How to Become a Software Engineer: What You Need to Know
With so much of today's business landscape relying more and more on technology, software engineers have become highly sought-after. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that software developer jobs will grow by 17% through 2024 (much faster than the national average).1 We've broken down a few tips on how to become a software engineer below.
What Does a Software Engineer Do?
Software engineers and developers create the programs and applications that users interact with on computers, smartphones, and other devices. This typically involves first determining what a program needs to do in order to meet the end user's needs. Software developers will then design the program by planning out each specific component or application required for it to perform the desired tasks, as well as setting rules for how these individual pieces of the software will/can interact. Programmers write the actual code for the software so the developers can test it, and potentially go back to make changes or modifications before it's released to users.
There are traditionally two types of software engineers: application and systems developers. Application software developers design the types of computer programs or apps you commonly use on your computer, phone, or tablet, sometimes also designing programs and database interfaces for their companies to use internally. Systems software developers work to create and maintain the underlying frameworks on which computers and their applications run—like operating systems and your computer's desktop interface. Depending on the company, software engineers may also assume some of a programmer's typical role, writing and adjusting the code for each program themselves.
Tips on Becoming a Software Engineer
While it is becoming easier than ever to learn computer software and programming languages, software engineering jobs are also likely to see increased competition as the market grows. Below are five essentials to keep in mind if you want to pursue a career as a software developer.
Computer Science Degree – One of the first and most important steps in how to become a software engineer includes getting your Bachelor of Science in Information Systems and Technology degree, or a closely related computer science degree. While certain employers may prefer a master's degree, most jobs will be open to you with a bachelor's.2
Learn How to Program – Despite software engineers not always writing the actual computer code for the programs they design, they are expected to have a strong working knowledge of computer programming languages. Make sure to take both software development and coding classes while in school, and keep yourself updated on current computer languages.
Knowledge of Applicable Industries – Understanding how end users need a program to function as well as what specific tasks they will be using it for is an essential part of designing software. For this reason, software engineers should have a basic understanding of the industries for which they're designing programs.
Complete an Internship While in School – Valuable software development knowledge can be gained from an internship while you're completing your degree. Internships can provide the double value of experience putting your course-based knowledge into practice as well as a better understanding of what specifically software developers do within a company (which can be great insight for future interviews).
Be Marketable as a Programmer as Well – Sometimes software engineers start as computer programmers and work their way up to development positions. If you make sure your proficiency with programming languages and the experience on your resume also qualifies you to get hired as a programmer, you stand a better chance of putting yourself on the right track to a software engineer role.3
Remember to expand your network as well, through talking to family and friends, as well as joining groups on LinkedIn or Facebook. Research alone is helpful, but firsthand information will lend more insight while helping you build industry contacts.
Interested in pursuing a career in computer science? Learn more about what you can do with a computer science degree.
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Software Developers, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm (visited February 14, 2016).
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Software Developers, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm (visited February 14, 2016).
3Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Software Developers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm (visited February 14, 2016).