a Software Engineer

Software is vital to our daily lives. For us, software is the difference between entering ones and zeros into our computers and phones and playing Minecraft, browsing Facebook, or doing important work. Software engineers play an important role in developing the software that we use everyday, along with the complex software used by businesses and data scientists. Without software engineers, everything would work less smoothly, and many of the useful services we take for granted wouldn’t exist without them.

So what are some of the upsides of a career in software engineering? Check out these statistics:

  • In the US, the field is projected to grow by 17% over the next 10 years, with thousands of new jobs becoming available.
  • Software engineers in the US earned a median salary of $108,760 in 2019.
  • The number of software engineers have nearly doubled since 2013.
a software engineer working on a program on two laptops

What Is Software Engineering?

Software engineers develop programs for computers using code and other tools. These professionals also apply engineering principles to program development, creating software for computers across a wide range of industries. Computers themselves are practically useless without the work of a software engineer—and while software engineers do not design computers themselves, they do create the systems that make them useful. Software engineers design, build, maintain, update, and repair software programs. Additionally, software engineers build applications and work with networks and systems. The need for software engineers spans across virtually all modern industries. Computers are ubiquitous in the 21st century, and the need for qualified engineers to work with them often outstrips the supply of trained candidates. Software engineering is in high demand today. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), software engineer employment is expected to grow to an astounding 24% by 2026. This figure isn’t just above average—its far higher than the vast majority of other career paths. Salaries are also high, with many engineers making six-figure salaries depending on their location.

What Do Software Engineers Do?

Software engineers are often confused for other job titles, and often their responsibilities overlap with other adjacent positions in the field of software development. Software engineers are defined by their application of engineering principles to the software world. Software–in the end–functions like a machine with many moving parts, and that software has to run on a physical machine: the computer, which also has many moving parts. A software engineer needs to understand the interactions of all these moving parts to design an entire system that functions efficiently.

Software Engineering Job Description

Software engineers spend a lot of time coding. Coding is the use of a specialized computer language to write instructions and direct the machine to do something. Coding is necessary for everything with computers, so many software engineers spend a great deal of time doing it. And they don’t just build programs. Debugging, or fixing errors in a section of code, is a huge part of many software engineering jobs. Additionally, software engineers work with networks and systems. Software engineers use their coding skills to build software programs and applications. These programs range from video games to automobile ignition control software. Due to the wide range of industries software engineers work in, people have nearly limitless differences in their day-to-day work routine. However, most software engineers work full-time in offices, though remote positions are available. On the ground, these tech professionals have a number of responsibilities. Here are some that are common to most software engineers:

  • Determining whether a software idea is worthwhile with problem definition, evaluating analysis, and solution development.
  • Creating and showing software solutions with flowcharts, documentation, diagrams, layouts, code comments, charts, etc.
  • Designing system standards.
  • Completing systems analysis work to find and change inefficient procedures and policies.
  • Testing and approving of final products.
  • Keeping up to date on cutting edge development tools, computing equipment, and programming techniques.

It’s notable that software engineers need an extensive understanding of programming languages and their structure, however they don’t always program themselves. Software engineers sometimes have to wear more than one hat, and they will almost always need to dig into the code to solve a problem or to understand the implementation of their system.

What Are the Required Skills for Software Engineering Careers?

A software engineer needs more than just programming knowledge to perform their jobs. They often fill more than one need, and every software engineer needs at least some basis in the following skills:

Deep language-agnostic programming knowledge

Even if you end up as a software engineer that doesn’t have to code, you will still need to understand code to its roots to understand how your system will be constructed. Just like a traditional structural engineer knows the shear strength of steel beams, a software engineer knows the typical maximum length of an array in a programming language.

Analyzing information, software debugging, and software testing

Software engineers need to use their deep knowledge of programming and system architecture to not only build systems, but to figure out why they aren’t working or how they could work better.

Mastery of a programming language

While software engineers need basic knowledge of how all programming languages work, they should also pick a language to become proficient in. Almost every language will have an application for a software engineer, so selecting one comes down to preference and preferred field.

Software documentation

After building and testing the system, software engineers also need to produce good documentation. This documentation will allow other team members understand the system that the engineer has designed.

Software design and development

Software engineers take that programming knowledge and stack it on top of an understanding of how their systems work, and then design new systems. They need to know how to implement all of the resources at their disposal to plan out a system or application that functions as intended and functions efficiently while meeting the requirements laid out for it.


Engineers are a part of a larger process, and they don’t function in a vacuum. They have to work with and communicate effectively with programmers, other system designers and engineers, beta users, and other company staff to provide and receive feedback on their system.

two male software engineers working on a program on desktop

How Much Do Software
Engineers Make?

Software engineers enjoy relatively high salaries in some areas, and exceptionally high salaries in others. These engineers often bring in more than $100,000 per year, especially if they work in a high-tech sector or in a major metropolitan area. In the United States, software engineers make an average annual salary of $107,287. However, factors such as location and experience play a very large part in determining salary. In the chart below, we’ll show the average low, average, and high software engineering salaries in 15 major metropolitan areas using data from Glassdoor.

City Average Salary
San Francisco, CA $134,025
Los Angeles, CA $106,616
Portland, OR $100,416
New York, NY $113,245
Philadelphia, PA $93,483
Seattle, WA $123,452
Minneapolis, MN $90,511
Atlanta, GA $91,737
Phoenix, AZ $93,360
Boston, MA $104,414
Miami, FL $91,300
Chicago, IL $95,524
Milwaukee, WI $82,537
Cleveland, OH $78,420
Dallas, TX $93,020

But your salary as a software engineer will also depend greatly on the particular field you’re working in, as well as your experience level.

Position Salary
Entry-Level (0-5 Years) $75,000
Mid-Career (5-10 Years) $125,000
Experienced (10-20 Years) $150,000
Late-Career (20+ Years) $200,000

The Types of Software

Application development

The type of products developed in application development are client focused, they are user end products that people like you and I might interact with. These could be for any platform, from desktop computers to smartphones to ATM machines. The engineers in this group have to factor in the human element to their designs. They often have to work with beta testing with real people, and need good communication skills to improve their application based on the user’s experience.

Systems development

System engineers work on the hidden backend systems that make front end applications possible. All of the networking, database functions, and other internal functions are taken care of by this software. When a user uses an ATM the information they input has to be sent to the bank involved and function with the banks database to say, actually add or remove money from the user’s account, then communicate back to the ATM to interact with the user again. Systems engineers rarely have to interact with users, but their software has to function with the front end developer’s applications. They also usually have to wear more hats than the application development side, sometimes even acting as a hardware engineer and putting together physical computer systems as well.

How Can You Become a Software

If you think that the exciting career above is for you, designing systems from an engineers perspective, then the first step to becoming a software engineer is learning. Understanding the structure of the programs, systems, and languages you will use is essential, as well as learning how to apply those concepts in the real world. There are two main ways to start learning and get into this career path:

Education Pathways for Software Engineers

Coding Bootcamp

Coding bootcamps are a new arrival to the world of higher education. These career training programs are designed to cover the curriculum students need for a software engineering career, without the additional classes or added expenses levied by the university.

Bootcamps are a proven way into tech, with some programs, such as Flatiron School, reporting job placement rates of 90% or higher. Bootcamps generally run between three months and a year, and are available full-time, part-time, and online. Other great bootcamps include Code Chrysalis, App Academy, and Thinkful.


College is the traditional route into a software engineering career. Students often receive a bachelor’s degree in computer science or software engineering (where available). These students sometimes go onto graduate school and attain higher degrees, though it’s not necessary to enter the industry. College, while once the primary route into a software engineering career, isn’t the only way to get in. These days, other programs such as coding bootcamps now offer a fairly direct path into the same jobs once held exclusively by college graduates.


Some software engineers are self-taught, learning how to code online and from books. For some people, this method works—but often requires a hefty portfolio to prove that the candidate can do what they claim to. Thankfully, freelance positions and personal projects are a good way to demonstrate abilities. It will be easier to learn coding on your own if you choose one of the easiest programming languages.

What Companies Are Hiring Software Engineers?

Software engineering is a popular career choice for people who want to work in the tech industry. Major tech companies employ thousands of engineers for a variety of projects. In this table, you can see the ubiquity of engineering careers in four of the industry’s top companies. Also, the table displays the average salaries for software engineers at each company in 2020, according to Glassdoor.


What does a software engineer do?

A software engineer develops computer software through coding and various other tools. A software engineer may oversee the development of a product, design it, or determine whether it is a good idea.

Is software engineering a good career?

Yes, software engineering is a lucrative career that is in high demand. The career comes with a high salary, bonuses, and long-term prospects. It is one of the highest-paying programming jobs.

What skills are needed to become a software engineer?

Software engineers need coding skills, analytical skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to work with a team on large projects. These skills can be learned through coding bootcamps or computer science programs at college.

How long does it take to become a software engineer?

On average, software engineering programs at coding bootcamps take around 6 months. By comparison, software engineering degree programs can take 3 to 4 years to complete.

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