certified Professional

Oracle Certified Expert

Oracle Certified Master

Exam: Oracle Certified Master, Java EE 5 Enterprise Architect

The opportunities available for a Java developer are immense, and their knowledge is very valuable. Best of all, to be an expert in Java, you don't necessarily have to get a college degree. Just take the right steps towards developing and proving your skills, and you're good to go.

Bunron Chen is a business development and software engineering intern at OpenSesame, the world's largest marketplace for buying and selling elearning courses. He earned his BS degree in electrical engineering from the State University of New York at Binghamton.


Bunron Chen is a business development and software engineering intern at OpenSesame, a marketplace for buying and selling elearning courses. He earned his BS degree in electrical engineering from the State University of New York at Binghamton.

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