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What Is Software Engineering? How Do You Become a Software Engineer?

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at CTU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

Software is all around us. It is what enables us to interact with our computer, mobile phone, or smart TV. It may help us keep track of our finances or how many steps we take every day. Some software may help businesses and organizations organize and protect important customer, proprietary, or patient healthcare information. It’s hard to imagine a person or industry that doesn’t rely on it in some way.

Software engineers are the brains who help bring us this technology—and the field is growing as the need for software grows. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) currently estimates a positive outlook for software engineering job growth. It projects that from 2021-2031, employment of software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers will grow 25 percent.1

What Is Software Engineering?

Software engineering involves the application of computer science, engineering, and mathematical principles and techniques to the development of software solutions that address user needs.2 One IEEE definition defines software engineering as “the application of a systematic, disciplined, quantifiable approach to the development, operation, and maintenance of software; that is, the application of engineering to software.”3 The field can be broken down into subcategories or types of software engineering—applications software development and systems software development.1

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Software engineers design, develop, and maintain software. They analyze user’s needs to determine what a piece of software’s core functionality will be. They are also responsible for determining its security requirements. On a day-to-day basis, software engineers or developers typically:1

  • Recommend software upgrades for existing programs and systems
  • Design software application or system components and plan how they will work together
  • Create models and diagrams to illustrate to programmers the software code needed for an application
  • Carry out software testing and maintenance
  • Document every aspect of a software application or system to serve as a reference for future maintenance and upgrades

What a software engineer does depends on whether they focus on applications development systems development:1

  • Applications software developers, or applications engineers, may
    • design computer applications
    • create custom software for an individual customer or commercial software for the public
    • create databases or other programs for internal or online use
  • Systems software developers, or systems engineers, may
    • develop operating systems for a specific organization or for the public
    • build the computer interface that enables users to interact with the electronic device

Do Software Engineers Need to Know Programming?

Programming, or computer programming, is the process of creating a set of computational instructions—those instructions are called “writing code.” Computer code essentially tells a piece of software what to do.

In certain organizations computer programming duties and software engineering duties may overlap—when this happens, computer programmers may take on traditional software developer duties like designing software.4 And sometimes software developers may write their own code instead of handing over instructions to programmers.1

Potential Software Engineering Career Paths

As mentioned above, software development jobs are projected to grow 25 percent from 2021 to 2031, according to the BLS. The following are some factors contributing to this faster-than-average growth:1

  • The increase in products (consumer electronics, mobile phones, and appliances) that utilize software
  • Greater investment in security software that protects computer networks and electronic infrastructure1

A software engineer’s job title can vary from organization to organization. They might be called:

  • Applications Developer
  • Software Architect
  • Software Development Engineer
  • Network Engineer
  • Systems Engineer2

How to Become a Software Engineer

Aspiring software engineers typically need to possess a degree in computer and information technology, or related field. A Bachelor’s in Computer Engineering, Bachelor’s in IT—Software Systems Engineering, or Bachelor’s in Computer Science—Software Engineering degree program may help you prepare for opportunities in the field.* Software engineers who have earned a master’s degree are sometimes preferred by potential employers.1

Completing an internship while pursuing a computer science degree, computer engineering degree, or IT degree program could provide an opportunity to gain real-world software development skills.

Software engineers should also have strong computer programming skills. Such skills are normally developed while in school. But software engineers can’t simply rest on their laurels after earning a degree—they must always stay on top of new developments in software tools and computer languages.1 Some schools offer programming/coding certificate programs, software engineering certificate programs, or even coding bootcamps to help you develop or sharpen your skills.

Preparing for a Software Engineering Job Interview

You’ve found a role you’re interested in pursuing and have compared your credentials and experience against the software development job posting—you have the computer degree, the relevant work experience, and a strong foundation in programming knowledge. What next?

A simple online search can identify sample software engineering interview preparation questions that can be used to practice potential interview responses. While it’s impossible to know for sure what questions a potential employer may ask, doing this type of interview preparation can nonetheless help build up confidence.

Preparing a software engineering portfolio to display completed work is also important. A portfolio will allow the interviewer to actually see software engineering skills instead of just listening to a description of them. If frontend development skills are an asset, then writing the code for a portfolio site could be one more way to showcase technical skills. If the focus is more on backend development, consider using an online template to display a software engineering portfolio.

Related Potential Computer Science Career Paths

Pursuing a computer science degree program* could help you prepare for more than just a career as a software engineer or programmer:

IT Manager: Information technology (IT) managers plan, coordinate, and direct an organization’s computer-related activities. They help set an organization’s IT goals and implement the computer systems to achieve those goals. They are typically involved in planning overseeing the installation and maintenance of computer hardware and software. IT managers may also plan and direct the work of other IT professionals, such as computer systems analysts, software developers, information security analysts, and computer support specialists.5

Projected Employment Outlook: Computer and Information Systems Managers employment is projected to grow 16 percent from 2021 to 2031, according to the BLS.5

Education & Experience: A bachelor’s degree in computer or information technology combined with related work experience is typically required to become an IT manager.5

Ready to get started? Discover Colorado Technical University’s Engineering and Computer Science degree programs.

* Colorado Technical University cannot guarantee employment, salary, or career advancement.
The list of career paths related to this program is based on a subset from the Bureau of Labor Statistics CIP to SOC Crosswalk. Some career paths listed above may require further education or job experience.


1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers,” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm (visited 11/30/2022). This data represents national figures and is not based on school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary.
2 O*NET Online, “15-1252.00—Software Developers,” https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1252.00 (visited 12/2/2022).
3 “Software engineering,” SEVOCAB: Software and Systems Engineering Vocabulary, https://pascal.computer.org/sev_display/index.action (visited 1/6/23). Copyright © 2021, IEEE. Used by permission.
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Computer Programmers,” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-programmers.htm (visited 1/6/23).
5 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Computer and Information Systems Managers,” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/computer-and-information-systems-managers.htm (visited 1/6/23). This data represents national figures and is not based on school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary.

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