How to Become a Software Engineer

How to Become a Software Engineer: Career Path Guide

If you want to become a software engineer, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for a career as a software engineer:


Those who become software engineers are typically individuals who are interested in a rewarding and challenging career in the field of software design and development.


They are typically individuals with a natural interest in programming languages and they enjoy applying engineering and mathematical concepts to problems in order to find an appropriate solution. They also typically have an educational background in computer science, software engineering or a closely related field.


Those who become software engineers must be able to work standard weekday working hours, and aren’t in great opposition to working in an office environment. They tend to work well with others and possess excellent communication skills, as well as the ability to translate customer requirements into concrete technical designs.


Those who become software engineers are individuals who have the ability to visualize complex processes and solve complex problems. Software engineers are also able to apply a great deal of concentration over a long period of time in order to complete a complicated task properly the first time.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a software engineer. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Software Engineer

In order to become a software engineer, you typically need a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Software Engineering, Information Systems, or a related field. Some employers may prefer candidates that hold a master’s degree in one of these fields, while others may accept years of relevant work experience and demonstrable technical expertise in place of a degree.  


If you want to become a software engineer that works in research and development, you typically need a Ph.D. in one of the above-mentioned fields. 





What is a Software Engineer?

Software engineers are engineers who specialize in designing, building, testing, and maintaining the software in various computer systems, such as software applications, technical environments, operating systems, embedded software, information warehouses and telecommunications software.



Software Engineer Job Description

Although the job description of a software engineer varies from job to job, typically software engineers are assigned to a specific software solution (creating new or improving existing software) and are responsible for writing code to meet user interface specifications.


They are most often also responsible for defining user needs, providing input to functional design, testing and troubleshooting of both the software and hardware components. They may also be responsible for the development of the tools, methods and theories that support the production of software.



Software Engineer Job Duties

• Work with software architects and developers to create new software products or improve features of existing products

• Research, design, evaluate, integrate and maintain software systems

• Effectively apply the principles and techniques of computer science, engineering, and mathematical analysis

• Deliver components using best coding practices and modular design

• Ensure the usability, reliability and safety of software products

• Ensure the software system and its documentation are consistent

• Ensure the hardware configuration is appropriate for the task

• Test programs to ensure they function as required

• Ensure system meets real-time deadlines and other performance requirements

• Troubleshoot hardware and software components to improve performance



Who Creates Jobs for Software Engineers?

Software engineers are hired on a part-time, full-time, permanent and contract basis by a variety of small, medium and large employers. Types of organizations that hire software engineers include:


• Companies that devise embedded software for inclusion in other products

• Companies that develop industrial instrumentation and process control products

• Consulting companies that provide software related services

• Manufacturing companies

• Oil, gas and other energy companies

• Colleges and universities

• Government agencies

• Public and private research institutions

• Software manufacturers

• Software marketing and distribution companies

• Internet based businesses


Career Advancement for Software Engineers

Software engineers that accumulate sufficient experience or technical expertise may move into a variety of different roles, including supervisory and management positions, or specialized software engineering positions that require a specific skill set and expertise in a very specific area. They may also become consultants or open their own business. 





Work Environment for Software Engineers

Working Hours: Most software engineers work a standard 35-40 hour workweek. They may have to work overtime, including evenings and weekends, in order to complete projects and meet deadlines.


Work Setting: Most software engineers spend the majority of their day in an office environment stationed at a computer terminal or attending meetings. They may be required to travel in order to attend and give briefings and obtain user requirements. 



Skills and Traits Needed to Become a Software Engineer

In order to become effective in a career as a software engineer, you need to posses a certain set of skills and personality traits. These skills and traits will help you perform your job duties with competence, as well as help you overcome the challenges of this career.


During your job hunt, you may notice that Software Engineer job postings list some of the following skills and traits as those they wish to see in candidates. The ideal candidates for software engineering jobs will typically posses most of these general skills and attributes. Each individual job will also list skills and traits that are specific to that job.  


Personal Characteristics


• Enjoy being innovative

• Passionate about computing, design and development

• Enjoy performing tasks that require precision and attention to detail

• Have initiative, and be proactive about identifying problems and potential solutions


Soft Skills


• Ability to translate customer requirements into concrete technical design

• Strong written and verbal communication skills

• Able to thrive in a team environment

• Excellent analytical abilities and problem solving skills


Hard Skills


• Ability to understand and troubleshoot electrical schematics

• Familiarity with database management, development environment, program testing and related software

• Knowledge of programming languages, such as Javascript and HTML

• Experience with Linux/Unix

• Experience with SQL and database design



Software Engineer Jobs

Our job board below has "Software Engineer" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. 

Software Engineer Salary

The salary level of software engineers can vary depending on their level of education, their level of experience, the type and size of their employer, the specific responsibilities of their job, and many others.


Software Engineer Salary Alberta: According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Software Engineers occupational group earn an average of between $31.77 and $66.71 per hour.


Software Engineer Salary Canada: According to Service Canada, the average salary level of workers in the Software Engineers and Designers occupational group is $72,202 per year.


Software Engineer Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of workers in the Software Developers occupational group is $93,350 per year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also states that the lowest 10% of salaries in this group are below $55,190, and the top 10% are above $138,880 per year. 



Careers Similar to Software Engineer

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Software Engineer, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Computer Programmer

Hardware Engineer

Software Designer

Software Sales Manager




References: How to Become a Software Engineer

Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a Software Engineer.


Occupations in Alberta:Software Engineer.” (March 27, 2014). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 14, 2020.

Computers & Information Technology:Software Developers.” (September 4, 2019). Bureau of Labor Statistics - United States Government website. Retrieved January 14, 2020.

Explore Careers:Software Developer.” (n.d.). National Careers Service website. Retrieved January 14, 2020.



Scholarships for Becoming a Software Engineer

Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming a Software Engineer can be found on our Computer Science Scholarships and Software Engineering Scholarships pages.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Software Engineer: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a Software Engineer. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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