software engineer (2022 Guide)

What is a Software Engineer?

BrainStation’s Software Engineer career guide is intended to help you take the first steps toward a career in software engineering. Read on for an overview of Software Engineer job responsibilities and other roles in software engineering.

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A Software Engineer applies engineering principles as well as extensive knowledge of programming languages, software development, and computer systems operation to develop, build and maintain systems and software.

Although it can vary based on the specifications of a job role, Software Engineers work on both applications software – user-focused programs that include games, database programs, and mobile apps – or computer systems software, which include operating systems and computing utilities.

Software Engineer tends to be a more senior job within information technology, and as a result the amount of hands-on technical or development work handled by a Software Engineer will vary. In some cases, a Software Engineer might work with a client or company to understand what sort of programs might meet their needs before overseeing the actual software development process from a more high-level perspective, rather than spending their time writing code and programming personally.

Software Engineers are in increasingly high demand due to the growing popularity of mobile tech, deep-pocketed start-ups looking to outpace the competition, and the growing complexity of technology forcing most every big company to continually reassess the quality of their web products, software, and apps.

Further, the rise of big data has empowered companies to both gain a better understanding of their audiences as well as the performance of their web offerings. That has further inspired many companies to employ Software Engineers to create or revise software to capitalize on those insights found in the data.

What Makes a Good Software Engineer?

A good Software Engineer balances both technical skills and soft skills, knowing not only how to code in all relevant programming languages like a Web Developer, but also how to meet company or client needs, lead a software development team, and consider all the other factors that go into building, delivering, and maintaining profitable software.

Here are a few characteristics of a good Software Engineer:

Full-stack competence

Although it should be stressed that most software engineering job postings will assume that applicants have coding skills and a fluency with multiple programming languages and instead focus more on soft skills, there is still some degree of emphasis placed on technical skills.

To set yourself apart from the pack in terms of technical skills in the fiercely competitive field of software engineering, knowledge of the full stack is a must. That doesn’t mean you need to have mastered every programming language – it means you must have an end-to-end understanding of the layers of a piece of software. A top-level Software Engineer would have the skills necessary to spot and correct issues in any phase of the software development process when needed.

Curious and committed to learning

Compared to other professions, Software Engineers display a passion for lifelong learning – which makes sense when you consider the rapid rate of change in the software development and web development fields, as well as the competitive nature of the job.

A LinkedIn study found that 48 percent of Software Engineers reported recently learning a new skill, compared to 36 percent of all professionals. Continuing education is a popular choice for software engineering professionals too. There are dozens of upskilling programs and coding bootcamps (or other types of bootcamps offering potentially relevant training in data, marketing and design) that could be helpful to a Software Engineer, while others in the industry might opt to pursue traditional computer science degree programs.

Any good Software Engineer will also make on-the-job learning a daily routine by exploring resources like StackOverflow and GitHub.

Mastery of soft skills

Outsiders to the world of software development would tend to overemphasize the technical nature of the job while giving insufficient consideration to all the crucial soft skills that the best Software Engineers possess.

Beginning with their collaboration with a client or company leadership, Software Engineers have to communicate at a high level, understand the needs of clients and users, lead and inspire a software development team, and collaborate effectively with a wide variety of job roles, including Web Developers, Project Managers, and senior company leadership. In fact, the Robert Half guide to the role noted that Software Engineers are increasingly spending the majority of their time in collaboration with other stakeholders.

Sees the big picture

A good Software Engineer understands that even if a software product functions flawlessly, looks great and passes the quality assurance process with flying colors, it’s still bad software if it doesn’t meet the needs of the people using it or paying for it.

Good Software Engineers must think beyond the code to understand how their decisions will affect the team, the company, and everyone else connected in any way to the development process. It’s useful then for anyone who is looking to become a Software Engineer to build their business acumen and learn how to use usage analytics and other data to make better decisions.

What Is a Principal Software Engineer?

A Principal Software Engineer oversees the technical aspects of development projects, offering technical guidance to development teams and diagnosing and resolving systems issues.

A Principal Software Engineer’s job responsibilities might include finding ways to improve existing software, reviewing the design and maintenance of software so that it meets the quality assurance standards of a company, and recommending changes to resolve software or systems problems.

According to PayScale, the average Principal Software Engineer salary is roughly $140,000.

What Is a Senior Software Engineer?

A Senior Software Engineer is a software engineering professional with at least a few years of experience who will usually be tasked with leading a software development team and working at a high level to deliver successful software products.

Senior Software Engineers are responsible for determining and meeting the needs of a company or client, troubleshooting issues that arise during the development process, and collaborating and strategizing with any other team from fields like sales, design, and web development to ensure smooth delivery of software. They also tend to take greater responsibility for the success or failure of the web products they create.

The average Senior Software Engineer salary in the United States is $130,000 plus bonuses according to Indeed, although anyone working in major markets or for top companies can expect a considerably higher salary.

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