How To Become a Software Engineer (With Salary and FAQs)

Updated December 9, 2022

Software engineers work in practically every industry, designing new programs and providing software solutions to various problems. If you enjoy working with computers and developing programs, you may consider becoming a software engineer. Learning about the steps it takes to pursue this career can help you determine if it’s the right choice for you.

In this article, we discuss what a software engineer does, explain how to become a software engineer, share their average salary and job outlook and answer frequently asked questions about this role.

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What is software engineering?

Software engineering is a field that involves developing, delivering, maintaining and improving software systems and programs for computers and other digital devices. This software can include operating systems, mobile games and computer applications. Software engineering focuses on using programming languages and working in teams to build and test software.

Read more: What Is Software Engineering?

What does a software engineer do?

A software engineer designs, develops and builds software, including programs and applications on computers and smartphones. They’re able to do this by learning the languages that computers use to operate. Computer engineers are typically in-demand, making this an attractive career option for someone with critical thinking and creativity skills.

Software engineers spend their days in an office setting, working behind a desk. Most of their time goes toward working on current projects, and they occasionally have team meetings. Many software engineers also work remotely. Software engineers may have flexible working hours, provided they meet all their deadlines.

Related: Learn About Being a Software Engineer

How to become a software engineer

If you’re interested in becoming a software engineer, consider following these steps:

1. Choose an educational path

To become a software engineer, you need additional education after high school. There are three educational paths you can follow:

Associate degree 

An associate degree introduces you to the basics of software development and only takes about two years to complete. Anyone interested in becoming a software engineer should focus their associate degree on a related topic, like software engineering technology or software systems engineering. Employers might require a higher degree, but there are still many entry-level jobs you can get at the associate level.

Bachelor's degree 

A bachelor's degree is a common requirement for software engineering positions. Having this degree demonstrates that you’ve received advanced training in software engineering. A prospective software engineer may consider majoring in fields like computer science or information technology (IT). Over the four years of enrollment, students learn about programming languages, software testing and networking.

Coding boot camp 

Coding boot camps are relatively new and have gained popularity because of their low cost and time commitment. At a coding boot camp, you learn everything you need to know to get a software engineering job in only a few months. Most of this time involves working in a hands-on environment to learn how to code.

Read more: What Degree Do You Need To Be a Software Engineer?

2. Complete an internship

Completing an internship is often a good idea if you want to become a software engineer. Internships give you real-world experience and allow you to make connections within the industry. In some cases, an internship can even turn into a part-time or full-time position. 

An internship is a requirement for many bachelor's degree programs, or you can find one on your own after receiving your degree. Anyone can pursue an internship to gain more experience, even if you’ve already attended a coding boot camp.

Related: A Complete Guide to Internships

3. Choose a specialty

As you're gaining your education and starting your career, think about the area of software development in which you want to specialize. For example, you may focus on one specific programming language or one development method, such as mobile or web development. 

By focusing your attention on specific topics within software engineering, you may find it easier to advance your career. When you're in school or attending boot camps, you can try out different areas of software engineering and see which ones you like best.

4. Improve your skills

After completing your education, you meet the basic requirements for getting a job as a software engineer, but many graduates find they need to advance their skills further to get the type of job they want. There are several ways both new and experienced software engineers can improve their skills:

Gain certification

Getting various certifications demonstrates your technical proficiency in different areas of software engineering. Some major vendors, such as Microsoft, provide certifications on their products. You can also become certified through organizations like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Attend conferences

Another way to advance your skills is by attending conferences to learn about current innovations in the field. By attending conferences related to your area of software engineering, you can learn about new products and changes within the industry. It's also a good opportunity to network and learn from other software engineers.

Pursue further education

Software engineers also have the option of getting more education. For instance, if you’ve earned an associate degree or attended a coding boot camp, you can pursue a bachelor's degree program. Software engineers who have gained their bachelor's degree can aim to get their master's degree in a relevant subject. A master's degree can help you advance in your career and teach you additional skills you may not have learned during your undergraduate studies.

Read more: Software Engineer Skills: Definition and Examples

Software engineer salary and job outlook

The average annual salary for a software engineer is $93,837 per year. Salaries can vary significantly based on experience, education, specialization, employer and location. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t have job outlook data specifically for software engineers, it predicts employment in the software development industry to grow 22% from 2020 to 2030

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.

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FAQs about software engineers

Below are some answers to common questions regarding software engineers:

What programming languages should software engineers learn?

As an aspiring software engineer, it’s important to learn some of the most popular programming languages. These include:

  • Java

  • JavaScript

  • Python

  • Scala

  • C and C++

Rather than learning all these languages, you might decide to specialize in one or two languages to become an expert on them.

Related: 50 Types of Programming Languages and What They Do

What industries hire software engineers?

Software engineers can work in a wide variety of industries. Some industries that have a high demand include retail, health care, IT services and the government. Other industries that hire software engineers include the gaming industry, the automotive industry and the finance industry. 

What additional skills do software engineers need?

Besides understanding programming languages, it’s important for software engineers to have the following skills:

  • Critical thinking

  • Problem-solving

  • Written and verbal communication

  • Time management

  • Ability to work both in teams and independently

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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