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How to Become a Software Engineer

Liz Heintz

Written By: Liz Heintz

Published: 6/16/2022

Becoming a software engineer is one of several career paths for graduates with a software engineering degree. Whether you earn a bachelor's degree or master's degree in software engineering, we've provided the information you may need and the steps to become a software engineer if this is your chosen career path after graduation. We'll also hear from a professional software engineer and share his advice for starting your career.

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What Do Software Engineers Do?

Software engineers design and create the computer software many of us use on our laptops for work, play, and school. Some software engineers specialize and work on games and other mobile applications used on smartphones or other handheld devices such as pads, e-readers, and tablets.

Software engineers design and create the computer software many of us use on our laptops for work, play, and school.

A software engineer is responsible for building software architecture and writing much of the supporting code. They often test software in various stages of development to "bug hunt" and look for errors, so the final product is as clean and efficient as possible. In addition, these engineers will follow the entire lifecycle of a software product, making sure it still runs as designed and fixing any bugs long after it's been distributed to consumers.

Software engineers shouldn't be confused with software developers, though one career may transition to the other. A software developer works with a client to determine their unique requirements when they need software created. A developer may have a broad understanding of engineering fundamentals to help a client determine the feasibility of what's needed. However, they will turn the project over to a software team they oversee that creates the product to specification. A software engineer is a member of that team and is responsible for building the infrastructure and writing much of the code that supports the client's software needs.

What Are the Steps to Becoming a Software Engineer?

Many future software engineers earn their degrees directly in software engineering or a related STEM field. However, it is possible to become a software engineer without a degree. Many professionals enroll in software engineering training programs at technical schools or online bootcamps to gain skills and earn certificates. Others may learn software engineering from scratch through their own research and study and work on volunteer projects or their own endeavors.

However, if you are entirely new to the field and don't have any formal training or previous college experience, the best way to become a software engineer may still be to earn a bachelor's degree, which many employers require at a minimum.

In general, there are five steps to becoming a software engineer:


Plan your career path to determine the level of training you will need. You may want to schedule informational interviews with prospective employers or others in the field to decide what level of education and experience to achieve. These connections will help you build your professional network.


Identify how and where you'll receive your training and complete your program.


Start gaining experience through internships at school or other means to apply your skills and build your work portfolio.


Consider earning certifications to increase your marketability. These certifications may include AWS Certified Developer (Associate), Java Certification, or Professional Scrum Developer. You may also find certifications available in other programming languages or technologies.


Organize your portfolio and resume to show off your accomplishments to prospective employers as you begin applying for jobs.

What Qualifications Do You Need to Be a Software Engineer?

Qualifications will depend on the employer, but you generally need some formal training — most likely a degree — in computer science or a related STEM field and relevant work experience. In addition, employers like to see applicants who have incorporated continuous learning into their careers to keep up to date with the latest technologies to meet industry standards.

Employers typically want their applicants to have previous experience in software development, software architecture, and software engineering. Data analytics company Emsi Burning Glass reveals some of the more specific technical and soft skills often requested in software engineer job postings.

Technical Skills

  • Java
  • SQL
  • Python
  • JavaScript
  • DevOps

Soft Skills

  • Communication skills
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Problem solving
  • Troubleshooting
  • Writing

How Long Does It Take To Become a Software Engineer?

It can take several months to several years to become a software engineer depending on the educational path you take. A bootcamp or certificate program may last three to 12 months. An associate degree will take a full-time student about two years to complete, and a bachelor's may take up to four years. Earning a master's degree in software engineering or another computer science discipline may take full-time students an additional two years to complete.

Software Engineering Careers

There are several factors to consider when embarking on a software engineering career. First, you'll want to reflect on your level of education and professional and financial goals to determine which job suits you best. Next, you'll need to think about where you want to work, the minimum hiring requirements, and how you can present yourself to get noticed.

How Do You Start as a Software Engineer?

You may be able to start your career while you are still in school. Many programs require students to complete an internship that builds practical experience and may lead to a job after graduation. Your school's career center, a program advisor, or an instructor may also be able to help you navigate your job search in a way that's productive. Career networking sites such as LinkedIn can also help you explore job openings and connect with others in your field for informational interviews and career insight. If you are in a bootcamp or other online training program, you may be able to participate in a group project to build skills and network for job opportunities.

Kris Silvey has worked as a software engineer for over nine years and is currently a senior software developer at Craft Designs, Inc. He offers this advice when looking for your first job. "Remember that your first job is likely not your last job. If you're having a hard time getting your dream job, then just try to get a job somewhat related to your field. Any amount of experience will put you ahead of the curve when it comes to future applications."

Any amount of experience will put you ahead of the curve when it comes to future applications."

As you start a career, it's also imperative to never lose sight of the reputation you are building and how critical it can be to land a job. "Try to never burn professional bridges," Silvey advises, "Your professional community is more connected than you might imagine and news of misdeeds and work ethic (good or bad) will be shared."


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), software engineers earn a $105,310 annual median salary, with the lowest 10% earning less than $65,210 and the highest earning over $170,100. Location, experience, and the company's size may determine salary. Software engineering is often the first step to becoming a software developer; these professionals earn a $110,140 annual median salary. Jobs in the software publishing industry pay a $124,050 median yearly wage which is the highest of all sectors employing software professionals.

Job Outlook

The job outlook is strong for software engineers and is expected to grow 19% through 2030. As technology evolves, the demand for software engineering expertise is expected to increase. As a result, the BLS anticipates even higher job growth for software developers, analysts, and testers at 22%.

To learn more about software engineering salaries and the highest paying positions, explore our Software Engineer Salary Overview.

Is a Software Engineering Career Worth It?

Yes, a software engineering career is worth it if you are interested in a STEM career in a computer science field. There is steady job growth and salaries higher than the national average. However, it ultimately depends on your personal interests, career goals, education level, and financial situation. Only you can make the final decision about a software engineering career's worth to you once you've considered some of its pros and cons.

Pros include:

Software engineering can provide flexibility. You may be able to work remotely and choose hours that fit your schedule. You may also be able to work from any city, anywhere in the country, or even the world.

You may be able to become self-employed someday. You may decide to go into business for yourself as a consultant or work on special projects. Even if you remain under someone else's employ, you may be able to freelance on the side to earn extra money and gain diverse experience.

Software engineering is a well-respected profession. Because of the level of skill required, software engineers are respected as an integral part of a software development team.

Cons include:

You may work long hours, and the work can be demanding. You may find yourself running up against deadlines or having to re-do work if specifications change or if a product fails.

You'll be sitting all day and staring at a computer screen which can create physical strain. Being sedentary is bad for your heart and overall health. Staring at a backlit screen all day can cause eye strain, weaken eyesight, and potentially cause headaches and migraines.

Software engineering can be very competitive. There are many people interested in software engineering, so you'll have to keep your skills up-to-date and relevant to stand out from the crowd and make sure you offer what employers currently want.

FAQS About Becoming a Software Engineer

Does a Software Engineer Code?

Yes, many software engineers code. Once they build the software architecture, they may write the code to support it, so the software performs as intended. They build the software to support specific code and vice versa. However, software programmers may be responsible for writing code in larger organizations or on larger projects.

What Is the Difference Between a Software Engineer and a Software Programmer?

A software engineer works more on the "big picture" of a software project. They have to look at the project from all angles to anticipate any potential issues. Software programmers focus more on coding by taking the engineer's "blueprints" and writing code supporting that infrastructure through their fluency in several programming languages.

Can You Become a Software Engineer Without a Degree?

You don't necessarily need a degree, though some employers may require one. What's most important is that you have the relevant technical skills and soft skills to perform the job and have proven competency in applying those skills. You may take classes or bootcamps to gain these skills and work on group or volunteer projects to practice using them.

Is Software Engineering Stressful?

Software engineering can be stressful. According to CareerExplorer, stress can be moderate due to the demanding nature of the job. The scope of a project can change without much warning, the software may have bugs that necessitate re-doing work, and just the act of sitting and staring at a computer screen for most of the day can be physically stressful.

Resources for Software Engineers

Software engineers have several resources to help them do their job accurately and efficiently. They may rely on blogs and vlogs created by other software engineers to gain additional knowledge and expertise. You can search YouTube for free tutorials about specific tasks and challenges that may arise. Podcasts are also a popular medium for staying up to date with the latest technical developments in this everchanging field.

Numerous websites can help you strengthen your engineering skills and troubleshoot. In addition, many host communities of experts to approach when you encounter difficulties with a project. Kris Silvey recommends several go-to web-based resources he relies on for help:

Stack Overflow Stack Overflow is a community of computer science professionals who share technical knowledge and expertise. You can pose questions and find answers to challenging technical issues.
GitHub GitHub is an open-source version control system where engineers and developers can store their code. It's also a great place to find example programs to help when building software.
Cplusplus Cplusplus offers standard functionality explanations of C++ language, tutorials, articles, and a community forum to pose questions and share knowledge.
Stack Exchange Stack Exchange hosts 179 expert communities where users can share information. Experts vote on posts so the most relevant ones can be easily found to answer your questions.
man7 Michael Kerrisk of man7 offers tutorials, a blog, and articles about UNIX utilities.
w3schools w3schools is a hub of language, coding, data analytics, and programming tutorials. It also offers references, tutorials, quizzes, courses, and certificates.
Microsoft Microsoft's technical documentation site offers technology professionals training, articles, and code samples. There is also a Q&A board where users can post questions.

The Bottom Line

While software engineering can be exciting, it may not be for everyone. If you are interested in similar fields, you may want to consider exploring computer programming, data science, information technology, or even graphic design if you want to put your creative skills to use.

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