Last Updated 11/29/2023
It’s a common concern: Do you have to be good at math to code?
For already established developers, the answer might be obvious. But coding still isn’t widely taught in K-12 schools, so the basics remain a mystery to many adults looking to break into the field. They may assume that because it’s a STEM skill, coding must have a lot in common with math. And if they don’t feel like they’re good at math, then it could lead to a misinterpretation that learning to code or pursuing a career in programming wouldn’t be possible.
But math and coding, in general, actually require pretty different skill sets. Yet the fear of math still keeps promising developers from entering the field. Thus, causing them to miss out on lucrative career opportunities and further contributing to the skills gap.
Here are a few reasons you should give coding a try—even if you aren’t proficient in math.
Careers in Coding
Before we dive into whether or not you need to be a mathematician to thrive as a coder, it’s important to understand what a coder actually does. Coders use programming languages to develop software for websites, mobile applications, video games, and more. They use code to tell the computer how to perform different tasks.
There are many types of coding roles available. Here are a few of the most common:
Web Developer: As you can probably guess, web developers help build and launch websites. There are back-end web developers who help create the structure of the website, and there are front-end web developers who work on the visual aspect of the website. Additionally, there are also full-stack developers who work on both the front-end and back-end.
Software Developer: A software developer designs and develops software for computers, mobile devices, video games, and more. Like web developers, there are both front-end and back-end software developers.
Database Administrator: A database administrator is responsible for creating, maintaining, and securing an organization’s databases. They’ll also use programming languages to develop custom databases.
Real-World Coding Isn’t Like Math—It’s Like Language
Now that you know what coding looks like in the real world, it’s time to answer the burning question: Do you have to be good at math to code?
Surprise! Software development isn’t like math. It’s more creative than that. In fact, web development is considered one of the most interesting jobs for creative people.
Math problems almost always have a singular answer. You’re either right or wrong. But in software development, there are normally several correct, often novel, approaches to solving a problem.
Learning to code is more like learning a new language than solving math problems. Programming languages, just like human languages, share common principles. Once you know the fundamentals of any programming language, learning a new one is just a matter of learning new syntax and vocabulary. Master one, and it becomes much easier to master another.
The Programs Do the Math, So the Programmers Don’t Have To
In the past, computers were basically glorified calculators—think NASA scientists working out trajectories for space stations and asteroids. But that’s not the case anymore. Well, NASA is still sending robots into space, but the programs to calculate trajectories have by now been written, and the scientists using those programs no longer need to be mathematicians.
And that’s the case for much of programming. Its uses have evolved, and tools, like libraries, frameworks, and integrated development environments have emerged to support those uses and help make programming easier.
You Don’t Have to Know Everything to Succeed at Something
Fast food restaurants operate via assembly line: McDonald’s employees don’t need to know how to cook an entire meal; they just need to know how to heat oil or wrap a sandwich. The same is true of today’s developers: Some build very specialized algorithms, some assemble components into an entire product, and others scale or maintain the work. Those doing the product assembly don’t need to know how to build complex algorithms, and those writing complex algorithms don’t need to know how to scale software.
This is why programming is now a career path open to people who are good at solving problems—like the developer who figures out how to build a fully functioning product or who understands the ins and outs of scaling infrastructure—and not just to people who can write very specialized algorithms that require complex math.
You Don’t Have to Understand How Engines Work to Drive a Car
Math isn’t even necessary to teach programming, software developer and Johns Hopkins lecturer Yaakov Chaikin says. In fact, teachers are doing students a disservice by using math problems to introduce coding. While all programming might be technically math-based, coding is a completely separate discipline with challenges all its own.
Chaikin puts it like this: In the same way, you can learn to drive a car without understanding how the internal combustion engine works, you can learn to program without knowing much math at all.
Others Have Already Done the Hard Work—You Just Have to Research It
Today, when a software developer runs into a problem, there’s a good chance that someone before them has already been there, done that—and then posted the solution on the internet for them to find. (*Ahem* Stack Overflow *ahem.*) That’s a huge advantage that wasn’t available to early programmers who had to work everything out for the first time.
Sometimes the key to being a good coder is being a good researcher. Once you can understand the vocabulary of code and figure out the right search terms, many of the answers to common coding questions are readily available.
With No Math Background, These Devs Are Making It Anyway
When Nav.com developer Catalina Astengo started her first tech job, she was surprised to find many of her colleagues had backgrounds in creative fields like music or literature. Astengo had assumed that web development would mostly attract those with a math background, but it turned out none of their jobs required that kind of knowledge.
“I haven’t had to use any advanced math since I got started with web development,” she shared. “I’m sure other types of software development do require it, but not web development. As long as you know how to add and subtract, you’re good.”
Developer Alex Hughes says he was terrible at math in school. Even with a tutor, he only barely passed high school math. That’s never held him back, though. “Outside of Machine Learning and academia, you’re not going to see much math that you don’t know,” Hughes writes. “Can you count to ten and know your timetables? Congratulations, you now know enough mathematics to be a software developer.”
Front-end engineer Daniel K. Hunter managed to become a developer despite failing almost every math class in high school. He didn’t have a college degree, nor did his original career in sales and marketing for the music industry do much to improve his math skills. Nevertheless, it took just 10 months of self-study—while holding down a full-time job—for Hunter to become a competent front-end developer and land a full-time job in tech.
So Do You Have to Be Good at Math to Code? Definitely Not
It turns out the only math skills you need to start learning to code and even to be successful professionally are the most basic ones: addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc. Instead, you need to be a logical thinker interested in solving problems and building applications for use in the real world.
Attend a Coding Bootcamp for All Backgrounds
The Fullstack Academy Software Engineering Immersive Bootcamp can provide you with the skills, knowledge, and hands-on experience to succeed as a coder. Designed for students of all skill levels, the immersive learning environment focuses on actual coding rather than just theory, allowing you to graduate with a portfolio of work to show potential employers. Fullstack Academy also offers the Grace Hopper Program for women and non-binary students, which is built on the same rigorous curriculum as the Software Engineering Immersive.