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What is Software Engineering?
Software engineering is a technical discipline responsible for the writing and programming of software for use on a given system. The type of software being developed will vary based on employer, and may be made specifically for internal use, for sale, or for public distribution as needed. Individuals seeking a career as a computer software engineer will require a strong understanding of math, computer languages, various platforms, coding principles and computer hardware.
The field of software engineering continues to be a rapidly growing, ever-evolving occupation with an exceptionally high earning potential for college graduates. From the construction of computer applications to game design managers, a large number of technology we rely upon is supported by software engineers and software developers. Software engineering teams and software development managers invest time to understand wants and needs of users across an industry or segment before designing, creating, building, testing, debugging, launching, and managing a software application.
Software engineers leverage the theories of mathematical models, software applications, and computer science to create new products or enhance existing products. The need to upgrade, enhance, modify, debug, and create software is an ever-increasing demand around the world, thus making the degree programs for a software engineer such a respected college degree pathway.
Both software engineers and software developers typically start their journey writing code before advancing into management or executive positions. The technical know-how coupled with business acumen often make for a vibrant career path in the field of software development and maintenance. Regardless of job title in the software industry, it is vital to keep up with trends, advancements, and technology applications. It is ever-more important for engineers to continue to hone collaboration and communication skills to effectively communication with one another, senior management, cross-departmental team members, peers, vendors, and customers.
How to Become a Software Engineer or Software Developer
Below, you will find a series of six steps to help you start your vocational path towards becoming a software engineer or software developer. By taking great care to understand each step, you will better manage each step and the ensuing steps of the process in your quest to become a professional software engineer. The steps you will need to following include the following:
- Research: The first step in the process to become a software developer starts with researching accredited colleges and universities. Finding the right program for you consists of several factors including: cost, convenience, quality, scheduling, resources, alumni network, technology access, financial aid, online learning options, and many other factors. Start your research today by first reading our Complete Guide to the College Admission Process and establishing a priority list. Then, simply request information from one of nearly 8,000 schools found via MatchCollege.
- Apply: Once you have a short list of schools you would like to attend along with specific information about their programs, you will need to apply for admission to the school. Make sure to fill out the applications completely and accurately in order to make the most of your opportunity with the school. Many students utilize our highly-acclaimed resource guide Crush the Odds of Getting into Your Top College Choice during this phase of the process. Since most software companies require a bachelor’s degree or greater, make sure to select your degree path carefully.
- Study: After you have been accepted to college programs on your list, you will need to make a decision of where to attend and begin studying. Whether you elect to learn in a classroom setting or online, learning more about general education courses (math, English, philosophy, psychology) and core software engineering curriculum will be part of your degree program. It is recommended you place an inordinate weight to studying computational and discrete math as many algorithms are based on mathematic models. Also, take the time to build software on your own either with a group or by yourself. These self-directed skills will pay dividends in spades later in your career.
- Graduate: At the completion of your degree program, you will earn a college degree and graduate from school. Majoring in software engineering or computer science will equip you for the requisite skills in the workplace to learn how to design, construct, modify, and build software applications of all types.
- Plan: Map out your career goals and objectives early in your work career. As the industry changes and flexes, you will need to be adaptive and establish short-term and long-term goals. These goals may be position-based (moving from software developer to senior software developer), academic (earning a graduate degree in software development), upskilling (finding professional certifications to help you be more effective at your job and increase pay & responsibilities), and networking (joining an association or professional organization for software developers).
Top Software Engineering Degrees
The number of pathways to a software engineering career continue to grow as the higher education system evolves. Below, we will discuss the many ways students and working professionals can take advantage of learning modalities to upskill or begin a career in software engineering. The different degree pathways for a software engineer include:
Online Degrees in Software Engineering
As the fastest growing segment in higher education, online learning continues to outpace other learning modalities. Online degrees in software engineering is no exception to this trend. Students can enroll in a number of degree programs online or online certificate programs in software engineering. Accredited colleges and universities across the country continue to add robust and rigorous curriculum for online learners.
It is important to understand the two different types of online learning modalities prior to matriculation to ensure it will meet your needs and fit your schedule. The two primary types of online learning methods are synchronous learning and asynchronous learning. The asynchronous model is the type of online learning that can be done independently and not driven by group requirements nor assembly at a particular time or place. Synchronous learning, on the other hand, is when all students are required to be online at a given time working on the same material at the same time. The synchronous learning modality is akin to the requirements of a traditional classroom setting without being bound to a physical location.
Associate Degrees in Software Engineering
The associate degree in software engineering is a two-year program designed to provide students with the essentials in software. Associate degree programs include general education courses like English, psychology, and sociology plus core curriculum items to prepare students for entry-level positions in the software industry. It is important to understand that most employers prefer to hire college graduates with a bachelor’s degree or graduate degree in software engineering; however, it is not uncommon for working professionals with ample work experience begin to add degrees and certificates to their resume over time.
Bachelor Degrees in Software Engineering
A bachelor degree in software engineering is typically a 4-year degree-granting program that is often seen as the minimum requirement to work in the field. The Bachelor of Science (BS) in Software Engineering will often include a number of liberal arts classes plus core curriculum towards degree completion. Students will have access to cutting-edge technology and academic lectures bringing the academic and practical learning models together.
Students will learn about embedded systems that power everything from cellphones to robots along with coding applications requisite to build the applications of tomorrow. Some colleges allow for dual degree programs in related fields such as biomedical engineering, computer engineering, mechanical engineering, and similar trades.
Master Degrees in Software Engineering
A master’s degree in software engineering is a graduate program that typically lasts 1-2 years after the completion of undergraduate requirements found in a bachelor’s degree program. With the burgeoning number of online master’s degree programs, there are 15-18 month programs for qualified master’s degree candidates.
Upper level courses in the master’s degree track may include advanced studies in: research methods, database modeling, project management, ethics in practice, software modeling, object oriented design, software quality assurance, software security, enterprise software, mobile software, human-computer interaction, and software architecture.
Doctorate Degrees in Software Engineering
Doctorate degrees in software engineering may come as a PhD or Doctor of Philosophy with an emphasis in Computer Engineering or Computer Science. Graduate programs in software engineering can be 3-6 year programs depending on the number of credits taken and the curricular design of the program. Some doctorate-level programs require students to complete a dissertation while others may not, thus affecting the length of time to achievement of this terminal degree in software engineering.
Graduate students, both doctorate and master’s level, will likely be involved in cutting edge technology and research. Areas of emphasis will ultimately be up to the school but may include the following areas of technology: cybersecurity, organic electronics, speech recognition, materials characterization, biosensors, carbon nanotubes, electromechanical systems, semiconductor manufacturing, cochlear implanting, and wireless networking.
Educational Requirements for Software Engineers
Individuals working in this field typically pursue a bachelors degree in programming, software engineering, computer science, or mathematics. Individuals will study a variety of areas, such as computer languages, hardware platforms, new technologies and other such fields. Though some may be able to find employment based solely on skill, rapid advances in technology and programming, and the increased complexity of the hardware being written for has resulted in an overall demand for educated individuals when considering positions in the field.
A curriculum may include:
- Programming Languages
- Hardware and Software
- Platform Development Tools
Schools Other Students Requested Information From:
Employment Opportunities in Software Engineering
The term software is broad and covers a variety of areas that include recreation, business, tool development, application writing and more. Individuals will seek employment in the area of software development that best speaks to their interests and skills. It is normal for individuals pursuing software engineering positions in a given field to be familiar with the needs of that field, for instance an individual developing tools and systems for the purposes of three dimensional modeling should understand the needs and uses of such systems by those who will actually do the modeling in order to better serve those individuals.
Most Popular Software Developer Jobs
As you prepare for a career in software engineering and software development, you will be best served to recognize job titles in the industry. Coupled with the job title, make sure to ask job responsibilities and scope of duties to fully understand the roles within the company you are researching. The most commonly used job titles for a software developer or software engineer include:
- Software Engineer
- Systems Coordinator
- Senior Software Engineer
- Software Architect
- Computer Application Programmer
- Computer Game Developer
- Infrastructure Engineer
- Network Engineer
- Interactive Media Programmer
- Mainframe Systems Programmer
- Systems Programmer
- Animation Programmer
- Publishing Systems Analyst
- Software Developer
- Graphical User Interface (GUI) Developer
- Interactive Media Developer
- Systems Engineer
- Special Effects Programmer
- Operating Systems Programmer
- Scientific Programmer
- Application Programmer
- Graphical User Interface (GUI) Designer
- Multimedia Developer
- Software Development Programmer
- Web Development Programmer
Top Job Responsibilities of a Software Developer
In a recent survey completed by the U.S. Department of Labor, professional software engineers provided insight into their primary job duties. The most popular job responsibilities of a software developer are included in the top 10 list below to help you best understand what a typical day may look like for developers across several industries.
- Manage information technology projects or system activities
- Develop testing routines or software procedures
- Modify existing software to correct errors, integrate it with existing hardware, upgrade interfaces, and improve current performance
- Consult with peers, customers, management on issues, concerns, project status, and business proposals
- Monitor computer system performance to ensure proper operation
- Analyze programmatic and disparate information to determine, recommend, and plan work
- Modify software programs to improve performance
- Develop or direct software system testing or validation procedures
- Direct software programming and development of documentation
- Provide technical support for software maintenance or use
Job Growth, Salary and Related Engineering Fields
Job growth is expected to increase over the next decade as more platforms become available and the need for software engineers to be able to produce applications for those systems grows. The increased dependency on computers and their software they run creates a competitive market that allows for a large variety of software to be developed internally or externally, requiring qualified engineers in order to compete. The average salary for a computer software engineer is approximately $102,280 annually, though this sum varies based on type of software, employer, experience, and education.
Largest Employers of Software Developers and Software Engineers
- Computer Design Corporations 131,680
- Software Publishers 23,400
- Computer & Periphery Manufacturers 23,020
- Architectural & Engineering Firms 17,720
- Management Consulting Companies 17,580
States with the Highest Employment of Software Developers
- California 90,290
- Texas 30,850
- Massachusetts 27,630
- Virginia 24,950
- New York 19,020
Top Paying States for Software Developers
- California $128,800
- Colorado $120,860
- Maryland $118,090
- Virginia $117,330
- Delaware $116,750
Individuals interested in computer software engineering may also be interested in computer engineering, computer networking, computer programming, computer hardware engineering or computer science. The IEEE and IACSIT are associations that provide technical insights and professional networking outside academia. Trade associations may prove beneficial for those looking to take their careers to the next level.