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How to Become a Software Engineer: Your Complete Guide


Every industry relies on software engineers to help run their backend systems, as well as mobile devices, databases and more. Software engineers are experts in the field of Computer Science and they use their knowledge to help businesses run by creating consumer-facing products and user-friendly systems. The path for how to become a software engineer is paved with education, technical ability, programming languages and more.

We will take a look at what it takes to achieve your goal of becoming a software engineer, as well as how to plan ahead efficiently.

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What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Software engineers take the electronic hardware of a computer and/or mobile device and makes it useful by employing computer engineering practices to design, develop and implement software that will run. Software engineers must first understand the business needs and then create the necessary programmed tools to achieve such goals.

In practice, software engineers blend together their understanding and abilities in the realms of computer science, engineering, project management, and software development. From the creation of functioning programs to the testing, they ensure the user’s digital environment runs smoothly.

The broad field can be broken down into two specializations, namely software development and applications development. Software and systems engineers use programming languages to develop functioning systems, whereas application developers code applications based on the user’s needs across various platforms, including desktops, laptops and mobile devices.

Since the two specializations require different job duties, their average salaries are also slightly different.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, their average salaries are as follows:

Become a Software Engineer

The software engineering field is highly technical and specialized. As such, although there isn’t a single way to accomplish the goal of working in the industry, the common path begins with formal education.

1. Study Computer Science

A degree in Computer Science is a good place to start to begin your journey. You can choose to get your associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or higher, depending on your career goals.

  • Associate’s Degree: For entry-level positions, associate’s degrees will suffice and can be earned in about 2 years. The curriculum will provide you with the core foundational knowledge such as programming languages and modern ways to develop software.
  • Bachelor’s Degree: For those seeking a position with any big or well-known company, a bachelor’s degree is often the minimum requirement. Bachelor’s degrees generally take 4 years to complete (if enrolled full-time). Along with the foundational knowledge that an associate’s degree offers, a bachelor’s degree will also provide coursework in mathematics, software testing and software architecture.
  • Coding Bootcamp: For those who don’t want to attend a formal institution or online university to receive a minimum of an associate’s degree, coding bootcamps exist. They offer intense training for the span of about 8-12 weeks, and upon graduating, students are meant to be prepared for entry-level positions in the field.

Earning Your Degree: Online Options:

It’s important to note that your education level will impact your salary and likelihood of obtaining a job in the competitive field of software engineering. As such, it’s useful to weigh your costs and benefits of obtaining a degree. If financial constraints feel like they are a big part of your decision, you should know that you can always attend high-quality, accredited and online universities to pursue your dream of becoming a software engineer.

For example, University of the People is a 100% online institution that offers associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science that are tuition-free.

The benefits of attending an online university include the flexibility of choosing when to study, the widened accessibility of having everything online and being able to study from anywhere in the world, and the lowered cost of obtaining your higher education degree. Additionally, online programs provide a simpler way to study part-time and continuing to manage preexisting responsibilities, whether it means raising a family or holding down a job, etc.

2. Start Programming and Building Software

When you start programming, you’ll have to choose which languages to learn. Depending on the type of products you want to create, one may be more useful than another. There are hundreds of programming languages out there to learn, but here’s a quick look at some of the most popular:

  • Java – Based on an object-oriented programming model, Java is intended to be easy to use. The language is used for complete applications that can be accessed from a single computer or network.
  • Python – Python is used for computer software programming, as well as machine learning, browser automation, scientific computer, and robotics.
  • C++ – C++ is a general purpose programming language that can be used for small programs or large applications.
  • C# – C# is a general purpose programming language that is designed to create apps on the Microsoft platform. It is considered to be a blend of C and C++.
  • PHP – PHP once stood for Personal Home Page, but now it stands for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor. It can be embedded into HTML and was originally designed for web development.

Once you have a grasp on programming languages, you can try your hand at developing and testing software or applications. These can serve as use cases to land an internship or showcase to a prospective client as part of your portfolio.

3. Get an Internship

While you’re still in school, it’s always a good idea to get an internship to start making connections within the industry. Whether you choose to intern at a small startup or a well-established company, the internship will help make your resume stronger upon graduation and will expand your networking opportunities.

Photo by HIVAN ARVIZU @soyhivan on Unsplash

4. Attend Conferences and Networking Events

The industry is always evolving because technology and users’ needs change. As such, it’s important to stay up-to-date with your knowledge of the field. Industry events and conferences can help provide you with information about new products, changing regulations, and best business practices.

5. Apply for Jobs

Upon graduation or the culmination of a Coding Bootcamp, you’ll want to create a killer CV or resume and start applying to positions that interest you. There’s always the option of continuing your education to earn a graduate’s degree, but with your undergraduate education and internship and coding experience, you should have accumulated enough examples of your work to secure a position in the field.

The Bottom Line

Software engineers are integral pieces of every industry. They bring software systems and applications into existence and ensure they are properly working and safe for users. Software engineers must be team players, have strong communication skills, be logical and solution-oriented, and are always willing to learn more.

From earning your degree to creating products, networking, interning and ultimately landing a job in the field, software engineering will provide you with a lucrative and rewarding career.