Software Engineers design, develop, maintain, test, and evaluate computer software and computer systems software.
Design and develop
A Software Engineer must apply principles of computer science, math and software development to create software, applications, operating systems, games, information systems, and computer systems.
Collaborate with clients
Software Engineers must develop the soft skills necessary to collaborate closely with a company or clients to design and develop software that meets their goals.
Possess wide expertise
Software Engineers understand how to code with a variety of programming languages (and other web development principles), design and architecture, data structures, algorithms, and information analysis.
It’s the job of a Software Engineer to test and debug at all points in the life cycle of a product.
Software Engineer vs. Software Developer
Software Engineers typically:
- Apply computer science and engineering principles to create software solutions
- Lead a software development team
- Work with other components of the hardware system
- Need to think big-picture at all points in the software development cycle
- Create their own tools
Software Developers typically:
- Use programming and coding to bring software solutions to life
- Could work alone or in a non-leadership role within a software development team
- Focus more narrowly on programming, coding and creating software
- Earn lower average salaries than Software Engineers
- Use readymade tools
What Does a Software Engineer Do?
Software Engineers use their understanding of computer science, engineering and mathematics to write, code, edit, test, program, and debug software.
To put it differently, Software Engineers oversee the “guts” behind programs, webpages, apps, games, and other software. Software Engineers collaborate closely with data professionals, web development teams and project managers to bring software projects to successful completion.
A good Software Engineer approaches projects meticulously, researching, analyzing, testing, designing and repeating the process until creating a winning piece of software or other product.
Although the exact responsibilities will vary from job to job, a Software Engineer is usually expected to perform any number of the following job responsibilities:
Software Engineers are responsible for making new software, products and apps from scratch.
Test and improve
It’s also the job of a Software Engineer to test, debug and modify existing software or newly created software.
Software Engineers must work with experts in coding, programming, development, design, data, and other areas to see projects through to completion.
It often falls to the Software Engineer to understand and manage client needs and expectations, and a Software Engineer also needs to know how to use design documentation and flowcharts to illustrate plans to other team members.
Software Engineers are often tasked with training other software development team members or to write training manuals to teach people how to use the computer systems they develop.
Types of Software Engineers
The job responsibilities for different types of software engineers can vary wildly. On a large software development team, you might find all of the following types of Software Engineers:
Specializes in the development of the user interface and is responsible for things like cross-browser compatibility, fixing presentational bugs, and coding responsive apps.
Focuses on the underlying performance and core logic of software, using Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to integrate with data systems, caches, and email systems.
Possesses the skills necessary to create fully functional software.
Writes software to validate the quality of software, creating tools, tests, and methods that guarantee software runs as it should.
Works as a “white-hat” ethical hacker to attempt to unearth vulnerabilities in computer systems, ultimately testing software security with the goal of finding and fixing flaws.
Specializes in creating and developing computer systems to build, integrate, and administer back-end software.
What Is the Demand for Software Engineers?
Demand for Software Engineers is high and it’s expected to stay that way. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that employment for Software Developers – a group that includes Software Engineers – will grow by 22 percent, much faster than the average four percent for all job titles.
There are a number of reasons that the Software Engineer role will continue to be hotly sought-after in years to come. For pretty much every company, the apps, websites, and other software products used by clients are crucial to overall business, and for the foreseeable future those companies will be in a cycle of building, refining, updating, and rebuilding those software offerings.
Further, the increasing complexity of technology means that a big company with many large projects might need many Software Engineers, sometimes working in collaboration to manage increasingly ambitious projects.
Software Engineering Salary Ranges
The average salary for a Software Engineer in the United States is just over $87,000 per year according to PayScale.
Here is the range of the average salary for software engineering professionals:
- Entry level: $76,680
- Intermediate level: $95,728
- Senior Software Engineer: $114,830
Who Do Software Engineers Work With?
Software Engineers are employed in a wide variety of industries and job capacities. You would find software engineering roles in large corporations, small startups, or full-service information technology agencies, while other software engineering pros would opt to work independently as freelancers. Some Software Engineers work in computer systems design and related services, other popular industries include finance, software publishing, and manufacturing.
Depending on the company, industry, and parameters of a specific job, a Software Engineer will typically work with many other information technology professionals. A Software Engineer could be expected to collaborate on projects with outside departments or internal team members focused on development, design, sales, marketing, and more.
Senior Software Engineers would also likely interact directly with senior company management or executives.
Software Engineering Programming Languages
Although software engineering is not to be confused with development, most software engineering pros still have a strong background in coding and programming.
These are the most common programming languages in software engineering:
A consistently popular programming language for 20-plus years and counting, Java is a top choice for server-side development of software applications.
One of the most popular programming languages in the world, many school programs in the U.S. have swapped Java for Python with an eye toward the future as many large organizations switch to Python-based frameworks.
C and C++
Software Engineers comfortable with C/C++ will stand apart. C is still a popular programming language for computer systems programming, while C/C++ are also the programming language of choice for many Game Developers.
Another must programming language for software engineering experts, Scala is another functional programming language that many find relatively easy to learn.
Software Engineering Career Path
Although software engineering career paths aren’t typically linear, most Software Engineers do begin in entry-level software engineering jobs where they might be required to develop software based on an agreed-upon plan with a client.
A more senior Software Engineer might manage a small team of their own while considering higher-level business concerns such as budgets and overall company goals. Software Engineers who lean into the leadership aspect of their job might even eventually achieve a title like Tech Lead or Team Manager, while software engineering pros who specialize on the technical side of things could eventually qualify for a Technical Architect role.
The top role for a Software Engineer might be Chief Technology Officer, someone who steers an organization’s entire technological outlook.
Common software engineering job titles
- Front-End Engineers
- Back-End Engineers
- Full-Stack Engineer
- Mobile App Developer
- Graphics Engineer
- Game Engineer
- Data Engineer
- DevOps Engineer
- SDET (Software Development Engineer in Test)
- Computer Systems Engineer
- Security Engineer
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