Software engineers play an important role in today's information driven society. In fact, software engineering is among the fastest growing professions in the U.S., with excellent job prospects predicted throughout the coming decade.
What Does a Software Engineer Do?
Software engineers design and develop the software used to run computer systems and applications. Some of the products software engineers create include computer games, business applications, operating systems, network control systems and 'middleware', or the software that connects components and applications (such as databases, networking applications, etc.).
Software engineering brings together various skills and responsibilities. The typical design and development process involves these steps:
- Assess user needs to determine the specifications of the software.
- Create flowcharts and diagrams to draft the software program.
- Write the algorithms, or detailed instructions, that direct the computer hardware.
- Code these instructions in the appropriate programming language.
- Test the program and fix any bugs.
Computer software engineers generally specialize in applications or systems engineering.
Applications software engineers develop specialized utility programs for computers, using programming languages such as C, C++, Java and Python. Applications may include custom business utilities, packaged computer applications or database applications.
Systems software engineers develop and program an organization's computer systems. Systems engineers are often responsible for setting up corporate intranets and networks as well as security and data assurance systems.
To learn how to become a software engineer, plan to develop competency in computer systems theory and algorithmic reasoning as well as knowledge of computer programming languages, software and hardware.
What Are the Steps to Becoming a Computer Software Engineer and Programmer?
Software engineers need a bachelor's degree in computer science or software engineering. Take these steps to launch your career as a software engineer:
- Build a strong technical foundation in high school. Take advanced mathematics courses such as calculus as well as any computer classes your high school offers.
- Practice using a broad range of computer systems and technologies. A familiarity with computer word processing programs, Internet search, IM and social networking, computer games and even movies with special computer graphics effects can help you gain a basic understanding of what software engineers do and how programs work.
- Earn a college degree. A four-year bachelor's degree is required for software engineering jobs. For a more accelerated track into the workforce, start with a two-year associate's degree in computer programming and work toward your bachelor's degree online while you gain experience as a programmer. Most software engineers have a bachelor's degree in computer science or software engineering, but mathematics and information science also offer relevant training.
- Complete an internship. While not required, a part-time or summer internship in programming or software engineering can help you solidify your technical education with applied practice. You can also demonstrate your skills and abilities to a potential employer, gaining an early foothold in the job market.
These four steps set you up for an entry-level role as a software engineer. With the BS in software engineering or computer science you can qualify for a job with a software development firm, a computer consulting firm, a financial institution or a corporation's internal software development or IT department.
How You Can Stand Out as a Software Developer
You can learn how to become a software engineer in the college classroom. Become a great software engineer by building your experience and credentials while on the job. Some of the resources available to you in your quest for software engineering greatness include:
- Continuing education. The learning never stops for software engineers. Rapidly advancing technologies and newly developed computer languages ensure a constant opportunity for knowledge development. Software vendors, professional computing societies, and special computer training institutions offer courses to help you expand and update your expertise.
- Master's degree. Advance in your software engineering career by earning a master's degree in software engineering. You may also train for an engineering management career by completing a professional business degree. The MBA in engineering management prepares you to take on the combined role of technical and business leader, overseeing engineering projects and a team of engineers.
- Certification. Demonstrate your expertise to employers and establish yourself in a software engineering specialty through professional certification. Certification programs generally focus on a specific skill or technology, and are offered by technical institutes, professional associations, and software vendors.
Generally speaking, you can become a great software engineer by taking on new responsibility or building specialized expertise. It also helps to develop mentor and peer support relationships with other professionals by joining a networking group or professional association.
Software engineering ranks among the nation's fastest-growing occupations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry could generate nearly 300,000 new jobs in the decade from 2008 and 2018, a stunning 32 percent increase in job growth. Applications software engineers earned a mean salary of $90,170 in 2009, while systems engineers brought home $96,620.
A career in software engineering combines creativity, analytical thinking and technical prowess. With formal training and smart career choices, you can establish yourself in the innovative, high-demand field of software engineering.
Resources for Software Engineers