Aspiring software engineers often focus on learning the technical skills and programming languages relevant to software engineering. However, not everyone considers the software engineer career path. Though people take different steps to achieve their software engineer career goals, it’s helpful to consider the career path you want to take as a software engineer.
Doing this will put you on the right track to advancing your software engineer career. Read on as we describe the typical software engineer career path, how to navigate it, and what milestones you should reach in your software engineering journey.
Software Engineer Career Prospects: Why Is Software Engineering a Good Profession?
Software engineering is a good profession because it pays well and has a great job outlook. It ranks among the best tech jobs and has a high growth rate. Software engineering is also a good profession to pursue because you can work in a variety of industries.
Software Engineer Salary and Job Outlook
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for software engineers will grow by 22 percent from 2020 to 2030. BLS projects an average of 189,200 openings available in the field per year over the next decade. According to ZipRecruiter, mid-level software engineers have an average annual salary of $88,725.
What Does a Typical Software Engineer Career Path Look Like?
While software engineers may assume a wide range of job roles, their career path typically falls into five stages. Find out more about the typical software engineer career path below.
Stage 1: Software Engineer
Your software engineer career path begins with an entry-level position. It requires a sound understanding of programming languages like C++ and CSS. At this stage, you’ll need to hone debugging skills, learn to generate concise and clear technical reports, and collaborate seamlessly with senior engineers.
Entry-level engineers may not need industry experience, but they can boost their employment chances with a solid coding portfolio. Junior software engineers need at least one year of experience in software engineering. According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for entry-level software engineers is $67,311.
Stage 2: Senior Software Engineer
Senior software engineers make actionable architectural decisions to improve software designs. With at least five years of experience, they have in-depth knowledge of the software development cycle. This helps them review code from junior developers and collaborate effectively with a development team to build complex systems.
Some of the tools senior engineers use include NewRelic and MySQL for monitoring application performance and managing databases. The average salary of a senior engineer is $122,582, according to ZipRecruiter.
Stage 3: Technical Lead
Technical leads are brilliant at overseeing and managing an engineering team. They collaborate with team members and project managers to successfully develop and launch new software products. A tech lead needs solid leadership skills to direct their team toward business goals.
Technical leads also train or mentor technical personnel and may assign daily responsibilities to them. Tech leads combine their software skills with working knowledge of project management tools to play their roles effectively. According to ZipRecruiter, software technical leads make an average of $143,499 per year.
Stage 4: Vice President of Engineering
This is an executive-level position that requires leadership and management skills. The Vice President (VP) of software engineering plans the budget for an engineering department and ensures that product quality meets set standards. A VP of software engineering collaborates with department leads and other engineering managers to improve productivity.
A VP of software engineering understands the recruitment process, helping their company source qualified software engineers. The average annual salary of a VP of software engineering is $168,499, as reported by ZipRecruiter.
Stage 5: Chief Technology Officer
The chief technology officer (CTO) is a technical executive that utilizes technology resources to achieve a company’s goals. The CTO monitors the use of tech resources across departments and researches new technologies to optimize business operations.
They also have extensive knowledge of the market need for tech products and can make relevant recommendations to explore emerging software markets. According to ZipRecruiter, the estimated average annual salary of a CTO is $165,182.
Software Engineer Career Path: Important Milestones
If you desire to grow as a software engineer, it’s vital to set career milestones. This propels your career growth as you define your targets, meet them, and look forward to bigger accomplishments. Listed below are five career milestones you can set as a software engineer.
- Get a promotion. A promotion at work elevates you within a company and in your career path. It also signifies growth, exposing you to new responsibilities.
- Occupy a leadership role. This offers you the opportunity to solidify your people and problem-solving skills as you spearhead and coordinate a team. You can build a solid professional reputation as a leader.
- Lead a major project. Projects impact business growth and undertaking one shows you have the company’s interests at heart. Successfully executing complex tech projects is a major career accomplishment.
- Propose a brilliant solution. This could be a plan to improve business operation or product utility. It highlights your creativity, showing senior management that you’re up for bigger tasks.
- Acquire your first client. This is a suitable option for freelance software engineers. You may decide to work directly with small businesses and clients, developing unique solutions for them.
Planning Your Software Engineer Career Path
It is important to outline and understand the career path you want to have as a software engineer. Each of the steps in a software engineer career path listed below has smaller steps within them. Consider writing out your own detailed career path plan. Find out more about five ways to plan your career path below.
Identify Your Career Goals
Identifying your short and long-term career goals will help you advance successfully in your career path. For instance, if you want to become a backend developer you need to learn tools for building server-side applications. There are diverse career opportunities for software engineers within the healthcare, manufacturing, banking, and tech industries that can propel you toward your goal.
Build Coding Skills
Learning in-demand coding skills and engineering principles is essential to growing as a software engineer. College is the traditional route, but it’s expensive and time intensive. The best coding bootcamps solve this problem, offering quality and affordable coding education in only a few months.
Practice in an Engineering Niche
Picking a niche in software engineering can accelerate your career growth. For example, quality assurance (QA) engineers test and review application quality. They improve their technical knowledge by learning new methods for catching and solving software errors. Filling a wide range of software engineering roles throughout your career makes you more versatile and opens doors to more career opportunities.
Prepare Your Tech Portfolio
As you learn to code and build software applications, highlight them in a tech or coding portfolio. A tech portfolio should contain your best projects and showcase your skill in action for prospective employers.
Also try to include group projects, as it demonstrates your ability to collaborate in a team. In your tech portfolio, include a short bio and a list of your professional achievements and software projects, in addition to your contact information and a link to your resume.
Apply for Jobs
After building a solid resume and tech portfolio, it’s time to find and apply for open positions. The job search process can be daunting, but networking and using job posting platforms like LinkedIn can lead to a rewarding search. At the time of writing, there are over 232,000 software engineering jobs in the US alone on LinkedIn.
Popular Software Engineer Career Paths
|Career Path||Skills||Average Salary||Job Outlook|
|Information Security Analyst||Operations, automation, and configuration management||$102,600||33%|
|Database Administrator||Analytics, communication, and problem-solving||$98,860||8%|
|Computer Systems Analyst||Analytical, business, and programming||$99,270||7%|
|Computer Support Specialist||Computer service, network evaluation, and troubleshooting||$57,910||9%|
Next Steps for Aspiring Software Engineer
Honing relevant technical and soft skills can help you thrive in software engineering. You can begin your career journey with a coding bootcamp, which gives you hands-on experience in software development and career guidance to break into tech.
Coding bootcamps have a lower tuition cost and time commitment compared to the cost of acquiring a four-year software engineering degree. You should consider a coding bootcamp if you want to fast-track your growth, gain in-depth knowledge of technical concepts, and access employment opportunities.
"Career Karma entered my life when I needed it most and quickly helped me match with a bootcamp. Two months after graduating, I found my dream job that aligned with my values and goals in life!"
Venus, Software Engineer at Rockbot
Software Engineer Career Path FAQ
The career path for software developers typically begins with entry-level roles. As they advance in their career, they scale up to senior management roles and executive-level positions.
It can take three to six months to become a software engineer if you enroll in a bootcamp. It could take up to four years if you go to college. Also, your coding experience and professional background could impact your skill development.
Some of the highest-paying software jobs are IT security specialist, full stack developer, cloud engineer, mobile developer, development operations engineer, data warehouse architect, and enterprise architect. These jobs cover software engineering, cyber security, and software development.
No, you don’t need a computer science or any other tech-related degree to become a software engineer. Though it’s a technical profession, you can learn relevant skills from coding books or in a tech bootcamp.
About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.