Software Engineer Career Path: Definition, Skills, and Outlook

The devices we use every day — to communicate, work, and play — rely on software. Software is the code that gives the hardware we hold in our hands its marching orders.

People use software every time they open a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or use the Salesforce platform for work. They use software when scrolling through social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok. Software is even a part of modern appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines. In the digital age, it’s difficult to find electronic devices that don’t incorporate software in some way.

When people think about how software is made, two main roles come to mind: software developers and software engineers. Software developers write programs and develop applications by using existing tools. Software engineers, on the other hand, write software using tools they have created from scratch.

While the two share some skills and tasks, they are distinct technology careers. Those interested in rewarding work in the tech industry should learn more about the software engineer career path.

What Is a Software Engineer?

Software engineers visualize the big picture of a project and oversee its creation. Software engineers create software, test programs to make sure they work as intended, and authenticate their security measures. Software engineer is not a standardized role but is broken down into a number of specialties and areas of concentration, some with more responsibility than others. Full stack and senior-level engineers, for instance, have far more control and influence over a project than other roles.

Software engineers have extensive knowledge of programming languages (Python, C++, Java, etc.) and systems architecture. Building on this foundation, a software engineer incorporates the user requirements for a given software project. These requests include business, architectural, design, system, and integration specifications. User requirements ensure the software does what it’s intended to do and can be used by its intended audience.

For example, macOS Monterey is an operating system for Mac computers. When creating software for Macs, a software engineer would have to adhere to requirements dictated by Apple that allow it to function on hardware such as iMacs and MacBook Air laptops. The engineer would also need to be well-versed in Swift, a programming language commonly used with Apple software, apps, and operating systems.

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

The duties of the different types of software engineers vary from role to role and by project. For example, the specific responsibilities of a front-end (user-facing) software engineer for an iPhone app will differ from those of a back-end (infrastructure) software engineer for an Xbox game.

However, these professionals all have some core software engineer duties, such as the following:

  • Documenting user needs and developing and engineering software to meet those needs
  • Using engineering tools for documentation, testing, writing code, and other critical aspects of software engineering (e.g., GitHub, Stack Overflow, Docker, Jira, and Bitbucket)
  • Considering the discrete elements of an application or system to determine how they will work together
  • Keeping records of every aspect of a system or application for reference when software needs maintenance or upgrading
  • Creating diagrams and models that illustrate to software programmers the code required for an application
  • Verifying that a software program functions as intended during maintenance and testing (quality assurance)
  • Making recommendations for software upgrades or updates for existing programs and systems
  • Facilitating the implementation of software into hardware
  • Collaborating with other software engineers, software developers, analysts, and other personnel to create software
  • Problem-solving and critical thinking to overcome technical obstacles

How to Become a Software Engineer

There are a number of ways to qualify for a software engineer role, and individuals can take some steps to make themselves more appealing to employers when embarking on a software engineer career path.

Earn a College Degree

One path is to pursue a college degree. Becoming a software engineer without a bachelor’s degree in a technology field — or with no degree at all — is completely possible; however, degrees in computer and information systems, software engineering, computer science, and information technology do offer courses in software architecture, networking, programming languages, mathematics, and other critical areas that aspiring software engineers may put into practice in their future roles.

After earning a degree, graduates can apply for entry-level software engineering roles. However, landing a permanent position may prove difficult due to a lack of experience, and candidates may need to further hone their skills and gain hands-on know-how through a training or apprenticeship program.

Earn Applicable Certifications

To enhance their resumes, software engineers are encouraged to investigate certifications that demonstrate their expertise and skills. Technology companies such as Microsoft and Oracle offer certifications, as do organizations such as the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The following certifications are among the most notable:

  • Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional — from ISC(2)
  • Certified Software Engineer — from ICCP
  • Oracle Certified Master
  • Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect

Learn the Most Widely Used Programming Languages

Software engineers are also encouraged to learn different programming languages and develop their programming skills. The more programming languages a software engineer learns, the more value and versatility they have.

The following programming languages are some of the most popular:

  • Python
  • Swift
  • Ruby
  • JavaScript
  • C#
  • C++
  • SQL

Enroll in a Bootcamp

The traditional university route takes full-time students four years, includes a number of courses that don’t apply directly to computer science, and can be extremely costly. As an alternative, many software engineers and developers have opted for certificate programs, commonly referred to as bootcamps.

These intensive programs are designed to teach aspiring software engineers or software developers what they need to begin a career on a shorter timeline. However, while bootcamps cost considerably less than the aa university degree, they still can cost thousands of dollars, and the scope of learning may be limited.

Hire-Train-Deploy: The Revature Model

For aspiring tech professionals who like the idea of bootcamps without the hefty enrollment fee, hire-train-deploy programs are another popular option to achieve the software engineer qualifications. For example, Revature’s programs offer 10 to 14 weeks of paid training, which is followed by job placement on an employment contract. This allows the student to earn while they learn, with the added security that a job opportunity is waiting for them after they complete the program. It’s the most cost-effective way to get on the software engineer career path.

Software Engineer Key Skills

Software engineers require a group of key skills and competencies. There are many different types of software engineers, but they all need to know programming languages. Fluency is a key skill of any software engineer at any level in their career.

In addition to mastery of programming languages, software engineers should possess the following skills and competencies:

  • Expertise in computer and database architecture and data structures
  • The ability to understand and analyze complex technical information
  • Expertise in using a variety of engineering tools
  • Expertise in devising and applying optimization strategies
  • Proficiency in web design principles and aesthetics
  • Time management skills, attention to detail, and organization
  • The ability to work both independently and as part of a team
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Problem-solving and critical thinking skills
  • Front-end and back-end coding knowledge (essential for full stack engineers)

Software Engineer Career Paths, Salary, and Outlook

According to Payscale, experienced software engineers made a median annual salary of $89,000 as of July 2022. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the number of positions in the software developer, quality assurance analyst, and tester category will increase by 22% between 2020 and 2030, much faster than the predicted overall job growth of 8%. This equates to approximately 410,000 new jobs in the technology sector to be filled in the next eight years.

The projected employment opportunities will likely span the different types of software engineers:

  • Front-end engineers create the user interface of websites and applications; they also ensure cross-device and cross-browser compatibility.
  • Back-end engineers work on behind-the-scenes server scripts, data systems, APIs, and caches that enable software to function as intended.
  • Full stack engineers undertake both front-end and back-end engineering.
  • QA engineers write software that verifies the quality of a new software product.
  • DevOps engineers manage application infrastructure; they support software engineers as the product is built out and deployed.
  • Security engineers build systems to test the security of new software.

To successfully navigate a software engineer career path, candidates should continue learning new languages and skills and gain broad experience. Continuous improvement is critical for those who begin as front-end developers and wish to become full stack developers. With the wide variety of learning resources available, pivoting to a different role is possible for those who work toward their goals and remain committed to self-improvement.

Entry-Level Software Engineer

Entry-level software engineers (aka junior engineers) take instruction from midlevel and senior software engineers. They operate in a supporting role, typically assigned routine tasks such as debugging and code documentation, assisting with software development, creating code, and helping upgrades to existing software.

Mid-level Software Engineer

After two or three years in entry-level positions, software engineers are usually promoted to midlevel roles. A midlevel software engineer works more independently, due to their experience; however, they still require guidance from senior-level software engineers. A midlevel software engineer will have a good idea of the software development life cycle and will be able to take on more complex tasks compared with entry-level software engineers.

According to Payscale, the median annual salary for software engineers with five to nine years of experience was approximately $98,000 as of July 2022

Senior-Level Software Engineer

Senior-level software engineers have a deep background in areas such as engineering, web development, and computer science. They are fluent in several programming languages, such as Python, CSS, JavaScript, and HTML. At the senior level, software engineers handle the most complex tasks of a project while overseeing teams of junior and midlevel software developers. Senior-level software developers also collaborate with other high-ranking members on a project and communicate with the client to ensure their business needs are being met.

According to Payscale, the median annual salary for software engineers with 10 to 19 years of experience was around $109,000 as of July 2022. The software engineer career path has high income potential for those who devote themselves to continually learning, improving, and gaining on-the-job experience.

Embark on a Software Engineer Career Path With Revature

A wealth of opportunity is available to individuals who have the right skills and knowledge base, and it all starts with training. At Revature, we fast-track our associates’ careers by paying them to learn the most in-demand skills in technology and IT. The program consists of 10 to 14 weeks of intensive training, directly followed by contract project work with our trusted partner organizations.

You’ll get paid to learn the skills to perform essential duties of tech professionals such as software engineers in our immersive virtual classroom environment. The Revature program has already deployed over 10,000 highly skilled tech professionals into the workforce, and you can be next.

Kick-start your career as a software engineer with Revature.

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