Software Engineers: Job Duties & Requirements

Learn about the work responsibilities of a software engineer. Discover education requirements, salary and employment outlook to decide if this is the right career for you.

Career Description for a Software Engineer

Every business that generates its own computer programs or needs to personalize third-party software needs software engineers to write, edit and test programs. There are many layers of computer software, and each requires a specialist in languages specific to that layer. Software engineering is a rapidly changing field: training in software is available at nearly all learning institutions, and most software engineers continue to learn on the job, as languages and development environments evolve.

Software engineers tend to specialize in a few areas of development, such as networks, operating systems, databases or applications, and each area requires fluency in its own set of computer languages and development environments. A small percentage of software engineers work alone, but most collaborate with other specialists in development groups all working together to create complex projects.

Education Bachelor's degree in software, math, or science required
Job Skills Analytical skills, group work, knowledge of intended audience, understanding of different roles
Median Salary (2015)* $100,690 for all types of software developers
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 17% for all types of software developers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements

Most employers require software engineers to have at least a bachelor's degree in software, math or science, as well as broad experience with computers systems and applications. Larger companies, or organizations with unique or proprietary development platforms typically provide training for new employees.

Required Skills

Strong analytical skills and the ability to pay careful attention to detail are keys to success in software engineering. Also useful is the capacity to work well in groups and a willingness to understand the various roles played by fellow team members. Knowledge about the subject area in which they are working, or the intended audience, is valuable.

Employment and Salary Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for software developers will grow by 17% from 2014 to 2024, making software engineering one of the faster growing sectors in the job market. As of May 2015, developers of systems software earn a median annual income of $105,570, while applications software developers earned a median of $98,260 per year.

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Alternative Careers

Check out these other options for careers in software and computer development:

Computer Programmer

For those interested in working with software developers and writing code for applications and systems, becoming a computer programmer could be a good career move. Utilizing computer languages such as Java and C++, programmers construct working software products, run performance tests and find ways to eliminate bugs in the programs.

Entering the profession requires a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field. However, some employers may hire someone with significant programming knowledge and an associate degree in computer studies.

As reported by the BLS in 2015, the median yearly salary of computer programmers was $79,530. The BLS also projected an 8% decrease in available programming jobs between 2014 and 2024, with any potential openings occurring in the mobile and Internet technology industries.

Web Developer

If creating interactive and dynamic websites sounds like an intriguing career, consider becoming a web developer. Web development describes many jobs that include webmaster, web designer and web architect. Depending on the position, duties could include programming the structure of sites using HTML and JavaScript, choosing visual components and layout, fixing errors, adding applications and video, observing website traffic and setting up site access for modification purposes.

Many web development positions may only require an associate degree in web design or similar field, but employers filling more complex web architecture jobs could require a bachelor's degree in programming or computer science. According to BLS predictions, web developers should experience 27% employment growth during the 2014-2024 decade. In 2014, the BLS estimated that over 148,000 web developers worked in the U.S. and earned a median annual income of $64,970 in 2015.


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