As the world around us increasingly goes digital, businesses are working hard to improve everyday aspects of our lives with digital tools, websites, and web applications. Software engineering plays a major role in developing this new reality.
Computers process large amounts of data every second. These tasks are performed with the help of code that software engineers create. A computer is not smart enough to understand human instructions—it understands executable machine code and algorithms (that solve coding problems).
Software engineering is the application of engineering principles to the design, development, and implementation of operational software products. It’s a branch of computer science that analyzes user requirements, then designs and builds software products to meet those requirements.
And with high salaries, great benefits and increasing job opportunities, software engineering has become one of the most sought-after tech careers. We'll help you understand what software engineers do day-to-day, and how you can land a job that you love.
What Is a Software Engineer?
Software engineers are professionals who use the principles of computer science to come up with software solutions. These solutions are used to satisfy the needs and requirements of businesses, organizations, and consumers. The job of a software engineer is to create various desktop and web applications, operating systems like Windows and Linux, network systems, mobile applications, and games, among other things. Their ideas are turned into a final product by using programming languages, databases, frameworks, and servers.
As a profession, software engineering has two central specializations:
1. Application Engineer – They analyze the needs of end users and create or adapt applications for organizations and businesses. They design, build, install, and maintain these programs and applications.
2. System Engineers – They coordinate the creation and maintenance of the computer systems of an organization.
Careers in Software Engineering
Within the broader field of software engineering, there are many different job titles that come under the domain. These include:
- Applications Developer
- Database Administrator
- Game Developer
- Multimedia Programmer
- Web Developer
- Web Designer
- Software Engineer
- Software Tester
Getting Hired as a Software Engineer
As the world becomes more and more digitized, opportunities for software engineers in the job market will continue to grow. Software engineering is a dynamic profession that requires technical expertise, and there are several ways to get started, depending on where you are in your professional trajectory. If you’re a working professional looking to get started in software engineering, you can educate yourself through bootcamps and online courses. If you’re a student, getting an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in computer science or a related discipline might be a good option for you.
There is no fixed path to become a software engineer—the profession has various entry points. Below is a general outline of the steps you can take to get your career started in software engineering.
Software Engineering Education
Software engineering is a highly technical field and requires special training and education. A formal education will lay the foundation for the knowledge and skills required to pursue a successful professional career. You can choose between traditional and non-traditional paths based on your requirements. These could include:
- Bachelor’s Degree
Duration: 4 years
When it comes to a traditional education, software engineering employers will look favorably on a bachelor’s degree in computer science or related disciplines. A bachelor’s degree will expose you to a broad curriculum that lays a solid foundation in subjects like math and computer science. In this mode of education, you’ll learn programming, software architecture, software testing, and application areas like networking and embedded systems.
- Associate Degree
Duration: 2 years
Although a four-year degree is given more preference, an associate degree can also be helpful in finding entry-level jobs. Later, you can pursue majors in areas like software engineering technology or software systems engineering. After earning an associate degree, you’ll be confident in your knowledge of software engineering principles, programming languages, and modern approaches to software development.
- Online courses and bootcamps
Duration: 8 to 12 weeks
Online courses and bootcamps place you in a learning environment where you’ll get hands-on experience. Once you graduate from the course, you’ll be ready to apply for entry-level positions in software engineering companies. We offer a comprehensive Software Engineering Bootcamp that might be just the option you’re looking for.
Software Engineering Internships
Internships provide real-world experience and insights about the professional environment. Undertaking a software engineering internship will help to calibrate your skillset so that you can build efficient and scalable software products. After completing your formal education, you can apply for internships at various tech companies. They usually span three to six months and allow you to hone your skills in specific areas like Java, XML, and SQL.
Choosing a Software Engineering Specialization
There are two general fields of specialization in software engineering:
- Application development
- Software/systems development
Many specializations are available within these areas. After getting your foundational education, you can choose a field like a particular programming language or development type. Some areas of specializations include:
- Web development
- Mobile development
- Technical stack (e.g., Python, Ruby)
Skills of a Software Engineer
The job of a software engineer requires both technical and soft skills. While technical skills are about your knowledge and expertise, soft skills are about how you handle the work, and how you perform in a team.
Technical skills required to get hired as a software engineer include:
- Knowledge of programming languages like Java, Python, C++, PHP, and Perl
- Data structures and algorithms
- Source control
- Text editors
- Integrated Development Environments (IDEs)
- Operating systems
- Basics of testing
- Cross-platform software
- Encryption and cryptography
- SDLC (software development life cycle)
Soft skills required to get hired as a software engineer include:
- Computer programming and coding
- Problem solving
- Attention to detail
Software Engineering certifications are a sure-shot way to validate your skills and gain an edge in a competitive job market. Certification courses for beginners and experienced professionals are provided by many reputable universities, organizations like The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and tech vendors like Microsoft, Cisco, and Oracle. Popular software engineering certifications include:
- Software Applications Specialist Certificate – North Iowa Area Community College
- Software Engineering and Quality Certificate Program – UCSC Silicon Valley Extension
- CIW Web Foundations Associate – Certified Internet Web Professional
- Oracle Certified Associate (OCA): Java SE 8 Programmer – Oracle
- CIW Web Development Professional – Certified Internet Web Professional
Build up Practical Experience in Software Engineering
After gaining knowledge, skills, and expertise, you’ll be able to build projects on your own. Working on your own project is a great way to put into practice everything you’ve learned so far on in your studies. Choose an area that interests you, and use online and offline resources if you get stuck. This will add value to your portfolio.
Create an Outstanding Software Engineering Portfolio
Create a portfolio that includes your best work and substantiates your core skills and qualities. Your portfolio should show your ability to test and debug web applications as well as your proficiency in designing databases and creating web applications.
A resume will tell recruiters about your educational background, skills, and certifications, whereas a portfolio will give them a deeper understanding of your work and how you implement your knowledge and skills. A portfolio for a software engineer should consist of:
An ‘About Me’ page – This is where you tell recruiters who you are and provide a summary of what you’ve done so far and where you want to go in your career.
Projects – This is the body of the portfolio—the most important part. Include samples of your best work, making sure you include current and original content. Some points to keep in mind are:
- Align your samples with the target of the job. For example, include some extra coding samples in your portfolio if you are applying for a coding job.
- Include any extracurricular work that you’ve done to highlight specific skills.
- Make sure the design of your website is responsive.
- Your work should have an appealing layout and visual design.
- Since your programming portfolio reflects on your personal brand, make sure that you use a suitable URL. It’s always a safe bet to purchase your own domain.
- Make sure the interface is easy to navigate and straightforward.
- Include positive testimonials from clients.
Contact information – Add your email address and links to your profiles on LinkedIn and GitHub. You can also include the links to other social media channels.
Apply for Software Engineering Jobs
Before you start applying for jobs, narrow down your priorities. Ask yourself:
- What kind of company and frameworks do I want to work with?
- How important is work-life balance for my situation?
- What problem-solving opportunities do I find most interesting?
Prepare for Your Software Engineering Interviews
Preparing for your face-to-face interview is an important step in the process of getting hired. Make sure you research the company or organization thoroughly. Fine tune your technical knowledge of programming languages and other key areas. Rehearse with mock interviews to help you understand your strengths and weaknesses.
During an interview, recruiters will assess your technical knowledge along with your interpersonal skills, and your problem-solving abilities. Unlike other types of interviews, a tech interview may include whiteboard challenges or remote coding challenges. Make sure that you:
- Ask the recruiter beforehand about the interview format
- Revise the basics, especially the theoretical and technical parts
- Clarify any uncertainty you have about the questions
- Engage with your interviewer to demonstrate your communication skills
If you’re applying for software engineering jobs, it’s never too soon to start getting ready for the infamous (and inevitable) technical interview. Check out Thinkful’s Technical Interview Prep Guide so you’re ready for anything they throw your way.
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.