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How to Become a Software Engineer

Software engineering refers to the development and maintenance of all the software we use every day, from productivity tools to web browsers. Developers are in demand worldwide as more fields of business continue to rely heavily on technology. As a result, people in the software engineering career path earn impressive salaries and have strong job prospects, with this role widely considered to be one of the best jobs in tech.

In this guide, we cover everything you need to learn how to become a software engineer. You can gain access to helpful resources on salaries for software engineers, training programs, and guidance on how to start your career. If becoming a software engineer is the goal, then continue reading.

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.

Software Engineering Skills

The skills needed for software engineering and related careers include debugging, Agile development, problem-solving, and organization. This job requires a lot of technical skill, whether or not you have a degree in software engineering. Read below to learn more about the best software engineering skills you need to become a software engineer.

Software Engineering Hard Skills

  • Java. Java is a popular coding language that many software engineering jobs ask for. According to PayScale, people with Java skills earn an annual salary of $94,000. If you want to get a job at a tech company and earn a high salary, you should learn Java coding skills.

  • SQL. SQL is one of the most important software engineering technical skills. Software engineers use SQL to store and manage data in databases. This is an important part of software development processes because it helps engineers organize and keep track of data.

  • Software Testing. If you want to be a full-fledged software engineer, you need to learn software testing. Testing your code might seem like a waste of time, but it’s worth it if you want to write high-quality code. The best software testing bootcamps are a great way to get started.

  • Debugging. No matter what level you’re at, this is one of the skills needed for software engineering. 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.

  • Agile Software Development. Agile development is a software lifecycle that helps projects stay on track. Many software engineering job opportunities will ask that applicants have experience with Agile software development because it helps them work better on teams.

Software Engineering Soft Skills

  • 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.

  • Attention to Detail. To write good code, you need to make sure every line is correct. Software engineers need to pay attention to their projects to make sure everything is correct. Attention to detail is one of the top skills needed for software engineering.

  • Organization. Software engineers can become very busy, especially those who work in freelance positions. Staying organized and keeping track of tasks is a vital skill for people in the technology field.

  • Balance. Along with organization, balance is an important soft skill for software engineers. The field of software engineering has many big projects and deadlines, which means it’s important to keep a good engineer work-life balance.

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 different types of software engineering, like security engineering and quality assurance engineering. Let's cover some of the more popular paths for software engineers.

Software Engineer

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

Embedded Systems Engineer

These 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

A security engineer is responsible for creating systems, methods, and policies to ensure an information system meets certain standards and has no security flaws. Security engineers often operate as “white-hat” ethical hackers and attempt to break into existing systems to find any security problems. Security engineering is a great software engineer career. 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 the development team writes a consistent quality of code. They create standards and policies to ensure all code is efficient and works correctly.

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. There are no tuition costs until you’re hired in a software engineering role and earn over $50,000. App Academy has put over 4,500 people in full-time software engineering positions with a high average salary. App Academy alumni work at over 2,000 companies around the world, such as Twitter, Netflix, Apple, and Google.

  • 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. Flatiron School teaches students how to think and work like software engineers. Students must submit a written application that details their reason for applying to the bootcamp. They must also learn some basic skills to qualify for the immersive programs through Flatiron School’s free preparatory courses.

  • Thinkful. Thinkful is an online coding bootcamp that offers a seven-month-long course in software engineering. The courses can be completed on a full-time or part-time schedule. Throughout the program, students receive a personal mentor, career coach, and academic success manager. They also join a supportive peer network to help ensure success. In some programs, students are eligible for Thinkful’s tuition guarantee. This means that if a student does not find a job within six months of graduating, they get their money back.

  • Rithm School. Rithm School is a 17-week full-time software engineering program. It 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. Unlike other coding bootcamps, students spend three weeks contracting for companies and gaining professional experience.

College Education for Software Engineering

A software engineer 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. 

Many people start their education with an associate software engineer degree, which is a two-year degree. Others bypass this step and get a Bachelor’s Degree in Software Engineering. The education requirements for many software jobs include a degree, so earning an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree is a good idea.

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, but if you can’t find one, 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.

Common Questions About Becoming a Software Engineer

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’s the difference between a software engineer and a software developer?

The difference between a software engineer and a software developer is that the former uses more engineering concepts and problem-solving skills. Software developers create and maintain software, while software engineers create and maintain software while applying engineering principles. 

Becoming a software engineer or software developer is a similar process. Software engineering might require more experience because it requires more decision-making. Some software developers become software engineers later on. Both careers involve coding and programming.

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.

Software Engineering Salaries & Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average pay for software developers is between $102,380 and $124,050 per year. The BLS also reports that the software engineering job outlook is 22 percent between 2020 and 2030, which is over double 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 $88,899. Entry-level software engineers earn $78,141 per year, and experienced software engineers earn $108,979. Get as much experience as you can when you start your software engineering career.

Where Can I Work as a Software Engineer?

As a software engineer, you can work at large corporations, tech companies, and startups. Many software engineers also 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.

Software Engineering Internship 

You can find software engineering internships through your software engineering bootcamp or degree program. You can also search online for remote internships or in-person internships in your area. The best software engineering internships will teach you about the software development lifecycle and help you get hands-on experience.

Software engineering internships are available at companies like Google, Meta, Airbnb, and Nvidia. You can also research how to get an internship at Lyft and other growing companies. People of all education levels can get internships, but they are usually ideal for entry-level software engineers.

Software Engineering Certifications

An additional step that will help you stand out in the job interview process is earning certifications. Software engineering certifications are credentials that let employers know you have certain skills or knowledge. Focus on getting the best software engineering certifications that support the technologies you plan to use in your career.

Amazon AWS Certification

Becoming an AWS Certified Developer is a great choice for software engineers. This certification proves your skills in Amazon Web Services, which is a popular tool for many tech companies. The AWS website has resources and study material to help you prepare for this software engineering certification.

Microsoft Developer Certifications

This set of certifications from Microsoft is a great choice if you want to work with Azure or Microsoft 365. If you want to specialize, these software engineering certifications are a good place to look. For example, if you want to become a cloud engineer, you should take the Microsoft Certified: Azure IoT Developer Specialty exam.

Oracle Certified Associate

Oracle is a platform that provides some of the best software engineering certifications out there. They include Oracle Database SQL Certified Associate, Oracle PL/SQL Developer Certified Associate (JP), and Oracle Certified Professional, Java EE 7 Application Developer. Many computer science professionals have these certifications because they’re highly regarded in the industry. 

CIW Web Foundations Associate

This software engineering certification is a good choice for people who are interested in network technology and web development. The certification involves both a course and an exam, so you can learn everything you need to know on the CIW website. CIW also offers other certifications in topics like web design and JavaScript.

The Best Software Engineering Courses, Training Programs, and Books

Software engineering training programs are viable alternatives to a college or university education. Some of the most popular types of programs come in the form of software engineering courses and coding bootcamps. The best software engineering courses teach concepts of software development to get you ready for industry certifications.

To become a software engineer, you can take software engineering courses in cyber security engineering, engineering principles, and programming languages. Below is a list of some of the highest-rated and most popular classes for software engineering.

Online Software Engineering Courses

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

  • Duration: 19 hours, 6 minutes

  • Prerequisites: None

  • Cost: $26.99 per month

If you want to become a Python software developer, this 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 | Udemy

  • Duration: 5 hours, 4 minutes

  • Prerequisites: Intermediate coding knowledge of Java

  • Cost: $89.99

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 software. 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

  • Duration: 10 hours

  • Prerequisites: None

  • Cost: $59 per month 

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 course is a great choice if you want to learn Agile development and sprint planning.

Robotics Software Engineer | Udacity

  • Duration: 4 months at 10-15 hours per week

  • Prerequisites: Basic math and programming

  • Cost: $529 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.

Data Structures and Software Design | edX and the University of Pennsylvania 

  • Duration: 4 weeks at 8-10 hours per week

  • Prerequisites: Intermediate Java

  • Cost: Free audit track

This software product engineering course will help you earn a higher salary as an entry-level software engineer. With previous knowledge of programming with Java, you will learn data structures, object-oriented coding, and software design. Keep in mind that you will have to pay extra if you want to participate in graded assignments and earn a certificate. 

Software Engineering Books

Beyond courses and certifications, the best software engineering books can expand your knowledge significantly. These books are filled with advice and useful information about the field. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced professional, the following books on software engineering are useful resources for any software engineer.

Cracking the Coding Interview: 189 Programming Questions and Solutions | Gayle Laakmann McDowell

If you apply for a software engineering position, you may need to complete a coding interview, sometimes known as a technical interview. This book helps you look for hidden details in coding questions, break problems down into manageable chunks, and improve your ability to learn concepts. There are also 189 interview questions and solutions in the book, which will help you prepare for your next interview.

Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction | Steve McConnell

Code Complete is an analysis of software construction. It is well-written and considered an industry-standard text for anyone who wants to become a software engineer or programmer. It covers topics in design, coding, testing, and debugging.

This book is particularly useful for those with some early professional experience in programming. However, beginners will become more confident when making software after reading this book. Becoming a software engineer will be much easier with this resource.

The Clean Coder: A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers | Robert Martin

This book teaches you all about discipline, tools, techniques, and the practices of software craftsmanship. It comes with practical advice for coding, testing, refactoring, and estimating. It is also a good resource for becoming a software engineer because it offers advice on how to thrive in the workplace.

After reading the book, you’ll learn how to deal with conflicts, difficult managers, and tight schedules. You’ll also learn how to create an environment for thriving developers, avoid burnout, and get into flow coding.

Introduction to Algorithms | Thomas H. Cormen

This is a great guide to all types of algorithms. A necessary part of software engineering, this book covers everything for beginners and professionals alike. You’ll learn about fast algorithms, polynomial-time algorithms, graph theory, computational geometry, and data structures. It even gives some examples through pseudo-code.

The Pragmatic Programmer | David Thomas and Andrew Hunt

This book is filled with professional and technical advice to help you become a better software engineer. The book examines what it means to be a modern developer, exploring topics from architectural techniques to career development. Upon reaching the last page, you’ll have learned how to create adaptable, flexible, and dynamic code.

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.

This is a large online community with hundreds of thousands of members on the site. It connects experienced programmers, allowing them to share information with one another and help others become software engineers. The site has detailed programming tutorials, code snippets, and a forum where you can receive any software engineering assistance.

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 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.

Pros of Becoming a Software Engineer

  • High salary. As explored above, PayScale reports that the median salary for software engineers is $88,899. 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 22 percent job growth for software development by 2030, 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.

Cons of Becoming a Software Engineer

  • Competitive environment. Software engineering is a growing field, which means lots of people want to become software engineers. Make sure you ace your screening interview and phone interview so you can impress your hiring manager and get the job.

  • Long hours. Many software projects are high-stakes and have tight deadlines, so working as a software engineer can be stressful. Depending on where you get a job, be prepared to work long hours.

  • Technical content. The technical aspects of becoming a software engineer can be difficult for some. Studying software engineering can be grueling, especially if you aren’t naturally gifted in coding. Take beginner courses first so you can get more comfortable. 

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