How to Become a Software Developer

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Published January 10, 2023

With a high demand for software developers, you might wonder about the best way to pursue this career. Explore the different paths to becoming a software developer with this guide.

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Software developer jobs rank as the most sought-after tech job, according to CompTIA's November 2022 report. The number of software developer/engineer job postings totaled almost 85,800 in October, with over 2,500 more from September.

Put simply, the demand for software developers continues to increase. As more people respond to this demand, they can consider different pathways to becoming software developers. Some may pursue traditional four-year degrees, while others look for shorter options.

This guide offers information about these different paths, along with education and experience requirements. Discover how to become a software developer with these step-by-step instructions.

What Is a Software Developer?

Software developers design, create, and maintain software for applications and systems. There are two main types of software developers: application software developers and systems software developers.

Application software focuses on mobile or web applications for consumers, while systems software developers create enterprise system solutions.

Both types of developers analyze, test, and improve software to better meet user needs. They oversee the entire software lifecycle, including designing individual parts, performing maintenance, and deploying upgrades.

Developers work closely with other IT professionals, such as programmers and quality assurance analysts. They also share many responsibilities with software engineers. However, software engineers take a broader approach and apply engineering principles to the entire system. Software developers focus more on finding specific solutions to users' software needs.

Software developers typically work in the computer systems design industry. Other common employers include financial and insurance institutions, software publishers, and manufacturers.

What Education Do Software Developers Need?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about half of existing occupations require a degree — including software developers.

Employers typically expect in-depth coding, testing, and development knowledge, which a bachelor's degree can deliver. Common majors include information technology, computer science, and software engineering. As technology advances and the field becomes more competitive, some software developers pursue master's degrees to stand out among the competition.

However, traditional degrees require a time investment: four years for a bachelor's and two years for a master's. Companies and organizations need software developers now, which is why many people enroll in coding bootcamps.

Software development bootcamps generally last less than two years, and some take only a few months. They teach individuals the basic skills to pursue entry-level positions.

Some software developers may even start with bootcamps before pursuing undergraduate degrees. Others might hold bachelor's degrees in other fields and complete bootcamps to pursue roles in the tech industry.

The BLS reports a direct correlation between education levels and salary. On average, people with bachelor's degrees earn $2,100 more monthly than those with high school diplomas.

Master's degree-holders generally earn even more, leading many software developers to pursue further education. This ongoing education helps developers keep up with new programming languages and technical advancements.

How Much Experience Do Software Developers Need?

With the appropriate education, people can pursue entry-level software development positions after graduation. However, employers often want candidates to have some experience.

Students can gain experience through internships or classes that allow them to build portfolios. Learners can also participate in workshops and hackathons. Many degrees and bootcamps include these opportunities as capstone projects.

Candidates can also demonstrate experience through certifications.

Certifications for Software Developers

Computer science certifications are extra credentials that prove an individual's expertise. Students and professionals can pursue credentials for each computer science specialization, including software development.

While generally not required, certifications can speak to a person's expertise. According to Dice's 2021 report, just under half the technologists surveyed held certifications. Most stated that their role did not require certification.

However, certifications can benefit any aspiring software developer. Self-taught individuals with no formal education might use certifications to demonstrate their expertise to employers. Bootcamp and college graduates may pursue certifications to stand out in a competitive hiring environment.

Midcareer and late-career developers can earn high-level certifications as their skills develop. They might also pursue certifications in new technologies or programming languages to maintain up-to-date skills.

Each certifying body has unique recertification requirements, but professionals can expect to renew their certifications about every three years.

Find a few common software development certifications below.

CompTIA IT Fundamentals: This pre-career certification offers a starting point for IT professionals. The exam covers the fundamentals of operating systems, software applications, security, and software development. Learners need no prior experience.

IEEE Professional Software Developer: Candidates must have completed two years of college education in computer science and two years of professional experience to qualify. The exam covers software requirements, design, construction, and testing.

CISCO DevNet Associate: Cisco offers four DevNet certification levels: associate, specialist, professional, and expert. Developers with at least one year of experience can pursue Devnet associate credentials.

How Do I Become a Developer?

Becoming a software developer typically requires at least four years of formal education plus an internship. Many developers also pursue certifications, which require preparation and formal examination.

Individuals looking to switch careers and enter the tech field can pursue a two-year master's degree in computer science. Software developer bootcamps are also becoming an increasingly popular career path since they usually take less than two years to complete.

While shorter education options may appeal to some learners, aspiring developers must also consider each institution's quality, affordability, and reputation.

Carefully explore the following paths to becoming a software developer, as detailed below.

Steps to Becoming a Software Developer

Traditional Degree Path

  • Pursue an Undergraduate Degree in a Computer Science Field. A prospective software developer typically needs a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field. During these four years of study, students can often select specializations.
  • Land an Internship. Some software development programs include experiential learning opportunities and internships as curriculum or capstone requirements. Even when not required, many enrollees look for internships early to gain experience and start networking before graduation.
  • Earn Entry-Level Certifications. With the skills learned from a bachelor's degree, students can sit for entry-level certification exams like CompTIA A+. Some institutions focus on certification preparation or include certifications in the curriculum.
  • Consider Advanced Degrees and Certifications. Professional software developers often pursue continuing education opportunities to remain up to date with the latest technology and advance their careers. They can broaden their skills with graduate degrees or expert certifications. Other options include bootcamps, online courses, and workshops.

Software Developer Bootcamp Path

  • Complete a Software Developer Bootcamp. These bootcamps cover essential skills to quickly prepare individuals to pursue software development careers. They may last 3-23 months through in-person, online, or hybrid formats.
  • Work With Career Coaches and Search for a Job. Bootcamps typically include career coaching, which may occur in tandem with the bootcamp or during the weeks following graduation. Bootcamp providers may offer networking opportunities, resume-building support, and interview practice.
  • Gain Experience. A bootcamp's intensive format quickly prepares learners to pursue jobs. Many programs boast high placement rates, meaning graduates can start gaining experience within months.
  • Earn Entry-Level Certifications.
  • Consider Advanced Certifications.

Hybrid Path

  • Complete a Software Developer Bootcamp.
  • Gain Experience.
  • Earn Entry-Level Certifications.
  • Pursue an Undergraduate Degree in a Computer Science Field.
  • Consider Advanced Degrees and Certifications.

Should I Become a Software Developer?

The future of software development looks bright. The BLS projects a 25% increase in software developer jobs from 2021-2031. These projections demonstrate the level to which technology has become a foundational part of society.

Software developers help design and create software for applications, websites, operating systems, video games, and more. As technology grows, the demand for software developers should follow.

This career also offers many opportunities for growth. Professionals may start as junior developers before moving into senior or lead developer positions. They can then advance to management positions like software development manager or chief technology officer.

However, this advancement comes with challenges. Software developers must learn and stay up to date with database systems, programming languages, and operating systems. They also need to constantly troubleshoot and improve software, which requires excellent problem-solving skills.

Individuals with great critical thinking and analytical skills can thrive in this role. Software developers also need communication skills to work in teams.

Professional Spotlight: Chris Staley, Senior Software Developer

What prompted your journey to become a software developer?

It's a combination of two things: One, I've always loved problem-solving. Two: I was naturally drawn to the computer. Those two things combined ultimately propelled me into software engineering. Once I started doing it, I found myself falling into that "flow state," similar to how some people feel when they play video games — you look up after what feels like a few minutes of work, and it's been three hours.

If you work in a particular industry, what prompted this choice and/or how did it evolve?

Our industry is a software development firm or consultant: doing development for other businesses. Before Slingshot, I worked for a manufacturing company, then a healthcare-adjacent company, and finally, a brief stint at a legal services company before deciding I wanted to work for a development firm in a consulting role.

I like to do software engineering. Sounds simple enough. But what I had been doing was development at companies where development wasn't their focus. A lot of them treated software as just another cost. Your attitude around tech is different when you're treating it as a core part of your business. There's companies that see development as just another resource vs. being a vital part of their company. I've stayed on this side of development because the attitude is different: it's what we do.

What educational path did you take to become a software developer?

I took the traditional route: I went to undergrad for computer science at Bellarmine University. After that, I got a master's degree at the University of Louisville's J.B. Speed School of Engineering. I recognize there are other routes to becoming a software developer, but that was the path that I chose.

I'd also say that having a degree helps you to stand out in hiring. One major issue I've had to deal with as a hiring manager in the past is that you get flooded with resumes. One quick way to narrow down the pile in front of you is to filter on education (after filtering on years of experience). Having said that, even the most educated candidate will still need to prove themselves once they get into an interview.

"Whether you're pursuing traditional education, a code camp, or even teaching yourself, you're still in control. Software development takes a lot of work outside of school; you still have to have a lot of commitment outside of school to become really good."

Did you have to pass any certifications or tests to enter the field or progress in your career? What were they like?

There hasn't been a time when I had to take a certification. Once you get started in software development, it's mostly experience-based. I would say that a certification could help you in the beginning as another way to stand out.

I would recommend looking into certifications when you're starting out, but once you have 10+ years of experience, the experience is going to be what matters.

While I've never had to pass a certification, I have voluntarily completed a Microsoft certification. It's very much like a standardized test: multiple choice, written response, etc. There's a big emphasis on ensuring you're not cheating. If taking the certification exam virtually, you have to have a webcam, show proof that your desk is empty, and keep your camera on the whole time.

While I never used one, I know they used to have in-person testing centers where they could handle all the anti-cheating prep. Speaking of prep: how I prepared for my certification test was by taking sample tests. I would recommend taking those over and over again until you're comfortable.

What advice do you have for individuals considering becoming software developers?

I would say that my biggest piece of advice is that you are in control of your own destiny. Whether you're pursuing traditional education, a code camp, or even teaching yourself, you're still in control. Software development takes a lot of work outside of school; you still have to have a lot of commitment outside of school to become really good.

The one problem with any type of coursework is that everyone in your group is looking for a job at the same time. If all you have is the base education, there are several people just like you all looking for work too. You have to differentiate yourself, and the best way to do that is to better yourself. All in all, you're in control. If you want it, you gotta work for it.

What do you wish you'd known before becoming a software developer?

I wish I would have known I'd have to estimate things; I absolutely hate estimating. It's an impossible task.

In all seriousness, one thing you need to know is that when you start out, you'll have to jump in at a lower-tier job. While you may have to battle through a less ideal environment, if you push through and get your experience, then you can work into a better environment. Hang in there!

With over two decades of experience, Chris is an expert full-stack developer with a recent focus on mobile apps. Chris leads the Xamarin efforts and views himself as a meticulous craftsman. When he leaves the office, he heads home to his family in his blue and white Ford Mustang.

Pronouns: He/Him

The Job Hunt

Aspiring software developers should start searching for jobs as early as possible. Even with high demand, the tech hiring market is competitive.

Students can begin networking immediately by seeking out mentors, attending job fairs, and applying for internships. They can also join professional organizations, like the Association of IT Professionals or IEEE. These organizations can provide exclusive job offers, annual conferences, and mentorships.

Software developers can also look for opportunities on job boards like the following:

    Dice: Dice includes job listings exclusively for tech professionals. It also hosts virtual career events and provides industry insights.

    Glassdoor: This site includes job offers from all industries. Users can search for specific organizations and gain insights about salaries and company reputation.

    Indeed: Similar to Glassdoor, Indeed has job postings for every field. Job seekers can create an Indeed resume to easily apply to open positions.

    JustTechJobs: This platform includes tech-only job opportunities. Users can search for internships or entry-level positions.

    Python Jobs HQ: Created by Python enthusiasts, this job board includes opportunities exclusively for Python developers and data scientists.

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Questions About How to Be a Software Developer

  • Is it hard becoming a software developer?

    Each career path has its challenges. Becoming a software developer requires excellent critical thinking, analytical, and communication skills. For those who love problem-solving and programming, becoming a software developer may be a good career choice.

  • What degree should I get to become a software developer?

    Some schools offer a bachelor's degree in software development. Other options include a bachelor's in computer science, information technology, or software engineering.

  • How long does it take to become a software developer?

    Students who pursue bachelor's degrees can begin their path to becoming software developers in about four years. Individuals who complete software developer bootcamps can pursue professional roles in 3-23 months.

  • Can I learn how to be a software developer by going to a bootcamp?

    Yes. Several software developer bootcamps offer hands-on learning and prepare students to pursue careers in 3-23 months. These bootcamps do not cover the same breadth of content as bachelor's degrees but equip students with essential software development skills.

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