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How to Become a Software Engineer and the Salary You Can Expect

Software Engineer

Do you love to work with computers and do you enjoy writing code? If this is a hobby that you've enjoyed, why not turn it into a lucrative career? There are some high paying jobs out there for software developers who have the skills and the passion for using their talents to create new software programs for industries where these skills are in high demand right now. There are so many different areas opening up for software engineers and we see this market expanding rapidly. If this is something you've been thinking about doing, here is everything you need to know about becoming a software engineer, the steps to get there, the kind of jobs that are available and the salary that you can expect to earn.

What is a software engineer?

A software engineer is someone who uses the principles of engineering to design, develop, maintain, test and evaluate computer software. The previous name for these technicians was computer scientist. When it comes to a definition of this professional title, it's still evolving and there is hot debate over the precise definition as well as the meaning. Computer programmer is another title that falls within this category as well as software developer or program developer. This is a field that offers a wide range of opportunities to assist companies in developing the software, programs, applications that run computers and electronic devices and covers a wide range of duties. The job descriptions that you'll find with various hiring companies will vary to some degree.

What are the duties of a software engineer?

The typical job responsibilities of a software engineer include developing information systems through the design, development and installation of software solutions. A critical skill for a software engineer is to identify problems for their employers as well as determining the parameters of the problem with a thorough analysis and evaluation, coming up with the feasibility of operations, establishing the requirements, developing solutions and making proposals for the best solutions with a variety of choices. Since many problems have multiple possible solutions, it is within the scope of the software engineer's duties to choose the best for the situation and demonstrate this through documentation which may include layouts, flowcharts, diagrams, code comments and clear code. The engineer designs the system standards, specifications and programming, creates the program and installs it. Most job descriptions include the necessity of improving operations through systems analysis and making recommendations for changes needed in policies and procedures. There is a heavy emphasis upon data collection, organization, analysis, and completion of the needed results as it pertains to service issues and solution development as well as understanding and improving systems flow.

Skills needed for software developers

The skills that are needed for software developers/engineers is extensive because of the nature of the job expectations from the majority of employers. These include the abilities to analyze complex technical information, business requirements, with a strong ability to conduct research and identify problems. Software engineers must also be detail oriented to asses how a proposed solution will impact the business and how it will work within the database architecture that already exists. He or she must be able to build software applications that will enhance the functional and technical aspects of the systems and the products in use, and must have hands on SQL experience as well as javaScript, Code and Version Repository, UI Toolkits and Frameworks, Linux/Unix, Perl, or Shell, Ruby, PHP or Python, Ruby on Rails, Node js, Microsoft ASP.NET, MVC web API, a working knowledge of C, C++, and C# as well as possessing a thorough understanding of data structures, operating systems and computer architecture. Software engineers must be able to thrive within a fast paced and dynamic environment and have a passion for developing engaging consumer experiences with strong problem solving, oral and written communication skills. He or she will lead and deliver complex software systems as well as managing multiple projects in an environment that is driven by deadlines for project completion. Ideally, he or she will work well in a team setting with others as well as independently and will understand and use software engineering best practices, while also possessing the ability to write detail technical documentation and specifications clearly and concisely.

Software engineers must at a minimum possess six basic skills, although the list of employer expectations can seem exhaustive for some jobs. The main focus is upon computer programming skills which for most employers must be demonstrated through the completion of an academic degree such as a bachelors degree or higher with certifications in key areas. Coding is another essential for building programs from scratch in addition to making updates and changes to existing software programs. The third most important skill is the ability to pay attention to detail to find bugs and fix issues and this can require a lot of patience. Logic and problem solving skills are also necessary to find problems, determine the best fix, build it and install it. This can include a lot of thinking outside of the box for some of the less common issues that may arise. With a big emphasis on mobile use, there is a need for the ability to develop and address issues in mobile programs in many businesses, as well as good interpersonal skills to get to the bottom of what end users need from IT.

What career pathways are open to software engineers?

Software engineers have the opportunity to pursue areas that they are passionate about. They have the choices of several different career pathways and there are new jobs opening all the time. With the advancement of technology and the widespread use of computer technology in industries across the board, there is an almost limitless range of job opportunities in a variety of different fields. Some exciting areas you might want to consider are robotics and machine learning. Other areas include virtual assistants which are becoming a staple in today's tech world, as well as virtual reality systems, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, smart home technology and even self driving cars.

Three main career paths

As a software engineer, there are several different pathways available for your career and the best is the one that you are well suited for. Most who are just starting out in the job market start in a non-management type position that includes continuing to learn on the job and adding to your skill set as you go. The role of a software architect is one that many are involved in after they have been on the job a while and have added a few extra certifications. This is one of the upper level leadership roles in technology and it is a natural evolution, so you may want to think about where you want your career to go in the short term, intermediate and in the long term. While some are not comfortable and prefer to remain behind the scenes in subordinate positions, others go on to lead teams that accomplish great feats, but this depends on what you want to achieve out of your career, your personality, if you have natural leadership abilities and so forth. A lot of software engineers start out in the lower entry level positions within the field and their natural leadership abilities begin to shine and they find themselves evolving into highly skilled and well paid leaders who are in charge of tech teams for some of the biggest companies in the tech world. For some it is a natural evolution and for others, it's just not their preference or within their wheel house.

Software architects serve as mentors for developers who are currently building their skill levels in software programming, development and engineering. These are the people who make critical software architecture choices for the entire team and although there are not usually any subordinates reporting to them, it is an esteemed position that they occupy. They do well in directing work reports and delegating responsibility as well as keeping open lines of communication with the leaders of the company.

The third type is the senior technical project manager and this is a position that may fall under a variety of different titles depending on the company. All bear the same responsibilities in essence such as working closely with stakeholder and the teams involved to keep the project on budge and on track for hitting deadlines for completion. The ideal candidate for this career path is efficient, design minded, organized, enthusiastic and is the type of person who thrives in environments that are fast pace and driven. It's one of the most rewarding jobs in the profession but it's rewarding in terms of salary and the sense of accomplishment if you're the kind of person that is well suited for this type of work

Senior technical project manager. While not as common as the prior two, developers with strong resource planning and budgeting skills can ascend to this role. Technical project managers work closely with stakeholders and involved teams to keep the project on track and on budget. Candidates should be enthusiastic, efficient, organized, design-minded, and able to thrive under pressure.

What kind of degree is required to become a software engineer?

This depends upon the kind of software engineer that you want to be and what level you want to eventually have within an organization. While there are plenty of software engineers out there who do not possess an academic degree, most do have certifications. The educational requirements for achieving real success in this field, for most people is at a minimum a bachelor's degree. If you want to move up higher into the management or leadership sector, it' recommended that you earn a master's degree or even higher, with certifications in specific areas of your passion as well. We've put together recommendations for career minded techies who are serious about building a successful career within the field along with educational requirements set by most major tech companies to let you know precisely which degrees and certifications you'll need to earn in order to be one of the top candidates considered for the better and higher paying positions in the field.

The first step

The first step is to find an accredited school that offers bachelor's degrees in computer science or a related field. Not all colleges and universities offer the same programs. If you go with a liberal arts college, you will need to take core classes in computer science or whatever related program you choose, but you'll also take classes that will help you to learn interpersonal skills as well as writing skills which are also necessary to be successful as a software engineer. Technical report writing and showing what you know in the form of charts and graphs will likely be a part of the job that you perform, sometimes at entry level, and definitely on a consistent basis if you move beyond into management or leadership in the field. Even if you're already self-taught, the degree will help you to learn the expectations of those in professional business settings as well as the best practices and even the legal implications that go along with the job and employers want to see proof of this knowledge in the form of a formal degree.

Degrees offered for software engineers

Associate degree

This is a two year degree that some software engineers begin with for entry level jobs, just to get their feet wet and see if they like the work. There are several different disciplines offered with curriculum that focuses on software engineering, software development and programming languages. They may be offered under programs called software systems engineering, software engineering technology or something related depending upon the school.

Bachelor's degree

This is typically a four year degree and the majority of hiring companies prefer that candidates have a minimum of a bachelor's in computer science or in a field that is closely related. The bachelor's degree programs offer a broader range of coursework that includes computer science, software architecture, programming and software testing methods. They also provide the breadth to take courses in specialized areas that will further enhance your skill set and make you more valuable in the work force over someone who is not familiar in these areas. Some entry level positions require a bachelor's degree as well as middle management jobs.

Master's degree

If you're passionate about software development or related work, and you are ambitious in establishing a successful career in this field, a master's degree can help to open more doors to get you where you want to be. You can continue on from your bachelor's degree and go straight into the graduate studies program although many choose to work for a few years and then earn a masters after they've worked in the field for a few years. You can apply for graduate school at any time in your career so long as you have earned a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. What will a master's do for your career? It gives you advanced knowledge and skills in solving real world problems through the use of the software development life cycle. You'll learn about highly technical processes and situations which include sensitive embedded products. It can give you the credentialing that employers love when you're ready to move up into a management or lead position with some of the larger and higher paying companies.

Software engineers who possess master's degrees can work within virtually any industry on the planet as there is an ever increasing need for skilled workers who have an expertise in the newer and more modern technology in computers, mobile and other types of devices. The need for software architecture, programming and design is huge. Those who have extensive knowledge of the new systems, who have the ability to create new programs and who can demonstrate high level skills are currently in high demand and this is a trend that is growing. An advanced degree can help you move up in a company that you currently work for or it can help you to land a prestigious and well-paying job at another company. It an mean the difference between qualifying for an entry level job or a lead software engineer or even project manager, and all other positions at this level.

Additional recommendations for training

While pursuing your bachelor's or master's degree, it's very important to secure internships in the field where you want to work. This not only gives you more hands on experience in a real work environment, it makes you look more attractive to potential employers. Companies are looking for software engineers who have already had job experience. Even if you've not been formally hired by the company that you worked with in an internship situation, the experience can help you to network with professionals who could serve as work references when you're applying for permanent full time jobs in the future. Internships are a vital part of your undergraduate educational experience, so try to get in with a company that can give you great experience and references and do a good job while you're there.

What kind of salary does a software engineer earn?

The salary that you will earn as a software engineer can vary greatly and it depends upon several different factors worth considering now. Your education level, along with the skills that you an prove that you possess through certifications earned, letters of recommendations from other pros in the field, and the work or internship experience that you've had are the major factors. Others include the area that you work in and its economic conditions, and the level of job that you are in. As you spend more time working in a professional setting, your value in the industry usually increases because education and experience are big factors in the salary earned by software engineers. Another is the company that you work for. Here are some current statistics that will give you an idea of what you can earn in this profession.

Social media and social networking companies such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter pay salaries that range between $118,445 per year to $127,557. The lowest annual salary that we observed was with the National Instruments test equipment tech company which paid $64,129. The highest was at Intuit financial and tax preparation software company paying $137,424 for bachelor's level software engineers.

Final thoughts

The profession of software engineering can be a very exciting and rewarding career if you have the passion and the aptitude. There are several great degree and certificate programs out there to help you achieve the skill set and competency level for any type of position within the industry that you want to pursue. It's a growing industry and the job availability is high. Employers are looking for highly qualified candidates to fill the best positions for software engineers and they are willing to offer excellent compensation packages to the right candidates. There is a lot of stiff competition in this field of work, so it pays to invest in an education so your resume will be noticed by the better companies. There are many different industries to work for as a software engineer and this is just one of the things that makes it such a good choice for computer science and programming enthusiasts. If computer programming is a hobby that you truly enjoy, why not turn your hobby into an exciting and rewarding career? Following the recommendations we've made provides you with a pathway to reach your personal and professional goals.

Dana Hanson

Written by Dana Hanson

Dana has extensive professional writing experience including technical and report writing, informational articles, persuasive articles, contrast and comparison, grant applications, and advertisement. She also enjoys creative writing, content writing on nearly any topic (particularly business and lifestyle), because as a lifelong learner, she loves to do research and possess a high skill level in this area. Her academic degrees include AA social Sci/BA English/MEd Adult Ed & Community & Human Resource Development and ABD in PhD studies in Indust & Org Psychology.

Read more posts by Dana Hanson

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