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How to Become a Software Engineer


Software engineers direct the creation of software applications and systems for computers and other devices. They work with their clients or supervisors to determine what their needs are for a particular application and map out a design for the software before any programming begins. Engineers working on a small project may write the software themselves, or they may oversee a team of programmers who write the software.

Throughout the development process, engineers make sure that the software is tested and debugged as it is written and that it meets their client’s specifications. To do this properly, software engineers must be proficient as computer programmers and be familiar with the computing environment in which the software will function. They must also have strong communication and problem solving skills.

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

Software engineers typically come from a programming background. Many computer programmers teach themselves new programming languages and skills, but a strong theoretical background in computer science or software engineering can be an important asset.

Many colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs in computer science, and some offer majors in software engineering. Both types of programs focus heavily on mathematics, and students take courses in topics like calculus, linear algebra, and discrete mathematics. Computer science and software engineering students also learn about data structures, algorithms, object oriented programming, and operating systems. Both types of programs introduce students to computer programming using one or more programming languages.

Beyond the standard required courses, computer science and software engineering programs differ. Computer science students learn more about advanced data structures and various types of programming languages. Their study focuses on the design of algorithms and on the ways that different programming languages work. Software engineering students take courses that teach them how to plan and implement software design in an efficient manner. Software engineers must consider factors like cost, client specifications, timeliness, and reliability. They must also know how to guide a development project from beginning to end, including design, implementation, testing, and maintenance.

After graduation, prospective software engineers may spend some time working as computer programmers before moving into engineering. In addition to gaining experience on the job, programmers and software engineers keep themselves up to date on the latest trends in programming languages, development platforms, and computing hardware.

Some software engineers pursue graduate certificates or degrees to learn more about advanced practices in software development. Graduate programs in software engineering delve into topics like human computer interaction, software system design, database design, web security, and testing. Students in these programs often work on developing a large piece of software from start to finish.

Are there any certification or licensure requirements?

There are no licensure requirements for software engineers, but there are many voluntary certifications that engineers can pursue depending on their interests. The IEEE Computer Society offers two certifications for software engineers: the Certified Software Development Associate and Certified Software Development Professional credentials. To earn the CSDA, engineers must pass a certification exam, but to earn the CSDP credential, they must meet requirements for experience and education in addition to passing an exam.

Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute also offers certifications, including the Personal Software Process Developer credential. The Personal Software Process is an approach to software development designed by the Software Engineering Institute. Software engineers who complete PSP training can earn this certification by passing an examination.

Developers can also become certified in a number of different programming languages. Earning one of these certifications typically involves taking a course or studying on one’s own and then passing a certification exam.

How long does it take to become a software engineer?

The length of time it takes to become a software engineer varies by person. Some engineers land jobs directly after college, while others work in programming or related fields before becoming software engineers.

What does a software engineer earn?

The median yearly pay for software developers, including engineers, in the United States was $90,060 in 2012. The lowest ten percent of developers earned less than $55,190 that year, while the top ten percent made more than $138,880.

What are the job prospects?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of software developers in the United States will grow 22 percent between 2012 and 2020, much faster than the average growth for all occupations. This is a very in-demand job, so there should be ample opportunities for qualified software engineers. The BLS predicts that developers who keep themselves up-to-date on the latest advances in programming languages and development tools will have the best job prospects.

What are the long term career prospects for software engineers?

With experience, software engineers can move into project management positions with greater responsibility and control over the direction of a development project. Some software engineers start their own companies based on a new application they’ve developed or a service they can provide.

How can I find a job as a software engineer?

You can find software engineering jobs through general job posting websites, IT job fairs and meetups, or freelancing websites. Freelancing websites will connect you with clients and employers who want contract work done. Even if you are looking for permanent employment, you can use freelance jobs to build your portfolio of work.

Some companies use recruiters to find software engineers to hire. Building a presence online and making contacts in both local and online communities can help make you visible to recruiters and other people looking to hire developers.

How can I learn more about becoming a software engineer?

There are many online communities focused on computer programming and software development. Websites like and connect developers with each other and can be good resources as you start to look into this career.

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