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You can start by personal project, see where that leads you.
If all is good, start with freelance projects, if you find it interesting then improve your knowledge in collaborating in open source projects, check devRant collab section, it has interesting projects
Then after all that, which should take a year or two, if you find it more interesting and gives more income and stability then consider moving.
But be warned, in development it is not always smooth, sometimes hours,days spent for fixing a bug, and almost always deadlines impose pressure, changes are always happening.
Working as a dev in a company is different than working as a freelancer and different than working on personal projects.
Each has its good and bad, my advice is don't do the switch until you explore, try and then decide
To answer your other questions, university degree WILL help for sure but not required, I'm a computer engineering graduate, all my studies were about how to design and program hardware, and I"m a self taught developer, my degree only helped in how to think, design, consider solutions, and plan.
Not saying degree is worthless, but I don't find it mandatory
Implementation comes out of experience IMO, not that you will not know how to do it, but by time you will know what is the best way to do it for this specific scenario.
If you want to dive into programming, read lots of code, either from open source projects or from StackOverFlow answers.
For me I went and read Android kernel source code even though I
1. Don't know how to develop a kernel
2. Don't know C/C++
But it was nice to know how such a huge project is divided, how it is controlled, and how changes are implemented by following their mailing list, patches, and change logs.
seb12276yOk. Thanks for your tips. I think these might be really good approaches to clearify what I actually want and need.