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Career Guide

How to Become a Software Engineer

BrainStation’s Software Engineer career guide is intended to help you take the first steps toward a career in software engineering. The guide provides an in-depth overview of the software engineering skills you should learn, the best training options, career paths in software development, how to become a Software Engineer, and more.

How to Become a Software Engineer
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To become a Software Engineer, it helps to start with some level of understanding of coding and a background in other technical skills. And although it is not essential to have a degree in software engineering, you will need some combination of technical skills, coding or programming prowess and other soft skills to pursue a career in software engineering.

How to become a Software Engineer in six steps:

  1. Learn software engineering fundamentals
  2. Pursue a software engineer specialization or certification
  3. Learn software engineering tools
  4. Post projects that show your skills
  5. Learn new digital skills

1. Learn Software Engineering Fundamentals

The best first step if you want to become a Software Engineer is to learn software engineering fundamentals, and for most people interested in this career, that begins with code.

Although Software Engineers will often leave the bulk of the programming work to Developers and other experts on their team, it’s still crucial that a Software Engineer be able to examine the code at any point in the development process to solve problems or spot errors.

Someone looking at becoming a Software Engineer might start with one programming language – perhaps HTML or Python to start – before moving on to others. Ultimately, the more programming languages a Software Engineer has under their belt, the better.

Studying software engineering fundamentals isn’t just about learning programming languages, but also about underlying principles of design and development.

For instance, Software Engineers should understand not just object-oriented programming languages like Python and JavaScript, but also possess a deeper understanding of what object-oriented programming is on a theoretical level. Other fundamental software engineering concepts include using data structures and algorithms, understanding the software life cycle, and learning how to use project management tools and methodologies to ensure software development projects stay on track.

Those interested in gaining this background and becoming a Software Engineer have lots of options. Some may choose to pursue a degree in software engineering – which can be attained as the bachelor’s degree or master’s degree levels – or to attend a shorter bootcamp course to fill in gaps in their educational background.

For those with some technical skills but little programming experience looking for a new career in software engineering, a coding bootcamp might be an especially appealing option. An immersive coding bootcamp could have an aspiring Software Engineer coding like a pro in virtually all modern programming languages in a relatively short period of time. Especially if you have an educational background that’s close to software engineering – for instance, a bachelor’s degree in computer science – a coding bootcamp might be all you need to pivot your career path.

2. Pursue a Software Engineer Specialization or Certification

Software engineering generally can be broken down into two main specializations: applications and systems development. As you look to a new career in software engineering, it’s worth considering whether you see yourself focusing on a smaller niche within those larger specializations.

Software Engineers can find jobs with a greater or lesser focus on things like full stack web development, DevOps (which combines software development and information technology operations), or systems maintenance.

Other aspiring or working Software Engineers explore the various certifications that can give a boost in the software engineering job search. Some popular certifications include the Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional from (ISC)², the Certified Software Development Professional from the IEEE Computer Society, and the Institute of Certification of Computing Professionals' Certified Software Engineer.

Certifications are also available from technology vendors including Microsoft, Oracle and Cisco.

Then there is once again the bootcamp route for would-be Software Engineers who want to stand out. Although the idea of a bootcamp specifically focused on software engineering is a relatively new one, a coding bootcamp would provide a relevant skill boost for almost anyone interested in this career.

3. Learn Software Engineering Tools

Software Engineers have a hard job, but fortunately there are many free, open source tools available to make the job a little easier.

There are a host of important tools you should get familiar with to complete day-to-day software engineering tasks such as version control, code review, software development, and bug tracking.

Tools like ProofHub, GitHub, Adobe Dreamweaver CC, and Codenvy – among many more – are invaluable for working Software Engineers, so learning how they can save time on projects will be key regardless of where you are in your career.

4. Post Projects That Show Your Skills

Although it’s once again worth noting that software engineering is about a lot more than programming, it’s still an essential step for an aspiring Software Engineer to post projects they’re proud of to platforms like GitHub to show potential employers what you can do.

Although you don’t necessarily need a library of your open source projects to land a job, it will prove your programming skills to a degree, and it’s important to be able to show your work regardless of what industry you’re working in.

A strong GitHub repository is also said to be helpful in getting past the initial recruiting phase or giving one job candidate an edge over another with a similar educational background or experience level.

And the practice that goes into creating and polishing these projects will only hone your technical and problem solving skills.

5. Learn New Digital Skills

Regardless of where you are along the software engineering career path, a good Software Engineer is committed to lifelong learning.

There will always be new tools, tech, and programming languages to learn, as well as new approaches to project management, software development, and more. Technology constantly evolves, which is part of what makes it so exciting. While some principles and approaches of computer science have remained for decades, software development is constantly changing.

Knowledge in domains like data science, UX design, product management, digital marketing, and SEO, can strengthen a Developer's overall understanding of technology, helping them relate and work with colleagues and clients across departments and industries. So there's no end to the training and skills that a Software Developer or Engineer could find relevant to their job.

As you move along in your career, make it a habit to attend conferences, complete online tutorials, and take courses and bootcamps. This sort of curiosity and commitment to the craft will set apart the best Software Engineers.

Are Software Engineers in demand?

Software Engineers have been in high demand for quite some time, and all signs point to the demand for Software Engineers growing even higher in the future.

The U.S. government officially forecasts the Software Developer job role (which includes Software Engineers) to grow by 21 percent by 2029, much faster than the average rate predicted for all jobs (five percent).

By 2029, the government predicts a need for an additional 316,000 Software Developers. And the demand for job roles close to Software is exploding as well; Security Engineers and Blockchain Engineers are just two jobs that have seen massive increases in demand in recent years.

How Much Can Software Engineers Make?

Software Engineers make on average $107,422 plus around $4,000 in cash bonuses according to Indeed. That salary can soar depending on where a Software Engineer works – in the Bay Area, the average Software Engineer makes around $145,000.

Can You Become a Software Engineer With no Experience?

Yes, you can become a Software Engineer with no experience, as long as you find a way to acquire the right kind of technical ability, educational background, and soft skills like problem-solving to succeed as a Software Engineer.

A Stack Overflow poll of professional developers worldwide found that 75 percent had at least a bachelor’s degree or higher, but that doesn’t mean that all of those development pros got their degree in a field relevant to software engineering.

Without a degree in software engineering or a computer science, the most direct path to a career in software engineering would be a coding bootcamp. Significantly cheaper and faster to acquire than a formal engineering degree, a bootcamp provides a comprehensive understanding of the programming languages and development fundamentals needed to land an entry-level software engineering job.

A bootcamp also gives a job seeker the tools necessary to begin creating a portfolio of projects, which could open the door to freelance work or an entry-level job in software engineering.

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