lines of code on laptop screen

How to Become a Software Engineer


How to Become a Software Engineer

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

Here 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.

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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 on a regular basis. However, 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 engineers are often confused for other job titles, and often their responsibilities overlap with other adjacent positions in the field of software development. Software engineers are defined by their application of engineering principles to the software world.  Software–in the end–functions like a machine with many moving parts, and that software has to run on a physical machine: the computer, which also has many moving parts. A software engineer needs to understand the interactions of all these moving parts to design an entire system that functions efficiently. 

Software Engineering Job Description

Coding is a big part of a software engineer’s daily routine. Most of the time, software engineers code using languages like Python, Ruby, and Java for building programs. Others, such as mobile app developers, use platform-specific languages such as Swift (for iOS) or task-specific languages like SQL for data science. The position requires careful attention to detail, especially during tedious tasks like debugging. Due to the ubiquity of software engineers across many industries, day-to-day routines are impossible to predict. The work responsibilities of a software engineer in the automotive industry looks different than a Google engineer because, after all, these two professionals build different products. 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 in many industries:

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.

Software engineers don’t spend all of their time coding, but they still need to develop an in-depth practical understanding of the subject. That said, software engineers are sometimes in charge of oversight, design, and idea development as well. Software engineers must be flexible and learn constantly to stay in-touch with the latest and greatest developments in their industry.

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) select programming languages to specialize in. This allows programmers to focus their expertise.

Software design and development

Software engineers take that programming knowledge and stack it on top of an understanding of how their systems work, and then design new systems. They need to know how to implement all of the resources at their disposal to plan out a system or application that functions as intended and functions efficiently while meeting the requirements laid out for it.

Software design and development

Creating computer software programs is another big part of most software engineering positions. These skills are also used to build application software programs, design information technology systems, and even operating systems.

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 on a regular basis. 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. These professionals help people use computers productively and efficiently.

The Types of Software Engineers

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. Here are two of the most popular software development types.

Application development

Application development is an increasingly important role 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

Systems engineers are a type of backend developer 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 ATM machines, 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

Software engineering is a highly variable field with numerous educational opportunities. In fact, some software engineers are self-taught and have no formal training. However, these people are outliers, and most individuals benefit from structured learning.

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, and some offer job placement guarantees with employment rates of over 90%. Thanks to 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. Students can apply for colleges after high school, and graduate school to earn a master’s degree in computer science.


Thanks to a wealth of information on the internet, some people manage to train themselves to become software engineers without attending school. It’s true that these self-taught programmers 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.


Will coding bootcamp help me get a job?

Absolutely! Coding bootcamp is a proven way to train for a job in tech. Many coding bootcamps offer job guarantees, and some refund tuition if graduates can’t find a job in the field they trained for. In fact, coding bootcamp teaches skills that many college computer science graduates lack.

How much do coding bootcamps cost?

Coding bootcamp tuition varies. Coding bootcamps in New York City cost around $10,000 to $20,000. However, many scholarships and tuition deferment programs are available, so what you see doesn’t have to be what you pay.

What are income share agreements?

Income share agreements, or ISAs, are a new way to pay for education. These programs defer tuition until after students graduate and find a job in the industry. Once students are employed and making above a certain income threshold (usually $40-60,000 per year) they begin paying a fixed percent of their income, often for around 2 years. If students can’t find a job, many bootcamps waive the cost of tuition.

Do I have to learn coding to work in the tech industry?

You don’t have to learn coding to work in the tech industry. In fact, there are several non-coding bootcamps in New York City. These programs train you for a position in tech sales, marketing, or product management–all of which are well-paid positions with plenty of advancement opportunity.


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