How to Become a Software Engineer

Learn how to become a software engineer in five steps, starting with enrolling in a bachelor's degree program.
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Updated on April 10, 2024
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You may be wondering how to become a software engineer for any number of reasons. Whatever it is, here's some good news: Software engineers are in demand.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for software engineers to grow by 25.7% from 2022-2032. It's the 10th-fastest growing career in the country. It's also the second-highest paying among these rising jobs. Software engineers earned a median annual wage of $132,270 in 2023.

So, what does it take to become a software engineer? Read on to find out.

5 Steps to Become a Software Engineer

Becoming a software engineer generally requires a bachelor's degree and coding experience. You can improve your career options and earning potential with a graduate degree or professional certification. The following steps are a loose guideline for becoming a software engineer.

Step 1: Enroll in a Bachelor's Degree Program

Enrolling in a bachelor's degree program is the first step to becoming a software engineer. For most entry-level jobs, you need a bachelor's degree in software engineering or a similar field.

You can get a bachelor's degree in 1-6 years. You can study online or in-person, part-time or full-time. General admission requirements vary. Admissions at some colleges and universities may be more flexible than others.

Typically, applicants need a GED certificate or high school diploma, letters and recommendations, and a personal statement.

Step 2: Declare a Major

Most schools require you to choose a major by the end of their sophomore year. There are several options when it comes to choosing what to study.

The most relevant degree is a bachelor's in software engineering. These programs cover software development, systems programming, and operating systems. They also teach you important soft skills like communication and teamwork.

A bachelor's in computer science is another common choice. Computer science programs teach you skills required for software engineering, like programming and software development. Other degree options include information technology, applied computing, and game design.

Step 3: Choose Your Specialization

In some software engineering programs, you can choose a specific area to focus on in your major. These specializations teach you to solve specific problems in software engineering.

Specializations are useful if certain roles require specific experience. They can be a niche — like cloud computing — or a more generalized specialization, like systems development. Both can potentially lead to job opportunities after graduation.

The following are other examples of specializations within software engineering:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer-Human Interface
  • Game Design
  • Networks
  • Data Science

Step 4: Gain Experience

Software engineering programs teach industry skills, such as database management and programming. They also cover computer system management. In these programs, you do coursework and projects to learn and gain experience.

Some programs require a capstone project or internships, or both. Doing capstone projects and internships helps you gain practical experience for your future job. Software engineering internships can include summer-long programs at tech giants such as Microsoft, for example.

Step 5: Apply for Entry-Level Roles

With a bachelor's degree in software engineering or a related field, you can get entry-level jobs in software engineering. Depending on your degree, software engineering jobs may be your go-to choice.

But there are others that have similar skills requirements. These jobs include software applications engineer, mobile applications developer, and software systems designer.

Finding a job may be difficult due to limited work experience. It can be helpful for you to learn tips for finding a job, such as doing mock job interviews.

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What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Software engineers design and build applications with developers and analysts, a role well-suited for anyone with a passion for programming and innovation. Software engineers typically have several key responsibilities:

  1. Software engineers are responsible for designing, developing, and implementing software solutions. To do this, they must understand what users want, design software, and write code.
  2. Software engineers write, maintain, and debug code to build software applications. They also run tests to identify and fix bugs, ensuring the applications work as intended.
  3. Software engineers usually work in teams, partnering with other engineers, designers, and stakeholders. They take part in projects, add to discussions, and give feedback to improve the application's quality.

Advice from a Software Engineer

Dagna Bieda, a software engineer turned career coach, helps other engineers achieve their goals and reach their full potential. She said there are things you should know about software engineering before pursuing the career.

Soft Skills are as Important as Technical Skills

Bieda mentioned that her clients sometimes don't get recognized for their work. This happens because they focus too much on technical skills and not enough on soft skills.

College graduates tend to overvalue technical skill sets, Bieda said. To succeed at work, you need technical skills. But to have value, you must also promote yourself. You need to communicate effectively and be able to collaborate.

Imposter Syndrome Can Hold You Back

Bieda said software engineers often doubt themselves and feel inadequate, hindering their progress.

You need to cultivate believing in your ability to figure things out, Bieda said. A lot of the time, engineering is solving problems. Sometimes, it's not about having all the knowledge. It's about having confidence that you can solve any technology problem.

What to Know Before Becoming a Software Engineer

Accreditation

Any software engineering degree under consideration must come from an accredited school. Only schools accredited through the U.S. Department of Education (ED) award legitimate degree credentials. In addition to institutional accreditation, ABET accredits many bachelor's programs in software engineering.

Licensing and Certification

Software engineers don't need a license, but they can get professional certifications to improve job opportunities and pay. To get certified, students usually have to join a professional organization and pass an exam.

Salary

The median annual salary for software engineers was $101,800 in May 2023, according to the BLS, but pay often depends on work experience. More work experience typically means higher pay.

Software engineers with less than one year of experience earn an average salary of $93,304 as of April 2024, according to Payscale.

Cost

Earning a bachelor's degree at a four-year institution cost between $9,700-$38,800 in 2020-2021, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The true price varies. Hidden costs and other factors, such as whether the program is offered on campus or online, and state residency, may influence the final price tag.

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Frequently Asked Questions About How to Become a Software Engineer

What is the fastest way to become a software engineer?

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Enrolling in an accelerated software engineering program is one of the fastest ways to join the field. Accelerated degree programs can take about one year to complete, compared to four years for traditional programs.

How do I become a software engineer without a degree?

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If you want to become a software engineer but don't want the usual path, you can try a software engineering bootcamp. Bootcamps are intensive, short-term training programs that provide essential skills for the field. Software engineering bootcamps can lead to entry-level roles.

Bootcamps emphasize technical and non-technical job skills. Skills needed for success in the industry include coding languages, web development, teamwork, and communication.

Can I become a software engineer with an online degree?

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Yes, you can become a software engineer with an online degree. Most employers respect and value online degrees. Online software engineering degrees are also available. Students learn to use technology and gain technical skills through online degree programs. Online programs often offer project-based curriculum and optional internships, like traditional degrees.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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