Software engineering involves the development of applications, systems, and software. Software engineers come from a variety of educational backgrounds; many candidates earn computer science and software engineering degrees of different levels. The field offers a great deal of flexibility, as many organizations and industries rely on software engineers.
Read on to learn more about various software engineering degrees and the careers to which they can lead.
Why Pursue a Career in Software Engineering?
Software engineering offers a combination of flexibility and opportunity. Depending on their interests and skills, professionals can chart a pathway that allows them to capitalize on their strengths, pursuing careers in computer systems design, manufacturing, and management.
Software engineers can move into a variety of industries, including telecommunications, healthcare, finance, and insurance. The variety of professionals they work with, including researchers, programmers, and sales teams, can also make for dynamic work days. In general, these engineers need to possess strong analytical and problem-solving skills. More specifically, they typically rely on programming and advanced computer systems skills.
Software Engineering Career Outlook
High demand is one of the most attractive elements of a software engineering career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 22% job growth for software developers between 2019 and 2029, making software engineering one of the fastest-growing professions in the country.
Software engineers and developers also bring in some of the highest wages in the nation. Their median annual wage of $107,510 nearly triples the national average. While competition for these jobs may be fierce, candidates with up-to-date and diverse skills can capitalize on a booming industry.
The table below provides salary information based on experience level for several software engineering careers.
|Job Title||Entry-Level (0-12 months)||Early Career (1-4 Years)||Midcareer (5-9 Years)||Experienced (10-19 Years)|
|Information Systems Manager||N/A||$67,760||$78,810||$92,410|
Skills Gained With a Software Engineering Degree
Within a software engineering program, students acquire an in-demand set of skills that they can directly apply to a variety of professions, tasks, and industries. The following section covers five key skills that software engineering students learn.
- Computer Science Principles
Software engineering students learn the processes, tools, and methods used in designing and building software. In addition to software design, they learn how to analyze, code, test, and maintain software.
- Software Design
Students learn the design process in depth, beginning with the planning stage and ending with execution and maintenance. Students acquire programming, algorithm, database, operating system, and networking skills. They also learn how to design software that meets user expectations and runs efficiently.
- Software System Applications
Successful software engineers need the ability to think critically about how people will use software and applications when designing them. This part of the process may also include identifying a market opportunity and consumer base. Developers need to analyze problems and come up with the potential solutions.
Software engineers must be able to gather, organize, and prioritize information. They need to then assess and analyze that information to identify and explain opportunities to their organization or investors. They also need to communicate complex processes in simple terms and address multiple demands with a single solution.
Software engineers often work with multiple departments and facets of an organization. Depending on their seniority, they may organize the work of various programmers and developers, which requires delegation, communication, and leadership skills. They also need the capacity to work in group settings and among people with different work styles, knowledge bases, and personalities.
Software Engineering Career Paths
Graduates can pursue many different careers with a software engineering degree. To increase their employability for a specific role, students can pursue a specialization during their program. The following section examines five career paths available to learners who specialize in related focus areas.
- Database Management
Database management careers focus on the development and maintenance of database management systems. Students learn to design, build, and secure database systems for various users and industries.
- Network Systems
This specialization focuses on the design and analysis of network systems. Students learn to set up, assess, and secure network communications in various settings. This training can lead to careers in network administration, which involves overseeing, maintaining, and optimizing an organization's network.
- Computer Systems Manager
Computer systems management specializations typically involve learning how to design and develop a variety of computer programs. Students also learn how to use and implement many different applications and technologies. After graduation, these learners can pursue information systems management careers, which require overseeing computer-related activities for organizations.
During a security specialization, software engineering students learn how to develop and implement the latest cybersecurity programs and measures. Learners explore the threats facing technologies and industries, as well as methods for risk assessment and data recovery. This training can lead to information security analyst careers, in which professionals manage the security and defense of organizational data.
- Web Development
Web development concentrations build on software engineering training, but focus more on web applications and websites. Students work with the latest programming languages and codes, learning how to design websites effectively. Web developers create websites that meet user needs.
How to Start Your Career in Software Engineering
Software engineers can take several pathways to the workforce. Most professionals need a bachelor's degree, although some employers hire candidates with an associate degree for some roles.
Employers value applicants with the appropriate coding skills and experience. For example, organizations that require engineers to perform basic software design and testing may seek out associate degree-holders, while companies with complex software and system management needs may look to hire candidates with a bachelor's or master's degree and extensive experience.
Associate Degree in Software Engineering
An associate degree in software engineering prepares students for two major pathways: entry-level careers and bachelor's programs. These programs typically cover software engineering fundamentals, including basic programming, web design, and database management. Students may also complete some business and management courses, which can lead to additional employment opportunities.
During associate programs, learners often complete software engineering projects to prepare for careers in the field. The following table delves into a couple software engineering careers for associate degree-holders.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Software Engineering?
- Computer Programmers
Computer programmerswork alongside software engineers, coding and testing software. They must know a variety of languages. They must also possess the problem-solving capabilities to identify faulty code and find workable solutions. Although most computer programmer positions require a bachelor's, some employers hire candidates with only an associate degree.
- Web Development
Web developers design and build websites for individuals and organizations. They take consumer and user demands into consideration when creating the aesthetic, performance capabilities, and content of a website. Developers may also monitor the site for necessary updates and maintenance.
Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering
During a bachelor's program in software engineering, students cover a lot of information. These programs often provide comprehensive training that examines various programming techniques, interactions between computers and humans, and software design. The best programs may also provide leadership and business training to prepare graduates for management-level careers.
Participants cover current and future trends, such as mobile software development, cross-platform engineering, and security. Students can usually choose a concentration or electives that help them pursue a specific career path.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Software Engineering?
- Software Developer
Software developers design the software and applications that allow humans to operate computers and various technologies. They typically assess user needs or analyze an operation problem and build a solution. Developers work with programmers and other computer specialists to bring software from its initial design to implementation.
- Information Systems Manager
Information systems managers oversee computer-related activities for organizations. They identify problem areas and inefficiencies and design or find improvements. System managers also ensure the security of their organization's technologies. These managers typically lead teams of computer professionals, ensuring everyone works together to achieve common goals.
- Computer Systems Analyst
Computer systems analysts assess and evaluate an organization's technology needs. They then design or integrate already existing solutions to improve efficiency and the bottom line. These professionals work with managers and users to evaluate needs and opportunities for improvement.
- Information Security Analysts
Information security analysts evaluate an organization's security setup and needs and provide suggestions for improvement. Analysts may monitor systems to assess risk and identify potential vulnerabilities. They may install and implement the necessary security applications or provide training to allow an internal staff member to take over the task.
- Network Systems Administrators
Network systems administrators oversee all functions related to an organization's network. They ensure that the system operates at top performance, update and improve the network as needed, and handle network security for organizations. Depending on their employer, network administrators may also oversee computer and other systems needs.
Master's Degree in Software Engineering
A master's degree in software engineering typically qualifies graduates for leadership positions. The training in these programs often focuses on management, hands-on experiences, and innovation.
During the management component, students examine the software development lifecycle and the stages involved, learning to manage each stage independently. Many of the best master's programs emphasize practicum experiences. During the innovation component, master's programs explore the latest technology developments and trends to determine where the field might move next.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Software Engineering?
- Software Developer Manager
Software developer managers typically oversee a team of software engineers and programmers. They need to coordinate with their organizational management team to identify new opportunities and areas of need to address. They then manage the entire development process, including product design, testing, and implementation.
- Computer Network Architects
Computer network architects design and build communication and computer networks for organizations. These architects must evaluate their organization's needs. They then identify technological solutions that fit within their operational budgets. They also oversee improvements and deal with security issues that occur. Employers may prefer to hire candidates with a master's degree for this role.
- Senior Software Engineer
Senior software engineers rely on their extensive experience and advanced education to take on vast software development projects and oversee large teams of computer professionals. These professionals must understand the various stages of the software development lifecycle and how to overcome challenges along the way.
- Solutions Architect
Solutions architects help organizations overcome problems by identifying, designing, and implementing technological solutions. They assess organizational needs and suggest possible solutions and areas of improvement. They then find the best ways to meet organizational objectives in the most effective ways, testing potential options along the way.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Doctoral Degree in Software Engineering
A doctoral degree in software engineering provides learners with advanced training related to the research and development of software systems. Students learn techniques and tools in advanced design and prototyping, as well as maintenance and security strategies for complex systems.
Doctoral curricula may also delve into policy and privacy laws, economic theory, and user trends. While these degrees may lead to many of the same careers as master's degrees, doctoral degree-holders can more easily access upper-level management positions within desirable organizations, as well as post secondary teaching positions. Doctoral programs also allow for extensive customization.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Software Engineering?
- Postsecondary Teacher
Postsecondary teachers oversee lectures and labs and deliver college courses in their content area. They also conduct their own research and publish their results in academic publications.
- Research Scientist
Research scientists take part in or oversee teams of technology researchers. Depending on their specialization or project, they may work on developing a new technology, advancing an existing technology, or designing a new programming language. Research scientists strive to make technology easier to use, more profitable, and more effective. Employers tend to prefer candidates who hold a doctorate.
How to Advance Your Career in Software Engineering
The best software engineering professionals continually upgrade their skills by reading relevant publications and enrolling in training programs. They may obtain postgraduate certifications or improve their abilities by taking advantage of continuing education opportunities, which include free courses, professional development programs, and coding bootcamps.
The following sections examine ways students can upgrade their skills and advance their careers after graduation.
Earning certifications can provide professionals with a competitive advantage. Certifications can also help them keep their skills sharp.
While certifications can prove helpful, most employers do not require them. There are several software engineering certifications that professionals can pursue to highlight their skills in certain areas. Many certifications demonstrate proficiency in a single technology.
Microsoft, for example, offers several credentials for developers. Oracle also offers a variety of developer certifications for different technologies and software. Additionally, the Project Management Institute offers an agile certified practitioner credential and CompTIA provides an IT fundamentals certification for web developers.
Software engineers should pursue continuing education to keep their skills fresh and knowledge updated. Software engineers enjoy access to several continuing education pathways, including certifications, online courses, coding bootcamps, professional development programs, and advanced training.
By taking classes online, professionals can further develop their skills without needing to commute to a traditional classroom setting. Many of these classes are free, including those hosted by Coursera and edX. Individuals can also enroll in a coding bootcamp, including programs hosted by The Software Guild and Udacity.
Professional organizations offer another training outlet. These associations often provide members with access to professional development programs, which allow participants to upgrade their skills in a career-driven environment.
Finally, earning a graduate degree is among the best continuing education options. By enrolling in an online program, working professionals can now fit their education around a busy work schedule.
In addition to the options listed above, software engineers can keep their skills sharp in a variety of other ways during school and after graduation.
- Internships: Internships typically work best for students, but even experienced professionals can make use of them. Look for organizations that offer the best practical experience and guidance.
- Networking: Networking with other software engineering professionals can lead to training, mentoring, and job opportunities.
- Join Professional Organizations: Many professional organizations offer access to professional development programs. They also provide access to industry research and publications, which can help members excel professionally.
- Volunteer: Volunteers can access some of the best organizations because they offer little financial risk. In return for their time, volunteers can gain important experience and contacts.
How to Switch Your Career to Software Engineering
The pathway for a switching career into software engineering varies depending on the person and their experience. For applicants with computer-related degrees, the transfer is often relatively straightforward, although some workers may find it useful to brush up on programming or software development foundations through online courses or certifications.
For those coming from unrelated disciplines, most employers prefer at least an undergraduate degree in software engineering. Applicants with applicable skills and training in areas like business and project management may find the transition easier. Others should probably pursue a bachelor's degree in the field before attempting to make the switch.
Where Can You Work as a Software Engineering Professional?
While many organizations and industries need software engineers, some hire these professionals at much greater rates. The table below provides information on the industries that employ the most software engineers in the U.S.
- Computer Systems Design and Related Services
This field encompasses organizations offering information technology design services, including software and website design. According to BLS employment data, about one-third of developers find employment in this industry and earn mean annual wages over $109,000.
- Software Publishers
This industry includes organizations that design, package, publish, and support software. According to BLS employment data, about 9% of software engineers work in this industry and earn mean wages of over $120,000 annually.
- Management of Companies and Enterprises
This industry includes organizations that own, manage, and/or influence other companies. According to BLS employment data, 5% of software engineers work within this industry and earn median annual wages over $108,000.
- Data Processing, Hosting, and Related Services
The data processing, hosting, and related services industry provides various technological services to individuals and organizations, such as online streaming and allocating space in storage facilities. According to BLS employment data, these workers earn median wages of about $110,000 annually.
- Other Information Services
This industry encompasses information services that may include storing, supplying, and retrieving information. Companies like news publications, internet broadcasters, and libraries may also be included. According to BLS employment data, software engineers working in this industry earn median annual wages over $125,000.
According to BLS occupational employment statistics, California, Texas, and Washington employ the most software engineers.
In these states, professionals find the majority of jobs within major cities. The largest individual employers for these professionals include Amazon, IBM, and U.S. Bancorp. In addition to big technology and banking companies, major employers include aerospace and defense corporations, such as Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, as well as professional services organizations.
Resources for Software Engineering Majors
Outside of degrees and more formal training programs, software engineering graduates can remain sharp by staying engaged within the industry. This can be accomplished by joining professional organizations, taking open courses, and reading publications.
- Professional Organizations
Association for Computing Machinery: ACM serves information technology professionals across industries, including teachers and researchers. The association advocates for the profession, develops industry standards, and shares resources. Members gain access to networking, educational, and professional development opportunities.
Association for Women in Computing: Founded in 1978 as the first professional computing association for women, AWC supports members as they advance through their careers. Members can access mentoring and networking opportunities, along with continuing education programs.
IEEE Computer Society: IEEE connects computer professionals from around the world, allowing them to share information and ideas and collaborate with each other. Members enjoy access to international conferences, industry publications, and an array of learning opportunities.
Association of Software Professionals: An association of developers working on the latest software applications, the ASP provides insight into the strategies, processes, and challenges that these professionals face. Members gain access to mentoring, professional support, and discounted developer tools.
International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology: IACSIT members include IT engineers, educators, and research and development leaders.The association conducts collaborative research and projects to advance innovation and promote developments in the field. Members enjoy access to industry publications and conferences.
Computing Research Association: CRA unites organizations involved in computing research from across North America, including higher education institutions, research departments, government organizations, and software engineering firms. Members share information and collaborate on various initiatives. Members can also access industry information and resources, mentoring programs, and professional advancement opportunities.
- Open Courseware
Software Development Lifecycle - University of Minnesota: This software development lifecycle specialization features four courses that familiarize learners with industry best practices. These courses teach students how to build and analyze software using SDLC methodologies. Students also learn to work around constraints imposed by organizations, the environment, and products.
Java Programming and Software Engineering Fundamentals - Duke University: This specialization introduces students to Java programming. Learners also gain familiarity with the Android operating system, major programming concepts, algorithm design, and program debugging. At the end of the five-course specialization, participants create their own recommender engine.
Software Design and Architecture - University of Alberta: This specialization teaches students to create dynamic software systems and applications. They explore the design, patterning, and architecture processes involved, along with the visual notation system used to document this process. Learners progress from creating single-user apps to multi-user apps with remote storage.
Embedded: An online publication for systems and software designers and developers, Embedded offers tips, design information, and industry news. The publication also allows readers and community members to contribute their own ideas and stories, providing access through audio and video content, blogs, and forums. Embedded includes sections for hardware, software, design, development, industry, trends, and communication.
Computerworld: Computerworld helps businesses develop competitive advantages using various desktop, web, and mobile applications. The publication also helps IT professionals get the most from their client systems and collaboration platforms and improve the user and consumer experience. Readers can find sections related to Windows, mobile applications, office software, and Apple. They can also access a community forum, events, and newsletters.
Network Computing: Network Computing provides an in-depth look at new and emerging technologies in the networking world. Readers can find insights on next-generation networks, brand new data and storage systems, and cutting-edge communication technologies.
The Next Web: Founded in 2006 as a promotional vehicle for a conference, The Next Web now offers an extensive look at technology. By sharing stories and the latest research, the publication helps readers optimize their technologies and improve their organizations. Members can access news, discounts, a community forum, and industry conferences and events.
Linux Magazine: This publication helps readers improve their knowledge and skills in all areas of IT by offering technical articles, product reviews, practical advice, and programming topics. The magazine also offers insights into desktop techniques and the latest industry news.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is software engineering a good career?
Yes. A career in software engineering offers job diversity, opportunities for growth, and financial rewards. According to the BLS, software developers earned a median annual salary of $107,510 in 2019, and the position is projected to see 22% job growth between 2019 and 2029.
- What qualifications do you need to be a software engineer?
Most software engineers need a bachelor's degree. However, associate degrees may provide entry into the field, while some organizations only hire professionals with a master's degree or higher.
- What can I do with a degree in software engineering?
After completing a degree in software engineering, graduates can explore their professional options or continue their education. A graduate degree can lead to managerial positions. Common careers include software engineer, web developer, and information systems manager.
- What type of software engineers gets paid the most?
According to BLS employment data, the highest 10% of earners in the field — including those in upper-management roles — make more than $164,000 annually.