How to Become an Software Engineer

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What Do Software Engineers Do?

Software engineers develop and build software. In fact, they’re often called software developers. Some software engineers work on systems software. This includes the operating systems making computers run. Others work on applications software. This includes games, business software, and more.

A lot goes into creating software. Software engineers must first understand users’ needs. They consider what need to do tasks plus concerns like security and ease of use. And, they test the software to make sure it works as intended. If not, it’s back to the drawing board.

But a completed program doesn’t mean the end of working for the day. Software engineers must also monitor and maintain software. They add updates, as needs evolve and more features become possible.

Many software engineers work in computer systems design and related services companies. They could also work in many other industries, from finance to manufacturing. The role should see increasing demand. In fact, software developer job growth projections show a 21%  increase by 2028. This is much faster than average.

The need for software engineers also extends to mobile. The popularity of smartphones and other devices has led to demand for new apps. And, growing concerns about cyber security also help create need for software pros. This helps to explain the high growth and salary potential for career.

 5 Key Skills for Software Engineers

Software engineers often learn skills in college. They usually study computer science, software engineering, or a related major. During this time, they should build strong programming skills. While in college, many future software engineers also do internships. These usually take place at software companies.

  1. Java: Java is a programming language. It is used for many website and web apps. You can also use it to build applications for mobile devices. These range from mobile phones to sensors and microcontrollers.
  2. JavaScript:JavaScript is an object oriented programming language. It’s used for web development. You can use JavaScript to create interactive elements. These include website menus, animations, games, and more.
  3. SQL: SQL stands for Structured Query Language. The code helps build databases to make use of tables to store data. SQL can help create and retrieve data.
  4. C# Programming Language: C# is an object oriented programming language. The C# language is for developing apps on the Microsoft platform. It’s also popular for game development. But, you can use C# for a lot of other programs, too.
  5. Python: Python is a high level programming language. It is object oriented. And, it’s designed to be simple and readable. You can use Python for Rapid Application Development and other purposes.

How Do I Become a Software Engineer?

To become a software engineer, you usually must earn a Bachelor’s degree. This should be in a field like computer science or software engineering.

In your program, you’ll study how software works and how to design it. You’ll also learn programming. Likely, you’ll study several programming languages. As you continue down the career path, you can continue to develop your knowledge of coding.

Some employers prefer to hire software engineers with a Master’s degree. In a Master’s, you’ll build on your prior learning and explore advanced topics. Project management may be part of this degree. This could help you learn to keep large software engineering programs on track.

With education, you’ll need to build experience. Some experience could come from potential internships. An internship can provide more than a chance to try software development. It’s a way to see how software companies run, and what it’s like to work in one.

Finally, if you plan to work in a certain industry, you’ll need related knowledge. Software developers who work in banking need to understand finance, for example. That helps them create software solutions for financial goals.

What Degree Should I Earn to Become a Software Engineer?

Software engineers tend to earn at least a Bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. These programs share some subjects in common, like programming and math. But, software engineering is a subfield of computer science. So, a software engineering program may drill down on more specific topics.

But, computer science programs are more common. That’s because they offer a broader view of the landscape. Let’s take a more indepth look at each program:

  • Bachelor’s in Computer Science: Computer science includes the study of all areas of computing. This includes data structures and algorithms, computer architecture, programming, and more. You may learn how to create both computer hardware and software. But, future software engineers should focus on courses about building software.
  • Bachelor’s in Software Engineering: Software engineering programs focus on the skills for creating software. Your courses should teach you how to design and code software, plus test and verify it. You’ll learn different applications for these skills. Like, building databases, coding mobile apps, or making graphics for games.

As mentioned, some software engineers earn a Master’s degree. Let’s consider two possible paths:

  • Master’s in Computer Science: A Master of Science in Computer Science program may pick up where your Bachelor’s program left off. You’ll delve even deeper into data structures, algorithms, operating systems, and more. You could also study topics like artificial intelligence and machine learning. Finally, Master’s programs sometimes call for work experience. Your courses could build on your work knowledge and help you pursue new challenges.
  • Master’s in Software Engineering: A Master of Science in Software Engineering could serve many goals. For one, it could help you transition to a new career path in software development. Or, it could help current software pros expand their learning. Along with programming and other skills, you could cover software project management. This could help you prepare for a leadership path.

Working as a Software Engineer

California employs the most systems software engineers, with 88,910 jobs. It’s also the highest paying state, with a mean salary of $131,700.

CA also employs the most applications software engineers. There are 148,550 applications developers in this state.

States with high employment rates for this career are home to many tech companies. These employers may be hiring. Take Amazon, which needs many software engineers. This tech giant hires developers for everything from Android apps to quality assurance. eBay,  another big ecommerce company, needs developers too. Here, software engineers build systems to help buyers and sellers connect.

Software developers also find work in the auto industry. The electric car company Tesla is a major employer in this arena. Remember, cars need computers to run. So do banks. Capital One needs technology to enable credit cards, lending, and other services. Like other financial companies, they often hire software engineers.

Interested in helping audiences access great content? Disney Streaming Services streams movies and shows to viewers’ homes. But a screen is not the only way to view entertainment. SeatGeek iis a mobile ticket platform that sells tickets to various events. Both of these companies are hiring software engineers.

Some companies need software developers to support business. In other cases, software is the business, itself. This is true of DropBox, a workspace platform with file hosting. And, it’s true of Oracle Corporation. This computer technology company makes database software, cloud systems, and more. These and many other software companies are hiring.

Top Industries for Software Engineers

Software engineers could work for technology companies or any industry needing software. Top industries for applications developers, by salary, are:

IndustryAnnual Mean Wage
Software publishers$114,320
Manufacturing$110,290
Finance and insurance$107,960
Management of companies and enterprises$104,420
Computer systems design and related services$100,080

Professional Certifications for Software Engineers

Professional certifications could help software engineers prove their knowledge. There’s no single certification needed for the job. Rather, pros could choose from a range of credentials. Some relate to programming languages, like Java. Others focus on certain skillsets.

Here are a few to consider:

Oracle Certified Associate (OCA): Java SE Programmer

OCA is an entry-level step to proving your knowledge of Java. It covers the basics of this coding language. And, it helps show you’re ready to be a Java programmer. There are two steps to qualifying:

  • You should take beginner and intermediate Java training. Hands on experience is key.
  • Pass the test. You must pass the Java SE 8 Programmer I exam with a score of at least 65%. The test has 70 multiple choice questions. You get 150 minutes to answer them all. As of now, the test costs $245 to take.

Oracle Certified Professional (OCP): Java SE Programmer

OCP is the next certification after OCA. It helps prove that you have higher level skills in Java. You must earn the OCA credential before you attempt the OCP. Here are the steps involved:

  • Further your knowledge. You will need to take advanced Java training. And, you’ll need to practice your skills and gain experience.
  • Pass the OCA test. You must pass the Java SE 8 Programmer I exam. (See above for details.)
  • Pass the OCP test. Next, you need to take the Java SE 8 Programmer II exam. You’ll need to answer 85 questions in 150 minutes. Your score must be 65% or more to pass. The exam fee is $245.

Professional Organizations

Professional groups for software engineers could enhance your career. They offer the chance to learn, network, and get involved. Here are five to consider:

  • IEEE Computer Society: This group has certification programs, peer reviewed journals, and more. They also offer networking events. Your membership gets you access, plus the newsletter, member discounts, and other perks. The basic membership is $127. Students can join for $40.
  • Association of Software Professionals: ASP is a trade association for developers. By joining, you may gain access to other pros with insights into the latest tech trends and business tips. Members get access to private online discussion groups, special discounts, and more. Standard membership is $100 per year.
  • Association for Computing Machinery: ACM is the world’s largest group of its kind. It is a global educational and scientific computing society. Members can join special interest groups and local chapters. They can reach members around the globe. And, they can take part in life long learning. Pro membership is $99.
  • Association for Women in Computing: Women developers can come together with other tech pros in AWC. This is one of the first groups of its kind, founded in 1978. Members can enjoy the privileges of networking, learning, mentoring, and more.  Join a local chapter or become an independent member for $25 per year.
  • Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence: AAAI is a group for those who want to further artificial intelligence. It supports research and learning in this field. Members get the magazine, can attend AAAI conferences, and more. Students get special benefits, like mentorship and chances for grants. The regular rate is $145 per year. Students pay  $75 per year.

Top Salaries by State for Software Engineers (Applications)

StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
Washington53,860$131,790
California148,550$127,950
New York52,640$116,830
Virginia38,110$113,690
District of Columbia2,520$112,510

Types of Careers in Software Engineering

The skills to become a software engineer may apply to other career paths. Consider these other careers related to software engineering.

Web Developer

Web Developers design and build websites. They use programming languages like HTML or XML to code the website. Web developers may work with graphic designers and others to plan the look and feel of the site. And, they must track for performance. This includes site traffic, speed, and more. Some web developers may specialize in front end development (how the site looks). Others focus on back end development (how the site works).

Median Salary: $69,430 per year

Job Growth Through 2028: 13% (Must faster than average)

Common Entry level Education: Associate’s degree

Computer Programmer

Computer Programmers write computer code. This allows applications and software to run. Programmers usually work with software developers and engineers. They may take the design created by developers and build it out. Also, they must test code for errors and fix as needed.  These pros may need to know a few programming languages, like C++ and Java.

Median Salary: $84,280 per year

Job Growth Through 2028: -7%

Common Entry level Education: Bachelor’s degree

Computer Network Architect

Computer Network Architects design and build data networks. They’re often called network engineers. These pros work with other technology experts to put together business networking solutions. They may upgrade hardware and software. And, they research new tech trends. They often work for computer systems design firms. But, they may work in many industries.

Median Salary: $109,020 per year

Job Growth Through 2028: 5% (Average)

Common Entry level Education: Bachelor’s degree

Computer and Information Research Scientist

Computer and Information Research Scientists come up with new ideas in tech. They develop new methods of computing. Or, they find new ways to use existing tech. The role may involve creating new hardware and software. Research scientists may even develop new computing languages. The goal is to move the field forward and solve problems. Many work for the government, computers systems design companies, and universities.

Median Salary: $118,370 per year

Job Growth Through 2028: 16% (Much faster than average)

Common Entry level Education: Master’s degree

Computer and Information Systems Manager

Computer and Information Systems Managers manage IT for companies. So, they are often called IT managers. These managers figure out what companies need to run. They recommend computing solutions that meet these needs. Often, they’re in charge of hiring and managing IT staff, as well. So, they may  manage software developers. And sometimes, software developers move up to become IT managers.

Median Salary: $142,530 per year

Job Growth Through 2028: 11% (Much faster than average)

Common Entry level Education: Bachelor’s degree

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Sources for school statistics is the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

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