As our lives become more digitized, software engineers — the creative and technical minds behind the computer programs, apps and systems that power everything from spacecraft to smartphones — are more sought after than ever. It’s already a well-paid position, and the rapid expansion of the technology sector during the COVID-19 pandemic should drive salaries for software engineers even higher over the next few years.
So if you’re a talented coder and a natural problem solver, this could be the career for you.
If you’re thinking of getting into this growth area, you may be wondering:
- What is a typical software engineer salary?
- What does a software engineer do?
- How do you become a software engineer?
- How long does it take to become a software engineer?
- What does it take to succeed as a software engineer?
Let’s take a closer look to help you decide if this is the right career path for you.
What does a software engineer do?
Simply put, they write software according to engineering principles. This means that they come up with elegant and robust solutions to what are often complex problems.
They’re often given the freedom to be bold and creative. They frequently question — and, if necessary, revise — the original project specifications. This distinguishes them from software developers, who typically work within a predefined set of requirements.
The day-to-day responsibilities of a software engineer may include:
- Designing engineering specifications for software programs and applications
- Working with the quality assurance team to develop software test plans
- Collaborating with hardware engineers to assess and test hardware and software interactions
- Implementing a specific development methodology
- Documenting software specifications
What is a typical software engineer salary?
It’s an in-demand position, and employers pay accordingly. Depending on your experience and qualifications, you can expect to be offered a starting salary of between $103,750 and $172,500, according to the 2021 Robert Half Technology Salary Guide.
As with most jobs, your salary will also vary depending on where you work.
Use our Salary Calculator to adjust an entry-level software engineer salary for your city.
How do you become a software engineer?
Most employers expect candidates to have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as computer science or electrical engineering. You need a solid foundation in one of the major programming languages, which include Java, C++ and C#. It helps if you can show completed projects in at least one of these languages.
Employers also look for candidates with a broad range of tech skills. Depending on the job, you may need to show proficiency in:
- Linux, 3SQL and databases
- Containerization systems like Kubernetes or Docker
- Frameworks such as .NET or Ruby on Rails
Most importantly, you’ll need the enthusiasm and mental agility to adopt and master new technologies in record time. Software engineers never stop learning. They’re always tracking developments and engaging with other engineers. Keep your knowledge up to date by joining relevant conversations on sites like Stack Overflow and Quora.
How long does it take to become a software engineer?
You’ll need at least four years to complete your degree, plus several more years of software development experience to become a software engineer. Many employers look for around five years of work experience, although this varies depending on the nature of the role.
After you graduate, you might begin in a support or analyst role. This gives you hands-on experience with enterprise software and production systems. Your next role might be junior software developer, which offers you the opportunity to build and deploy new software.
However, the quality of your experience is often more important than quantity. Employers might take a chance on a rookie if you have a substantial portfolio of completed work. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep your online portfolio, like on GitHub, current with any projects you’ve worked on in your spare time.
What does it take to succeed as a software engineer?
Software engineers are problem solvers at heart. They step in where there’s no clear path forward, and they help find the best solution. To make it as a software engineer, you need to be creative, curious and fearless.
A great software engineer complements their tech abilities with excellent soft skills. They attend scrums with their team, give presentations to project stakeholders and write documentation for software. This means that you need to be an excellent communicator who knows how to get your message across both verbally and in writing.
Once you’ve gained experience as a software engineer, your career path can take you into senior IT management. Alternatively, you might look toward a software architect position. Software architects design an infrastructure from the ground up — software engineers help them build it.
This post has been updated to reflect more current information.