With the internet becoming such an indispensable part of our day to day lives, demand for software engineers in the job market has jumped rapidly. The software industry is a highly dynamic and fast paced environment, where user requirements and application developments are in a constant state of flux. Add to this the growing complexity of technology and the pressure for companies to innovate, and it’s no surprise that highly skilled software engineers are looking at increasing salaries and job security.

We’ll take you through the skills software engineers need in order to be successful, and some of the specializations you could choose from if you decide to make a career out of code.

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What Is Software Engineering?

Software engineering is a field of computer science that deals with engineering design, development, and maintenance of software products and technologies. A software engineer ensures that an application is responsive and robust, and meets the highest professional standards. For this to happen, the app has to be built with accuracy, on schedule, and within the client’s budget constraints. Most importantly, it also needs to satisfy the requirements of the end user.

A software engineer utilizes their engineering expertise and coding skills to create software products, operating systems, web browsers, database programs, or computer games. Software engineers are also responsible for running network control systems.  

The Software Development Life Cycle

To deliver high quality products, software engineers follow the SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) framework, which sets out the entire process of development. This includes the following steps:

  1. Obtaining user requirements
  2. Defining software characteristics and their purpose
  3. Testing individual software units
  4. Integrating those units
  5. Cumulative testing
  6. Release and maintenance of the software product

Waterfall and Agile are two commonly used SDLCs in the software industry. While the former follows the process step-by-step and waits for the closure of one process to initiate the next, an agile method works in short sprints of the entire SDLC plan.

Software Engineer Job Skills

Some of the top job-ready skills prized in software engineers include:

  1. Ability to work as a team with other developers across several projects.
  2. Proficiency to develop efficient and well-optimized source code for the latest software applications.
  3. Capability of maintaining and testing software, and ensuring it’s working properly.
  4. Ability to produce software tools and use them to form a fully functional software system.
  5. Excellent knowledge of hardware, software, and Computer Aided Software Engineering (CASE) tools.
  6. Top notch problem-solving skills and debugging skills.
  7. Efficiency in programming languages like C, C++, Java, Python, and HTML.

Software Engineering Specializations

Depending on their area of specialization, software engineers can be:

  1. Application software developers, who design software for users to interact with and develop applications for Android, iOS, and Windows. They also regularly upgrade their software products and release periodic updates.
  2. Systems software developers, who mostly deal with back-end processing systems, operating systems, and networks. They’re responsible for both hardware and software needs. They work mostly on the back end of software development.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that job growth in software engineering will increase by 21 percent over the coming decade. So if you’re thinking about whether to invest your time and resources on upskilling in the field of software engineering—this is highly likely to pay off in terms of job and financial security.

Bachelor’s or Master’s Degrees

The traditional way of becoming a software engineer is to enroll in a graduate program at university, with majors related to computer science and software engineering. A bachelor's degree normally lasts four years and covers the entire scope of softwadre development and engineering—front-end and back-end coding, software products, lifecycles, and relevant mathematics.

Some of the most reputable schools for computer science and engineering are MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Georgia Tech, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, University of Texas Cornell, Purdue University, Princeton, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins University. Software engineering is a relatively conventional and in-demand course throughout the world, so just about all universities running courses in science and technology will offer undergrad and graduate programs in computer science.

Associate Degrees

If a four-year undergrad degree isn’t your cup of tea, another option is a two-year associate degree. This course will also focus on the principles of software engineering, programming languages, and modern approaches to software development. The difference is that it’s a more industry-oriented program rather than strictly academic, so it can be great for opening doors to new opportunities and entry-level jobs in the field. You can even go on to pursue majors in areas like software engineering technology or systems engineering after this course.

Coding Bootcamps

If you’re not keen on committing to a college degree, a great way to to learn software engineering is to enroll in a coding bootcamp. Bootcamps can take anywhere between eight weeks to six months, depending on the type of program. Many of them offer remote learning options in addition to instructor-led classroom sessions. Quizzes, problem-solving sessions, and networking are some big pros of coding bootcamps. Many also offer financial assistance and career sessions, which involve resume and portfolio prep. Some of the popular bootcamps in the US and Europe are led by Ironhack, Nucamp, and General Assembly.

Our Software Engineering bootcamp is an online program offered in both an immersive full-time and flexible part-time format. As one of the more comprehensive bootcamps of its kind, the program provides online classes, mentorship, and career coaching, along with all of the skills, tools, and support you need to become a highly paid software engineer.

Online Certifications

There are great online certification courses that will help you to boost your skillset—both paid and free. Look for ones led by faculty members of reputable institutions like Harvard, University of Michigan or University of Pennsylvania. Below is list of some of the most popular courses focused on software engineering skillsets.

Google Cloud Platform Fundamentals – Coursera

This one-week certificate course introduces you to important concepts and terminology for working with Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

Software Product Management – Coursera

In this four-month Software Product Management Specialization, you’ll master Agile software management practices to lead a team of developers and interact with clients.

Software development fundamentals – Edx

This four-week certificate course backed by the University of Pennsylvania will teach you the fundamentals of object-oriented programming in Java, as well as best practices of modern software development.

Web application development with Javascript and MongoDb – Coursera

The University of London’s one-month certificate course will help you to develop more advanced web application programming skills.

Books and Study Materials

The value of independent reading and self-learning can’t be overstated. There are hundreds of eBooks available about different aspects of software engineering, as well as specific programming languages. Some noteworthy titles are:

  1. Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship, by Robert C. Martin. This book explains how to write good code and change bad code into good.
  2. Testing Computer Software, by Cem Kaner, Jack Fall, and Hung Q. Nguyen. This teaches how to test computer software under real-world conditions.  
  3. Programming Pearls by Jon Bentley includes practical programming tips and solid design principles.
  4. Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-oriented Software, by Erich Gamma is a classic reference for engineering tips.

Self-Learning Vs Education

Both formal education and self-learning routes have their pros and cons. A college degree requires a significant investment of time, effort, and money for the duration of the course. On the upside, you’ll have ample opportunity to network and you’ll certainly boost your chances of landing a software engineer role in a top notch company.

Self-learning, on the other hand, is much easier on the pocket and can be done at a pace that suits your current lifestyle. But you’ll have less opportunities to network or hash out any questions you have along the way, especially when you’re relying on books and video lectures.  

Whether you’re a self-learner or a college student, it’s always a good idea to participate in hackathons and online web development workshops to sharpen your software engineering skills. These live projects also make great additions to your resume and portfolio.

Career Scope for Software Engineers

There are no shortage of employment opportunities for software engineers. Their skills are in demand in banks, schools, colleges, financial institutions and many more industries. You could even start your own software consultancy firm. Teaching is another option for software engineers with a desire to work with students.

Software engineers from Washington earn the highest salary packages with an annual wage of $131,790, followed by New York and Texas. Silicon Valley and San Francisco, have the highest number of software engineers employed, with reportedly 148,550 engineers working in May 2018.

Software engineering will look different depending on the particular industry you enter, and a range of other factors. Below are some common job titles that software engineering graduates find themselves in post-study.

  1. Software Programmer
  2. Software Designer
  3. Software Developer
  4. Product Manager
  5. System Designer
  6. Software Executive
  7. Information Systems Manager

With the right education, mentoring and guidance, software engineering is an incredibly promising career path for those with a passion for tech. It’s a vast field that demands both logic and creativity, and reward its brightest players with generous salaries.

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