How to Become a Software Engineer in 2020

As technology becomes a more important part of our lives, the demand for qualified software developers has continued to increase.
Software engineers are responsible for building and maintaining all of the software we use every day, from productivity tools to web browsers. Software developers are in demand all across the world, as more fields of business continue to rely more heavily on technology. As a result, software engineers earn an impressive salary and have strong job prospects.
In this guide, we’re going to cover how to become a software engineer. We’ll give you all the information you need to decide whether this career is right for you. Then, we’ll give you access to helpful resources on salaries for software engineers, training programs, and guidance on how to start your career in this exciting field.

What is Software Engineering?

Software engineering is the application of engineering concepts for software development. Its main goal is the creation, improvement, and maintenance of software. Software engineering takes into account engineering aspects like the hardware and software environment when working on a program.

Software engineers job descriptions often heavily overlap with software developers, but they are different. The main difference is that software engineers apply engineering concepts and principles to software development. Engineers consider more than just the code they’re writing and consider the limitations of the environment that the program will reside.

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Software engineers create, maintain, and manage software applications. They’re responsible for creating a functional application that meets the requirements set out by a client or company, while also considering the hardware and software environment the software will reside in.
On a day-to-day basis software engineers will ensure active programs run smoothly, update programs, fix bugs, and create new programs. Software engineers write software for a variety of technologies, from smart home devices to virtual assistants, depending on their job.
In addition, a software engineer will often be tasked with analyzing the needs of an organization, then design, test, and maintain the software in order to meet those needs. Software engineers will also write documentation to keep track of internal code and work with other members of a development team to ensure an application meets all the requirements.
The full scope of a software engineer’s work depends on the organization and the size of its development team. Their scope could be as broad as designing, developing, and maintaining an entire product, or as small as simply helping structure the code of an app on larger teams. More often than not software engineers will have to work with other developers, clients, and stakeholders to fulfill a design need for their product.
Some roles include artificial intelligence, whereas others may work on managing server-side programs. Whatever the role, a software engineer will use programming languages to write and maintain code to meet a certain need.

Is Software Engineering Right for You?

While anyone can learn software engineering, you may find that you will succeed and enjoy your job more if you have these qualities:
  • A logical mindset
  • A love for troubleshooting and solving puzzles
  • The ability to work well on a team
  • A desire to continually learn
  • A passion for technology
The above list is not exhaustive, and not every happy and successful software engineer have all of them. However, if you don’t have any of these qualities you might not enjoy software engineering.

Software Engineer Job Outlook

Software engineers have a strong job outlook, as experts predict more software developers to be needed to respond to an increased demand for software. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of software engineers is projected to grow 21 percent by 2028, which is “much faster than average.”

How Much do Software Engineers Earn?

Software engineers earn high salaries. According to ZipRecruiter, most positions offer salaries between $79,000 and $115,000 per year; the national average salary for software engineers is almost $98,500 per year.

The exact amount you can expect to earn as a software engineer varies between companies and locations. Software engineers at company with large engineering needs such as Google or IBM can expect to command higher salaries than those who work at a start-up. In addition, the average software engineer in Atlanta, Georgia can expect to earn almost $99,000 per year, whereas the same developer would earn over $115,000 in San Francisco.

The amount you earn also depends on your experience. Senior software engineers, who have more experience than other engineers, can expect to earn a salary of almost $119,000, according to ZipRecruiter. Remember, this does not include employee perks or benefits, or stock options, so you should take that into account when evaluating a job offer.

How much can you earn? (source: Glassdoor)

$188,000
Senior Engineer
$120,000
Software Engineer
$50,000
Junior Engineer

How to Become a Software Engineer

There are many different paths you can take to become a software engineer, but the most common route usually the follows these steps:
  1. Choose a software engineering career path
  2. Learn about software engineering through a bootcamp, self-study, or college
  3. Develop and refine your technical skills while building your portfolio
  4. Prepare for and start your job search

Types of Software Engineer

Since our first step is figuring out which career path we want to target, let’s cover some of the more popular paths for software engineers.

Software Engineer

Software engineers develop software for electronic devices. These developers will use programming languages such as C++, Java, and Python to create applications that will run on computers. They will work on both the user interface and the back-end - what the user sees, and the mechanics which make a program work, respectively.

Embedded Systems

Embedded systems engineers are responsible for designing, developing, testing, and maintaining embedded systems. Embedded systems are combinations of hardware and software designed to perform specific tasks. For example, an embedded systems engineer may work on the software which powers ATMs, or the program which controls a robot.

Security Engineer

Security engineers are responsible for creating systems, methods, and policies to ensure an information system meets certain standards and has no security flaws. Security engineers will often operate as a “white-hat” ethical hacker and attempt to break into existing systems to identify if any security problems exist.

Learn more about security engineering in our cybersecurity career guide.

Quality Assurance Engineer

Quality Assurance (QA) engineers write, review, test, and maintain software. These engineers are responsible for ensuring a consistent quality of code is being written by a development team and will create standards and policies to ensure all code is efficient and works correctly.

How to Learn Software Engineering

There are three common paths to learn software engineering:
  1. Pursue Computer Science degree at a college or university
  2. Attend a coding bootcamp specializing in software engineering
  3. Learn software engineering through self-study
Each path has its own benefits and drawbacks. In the past, only college graduates would become professional software engineers, but that has changed over the last few years. Recently many successful software engineers have taught themselves how to code, and lack any formal coding education.
However, there is another option available that’s grown in popularity: coding bootcamps. Coding bootcamps provide a viable alternative to a traditional college education. In a coding bootcamp, you’ll learn all of the practical, real-world skills you’ll need to succeed in a career in software development in only a few months, rather than a few years like you would in a university.
In addition, most coding bootcamps offer a robust career support system for students and graduates. You’ll work with mentors and instructors to learn new skills, build a portfolio of projects to showcase your skills and abilities to potential employers, and get help with your job search.

Top Skills Needed for Software Engineer Careers

While all of the above options for education are a great starting point, many employers require a certain level of experience. Beyond this, it’s important to expand your skills and grow your portfolio with real projects. Finding a junior position fresh out of school is the best option for gaining this experience, however, if this isn’t an option for you there are other opportunities.
Here are a few ways to gain experience as a software engineer:
  • Personal projects
  • Freelance work
  • Pro bono work
  • Pro bono work
While gaining this additional experience, there are a few skills you’ll need to develop and refine.
Let’s break these down, and start with the technical skills that software engineers need.

Essential Technical Skills for Software Engineers

There are a couple of technical skills you’ll need to know in order to become a software engineer. These software engineering skills include programming languages, development processes, and other technical concepts.
  • Java, Python, C, Ruby. In order to become a software engineer, you’ll need to know at least one programming language used in software development. The exact language(s) you need to know will depend on the role for which you are applying, but it’s helpful to know Java, Python, C, or Ruby. If you’re looking to develop software for Apple products, you may want to know Swift or Objective-C
  • Software Testing and Debugging. After you have written code, you’ll need to test it and make sure it functions as intended. You’ll need to know how to write tests to ensure your code is functional. You’ll also need to know how to find and fix bugs in your code - a key part of any job in coding.
  • Object-Oriented Design. Object-oriented design has become increasingly popular over the last few years, a method of design that involves planning a system of interacting objects to solve a software problem. You should have an awareness of how object-oriented design works, and an understanding of the core concepts of this development technique: abstraction; inheritance; and encapsulation.
  • Data Structures and Algorithms. You should have a strong understanding of basic algorithms such as different methods of sorting and searching through data sets. You should also understand different formats of storing data, and how applications process this data.
  • Web Services and APIs. As a software engineer, you may be building tools which interact with web-based services, tools, and databases. As a result, you’ll need to know the basics of working with web technologies, and using APIs to retrieve and amend data.

Essential Soft Skills for Software Engineers

Software engineers need more than just technical skills to be successful - you’ll need a set of “soft” skills as well. The top soft skills you can expect to use on the job include:
  • Teamwork. You’re going to have to work as part of a team as a software engineer. You should be able to work effectively with others, be willing to support others when they are struggling, and know how to respond to collaborative environments.
  • Attention to Detail. Software engineers need to pay attention to detail. After all, one misplaced character could prevent a program from running, or from operating correctly. You should be able to pay attention to every detail, and think about the impact of each change you make on the broader program.
  • Problem Solving. To succeed in any role in programming, you have to be good at solving problems. You should be able to break down problems into smaller components, and think critically to come up with an efficient solution to that problem. Indeed, software engineering is all about solving problems through code.

Software Engineering Certifications

An additional step that will help you stand out in the job interview process is certifications. Certifications are like exams that let employers know you meet a certain skill or knowledge requirement for a particular technology.
Here are some of the most useful certifications for software engineers:
Rather than try to collect as many as possible, focus on certifications that will support the technologies you plan to use most in your career.

How to Find a Data Science Job

Now that you have an education and a good portfolio of projects, it’s time to start searching for your first software engineering position. Here are the steps you’ll need to take to find success in your job search:
  1. Prepare a technical resume
    The resume is the first thing hiring managers see. A solid resume that well represents your skills will advertise you to employers.
  2. Prepare a stunning portfolio
    Your portfolio is important, many hiring managers look at this to see what you’re capable of as a software engineer. Your portfolio should be quality over quantity: feature a few of your best projects, rather than just a collection of every project you’ve made.
  3. Prepare for a technical interview
    After portfolios, technical interviews show off the depth of your software engineering knowledge. While you may have created beautiful projects, companies will want to know that you can handle the trickier aspects of your job and will ask questions that will test your knowledge.
If you’ve opted to pursue a coding bootcamp for software engineering, you won’t have to worry too much about these steps. Many bootcamps include career services that include mentorship help, that can guide you when it comes to technical interviews, portfolios, and technical resumes.

Conclusion

Software Engineering Overview
Education PathsBootcamp certificate, bachelor's degree, or self learning.
Essential Technical SkillsSoftware testing and debugging, programming, object-oriented design, data structures and algorithms, web services and APIs
Essential Soft SkillsTeamwork, attention to detail, problem solving
Average Salary$98,500

No matter what type of software engineer you want to be, Career Karma will help you find the right coding bootcamp for you that matches your unique needs and schedule.
We’ll provide you with free mentorship, coaching, and access to a community of other aspiring software engineers who can help you along your way. We’ll also help you prepare for and get accepted to one of the top software engineering bootcamps, so you can learn everything you need to succeed in your new software engineering career!
There has never been a better time to become a software engineer. You can get started today!

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  • Immersive and structured program
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Disadvantages

  • Requires motivation and hard work
  • Fast-paced learning style
  • Staying up to date with evolving web technologies

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