software engineer (2024 Guide)

What Skills Do You Need to Be 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 the top soft and technical skills needed to become a Software Engineer.

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Software Engineers need a rare combination of technical skills and soft skills to thrive, as Software Engineer skills include both the computer programming expertise needed to design, develop, test and debug software and the soft skills to navigate communication with company leadership, team members and other stakeholders.

Software Engineering Technical Skills

If you want to become a Software Engineer, you’ll need to master the following technical software engineering skills:

Coding and computer programming

Even if it’s rare for Software Engineers to spend their days writing code, it’s a must for a variety of reasons for a good Software Engineer to be familiar with all of the same programming languages that a Web Developer would know, including Python, Java, C/C++ and Ruby, as well as other programming fundamentals such as data structures and algorithms.

Even someone with a computer science degree but without significant programming experience would be encouraged to attend a coding bootcamp if they were looking to become a Software Engineer.

Software testing

Even in the age of automation, understanding the ins and outs of software testing and debugging is one of the core technical skills required if you want to become a Software Engineer.

Though new AI programs can perform some of these tasks, testing is still a costly and time-consuming part of any software development project so becoming adept at performing these tasks is valuable to a Software Engineer. The testing process also relies on one of a Software Engineer’s soft skills: problem solving.

Object-oriented design (OOD)

An approach to software design that has continually gained in popularity over the last few decades, OOD is defined by key principles including abstraction, encapsulation, inheritance, decomposition, and generalization. In simpler terms, it’s worth it for a Software Engineer to understand how to apply object-oriented design guidelines to create flexible, modular and reusable software.

Software development

It might seem odd at first to include this among Software Engineer skills, but Software Engineers are expected to be able to steer a software development team, and that’s difficult to do effectively without significant experience developing software. Software Engineers should hone their technical skills by working with real computer systems and developing real projects and programs.

Software Engineering Programming Languages

Although software engineering is not to be confused with development, most a successful Software Engineer will usually 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.


Long a mainstay as a client-side scripting language, frameworks and libraries like NodeJS, Angular, and React have made JavaScript very useful on the server side as well.

Soft Skills for Software Engineers

Communication skills

It’s extremely rare that Software Engineers work in isolation. In fact, what separates Software Engineers from similar roles like Software Developers tends to be the amount of high-level collaboration, leadership, and team building required of a Software Engineer – and communication skills are key to all of that. Software Engineers should be able to clearly communicate – in writing and orally – with virtually any type of team or company stakeholder, regardless of that person’s technical background.

Team player

Software Engineers typically work as part of a team – or leading one – and creating or maintaining great software programs requires the input and expertise of a great number of people. Success or failure will be shared by that team. Successful Software Engineers must understand how to compromise, how to motivate others to deliver the best work they’re capable of, and how to take and learn from criticism.

Problem solving

Successfully steering software development projects to completion requires quickly identifying and solving a lot of issues along the way. Software Engineers must be curious and creative problem-solvers, able to sift through code to pinpoint a programming error while also anticipating other issues before they arise and adapting quickly to solve them.

Attention to detail

Software Engineers are expected to be precise and meticulous, with a high level of attention to detail applied to everything from coding to testing to documenting projects. Some software engineering industry best practices – like using version control systems to keep track of old work – fall into this category of soft skills.

Software Engineer Job Description

Although there is a high degree of variety in software engineering jobs, a typical Software Engineer job description usually includes the following job responsibilities:

  • Managing the software development life cycle
  • Boosting and maintaining computer system quality by flagging issues and developing standard operating procedures
  • Working with clients, companies and cross-functional departments to communicate on projects
  • Developing information systems with design and development of software solutions
  • Analyzing applications and making recommendations for improvement
  • Developing software solutions by studying user needs, data usage, and systems flow
  • Communicating with colleagues on technical designs and development
  • Documenting with flowcharts, layouts, diagrams, and code comments
  • Improving operations by running systems analysis
  • Testing and debugging software

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