Software Developer Career Path: Outlook, Definition, Paths
Software is everywhere. It’s on our phones, computers, and tablet devices. It drives the games we play and the work we do. Software consists of the programs and applications that execute specific tasks on the hardware portion of our devices. There are three main types: system software, utility software, and application software.
System software is the operating system that runs on a computer, such as Android or iOS. Utility software runs in the background and performs critical tasks to ensure a device keeps running. Anti-virus software is a common example of utility software. Finally, application software consists of apps and applications. Apps are designed for a single purpose and perform a single function, while applications are designed to perform a variety of functions.
It takes all three types of software working as designed to create the optimal user experience intended by the individuals who made it. Software that doesn’t work or is buggy indicates it wasn’t properly developed and tested, which ultimately leads to a poor user experience.
Software developers design and create the different types of software that enable our devices to perform specific functions and run smoothly. Those who want to learn more about the software developer career path should be familiar with what a software developer does, how to become one, the job outlook, and the key skills needed to succeed.
What Is a Software Developer?
Computer hardware consists of all the physical elements of a computer: the casing, central processing unit (CPU), graphics card, keyboard, and visual display, as well as any other parts that can be physically seen and touched. Software, on the other hand, consists of the programs, data, and instructions that dictate the computer’s functions.
Software developers use computer languages to create the systems that run hardware and applications intended to perform a specific function or task. According to IBM, software development is the set of computer science activities that are employed to create, design, and deploy software. Put another way, software developers create the instructions and protocols for a computer to follow. They also work on improving existing software.
In addition to creating and testing software, developers may also be involved in project management to oversee a piece of software’s development life cycle. They work with software engineers, programmers, and coders as part of a cohesive unit to produce a new program.
What Does a Software Developer Do?
The day-to-day tasks of a software developer can vary depending on their employer and the kind of software they specialize in. Whatever type of program they’re working on, developers can use the software development life cycle (SDLC) to manage their progress. The SDLC is a methodology that applies business practices to creating software. Its phases include:
Software design (e.g., architectural design)
The overall goal of the SDLC is to produce the highest-quality product while keeping costs and turnaround time low. Building custom software can take anywhere from four to nine months, according to Soltech. That time frame can depend upon a project’s complexity and the resources available, including software developers. Following the SDLC helps to ensure that high-quality software is produced on a reasonable timeline and within the project’s budget.
So, what does a software developer do during a project? These are some typical responsibilities of a software developer:
Designing flowcharts and algorithms required to create new software
Creating efficient code that meets the project’s requirements
Working with other departments and customers to identify the specifications and requirements of the end user
Testing, troubleshooting, and debugging programs and applications
Improving and maintaining existing software
Collecting the feedback from end users and assessing it for opportunities to improve
Creating technical documents that will guide future development projects
Software developers typically work with software engineers, programmers, and IT professionals as part of a team. Together, they design, develop, test, and troubleshoot software applications and programs.
It’s worth noting that software developers are sometimes confused with software engineers, and they do share many overlapping skills and can perform many of the same functions. However, the main differentiator between the two is the scale on which they work. Software developers tend to focus on one aspect of a project. Software engineers tend to look at a project’s larger vision and may be involved in several phases of the SDLC.
How to Become a Software Developer
How an individual approaches the software developer career path and what area of development they work in depends on a variety of factors.
First, aspiring software developers should explore the different paths needed to work on various platforms — for example, Android, iOS, the cloud, or the web.
For instance, software developers for iOS learn a programming language called Swift. Android developers learn Kotlin or Java. Gaming developers learn C++ or C#. Gaining a broad understanding of the various programs is key to how to become a software developer.
After the platforms and languages are understood, the next step is to learn how to write code and how to program. There are a few ways to go about this.
A number of resources available on the internet can help people teach themselves how to program. However, the main drawback is a lack of guidance and support. Becoming a software developer with no support system or structure may lengthen the learning curve.
If an aspiring software developer happens to know a software developer who is willing to teach them, a one-on-one mentorship can be valuable to their development. However, being mentored may mean limiting learning to the programming languages a mentor knows. Additionally, being mentored is a big time commitment on the mentor’s part and will require considerable effort.
Software developers often have a formal education background in a field that teaches the fundamentals of software development, such as a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Core courses for the degree typically include foundations of computer science, computer architecture, data structures and algorithms, and programming in C, to name a few. But for someone interested in beginning or pivoting to a career in software development in the near term, an undergraduate program may not be ideal. A bachelor’s degree in computer science typically takes four years to complete and includes a number of general education requirements. It can also be a significant financial investment, and it may not provide the hands-on experience needed to gain employment as a software developer.
Another option for aspiring software developers is to enroll in a software boot camp. These programs are popular because they aim to prepare students to be job-ready in a matter of weeks as opposed to years. These intensives typically take around 12 weeks and offer the foundational knowledge needed to pursue a software developer career. However, they can still be a significant financial investment, and they may be limited in the scope of skills learned.
Get Paid to Train
Similar to a boot camp, Revature’s training programs enable associates to learn how to become a software developer in a short amount of time. The big differentiator is that Revature’s training is paid, whereas the boot camp method requires students to pay. Revature’s hire-train-deploy model consists of 10 to 14 weeks of training in both hard tech-focused skills and in soft skills such as teamwork and communication. Another benefit of the Revature method is that associates are placed into a job with an employment contract once their training concludes.
Finding Work as a Software Developer
After learning the basics of development, the next step is to seek out a role as an entry-level or junior software developer. This part of the process can be difficult, as employers tend to prefer applicants with work experience. Fortunately, there are programs that help individuals gain that experience immediately after training, such as Revature’s hire-train-deploy programs.
Beginning software developers may also be able to take on freelance projects to help build their portfolios while earning some on-the-job experience.
The job market for software developers is booming compared with other fields. Finding a permanent job with a company is a matter of maintaining resolve, as entry-level tech workers need to build out their resumes while continuing to apply for positions. Revature associates have the benefit of being placed into an employment contract following training, eliminating the hunt for a full-time position.
Software Developer Salary and Outlook
The job outlook for an individual on the software developer career path is very bright. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects positions in the overall category of software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers to grow by 22% between 2020 and 2030. It also reports that the median annual salary for those roles was $110,140 in 2020.
Specifically for the role of software developers, Payscale reports that the median annual salary was approximately $74,000 as of May 2022.
Salary figures are meant to serve as a baseline, and factors like education, experience, region, and the company hiring will affect compensation.
Software Developer Key Skills
Software developers need a certain set of core skills to succeed in their roles. First, they should have a mastery of the programming languages that apply to the platform they work on. In addition to being proficient in one or more programming languages, software developers should possess the following key skills:
Proficiency in databases, data structures, and algorithms
Proficiency in source control management (SCM)
Strict attention to detail and ability to catch and resolve errors (debugging)
Ability to problem-solve
Compliance with standard testing procedures: unit testing, integration testing, and system testing
Ability to work well within a team environment
Ability to take constructive criticism and apply client feedback
Software Developer Career Paths
Considering the projected growth of the field, it’s no surprise that there are a number of software developer career paths to choose from across several different industries. Finance, for example, has a huge demand for software developers because many of its applications rely on C++, Java, and Python to provide secure services. Both traditional financial institutions and the burgeoning cryptocurrency market are hiring software developers.
Computer security is another industry with high demand for software developers. Hackers are an increasingly dangerous threat, which means that every application must be developed with cybersecurity measures in place to prevent illegal access to sensitive data.
Now that electronic medical records are required in many parts of the country, the healthcare industry is hiring software developers to help them create secure patient portals, cloud systems, and clinical applications. Those remaining hospitals and healthcare facilities still using paper filing systems will transition to electronic health records in the near future.
The face of retail is also changing due to the innovative work of software developers. Many retail stores are implementing kiosk systems that allow customers to check themselves out. Additionally, software developers are needed to create an engaging online experience for customers that can give personalized product recommendations.
Other industries with a need for software developers include agriculture, NFTs, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and smart homes. The job market for software developers is filled with opportunity, and there’s never been a better time to learn the trade.
Entry-Level Software Developer
Many software developers’ first official role is as an entry-level software developer or junior developer. Entry-level software developers need to have a basic understanding of the software development life cycle and database and application services. They’re typically tasked with writing simple to moderately complex scripts.
Mid-Level Software Developer
After two to four years in an entry-level position, many move up to a mid-level software developer role. In this position, they take on the responsibility of writing their own code and serve as part of the core programming unit on a given project.
By this point, they should be proficient in spotting problems and coming up with solutions without the help of senior team members. Mid-level software developers do their jobs quickly and efficiently with very little oversight.
The median annual pay for mid-career software developers with five to nine years of experience was around $84,000 as of May 2022, according to Payscale.
Senior-Level Software Developer
Senior-level software developers have many years of programming experience and can write entire applications. They can write complex code and have extensive knowledge of application services, databases, and the software development life cycle.
Additionally, senior-level software developers are resources of information and guidance for entry-level and mid-level software developers. They’re often called upon to review problems that less experienced developers are unable to resolve on their own. Senior-level software developers also play a role in coordinating overall projects and making decisions about their direction.
The median annual salary for experienced software developers with 10-19 years of experience was approximately $95,000 as of May 2022, according to Payscale.
Ready to Launch Into a Career as a Software Developer?
After exploring the software developer career path, the next step is to get the training you need to hit the ground running in this flourishing job market. At Revature, that’s exactly what we help you do.
Our program consists of 10 to 14 weeks of paid training, followed by two years of contract project work through our trusted partner organizations. This means that as soon as you learn how to become a software developer, you’ll be immediately placed in a role where you can apply your newfound skills and knowledge. The job placement rate for Revature associates is currently 97%. Some of our partner companies include Salesforce, Peloton, and Capital One.