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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment opportunities in software development and engineering to grow by 25% from 2021-2030. 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 engineers earned a median annual salary of $109,020 in 2021.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pursue an Education in Software Engineering
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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
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
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
- 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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Earn a Bachelor's Degree: To complete their undergraduate education, associate degree-holders can transfer to a bachelor's program in software engineering.
- Select a Specialty.
- 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?
Pros and Cons
- 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 $109,020 a year as of 2021.
- 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
What Is a Software Engineer?
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.
Salary and Career Outlook for Software Engineers
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.
Day in the Life of a Software Engineer
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.
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.
Featured Image: Tom Werner / DigitalVision / Getty Images
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