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How to Become a Software Engineer

Explore the Best Coding Bootcamps, Courses, and Certifications to Become a Professional Software Engineer

As more and more industries come to rely heavily on technology, demand for software engineers continues to grow, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 25 percent increase in job openings in the next decade. If you want to become a software engineer, now it's the time.

In this guide, we explain how to become a software engineer, including required skills, popular education paths, and common questions about a career in software development. Keep reading to learn more about software engineering salaries and to discover the best online courses and resources to aid you in your way to becoming a software engineer.

What Is Software Engineering?

Software engineering is the application of engineering concepts to software development. Its main goal is the creation, improvement, and maintenance of software. Software engineering uses engineering aspects, like hardware and software environments, when working on a program.

While software engineer job descriptions often heavily overlap with software developers, software engineers and software developers are not the same. The main difference is that software engineers apply engineering concepts and principles to software development. Engineers think beyond the code they’re writing and about the environment where the program will live.

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

A software engineer creates, maintains, and manages software applications. If you want to become a software engineer, you need to learn coding, Agile development, and other technical skills. Below are some duties of software engineers.

  1. Updates programs. Software engineers make an active program runs smoothly through updates and bug fixes. Some software engineers become quality assurance testers as well.

  2. Creates new programs. Software engineers design and create new programs for users and companies. This can be anything from mobile apps to video game software,

  3. Analyzes code. Software engineers may look at an organization’s needs and create software to meet them. Sometimes, software engineers have to work with code they didn’t write, which means learning analysis is important to becoming a software engineer.

  4. Keeps track of software development. Creating software often involves the work of multiple teams. Software engineers keep track of internal code and ensure the application meets user needs.

The full scope of software engineering duties depends on the organization and the size of the development team. Software engineer responsibilities could be as broad as designing, developing, and maintaining an entire product. 

By contrast, those responsibilities could also be as small as helping structure the code of an app on larger teams. Software engineers usually have to work with other developers, clients, and stakeholders to fulfill the design needs for their products.

Some software engineering 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.

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⁠Why Become a Software Engineer?

  • High salary. PayScale reports that the median salary for software engineers is over $90,000. This number will only get higher if you gain more experience in the field, even as a self-taught software engineer.

  • Promising job growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 25 percent job growth for software development by 2031, which is over double the national average rate. If you want job security, you should become a software engineer.

  • Remote work possibilities. The best part of becoming a software engineer is that you can work from any place, as long as you have a stable Internet connection and a computer. There are many remote work opportunities available. You can also study software engineering online from anywhere.

Software Engineering Salaries & Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average pay for software developers is $120,730 per year. The BLS also reports that the software engineering job outlook is 25 percent between 2021 and 2031, which is five times the national average job growth.

Other salary aggregates can help you gauge how much your software engineering salary could be based on your location and experience. If you have a software engineer master’s degree, you can earn a lot more than someone who just took courses in software engineering. Certifications can also help you earn a higher software engineering salary.

Software engineering salaries are higher according to your experience. According to PayScale, the average salary for software engineers is $91,983. Entry-level software engineers earn $80,198 per year, and experienced software engineers earn $114,095. Get as much experience as you can when you start your software engineering career.

Software Engineering Skills

The skills needed for software engineering are both technical and soft, which means aspiring professionals need to work on a wide range of abilities. Due to space constraints, below we show you only the top five essential software engineering skills but keep in mind that the list of skills needed to become a software engineer is actually much longer.

Top Skills Needed to Become a Software Engineer

  • Problem-Solving. Problem-solving is arguably the most important skill needed for software engineering. Along with hard skills like debugging, you need to use critical thinking to work through coding problems.

  • Communication. Whether you’re in a management position or you’re an entry-level software engineer, you need to be able to communicate. Coding is more interactive than many people think, so you should prepare for a programming job by working on your people skills.

  • Programming. Writing the code that forms the basis of applications and systems is one of the most elemental tasks associated with software developers. According to Hired’s 2023 State of Software Engineers, Ruby on Rails is currently the most in-demand programming language. 

  • Software Testing. If you want to be a full-fledged software engineer and write high-quality code, you need to learn software testing. The best software testing bootcamps are a great way to learn this essential software engineering skill.

  • Debugging. Debugging is one of the skills needed to become a software engineer, regardless of your programming proficiency. Software engineers need to know how to spot and fix mistakes in code, especially if they are applying for jobs or submitting work to clients.

Types of Careers in Software Engineering

If you want to break into tech engineering, the first step is figuring out which career path you want to target. Software engineer career paths include security engineering and quality assurance engineering. Below are some of the most popular roles you can take on as a software engineer alongside their average salaries as reported by PayScale:

Required Education for Software Engineers

There are three common paths that can help people learn software engineering. These software engineering education paths include:

  1. Attend a coding bootcamp specializing in software engineering
  2. Pursue a computer science degree at a college or university
  3. Learn software engineering through self-study

Each software engineering path has its benefits and drawbacks. In the past, only college graduates qualified for professional software engineering roles, but that has changed. There is no formal coding education needed for a software engineer. However, education will help you show your skills, which is what you need to get a job.

Software Engineering Bootcamps

The software engineering educational option growing most in popularity is coding bootcamps. Software engineering bootcamps provide a viable alternative to a traditional college education. In a coding bootcamp, you’ll learn all the practical, real-world skills you’ll need to succeed in a career in software development.

Also, most coding bootcamps offer a robust career support system for students and graduates. You’ll work with mentors and instructors to learn new skills and build a portfolio of projects to showcase your skills. Software engineering bootcamps even provide help with your job search. If you want to become a software engineer, try one of the bootcamps below.

Top Software Engineering Bootcamps

  • App Academy. App Academy is a coding school that offers both in-person and online training programs as well as flexible financing options like deferred tuition and income share agreements. 

  • Flatiron School. Flatiron School offers online and in-person programs in software engineering. Students take part in a rigorous curriculum that is aligned with the demands of the software market. To help prospective students learn coding basics, Flatiron School offers free preparatory courses.

  • Thinkful. Widely considered to be one of the best online coding bootcamps, Thinkful offers full-time or part-time schedules to fit the lifestyle of even the busiest individuals. Throughout the program, students receive a personal mentor, career coach, and academic success manager. 

  • Rithm School. Rithm School was founded by a team of experienced instructors who wanted to emphasize small class sizes. The curriculum focuses on Python, SQL, Node.js, React, data structures, and algorithms. 

  • General Assembly. General Assembly is a pioneering school with courses in a plethora of subjects, from software engineering to digital marketing and user experience design. Its income share agreement is so popular that we named this school one of the best ISA bootcamps.

College Education for Software Engineering

A software engineering degree is a great option for people who are completely new to the industry. A self-taught software engineer can still get a job, but a software engineering degree or similar college degree is the most in-depth way to learn about the software development process. Moreover, the education requirements for many software jobs include a degree, so earning an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree is a good idea. 

How Long Do You Have to Go to School to Be a Software Engineer?

You can start working as an entry-level software engineer with an associate software engineer degree, which is a two-year degree. However, many choose instead to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Software Engineering, which is usually completed in four years. A master’s degree will open up new opportunities so many experienced professionals seeking higher salaries choose to do one.

Software engineer degrees are expensive and take a lot of time, but they are a good option if you’re starting from scratch. You can learn software engineering principles and meet like-minded people in the field. Most people with a career in software development have at least a bachelor’s degree, even if they also have a bootcamp certificate.

Software Engineering Self-Directed Learning

Teaching yourself how to create software applications is difficult, but not impossible. Self-directed learning is a good option if you want to grow your software engineering skills. You can take online software engineering courses, enroll in a self-paced coding bootcamp, or find free coding resources and websites.

If you want to become a software engineer by teaching yourself software engineering, you should look at massive open online classes, also known as MOOCs. These online courses are offered on platforms like edX, Coursera, and Udemy. You can choose skill-specific classes to tailor your education to your needs, often for a low price. 

How to Become a Software Engineer: Step-by-Step

There are many steps to become a software engineer, which include building software engineer skills and applying for jobs in the tech industry. Becoming a software engineer is easier if you plan your journey. Read below to learn how to become a software engineer and create your own path to success.

Plan Your Career Path

Your software engineer career path should be tailored to your needs and experience. If you have no knowledge of software engineering, you should start with some basic courses. If you’re already familiar but need to build more essential skills, try a bootcamp. Every software engineering career path is different.

Obtain an Education

Once you decide where to start, you need to choose what to study for software engineering. Many prospective software engineers opt for a degree in computer science or software development. Others learn computer science fundamentals on their own with a certificate program. There are plenty of opportunities to study software engineering if you know where to look. 

Gain Experience

After you get your college degree or learn enough on your own to become a software engineer, you need to start getting software engineering experience. A software engineering internship is a good place to start. Software engineering internships are available at tech giants like Google and Meta, but you can also search for internship opportunities at younger companies like Lyft.

If you can’t find a software engineering internship, you should start working on your portfolio. Create a platform where you can show off your software projects to prospective employers.

Become Certified

Becoming a certified software engineer is a great choice for engineers at any level. A certification is a credential that you can earn after passing a skill-based exam. Some examples of professional certifications for software engineers include Amazon AWS and Oracle Certified Associate. Certified software engineers have more career options in the industry.

Build Your Portfolio

As mentioned earlier, you should create a software engineering portfolio to show employers what you can do. The majority of people looking for software engineering jobs have portfolios and an online presence. When someone is interested in hiring you, they can look through your software engineering portfolio and assess your skills.

Work on Your Resume

As you build your portfolio, you should also work on your software engineering resume. Whether you have a college degree or are a self-taught software engineer, you need to make your resume the best it can be. Research the best resume tips and decide how you want to structure your skills, education, and certifications.

Prepare for Your Job Interview

Even before you apply for software engineering jobs, you should prepare for job interviews. The job hunt can be difficult, so preparing beforehand is a good idea. Use resources like Interview Cake to research software engineering interview questions. Conduct a practice programming interview with a friend so you can feel confident about your answers.

Apply For Jobs

Once you have everything ready, you can apply for software engineering jobs. Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor are all great platforms that post software engineering job opportunities. Submit your resume, a personalized cover letter, and a link to your portfolio. Make sure you research the company first to see the company culture and decide if it fits your career progression.

How Long Does It Take to Learn Software Engineering?

It can take anywhere from six months to four years to learn software engineering. If you participate in a coding bootcamp or course, you can become a software engineer in six months to a year, on average. Alternatively, you can get a formal education in software engineering by pursuing a four-year bachelor’s degree in the field.

Is It Hard to Become a Software Engineer?

Yes, it is hard to become a software engineer as a beginner. However, it is not impossible, and becoming a software engineer can actually be easy if you plan your career path. How hard it is to become a software engineer depends on your previous experience and skills. If you already have a solid foundation in coding, becoming a software engineer isn’t hard.

What Programming Languages Should You Focus on to Become a Software Engineer? 

To become a software engineer, you should learn Python, Java, and C#. The language you learn depends on what software you want to work on. For example, video game software engineers usually use C#, which is compatible with the Unity gaming engine. The best language to learn for a software engineer is Python or Java, but do your research to see which one will be best for you.

Where Can I Work as a Software Engineer?

As a software engineer, you can work at large corporations, tech companies, and startups. According to Career Karma’s 2023 State of the Bootcamp Market report, Amazon, Accenture, and JP Morgan were the biggest employers of bootcamp graduates for the year 2021-2022, hiring 1,077, 819, and 400 bootcamp grads respectively.

Other top employers of bootcamp grads include Shopify, Infosys, Google, Deloitte, Amazon Web Services, Apple, and TD. As noted in the report, while the top employers of bootcamp grads used to be leading tech giants like Apple and Google, in the last few years comparatively smaller companies have begun to claim the title. 

It is worth noting as well that many software engineers choose not to work as full-time employees. Instead, they work as freelance contractors. When finding where to work as a software engineer, research top companies in your area. For example, Built In San Francisco is a platform that shares opportunities and resources in San Francisco.

Online Software Engineering Courses

If you are wondering what course you should take to become a software engineer, you are in luck. Below is a list of some of the highest-rated and most popular classes for software engineering. They cover a variety of topics, from engineering principles to programming languages and project management methodologies, to name just a few topics. 

Online software engineering courses are offered by bootcamps and platforms like Coursera and Udemy. They can help you become a software developer online in only a few months. Read below to read more about the best online software engineering courses to help you learn the essential skills you need.

Become a Python Developer


LinkedIn Learning


15 hours, 20 minutes




$29.99 per month (first month free)

If you want to become a Python software developer, this software engineer course will teach you the essentials. You’ll also learn how to apply for jobs and succeed in technical interviews. LinkedIn offers many online software engineering courses, and most have a certificate that you can put on your LinkedIn profile when you finish.

Introduction to Data Structures & Algorithms in Java




5 hours, 4 minutes


Intermediate coding knowledge of Java



Once you learn coding basics, you should take this software engineering course online. This is one of the best online software engineering courses if you want to learn how to use algorithms in your code. You will learn about basic sorting and search algorithms, linked lists, binary search trees, and more.

Introduction to Agile Development and Scrum


Coursera and IBM


9 hours




Free to audit ($39.99 per month with certificate) 

Agile development is one of the best skills for software engineers, so this course can help you become a software developer online. Part of the IBM DevOps and Software Engineering Professional Certificate, this software engineering course is a great choice if you want to learn Agile development and sprint planning.

Robotics Software Engineer




4 months at 10-15 hours per week


Basic math and programming


$399 per month

This nanodegree program from Udacy will teach you everything you need to know about software engineering for robotics. Although it is more expensive than other options, it offers a high-quality education and a certificate at the end. The online software engineering courses will help you specialize your skills and earn a higher salary.

Learn C++ Programming for Beginners




31 hours





This free software engineering course to learn C++ comes from one of the most popular sites for aspiring developers looking to learn the craft at no cost. The course is accessible as a series of videos on freeCodeCamp’s YouTube channel that will take you from C++ beginner to advanced user. You will start by installing a C++ compiler and end by learning about polymorphism. 

Online Software Engineering Resources

Regardless of whether you’re learning software engineer skills on your own, through a course, or in a degree program, online resources to learn software engineering can help you. These include online communities and free websites that offer support and new information. Read below to learn more about the best resources to learn software engineering. 

MDN Web Docs

A resource that any aspiring or experienced software developer would be familiar with, MDN Web Docs was started by Mozilla, the creator of the famous web browser, in 2005. It acts as a repository for documentation on HTML5, JavaScript, CSS, Web APIs, and Django, among others. Do you have a programming question? Simply google the term that troubles you followed by “mdn”, and you are likely to find a page with clear and interactive content that answers your question.

This free resource is an online educational tool that covers a wide range of subjects, such as Ruby, SQL, C++, Python, C#, HTML, and PHP. While programming can be complicated, this online software engineering resource is simple and straightforward, making it easy to get you started becoming a web developer.

Stack Overflow is a community that is part of the Stack Exchange network. It is one of the best online resources to learn software engineering. It focuses on giving information to developers of all skill levels. This site is used by programmers all over the world, so if you have a question, you can get it answered through this site.

Codecademy is an interactive site for aspiring programmers. The site provides access to a free program to build skills for web development, and it’s one of the best resources to learn software engineering for free. There are educational programs that teach you specific programming languages. The site also allows students to craft their curriculum and work at their own pace.

Should You Study Software Engineering?

Yes, you should study software engineering if you want to become a software engineer. Although you can get into this field with a different kind of degree or employment background, studying software engineering is the best way to start your career.

To learn software engineering, you can take online courses, get a degree, or attend a software engineering bootcamp. Software engineering has its pros and cons, so read below to learn more about the benefits of becoming a software engineer and whether it’s the right path for you.


Has software engineering changed post-pandemic?
Software engineering has changed post-pandemic by becoming more accessible for people who want to become software engineers. Online courses and bootcamps are more popular post-COVID, which means it’s easier than ever to start a software engineering career.
How do I find a job in software engineering?
You can find a job in software engineering by looking at job boards and websites like Indeed and LinkedIn. This aspect of becoming a software engineer is difficult, so be prepared to work on your skills for technical interviews and screening interviews.
Why do software engineers earn so much?
Software engineers earn so much because they are in high demand and experienced software engineers can be hard to find. Digital business becomes more and more essential every day, which means software engineering is also essential. The technology field has plenty of opportunities for high salaries.
Can I become a software engineer without a degree?
Yes, you can become a software engineer without a degree. There are plenty of software engineers with successful careers that will tell you that you can. However, note that some hiring managers prefer software engineers with a degree. If you have a degree, it will be easier to become a software engineer.
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