lines of code on laptop screen

How to Become a Software Engineer


How to Become a Software Engineer

Through online resources, coding bootcamps, or degree programs, you can become a software engineer. Learn how to become a software engineer through any of these methods with our guide.

Today, the world runs on software. Millions of computers, smartphones, cars, and other systems rely heavily on code to operate. In the modern world, software engineers design and build programs that run just about every machine you can think of. As society continues to advance, computers will become more complex and ubiquitous

Benefits of Becoming a Software Engineer

There’s never been a better time to get into the software engineering field, and career opportunities are abundant. If you’re looking for a high-paying job with excellent prospects and exciting projects, consider software engineering.

Below are a few of the numerous benefits of starting a software engineering career:

The United States software engineering job market is projected to grow upwards of 24% over the next 10 years.

In 2019, US-based software engineers earned an average salary of $108,760, not including bonuses and overtime.

Since 2013, the number of software engineers in the workforce has nearly doubled.

Avg. Developer Salary
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Software engineers are responsible for creating detailed instructions for computers. These instructions allow machines to complete complex tasks. Software engineers instruct computers using coding languages in a process called ‘programming.

There are dozens of coding and programming languages, many of which are used by software engineers regularly. On that note, software engineering isn’t the same as computer programming. Unlike programmers, software engineers apply engineering principles to their work.

This allows them to build complex systems from start to finish. Programming is part of the job but certainly not all of it. Today, software engineers work across a wide range of industries. Virtually anything that uses a computer also uses programs designed by a software engineer.

These professionals earn high salaries across the board and enjoy above-average job prospects.

Software engineer responsibilities often overlap with other adjacent positions in the software development field. Specifically, software engineers apply engineering principles to develop and design software of all types.

There are several aspects to software, typically involving several moving parts. Software engineers interact with and understand all these parts. They may design an entirely new system or upgrade an existing one for better performance.

Software Engineering Job Description

Coding is a big part of a software engineer’s daily routine. Most of the time, software engineers use programming languages like Python, Ruby, and Java. Others such as mobile app developers and data scientists use platform-specific languages such as Swift (for iOS) or task-specific languages like SQL.

The position requires careful attention to detail, especially during tedious tasks like debugging. Due to the nature of software engineering positions across many industries, day-to-day routines are impossible to predict.

Software Engineering Responsibilities

The responsibilities of a software engineer in the automotive industry vary greatly from someone working at Google or Microsoft. The different products define the type of work a software engineer does.

Nonetheless, all software engineers can expect to adhere to engineering methodologies while designing software with code, or managing others who build programs. Generally speaking, these are the most common responsibilities shared by software engineers:

Analyzing ideas for cost and benefit using evaluation analysis, problem definition, and solution development skills.

Building software using tools such as diagrams, layouts, and flowcharts, and solving problems with solution development skills.

Designing systems and creating system standards.

Increasing the efficiency of systems by identifying weak points and time-consuming processes.

Evaluating, testing, and approving final products.

Staying up-to-date with the latest technological developments in hardware, software, and systems.

This position involves more than just programming. Software engineers are tasked with design, development, and oversight as well. Software engineers must be flexible and stay up to date on the latest developments in the industry. Creativity, adaptability, and flexibility are all aspects of successful software engineers.

Software Engineering Skills

Software engineers are extremely skilled in several areas of study. These professionals study for years to learn the principles of engineering and how to apply them to digital programs. Here are the most common software engineering skills:

Deep Language-agnostic Programming Knowledge

Some software engineers aren’t responsible for coding at their companies. That said, they still need a strong programming background to understand what’s going on. Language-agnostic programming knowledge allows engineers to grasp how systems are constructed.

Mastery of a Programming Language

Specialization is key in a software engineering position, especially when it comes to coding languages. Engineers benefit from choosing a single (or a few) programming language to specialize in. This allows programmers to focus their expertise.

Software Design and Development

Software engineers use their programming knowledge to design and test computer systems. The work requires professionals to implement all the resources available to them. They must plan out a system or application that functions efficiently while meeting the requirements of their employer.

Software Documentation

Documentation allows software engineers to share their knowledge with the rest of the team, and get everybody on the same page. This is another activity that requires attention to detail. Documentation is key to successful team collaboration.


Teamwork is key, especially in the tech industry. Most software projects require several people to complete due to the complexity and time-consuming nature of coding. A good software engineering team collaborates effectively and helps each other out.

Tech industry professionals have a reputation for earning high salaries. And, for the most part, it’s true, especially for software engineers. In the United States, these professionals earn an average salary of $107,287 per year. Across the country, software engineers bring in over $100,000 regularly. High wages make the position attractive, but they’re not the only perk of the business.

Many software engineers earn additional benefits, such as bonuses, paid time off, and, occasionally, stock options. If you’re interested in earning more than the national average, consider earning professional certifications or an advanced degree. We sourced our salary data from Glassdoor.

CityAverage Salary
Atlanta, GA$91,737
Boston, MA$104,414
Chicago, IL$95,524
Cleveland, OH$78,420
Dallas, TX$93,020
Los Angeles, CA$106,616
Miami, FL$91,300
Milwaukee, WI$82,537
Minneapolis, MN$90,511
New York, NY$113,245
Philadelphia, PA$93,483
Phoenix, AZ$93,360
Portland, OR$100,416
San Francisco, CA$134,025
Seattle, WA$123,452

The biggest contributing factors to your salary are location, experience, company, and specialization. Here are some common related fields.

  • Mean Annual Salary: $107,287
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 24%
  • Number of People Employed: 1,256,200
  • Mean Annual Salary: $89,430
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 15%
  • Number of People Employed: 162,900

Web developers design and create websites, work with the site’s look and its technical aspects, and are responsible for web analytics.

  • Mean Annual Salary: $88,280
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): -7%
  • Number of People Employed: 273,600

Programmers write and test code to ensure that computer applications and software programs function as they should. They work with plans formulated by software developers and engineers and turn them into instructions for computers.

  • Mean Annual Salary: $98,350
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 28%
  • Number of People Employed: 100,000

Information security analysts create plans to protect an organization’s computer networks and systems. They are the first line of defense against cyberattacks.

  • Mean Annual Salary: $90,070
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 11%
  • Number of People Employed: 119,500

DBAs work with special software to store and organize a company’s important data. They ensure the data is organized, accessible by authorized individuals, and safe from unauthorized access.

Entry Level (0-4 Years)$75,000
Mid-Career (5-10 Years)$125,000
Experienced (10-20 Years)$150,000
Late-Career (20+ Years)$200,000

Software developers also design information systems, games, desktop applications, and other computer system software programs. They help people use computers productively and efficiently.

Types of Software Engineer

Thanks to the expansion of the technology industry, positions for software engineers are widely available. Over the years, specialized fields developed to help companies pinpoint their needs in the job market. Two of the most popular software development types include:

Application Development Engineer

Application development is an increasingly important task in the tech industry. App developers design, build, and maintain applications for mobile devices and personal computers. The position requires knowledge of object-oriented programming languages, such as Python and Ruby. Other languages include Swift (for iOS products) and Perl.

Systems Development Engineer

Systems engineers are a type of backend developers that focus on the ‘behind-the-scenes’ aspects of computer systems. Backend development covers the parts of a system that communicate with servers. These professionals work with everything from websites to ATMs, and ensure that systems transfer data reliably and efficiently.

Becoming a software engineer isn’t as complicated as you’d expect. First, you’ll need an education that focuses on coding and computer science. These programs include community college associate’s degrees, university bachelor’s degrees, advanced degrees, and coding bootcamp certificates. Then, you’ll need to practice and hone-in your skills. You can showcase your knowledge to employers by building a portfolio of projects. Here’s a detailed explanation of the path to becoming a software engineer. 

Education Pathways for Software Engineers

You’ll need an education that focuses on coding and computer science. These programs include community college associate’s degrees, university bachelor’s degrees, advanced degrees, and coding bootcamp certificates. Then, you’ll need to practice and hone your skills.

Traditional Colleges and Universities

Traditional colleges and universities are the go-to education pathway for the majority of software engineers. These institutions are long-standing and offer technology degrees such as computer science, and offer high school graduates a chance to earn extra credentials. Having a college degree offers numerous opportunities in the workforce, though there are some caveats to the old system.

Universities are expensive, and student loan debt is a major problem in the United States. With an average cost of over $10,000 per year, a college degree may not be the deal it once was. Nonetheless, you can reduce costs by attending a community college and earning scholarships. Here’s more information about college programs for software engineers.


Coding Bootcamps

Coding bootcamps arose out of necessity. These programs, which became popular in the last decade, can be a fast-track route into a software engineering career. Bootcamps, like colleges, cover a wide range of programming languages and computer science skills. However, unlike college, they skip general education and get right down to in-demand skills for your chosen career path. Bootcamps last between three months and one year. These programs are available for software engineering, web development, application development, project management, cybersecurity, financial technology (FinTech), and more. On average, bootcamps cost around $13,000 for a full-time and full-length curriculum.  

  • Duration: 1 to 5 years
  • Cost: $0 (or minimal)
  • Average Base Salary: Unknown
  • Duration: 3 to 12 months
  • Cost: Avg. $13,600
  • Average Base Salary: $70,700
  • Duration: 4 to 6 years
  • Cost: Avg. $34,740 (4 years)
  • Average Base Salary: $65,900
  • Duration: 1.5 to 2 years (in addition to Bachelor’s Degree)
  • Cost: Avg. $30,000 to $100,000 (in addition to Bachelor’s Degree)
  • Average Base Salary: $114,000
  • Duration: 4 to 8 years (in addition to Bachelor’s Degree)
  • Cost: Avg. $50,000+ (in addition to Bachelor’s Degree)
  • Average Base Salary: $124,000

Coding Bootcamp

Coding bootcamps are fast, intensive career training programs that focus on job placement and in-demand skills. Software engineering bootcamps cover coding languages, such as HTML, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, and more. Bootcamps don’t focus on general education. Many bootcamps offer job placement guarantees with employment rates of over 90 percent. Some of the highest-rated coding bootcamps include the following:</p> <p>Flatiron School<br /> Thinkful<br /> Lambda School<br /> Kenzie Academy<br /> Hack Reactor</p> <p>Thanks to the high demand for qualified engineers, bootcamps became a proven route into a high-paying tech career.


Traditional colleges, universities, and graduate schools offer the prestige of a degree and a high-quality education. Students often earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science before landing a tech job. In fact, many positions list a degree as a requirement, but this isn’t always the case anymore. College alumni can apply for graduate school to earn a master’s degree in computer science.

Self-Taught Software Engineers

Thanks to a wealth of information on the Internet, some people manage to train themselves to become software engineers without attending school. These self-taught programmers indeed occupy high-paying positions within top companies. However, most people benefit from attending school, as coding is a complex task that often puts people off when they get stuck.

Software Engineer FAQ

How long does it take to complete a software engineering bootcamp?

It can take anywhere from six months to over a year to complete a software engineering coding bootcamp. Some of the factors that determine the length include the school’s curriculum and whether you’re a part-time or full-time student.

How much does a software engineer make?

Salaries for software engineers vary. The average salary is around $100,000. Factors that determine salary include education, experience, and location.

How to get started in software engineering?

You can start your journey to become a software engineer by signing up for any number of coding bootcamp courses.Some programs even offer free introductory courses to help you get familiar with coding.

What does a software engineer do?

Software engineers apply their knowledge of programming and engineering principles to create programs, games, mobile applications, operating systems, and other forms of software.


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