What Is Software Development: Definition, Processes and Types

Updated July 31, 2023

Illustration of a person typing on their computer next to a flowchart outlining the four main stages of testing.

Software development provides a series of steps for programmers to create computer programs. This process makes up the phases in the software development life cycle. Understanding the software development method offers vast opportunities in the IT industry.

In this article, we explain software development, summarize types of computer programs and explore jobs that use the IT development process.

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What is software development?

Software development is the process programmers use to build computer programs. The process, also known as the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), includes several phases that provide a method for building products that meet technical specifications and user requirements.

The SDLC provides an international standard that software companies can use to build and improve their computer programs. It offers a defined structure for development teams to follow in the design, creation and maintenance of high-quality software. The aim of the IT software development process is to build effective products within a defined budget and timeline.

Key steps in the software development process

There are six major steps in the software development life cycle, including:

1. Needs identification

Needs identification is a market research and brainstorming stage of the process. Before a firm builds software, it needs to perform extensive market research to determine the product's viability.

Developers must identify the functions and services the software should provide so that its target consumers get the most out of it and find it necessary and useful. There are several ways to get this information, including feedback from potential and existing customers and surveys.

The IT teams and other divisions in the company must also discuss the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities of the product. Software development processes start only if the product satisfies every parameter necessarily for its success.

2. Requirement analysis

Requirement analysis is the second phase in the software development life cycle. Here, stakeholders agree on the technical and user requirements and specifications of the proposed product to achieve its goals. This phase provides a detailed outline of every component, the scope, the tasks of developers and testing parameters to deliver a quality product.

The requirement analysis stage involves developers, users, testers, project managers and quality assurance. This is also the stage where programmers choose the software development approach such as the waterfall or V model. The team records the outcome of this stage in a Software Requirement Specification document which teams can always consult during the project implementation.

3. Design

Design is the third stage of the software development process. Here, architects and developers draw up advanced technical specifications they need to create the software to requirements. Stakeholders will discuss factors such as risk levels, team composition, applicable technologies, time, budget, project limitations, method and architectural design.

The Design Specification Document (DSD) specifies the architectural design, components, communication, front-end representation and user flows of the product. This step provides a template for developers and testers and reduces the chances of flaws and delays in the finished product.

4. Development and implementation

The next stage is the development and implementation of the design parameters. Developers code based on the product specifications and requirements agreed upon in the previous stages. Following company procedures and guidelines, front-end developers build interfaces and back-ends while database administrators create relevant data in the database. The programmers also test and review each other's code.

Once the coding is complete, developers deploy the product to an environment in the implementation stage. This allows them to test a pilot version of the program to make performance match the requirements.

5. Testing

The testing phase checks the software for bugs and verifies its performance before delivery to users. In this stage, expert testers verify the product's functions to make sure it performs according to the requirements analysis document.

Testers use exploratory testing if they have experience with that software or a test script to validate the performance of individual components of the software. They notify developers of defects in the code. If developers confirm the flaws are valid, they improve the program, and the testers repeat the process until the software is free of bugs and behaves according to requirements.

6. Deployment and maintenance

Once the software is defect-free, the developers can deliver it to customers. After the release of a software's production version, the IT software development company creates a maintenance team to manage issues clients encounter while using the product. Maintenance can be a hot-fix if it is a minor issue but severe software failures require an update.

Types of software

Software belongs to three main groups based on their use and application. Here are the popular categories of software.

System software

Also called operating system or OS, system software is the program your computer uses to translate input commands into machine-readable language. The operating system controls a computer's hardware components.

Examples of popular operating systems used in personal computers include the Windows OS from Microsoft, Mac OS used in Apple MacBook and the Linux-based Ubuntu. Web servers use the Apache OS while the UNIX operating system is used to build proprietary systems.

Application software

This is the application most people use to perform tasks on their computers and smartphones. Popular examples include word processing apps, internet browsers, media players, photo editing tools, anti-virus and even software-as-service (SAS) products.

Programming languages

This is the programming language used to create software. It is used only by coders to create programs. Programming languages include Java, C++, PHP and Simlab.

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Jobs that use software development

There are several jobs in the IT industry that use software development. Here are five popular careers you can start with the knowledge of software development:

1. Quality assurance engineer

National average salary: $64,770 per year

Primary duties: Quality assurance engineers ensure software development projects adhere to design specifications and client requirements. They compile quality assurance reports, test products, identify defects and ensure programs are bug-free before deployment and release to users.

2. Computer programmer

National average salary: $70,803 per year

Primary duties: Computer programmers write, modify and debug software. They write code to create server applications, maintain, monitor, document and test software.

Related: Learn About Being a Computer Programmer

3. Database administrator

National average salary: $89,195 per year

Primary duties: Database administrators monitor and improve the performance of database systems. They install, configure, troubleshoot and maintain database systems and ensure optimal security at all times.

4. Senior systems analyst

National average salary: $89,689 per year

Primary duties: Senior systems analysts monitor network and system parameters, such as performance and security. They install, configure, maintain and upgrade software and hardware of the networking systems.

5. Software engineer

National average salary: $92,216 per year

Primary duties: Software engineers document and test programs for client applications. They manage projects and explain business requirements and technical specifications based on company guidelines and user expectations.

Related: Learn About Being a Software Engineer

You can work in any of the above positions and more if you are an expert in IT and software development. If you can code, test computer programs or perform any of the tasks in the SDLC, you can choose from many career opportunities in this sector.

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

Frequently asked questions

Is software development the same as coding?

Coding is one element of software development, but it comprises more programming work. Software developers use code to tell computers how to perform specific tasks for the program, but they complete other actions, like planning, designing, testing and maintaining the software they develop.

What are the education requirements for becoming a software developer?

To become a software developer, you can obtain your bachelor's degree in software engineering or related fields like IT, computer science or engineering. Generally, you can complete your undergraduate program in three to four years.

How much can you make as a software developer?

The national average salary for a software engineer is $114,584 per year. Your earnings may vary based on your education, experience, employer and location. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, visit indeed.com/salaries.

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