How to Be Successful as a Software Engineer

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by Katy McWhirter

Published March 22, 2022

Reviewed by Monali Mirel Chuatico

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 1.9 million software engineers currently work in the United States. This number is projected to jump by more than 400,000 between 2020 and 2030. Software engineers are increasingly in demand and earn six-figure salaries for their expertise.

Software engineer jobs abound, making this a lucrative and fast-growing field to enter. Keep reading to learn what it takes to become a software engineer, the skills required in jobs, and what these professionals do on a daily basis.

How to Become a Software Engineer

Several paths exist for becoming a software engineer, including gaining experience through practical application or completing a degree program. In this section, we look at the various forms of education highly encouraged, if not required, by employers.

Education

According to the BLS, the majority of software engineering roles require candidates to hold a bachelor's degree in a field such as engineering, mathematics, or computer and information technology. As part of the requirements for these degrees, many students complete a semester-long internship during their junior or senior year to gain hands-on experience and begin networking with other professionals in the field.

Coding Bootcamp

A coding bootcamp for software engineering can be both a good starting point and a way to advance for those who want to become software engineers. With the number of bootcamp focused on software engineering expanding each year, this path is becoming more acceptable to some employers.

The majority of software engineering bootcamps take between 12-28 weeks to complete and can be attended either online or in person, depending on the education provider. These programs commonly cover many of the same topics reviewed in a bachelor's in software engineering, including Python, JavaScript, Flask, SQL, Express, Node, and React.

Individuals considering this path should check out our top five software engineering bootcamps:

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Software engineers perform many important tasks, both within and outside the tech industry. Some of their common responsibilities include:

Students may hear the positions of software engineer and software developer used interchangeably, but specific differences exist within these roles. While both developers and engineers work with computer systems and applications, software developers usually develop and improve existing software. Software engineers, conversely, typically build new software and applications.

Before starting any degree program or bootcamp, interested students should make sure they understand the differences between the roles and pick an educational program aligned with their professional goals.

How Much Do Software Engineers Make?

As one of the highest paying tech jobs available, software engineering roles tend to be competitive. The BLS reports that these professionals earned a median salary of $110,140 in May 2020. Engineers in the top 10% of earners brought home more than $170,100 during the same year.

One reason employers regularly hire bootcamp graduates is due to the explosive growth of the position. The BLS projects jobs for these professionals will grow by 22% between 2020 and 2030, leading to the creation of nearly 410,000 new jobs by the end of the decade.

For comparison, computer and information systems managers earned a median salary of $151,150 in May 2020, and those jobs are projected to grow by 11% between 2020 and 2030. Meanwhile, computer systems analysts brought home a median annual wage of $93,730 in May 2020, with projected growth of 7% between 2020 and 2030.

Software Engineer Technical Skills

Software engineers must possess a wide spectrum of technical skills to be successful in their roles. This section does not provide a comprehensive list of all the skills; instead, we highlight the ones that are most useful for students hoping to enter the industry. Because these are technical skills, they can easily be learned in a coding bootcamp.

Full-Stack Knowledge

Full-stack web development refers to the ability to work on both the front-end and back-end when programming. Developing apps requires a thorough understanding of both and an ability to code each to create a cohesive design and final product.

Coding and Programming

As any aspiring software engineer understands, the industry relies on a wide variety of programming and coding languages to build software and applications. While students may not be able to learn every language, mastering a few will prove valuable for software engineers and is often required when looking for a full-time job. Some of the most common programming languages used in the field include Java, Python, C++, and Scala.

Object-Oriented Design

A full understanding of and ability to use object-oriented design is critical to any software engineer. Object-oriented design refers to the ability to design and layout a system that is oriented around objects rather than functions and logic. Because objects and data fields have unique attributes, object-oriented design allows for more precise outcomes.

Software Engineer Soft Skills

In addition to technical skills, the most successful software engineers possess several soft skills that help them work in teams, stay motivated, and address design issues as they arise. These skills may not be as easy to learn online, but employers across industries and fields prize them for creating better teams and project outcomes.

Self-Motivation

Whether working on a solo assignment or slogging through a project that seems never-ending, self-motivation can play a big role in success as a software engineer. When work feels like a slog, some ideas for staying motivated include learning new skills, not comparing oneself to others, and staying attuned to the details that keep your attention focused.

Problem Solving

Even the best software engineers encounter problems and tough code errors that can feel tedious at best and infuriating at worst. Being able to think quickly on your feet and keeping a calm demeanor can go a long way in finding a solution — and in impressing employers with your dedication.

Team Player

Software engineering is a much more team-driven job than many people think. Being able to work smoothly with a team of coworkers or freelancers to build a solid application or address problems requires humility, top-tier communication skills, and patience.

Frequently Asked Questions About Software Engineering

How long does it take to become a software engineer?

The answer to this question depends on the type of program an individual chooses. Traditional bachelor's in software engineering programs, still favored by many employers, typically require about four years of full-time study or six years of part-time study.

However, software engineering bootcamps have become exceptionally popular — and respected by employers — in recent years. The amount of time a student spends enrolled can vary between 12-28 weeks and can take place online or in person.

What is the highest paying software engineering job?

The BLS reports that software engineers earned a median yearly salary of $110,140 as of May 2020. That said, some industries may pay higher than others. Software engineers working for software publishers earned a median annual wage of $124,050, while those in manufacturing brought home a median of $119,280 per year.

Conversely, working for insurance carriers and in related fields netted a median yearly salary of just $102,380 in May 2020.

A person's salary can also depend on their education level, amount of experience, job title, and location. For instance, software developers in Washington earned an average annual wage of $138,400 in May 2020 — likely due to the higher cost of living.

Is software engineering easy?

Learning software engineering can feel like a steep climb initially, especially for individuals with no prior knowledge or experience in programming, coding, or technology. That said, software engineering bootcamps are designed to get students up to speed quickly through immersive, collaborative lessons.

Once students learn the basic tenets of the discipline, the most important thing is to keep learning. The industry will continue to change and evolve in the coming years, making it important for software engineers to commit to a lifetime of continuing education and curiosity.

Feature Image: Maskot / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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