Learn About Being a Software Engineer
Updated December 5, 2023
Software engineers develop systems and software for businesses. These products range from business applications and games to network control systems and operating systems.
In this article, we explain software engineers' typical duties, their average salary, plus the certifications, skills and other requirements for pursuing this career path.
What does a software engineer do?
A software engineer’s responsibilities may also include:
Working with users to determine their software needs
Designing, developing and testing a system or application according to the users’ specifications
Drawing diagrams and models that help developers create the appropriate code for the system or application
Documenting the system or application in detail to help those responsible for future maintenance
Maintaining the system or application with updates and fixes as necessary
Recommending software upgrades for existing systems or applications
Collaborating with developers and other engineers to create software
Software engineer requirements
Software engineers typically need a combination of education, training, certifications and skills to earn a position. The combination depends on the desired role and industry.
Most hiring managers expect software engineers to have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, computer programming, software development, mathematics or a similar field. Some software engineers can gain employment with a high school diploma and 10 or more years of relevant experience. Some companies may require a master’s degree in computer science or a related subject, while a doctorate may be necessary if you want to work in research.
Entry-level software engineers can receive training during internships. Students and recent graduates can seek internships in their desired field in order to learn more about working in a business setting and how to apply their education in the workplace.
“If you want to learn how to code, start with the basics,” says Ofure Okoronkwo, a software engineer at RBC Royal Bank and a mentor for Springboard’s Software Engineering Bootcamp. “Start with online resources like YouTube, Code Academy or Udemy, or enroll in a reputable boot camp. Once you have the basics down, work on side projects and apply for internships.”
Coding boot camps are another way to gain important experience and skill training. They teach people with little programming experience the fundamentals of software coding during short, intensive programs. Boot camps can last from one to six months and can focus on a variety of coding languages, frameworks, design and databases.
Most software engineers receive on-the-job training with their businesses. Since they learn most of their technical knowledge during school, training with a company could include learning any software specific to the business, software development life cycles and the project management method used, such as agile or scrum.
“I would say on-the-job training or a hands-on internship definitely trumps a college education,” says Okoronkwo, “because you learn how to write code for a specific target audience.”
There are many off-the-job training opportunities available for software engineers. They can attend seminars and conferences to learn about new releases in databases and frameworks, or they could complete training courses in different coding languages. As the technology industry is constantly advancing, it is important for software engineers to maintain current knowledge in their fields.
Software engineers have a wide variety of certifications available to them, including:
Oracle Certified Associate and Oracle Certified Professional (OCA and OCP). Oracle certifications are highly desirable in the IT industry. You can complete the OCA and OCP certifications in a specific Oracle product or technology. You need to complete the OCA certificate before you can take the OCP exam. You will need to renew these certifications to ensure you stay updated on any releases.
Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD): App Builder. The MCSD certification consists of a number of exams that test you on various aspects of Microsoft technologies. Before you can take an MCSD certificate exam, you need to earn a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certificate. You can then test to become certified in one of a number of subject areas to earn the MCSD: App Builder certification. These areas include Software Testing with Visual Studio and Universal Windows Platform. To stay current, you need to renew this certification every two years.
Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP). Offered by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, the CSSLP certification focuses on application security, training technical professionals to identify software vulnerabilities, risks and compliance issues. There are eight areas covered by CSSLP, including Secure Software Concepts, Software Design, Secure Software Training and Supply Chain and Software Acquisition. The CSSLP certification is valid for three years.
A good software engineer has a combination of technical and personal skills, such as:
Programming. As a software engineer, you will need to know some programming languages, such as C++, Java, Python, C#/.Net and Ruby. Most computer science undergraduate degrees introduce students to one or more languages. It is good to have a general understanding of many languages and specialist knowledge of at least two of them. This will help prepare you for most coding issues you are likely to encounter.
Attention to detail. Whether coding, debugging or testing, you will need to have patience and pay close attention to detail. You may need to spend hours going line by line through code to fix an issue. Being detail-oriented will help you resolve issues and ensure they don’t happen again.
Teamwork. Team members with different skills work together to form a system. As a software engineer, you need to be able to work with other engineers and developers and non-technical colleagues who use your systems and software. This includes being able to communicate well with others and being prepared to listen to and learn from your coworkers.
Adaptability. This refers to your flexibility and willingness to learn new skills or work within new environments. Technology changes frequently, and as a software engineer, you will regularly encounter new challenges. Your ability to learn new skills and adapt to change can play an important part in the success of your projects.
Software engineer work environment
Software engineers work in most industries including medical, industrial, automotive, government and technology. They typically work in a collaborative environment along with developers and other engineers. Most work a standard number of hours each week, though they will often be on call in case problems arise. It is not uncommon for software engineers to work late and sometimes on weekends.
Most software engineers work in an office setting. They should be able to sit for extended periods of time in front of a computer. As they can perform most of their duties on a computer, some engineers work most of their days remotely.
As a software engineer, your salary will vary depending on whether you develop applications or systems. Software engineers who develop systems normally receive a higher salary than those who create applications. Other factors may affect your salary, including the company’s location and the nature of the business. Software engineers are typically either full-time or contract employees, though some may hold part-time jobs.
Common software engineer salary in the U.S.: $105,323 per year
Some salaries range from $29,000 to $228,000 per year.
How to become a software engineer
If you are interested in becoming a software engineer, here are steps you can take to achieve that goal:
Earn a bachelor’s degree. Graduate college with an undergraduate degree in computer science, software engineering, mathematics or a related subject. This is a fundamental requirement for a career as a software engineer.
Take part in an internship while at college. This is an excellent way to find out what the job involves and gain some real-life experience. It will also help you as you look for work after graduation since you’ll form connections with professionals in the field.
Get a master’s degree. Some businesses require a master’s degree. Earning a master’s degree will also allow you to gain more knowledge in software engineering.
Obtain relevant certifications. There are a number of professional certifications available to software engineers and software developers. While only some companies require a certification, earning relevant ones can demonstrate your ability and willingness to learn and improve your skills.
Attend conferences. There are many software conferences that take place all over the world every year. Not only do these help you keep up with the latest changes and developments in technology, but they are great places to network with other software professionals.
Software engineer job description example
We are looking for a skilled software engineer to join our development team. The ideal candidate will have an undergraduate degree in computer science or a related subject. They will also be proficient in at least two programming languages (we strongly favor AngularJS and HTML). You will be responsible for participating in software design, development, testing and implementation. You will also gather requirements and work with end-users, so you must have strong communication skills.
Familiarity and experience with the software development life cycle (SDLC) would also be an advantage. If you are a fast learner and comfortable working in an agile environment, contact us at the address below.
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