Despite popular opinion, you don’t need a college degree to become a software engineer. There are faster ways to learn the skills you need without racking up substantial debt. Many employers actually favor candidates with on-trend skills and experience over formal education.
The process of becoming a software engineer involves more than just learning the theory. You can boost your chances of success by seeking out an expert mentor, gaining experience in the field, and building your professional network. You’ll also need plenty of hard work, commitment, and determination.
If you’re a natural problem-solver with a passion for tech, the hard work will pay off. A future in software engineering can be both highly satisfying and financially secure. Let’s start by understanding the role of a software engineer in more detail.
What Does a Software Engineer Do?
A software engineer uses engineering principles and coding to develop computer programs, software packages, and mobile apps.
The process starts with capturing user requirements and defining the system specification. Next, the software is designed and implemented. Finally, software engineers verify, test, deploy, and maintain the software.
This approach is called the software development life cycle (SDLC) and is commonly used in the tech industry. Your actual responsibilities within the development process may vary depending on the type of organization you’re working for.
How to Learn Software Engineering Skills
To make it as a software engineer, you’ll need more than just coding knowledge. The role requires a stack of highly specialized skills. Here are the most popular education paths taken by aspiring software engineers:
Associate Degree: An associate degree lasts for two years. The curriculum covers similar subjects to a bachelor’s degree but in less detail. Many students start with an associate degree and transfer into a bachelor’s program for more advanced learning.
Bachelor’s Degree: A bachelor's degree in software engineering is a four-year course that will provide a strong foundation for students. It not only teaches engineering principles, but also includes modules on software architecture, networking, hardware, computer systems, artificial intelligence, and database design.
Master’s Degree: Students must complete a bachelor’s degree before enrolling in a master’s program. Candidates that are looking for advanced or highly specialized positions opt for a master’s degree.
It’s a two-year course that teaches both technical and soft skills. Some master’s degrees cover management and leadership modules to prepare individuals for managerial positions.
Doctorate Degree: PhDs are taken by students looking to enter academia or the teaching field. They usually take four years to complete and are research-oriented. Students can focus on specific aspects of software engineering such as software security, robotics, and distributed systems.
Online Bootcamp: As a degree isn’t actually required to land a software engineering job, many students are choosing to enroll in an online bootcamp instead. They’re a relatively new form of learning that has found acceptance among hiring companies.
Bootcamps are short, intense courses that last between two to six months. They cover a lot of ground with extensive curriculums designed by industry professionals. Unlike a bachelor's degree where the focus is on theory, bootcamps emphasize the practical side of learning and are geared towards getting candidates job-ready.
Certifications: Many students complete certification courses to gain an edge over the competition. Certifications provide validation and highlight your expertise in a specific area. They’re also a great way to boost your resume and make it more appealing to prospective employers.
Specialization Can Help You Succeed
By focusing your attention on one specific area of software engineering, you can gain an authoritative status and become more valuable to hiring companies. Once you’ve learned general software engineering principles it’s recommended that you select a specialization that you’re interested in.
Software engineers fall into two categories of specialization, system engineers and application engineers. Systems engineers build entire computer systems, while application engineers are responsible for developing software applications or specialized utility software.
Some other specializations you can choose include:
- Web developer
- Full-stack developer
- Video game programmer
- 3D graphics programmer
- Information systems manager
- Modeling and simulation professional
- Network security expert
Gain Software Engineering Experience
While gaining an education is important, it’s only the beginning of your journey. You need to put your theoretical knowledge to practical use by working on real-life projects.
By building actual software from the ground up you’ll learn so much more about the software development process. You’ll encounter new problems and face issues that can’t be learned from theoretical study alone. Employers understand this and prefer candidates with relevant and up-to-date experience.
Bootcamps can provide you with the experience you need to launch your career. A big part of our software engineering bootcamp involves working on real-life projects as part of a team.
You can also use sites like Upwork and freelancer.com to take on small freelance projects. Don’t worry about working on low-paid jobs, the experience you gain dealing with actual clients more than makes up for it.
Grow Your Network
By connecting with like-minded individuals you can stay on top of software engineering trends, learn the latest tools, and discuss new ideas. Strong connections can also lead to employment opportunities. You can get recommended or offer to help other aspiring software engineers on new projects.
There are plenty of online resources you can use to grow your network. LinkedIn is a great forum to connect with industry professionals. Job openings are posted on the platform and it’s regularly used by recruiters to seek out the top talent. You can create a solid LinkedIn profile with a powerful headline and summary. Engage with the pool of professionals out there to build lasting connections.
Write a Professional Resume and Prepare for Interviews
Before hitting the job sites you’ll need to create a professional resume and write a convincing cover letter. And while you may have great technical skills, it’s still important to prepare yourself for interviews.
Take some time to research software engineering interview questions that are asked by recruiters and prepare answers that will impress. Don’t forget to work on your presentation and communication skills too.
Types of Software Engineers
Software engineering is a vast field and engineers have various specializations to choose from. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular areas you can focus on:
Blockchain Engineer: Software engineers that use blockchain technology to build apps are called blockchain engineers. It’s a rapidly growing field that has applications across several industries and domains.
Security Engineer: These professionals focus on providing cybersecurity and help prevent their corporate networks from getting hacked.
Embedded Engineer: Embedded software is used to control machines or devices. This type of software usually has significant time and memory constraints so requires a specialized engineer.
Data Engineer: Data engineers develop algorithms and software to collect, organize, process, and store big data.
Machine Learning Engineer: These software engineers possess knowledge of machine learning and specialize in artificial intelligence systems.
Mobile Engineer: Mobile engineers specialize in developing software for smartphones and tablets.
Front-End Engineer: These engineers are responsible for developing the front-end of a website. This includes anything a user can see or interact with.
Back-End Engineer: The engineers that develop the server components of a website are called back-end engineers.
Full-Stack Engineer: Software engineers that are proficient in developing both front-end and back-end components of a site are called full-stack engineers.
DevOps Engineer: Development and IT operations engineers work on the systems development life cycle to produce quality software.
Video Game Engineer: These engineers are experts at physics modeling and graphics coding. They specialize in the design and development of video games.
Skills Needed to Become a Software Engineer
Here are the main skills and technical competencies required to become a software engineer:
- You should be a problem-solver and come up with elegant solutions.
- You should have strong research skills.
- You need to have an attention to detail as you’ll be responsible for building complex systems where the smallest mistake can result in errors.
- You need to understand how to use version control systems to organize and manage your code.
Along with these technical skills, you’ll also need interpersonal skills to succeed. You should have strong written and verbal communication skills. You’ll need to be a team player and possess excellent time management skills.
Your Next Step
Becoming a software engineer doesn’t happen overnight. If you want to achieve your goal, you’ll need determination and perseverance. You’ll also need an up-to-date education program to teach you all the necessary skills.
Enroll in our web development bootcamp to fast-track your way into a well-paid developer position. We’ll not only teach you how to code stunning, functional websites, we’ll also support you in your job search. To learn more about this opportunity you can request a callback from our course admissions team. We’ll happily answer any questions you may have.
Learn to Code with Thinkful
Take the proven path to a high-income career with professional mentorship and support, flexible ways to pay, and real-world, project-based learning.