YES! Here's why:
Fewer and Fewer Companies are Requiring Post-Secondary Education
I did a search for Java programming jobs on indeed.com and inside the second job that was listed, they specified that post-secondary was not required, but was a bonus. A certification in programming was all that was required if you didn't have post-secondary. So this trend is a very positive one for any programmer's who are self-taught, and if you ask me, it makes a lot of sense. Right now companies in North America are scrambling to find talented programmers and struggling to fill open programming positions. I know this from first hand experience as I worked for a company and was involved in the interviewing/hiring process. If a company just slaps on the arbitrary mandatory condition that they require a post-secondary education, then they are missing out on a large pool of talent.
Mind you, most will argue that in that pool of talent, there exists both awesome and terrible programmers alike. This is what they say post-secondary education is for, it will weed out the terrible programmers… but I also know from first hand experience that that's not the case either. So what's really required of companies is a solid interview process as well as a system that will properly assess the new employees during their first three months of employment.
Another argument that I receive from those who are skeptical about landing a job is that there's no way to get experience – and companies want experience. To that I say “There are more chances to get experience as a programmer today than there EVER were back when I was trying to find my first job as a programmer”. The reason for that is the introduction of websites like odesk.com and elance.com. Websites like these are designed to place programmers with people who want to hire them!
More often than not, the lowest bidders are awarded the contracts, so if you're in this business to get real world experience, you're a shoe in! Obviously, you'll need to be sure you can deliver the product that your potential employer will need you to build, but even then, it's okay to push your boundaries. I did this back in 2009 when I decided to create my very first web application from scratch. I had never done this before, and I decided to embark on that journey to push the boundaries of what I knew so that I could be a better programmer… and it was the best decision I've ever made. I learned more in the span of three short months than I had in my entire formal education. Seriously, I'm not just saying that to prove a point, it's the honest truth.
So taking on a contract as the “lowest bidder” can almost guarantee you a real world learning experience that you can take to any day-job interview. And look at it this way, even though you may be the lowest bidder, you're still going to be making money, so it's more profitable than taking on an internship.
Internships and Volunteer Work
This leads me to my next point: you can always volunteer your time via internships and good old community service. Depending on your situation, I know for a fact that some churches love to have resident techies on hand to help them with building websites.
I'm positive that if you were having troubles landing a contract via the previously mentioned website, then all you'd need to do is strike up a conversation with one of the potential employers and tell them the truth. Explain that your goal is to get real world experience, and although you currently have none, you are willing to work hard at no cost to bring them a great product. If someone were to make me that offer, it would be hard for me to refuse it!
So the opportunities for getting that real world experience are totally within your reach, the only thing holding you back – is you!
The Entrepreneurial Route
Often people just assume that learning a programming language will only benefit them by rewarding them with a 9 – 5 job. While this is certainly a wonderful reward, it's only half the picture. Having a well rounded skill-set as a programmer opens up opportunities for you to create your own products and sell them. This thought is sometimes daunting to most people, but just take a look at my own story. I started learning about online business back in July of 2012, and after only six months had passed, I had already launched a blog, written an eBook and created my first membership website with actual paying customers. Things were going well enough for me to even quit my day job and start pursuing this new passion full-time! Since then I haven't looked back and am very proud of my accomplishments as an entrepreneur.
So the lesson here, is that the knowledge you gain from learning how to program on your own can lead you to places you never would have dreamed about. All you need is hard work, and the right kind of online education.