Becoming a Software Engineer


Updated April 12, 2024

check mark Reviewed by

Our Integrity Network is committed to delivering content that is objective and actionable. To that end, we have built a network of industry professionals across higher education to review our content and ensure we are providing the most helpful information to our readers.

Drawing on their firsthand industry expertise, our Integrity Network members serve as an additional step in our editing process, helping us confirm our content is accurate and up to date. These contributors:

  • Suggest changes to inaccurate or misleading information.
  • Provide specific, corrective feedback.
  • Identify critical information that writers may have missed.

Integrity Network members typically work full time in their industry profession and review content for as a side project. All Integrity Network members are paid members of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Explore our full list of Integrity Network members.

Interested in a career as a software engineer? Explore this guide to discover the steps to becoming a software engineer, including required education and experience. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Credit: Tom Werner / DigitalVision / Getty Images

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment opportunities in software development and engineering to grow by 25% from 2022-2032. Increasing demand for mobile applications and medical software drives this faster-than-average job growth.

Though the field can be competitive, pursuing a software engineering career offers many rewarding benefits. The BLS reports that software developers and engineers earned a median annual salary of $132,270 in 2023.

On this page, we map out the steps you can take to become a software engineer. Read on to learn what education and experience you need to excel in this in-demand field.

What Is a Software Engineer?

Software engineers develop, design, and test software systems and applications to meet specific needs. They rely on diverse skills in programming, technical design, and analysis.

During the development process, software engineers interact with clients, software users, designers, programmers, analysts, and other engineers. Daily tasks can vary widely depending on the software engineer's specialty. For example, some engineers focus exclusively on front-end, customer-facing products, while others address back-end, server-side issues.

To learn more about what software engineers do, visit the link below.

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Software engineering is a branch of applied computer science. Theoretical computer science studies the formal aspects of algorithms, programs, and languages. Applied computer science, by contrast, considers the development of algorithms, programs, and software. A software engineer typically specializes in an aspect of software development, like programming or user interface design.

People commonly conflate software engineering roles with computer engineering and information technology (IT) roles. Unlike software engineers, however, computer engineers design and construct hardware such as microchips, circuit boards, and routers. IT professionals manage networks and databases or install and service software, computers, and networks.

Individuals with software engineering certificates or degrees commonly work in IT roles, along with some computer engineering and computer science positions.

Top Online Programs

Explore programs of your interests with the high-quality standards and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level.

Required Education for Software Engineers

Education requirements for software engineers vary depending on skills, experience, and career aspirations.

Most employers prefer or require software engineers to hold at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant discipline like software engineering, computer science, information technology, or computer and information systems. Professionals interested in management positions may benefit from a master's in software engineering.

Software engineers may also develop their skills through college certificate programs, associate degrees, or alternative pathways like self-study or bootcamps. Bootcamps provide intense short-term training that develops skills through hands-on projects.

Ph.D. programs in software engineering offer a rigorous, research-oriented program for individuals who want to work in research or academics. Ph.D. candidates tailor their education to their interests, often culminating in a project or dissertation.

Regardless of their education level, all software engineers can benefit from professional certification and continuing education opportunities. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Match me with a bootcamp.

Find programs with your skills, schedule, and goals in mind.


Required Experience for Software Engineers

Experience requirements for software engineers vary by position. Employers with large software development teams often hire candidates into different tiers according to experience level:

  • Junior/Associate Software Engineer: Entry-level; less than one year of experience required, ideal for recent college graduates
  • Software Engineer I, II, or III: Mid-level; experience requirements vary by position/employer, typically 1-3+ years
  • Senior Software Engineer: Mid-level and late career; experience requirements vary by position/employer, typically 3-5+ years; job candidates with a master's may need less experience

When applying for software engineering jobs, sharing a portfolio of completed work can help you stand out. Software engineering bootcamps can provide you with essential education through hands-on, project-based assignments. Entry-level applicants also benefit from pursuing internships during or after college.

Internship Opportunities

Google Software Engineering Internship

  • Available at locations across the U.S.
  • Paid 12-14 week program
  • Intern plays a key role in team-based company projects.
Learn More

Salesforce Software Engineering Internship

  • Available at locations across the U.S.
  • Full-time, paid summer program
  • Under the guidance of software architects and senior developers, the intern works on a project for presentation. They also contribute to Salesforce software releases and testing infrastructure.
Learn More

Cisco Software Engineering Internship

  • Available in San Francisco, CA
  • Full time, paid 12-16 week program
  • Depending on position, the intern works on Cisco projects in product software engineering, full stack engineering, or site reliability engineering.
Learn More

Certifications for Software Engineers

Certification, while optional, shows employers a level of proficiency and dedication that can help engineers stand out during the recruitment process. Below, we explore several popular certifications for software engineers.

Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional

  • Offered by cybersecurity organization (ISC)²
  • Demonstrates proficiency in incorporating security practices throughout each phase of the software development lifecycle
  • Requires at least four years of relevant work experience or three years of experience with a qualifying bachelor's degree
  • $599 exam fee
  • Renewal required every three years
Learn More

Professional Software Developer

  • Offered by IEEE Computer Society
  • Demonstrates proficiency in software requirements, software design, software construction, and software testing
  • Recommends two years of computer science education and two years of relevant industry experience
  • $390-$485 exam fee
  • Renewal required every three years
Learn More

C/C++ Certified Professional Programmer

  • Offered by C++ Institute
  • Pathways include both associate and professional certifications for C programming language and C++ programming language
  • $295 exam fee
  • No renewal needed
Learn More

Microsoft Certifications

  • Various certifications available, demonstrating proficiency in DevOps engineering, security engineering, and use of Microsoft Azure
  • $165 exam fees; student discounts available
  • Renewal requirements vary by certification
Learn More

How to Become a Software Engineer

Computer science professionals enter their careers from a variety of paths. The most traditional way to become a software engineer is by earning a bachelor's degree, gaining internship experience, then entering the job market. Software engineers may also begin their education with an associate degree, later transferring to a bachelor's program.

Some software engineers learn programming and computer science essentials through self-study and practice. While independent learners can access a wealth of free programming information online, learning on your own takes a significant amount of time.

Furthermore, self-taught software engineers may face hiring challenges, as employers tend to prefer applicants with formal education. Self-taught tech professionals can boost their resumes with bootcamps, internships, projects, and certifications.

Steps to Become a Software Engineer

Bachelor's Degree Path

  1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree: Most software engineering jobs require at least a four-year bachelor's degree. Majors to consider include software engineering, computer science, information technology, or computer and information systems.
  2. Gain Internship Experience: Either while in school or shortly after graduating, secure an internship in software engineering or a closely related field. This can help you start your job hunt with several months of professional experience, and may boost your competitiveness with employers. Some internships may even translate into full-time job opportunities.
  3. Select a Specialty: In the vast software engineering field, most professionals choose a specific niche to specialize in. Choosing a specialty makes it easier to narrow results during your job search. Popular options include front-end, back-end, full-stack, quality assurance, data science, DevOps, and security engineering.
  4. Pursue Industry Certifications: Though software engineers do not need certification, obtaining professional credentials can increase your competitiveness in the job market. Certification demonstrates broad engineering knowledge or specific programming language competency. Earning a certification often requires paying a fee and passing an exam.

Associate Degree Path

  1. Earn an Associate Degree: Some software engineers begin their careers by earning an associate degree in a relevant discipline like information technology or computer information systems. Associate degrees can take two years to complete.
  2. Gain Relevant Experience: After earning an associate, aspiring software engineers can gain relevant tech experience by pursuing entry-level opportunities in software testing or computer and tech support.
  3. Earn a Bachelor's Degree: To complete their undergraduate education, associate degree-holders can transfer to a bachelor's program in software engineering.
  4. Select a Specialty.
  5. Pursue Industry Certifications.

Should I Become a Software Engineer?

Computer science professionals are in high demand, but is becoming a software engineer the right choice for you?


  • Software engineering offers a variety of specializations for professionals with different interests — front-end, back-end, security, data science, DevOps, and quality assurance.
  • Software engineering careers can provide lucrative salaries. According to the BLS, software engineers earn a median of $132,270 a year as of 2023.
  • Software engineering is a dynamic profession. Each day brings new challenges as engineers strive to meet clients' diverse needs.


  • While growing rapidly, the software engineering field remains highly competitive. Professionals need credentials and experience to pursue the highest-paying positions.
  • Software engineering often requires dealing with corporate work environments. Engineers may face unrealistic deadlines, office politics, and difficult management.
  • Technology changes and expands continually. Software engineers must keep up with increasing complexity and new trends in the field.

The Software Engineer Job Hunt

After gaining the necessary education and experience, the final step in becoming a software engineer is landing a job. Entry-level opportunities can be competitive, especially at top companies.

To increase your chances of success, leverage your existing network connections with instructors, mentors, peers, or internship supervisors. Develop a list of professional and academic references that you can provide employers. A portfolio of completed work can make a great impression on recruiters too.

Build new connections by joining professional organizations, attending tech conferences, and visiting local job fairs. Finally, check out the job boards listed below.

  • Dice: A leading tech job database, Dice manages more than 9 million profiles of technology professionals in the United States. Dice offers job postings, career insights, and data tools.
  • Hired: Hired connects employers and tech professionals in 17 cities worldwide and remotely. Job-seekers can create a free profile to receive interview requests directly from interested companies.
  • CrunchBoard: Tech news website TechCrunch's official job board, CrunchBoard, provides a free platform for technology job-seekers. Users can search available listings by keyword, location, and distance.
  • LinkedIn: The world's largest professional networking site, LinkedIn provides opportunities for users to connect with others, follow companies, and apply for jobs around the world.
  • Indeed: Employers post 10 new jobs to Indeed every second. Software professionals can use the world's most popular job site to search for local, regional, and global opportunities.

Resources for Future Software Engineers

This page takes a broad look at software engineering careers. Topics covered include key hard and soft skills, daily tasks, education requirements, and frequently asked questions. Computer science professionals are in high demand across the United States. Learn how becoming a software engineer can impact your job outlook and salary potential. Software engineers play many roles in application development, including front-end, back-end, and security engineering. Visit this guide to explore software professionals' daily responsibilities. Software engineers need at least a bachelor's degree. Start your search for the best undergraduate or graduate program with this list of top schools. Colleges, universities, and bootcamps offer software engineering certificate programs online and in person. Certificates can help recent graduates, career changers, and experienced tech professionals develop marketable skills. Learning programming languages is necessary for software engineers. Find out about the best software engineering languages, including Python and Javascript.

How Much Can You Earn as a Software Engineer?

As a rapidly evolving profession, software engineering attracts individuals interested in virtual reality, blockchain technology, and other software applications. Software engineering may be an excellent career choice for individuals with strengths in calculus, formal semantics, and logic.

Earnings for software engineers vary with experience, location, industry, specialty, and education. Payscale reports an average annual salary of $78,260 for entry-level software engineers and $116,560 for experienced professionals as of August 2022.

Software Engineers
Average Annual Salary, August 2022

Source: Payscale

Software Engineer Salary by Experience

Software engineer salaries vary significantly with years of experience in the field. As you acquire more experience over time and become harder to replace, employers typically provide higher compensation. Job offers from competitors can help speed up salary growth.

The table below lists the average median salary at different experience levels. The figures represent only the base salary. Additional earnings from employers such as benefits, commissions, profit sharing, and bonuses may result in higher total compensation.

Annual Salaries by Experience for Software Engineer, 2022
Years of Experience Average Annual Salary
Entry-Level (<1 year) $78,260
Early Career (1-4 years) $86,770
Midcareer (5-9 years) $98,380
Late Career (10-19 years) $109,240
Experienced (20+ years) $116,560
Source: Payscale, August 2022

Software Engineer Salary by Location

Software engineers' average earnings vary with location. For example, a smaller pool of eligible job applicants in a sparsely populated area can increase demand for qualified employees. Employers typically pay higher salaries to match demand and attract the best candidates.

The higher cost of living in larger cities and metropolitan areas can also result in higher salaries. For instance, software engineers make an average of $126,200 annually in San Francisco but only $85,500 in Atlanta as of August 2022.

The additional $20,000+ in average earnings in San Francisco likely reflects the stark difference in the cost of living between the two cities. The cost of living in San Francisco towers above the national average by 80%, while the cost of living in Atlanta lags by 1%, according to Payscale.

Below, you can explore average salaries for different locations. The first table includes the top-paying cities for software engineers. The second set of figures specifies the top-paying metropolitan areas for relevant careers, including software developers, testers, and analysts.

Top-Paying Cities for Software Engineers
City Average Annual Wage Percent Above the National Average
San Francisco, CA $144,970 33%
San Jose, CA $150,990 37%
Seattle, WA $130,670 20%
New York, NY $132,800 22%
Washington, D.C. $136,990 25%
Source: Payscale, August 2022
Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Software Developers, Software Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers
Metropolitan Area Number of Software Engineers Employed Annual Mean Salary
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 96,590 $199,800
Boulder, CO 7,840 $182,650
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 83,920 $181,220
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 75,960 $164,130
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA 2,430 $156,470
Source: BLS, 2023 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Match me with a bootcamp.

Find programs with your skills, schedule, and goals in mind.


Software Engineers' Job Outlook and Career Prospects

Software engineers enjoy overall strong job prospects. BLS projections indicate a 25% nationwide growth for common software engineering roles from 2022-2032, over three times faster than the average for all occupations. Several factors can affect a software engineer's employability in the coming years, including economic growth, inflation, and tech advances.

Personal priorities concerning industry, concentration, and job location can also influence career options. Specializing in an emerging tech area like blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, or virtual reality can boost an applicant's competitiveness in the job market.

In the next section, we explore how location may affect a software engineer's job opportunities and career prospects.

Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers
Change in Projected Employment, 2022-2032

Source: BLS

Best Locations for Software Engineers

Job location can affect a software engineer's career prospects, along with salary potential, job prospects, and job satisfaction. As different locations may affect these aspects in various ways, no single location ranks as the best overall for software engineers. The best states and cities depend on the employment factors you prioritize.

Top States for Software Engineers

The top-paying states for software engineering roles are California, Washington, Maryland, New York, and Rhode Island. Software engineers earned an average annual salary of $146,770 in California and $128,790 in Rhode Island.

Job prospects for software engineers also vary with state and region. O*NET Online projects the greatest employment growth for software developers, analysts, and testers in Utah, Nevada, Colorado, South Carolina, and Florida from 2018-2028. Reports indicate a 62% projected increase in these roles for Utah but only 10% for Washington for 2018-28.

Projected employment growth does not always align with projected job openings. For example, projections point to an average of 41,090 annual job openings in Washington but only 1,340 in Utah.

The tables below include data for the states with the highest number of employed software engineers, plus projected job growth and job openings.

Top-Employing States for Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers
Top-Employing States Number Employed Annual Mean Salary
California 228,240 $ 146,770
Texas 103,510 $111,830
Washington 81,520 $138,400
New York 75,790 $129,950
Virginia 68,250 $127,830
Source: BLS
States With the Greatest Projected Increase in Employment for Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers
State Percent Projected Change, 2018-28 Average Annual Openings
Greatest Projected Percentage Increase
Utah +62% 1,340
Nevada +42% 150
Colorado +41% 3,950
South Carolina +36% 570
Florida +34% 4,610
Most Projected Average Annual Openings
Washington +10% 41,090
California +29% 13,530
Texas +31% 7,710
New York +28% 6,200
Florida +34% 4,610
Source: Projections Central, 2018-28

Top Cities for Software Engineers

Major tech cities often make great job locations for software engineers. Some areas feature more diverse job opportunities and provide a thriving work environment for software engineers to nurture their talents and passions.

Other elements that can make a city or region attractive for software engineers include earning potential, cost of living, and job prospects. According to Payscale, San Francisco ranks as the highest-paying city for software developers, analysts, and testers, which is unsurprising given that the South San Francisco Bay Area is home to Silicon Valley.

The famed global tech hub includes cities like San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara. Together, these cities rank as the nation's highest-paying metropolitan area for the profession. Software engineers made an average annual salary of $167,420 in this region, according to the BLS.

Software engineers may also find metropolitan areas with high employment figures appealing. The New York-Newark-Jersey City northeastern region ranked as the highest-employing metropolitan area for software engineers.

The table below covers the nation's top-employing metropolitan areas for software developers, analysts, and testers.

Top-Employing Metropolitan Areas for Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers
Metropolitan Area Number of Software Engineers Employed Annual Mean Salary
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 93,100 $133,620
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 73,860 $148,220
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 63,360 $167,420
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 75,910 $133,850
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 64,460 $158,320
Source: BLS

Questions About Becoming a Software Engineer

How long does it take to become a software engineer?

Most software engineering jobs require at least a bachelor's degree, which takes four years of full-time study. Some employers prefer candidates with a master's, which requires an additional two years of study.

Is it hard to become a software engineer?

Computer science career paths can be both challenging and rewarding. Becoming a software engineer requires several years of formal education, knowledge of at least one programming language, and strong technical skills.

What are the easiest steps to become a software engineer?

The most straightforward path to a software engineering career involves building programming skills, earning a bachelor's degree, and gaining experience by completing an internship.

What field is best for software engineers?

Most modern businesses rely on computer software and systems to conduct daily operations. This means software engineers can find work across a variety of high-paying industries, including technology services, finance, and healthcare.

Reviewed by:

Portrait of Monali Mirel Chuatico

Monali Mirel Chuatico

In 2019, Monali Mirel Chuatico graduated with her bachelor's in computer science, which gave her the foundation that she needed to excel in roles such as a data engineer, front-end developer, UX designer, and computer science instructor.

Monali is currently a data engineer at Mission Lane. As a data analytics captain at a nonprofit called COOP Careers, Monali helps new grads and young professionals overcome underemployment by teaching them data analytics tools and mentoring them on their professional development journey.

Monali is passionate about implementing creative solutions, building community, advocating for mental health, empowering women, and educating youth. Monali's goal is to gain more experience in her field, expand her skill set, and do meaningful work that will positively impact the world.

Monali Mirel Chuatico is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Page last reviewed Sep 20, 2022

Recommended Reading

Take the next step toward your future.

Discover programs you’re interested in and take charge of your education.