How to Become a Software Engineer With a Biology Degree

Tech Career Hub
Written by:
App Academy
Published on:
January 25, 2023
test tubes filled in a laboratory

Explore the steps and strategies to transition from a biology degree to a career in software engineering. Learn about the necessary skills, education, and training required to make this career shift.

While coding and biology might not seem like a natural combination at first glance, there are actually a number of places where you might find they overlap.

We’ll explore how to change careers from biology to software engineering, including the key skills you need to learn and the steps you can take to become a software engineer.

Learn Where Coding and Biology Intersect

The first step in pivoting your career is to identify which skills you may utilize in both your current (or old) role and your new one. There’s actually a lot of common ground between coding and biology.

Software engineering is responsible for many of the tools biologists use on a daily basis including computer modeling, machine learning algorithms, and genome editing programs.

Some graduate biology programs are beginning to grasp the growing importance of programming, but regardless, having at least some baseline computer science skills at your disposal could prove to be a valuable asset if you want to stand out from your peers.

Plus, for some emerging career paths in the biology sector, coding skills aren’t just useful, they’re a requirement. This is perhaps most evident in the complex field of bioinformatics.

What is Bioinformatics?

You’re not alone if your first question was, “What is bioinformatics?” In its simplest terms, bioinformatics encompasses the study of the use of data in the field of biology. It involves developing and applying computational tools and techniques to analyze and interpret biological data such as DNA sequences and protein structures.

Bioinformatics is a rapidly growing interdisciplinary field that combines computer science, statistics, and biology to solve complex problems. Bioinformatic scientists may find themselves needing to update or redesign their tools and software applications to fit the needs of their projects. They may even need to be prepared to build new ones from scratch.

Coding for bioinformatics is a non-negotiable skill, although it’s certainly more specialized than studying to become a software engineer.

Figure Out if You Need Further Education

If you’re interested in moving into the highly technical field of bioinformatics, or any more specialized area of biology, or you’re thinking of transitioning completely to software engineering, the first step is to determine what kind of further education you might need to pursue. You might need to develop a new skill set or grasp more complex knowledge.

Many bioinformatic scientists come from a background in computer science or biostatistics, but there are many who started out with a biology degree as well. Take some time to understand the sort of role you’re working toward and do some research about the necessary skills and qualifications.

Identify Applicable Coding Languages

If you’re looking to leverage both your biology knowledge as well as any new coding skills you pick up, you’re going to be working within a narrower, more niche field. There are going to be certain coding languages that will be more useful to you than others.

Depending on your specific area of interest, you may find that it will be useful to know R, C++, Perl, or even Java. The most popular and widely used programming language in the biology space by far, however, is Python.

Learn More: Programming 101: How to Learn Coding for Beginners

Python for Bioinformatics

If you could only pick one language to focus on in your transition from biology to coding for bioinformatics, Python would be the clear winner. It’s a popular and versatile language that’s widely used in a number of different scientific fields. It’s highly regarded for its ease of use, its large ecosystem of libraries and frameworks, and its compatibility with other tools.

There is an entire open-source Python library of computational tools intended specifically for bioinformatics. Python can be used for the majority of tasks that a bioinformatics scientist may encounter, including filtering and combining files, plotting, visualizing data, and sequencing amino acids and genomes.

It may be worthwhile to branch out into learning other programming languages for a broad and marketable skill set, but Python is an excellent choice to start with.

Lean on Training Resources

Making the decision to become a software engineer with a biology degree may sound intimidating at first, but you don’t have to tackle it on your own.

There is a near-limitless number of resources available to help you make the transition as seamless as possible. These range from local coding meetups to hackathons to beginner-level courses, self-paced tutorials, and internship opportunities.

Whether you’re learning Python for bioinformatics specifically or you’re just looking to pick up some additional programming skills, the key is to be able to identify which areas you need to focus on and sift through the useful resources for the ones that will be most productive.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information available or the prospect of working through it on your own schedule, you can consider a coding bootcamp like App Academy.

We offer intensive programs that condense the most critical information into full-time or part-time curriculums, so there’s always one that will fit your schedule. We provide you with the tools and experience you need to succeed as a software engineer and level up in your career.

Both of our online programs (with an online, full-time software engineering course and a part-time, online coding bootcamp offering) teach Python extensively.

Step Up Your Career with App Academy

A background in biology can provide a strong foundation for a career in software engineering or a more specialized field like bioinformatics. Our programs can help you step up your career by giving you new skills and bringing you to the next level. Explore our curriculum or get in touch with one of our Admissions Specialists today!



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