Master's in Software Engineering: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for software engineers. Get the facts about education requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Software Development & Engineering degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Software Engineer?

Software engineers create and develop computer programs. Job specifics vary, though two prominent types of software engineers create computer applications and computer systems. Engineers, regardless of specialization, will need to modify technology to fit different systems and correct any errors that may be present in the coding. Experienced engineers can advance to research and development positions, as well.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Key Responsibilities Develop software programs based on client need
Oversee company or organization's computer infrastructure
Ensure and maintain proper program function
Skills Required Analytic and communication skills
Creativity
Attention to details
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 17%*
Median Salary (2015) $98,260** (applications); $105,570** (systems software)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **O*Net OnLine

What Jobs Can I Apply For With a Master's Degree in Software Engineering?

A Master of Science in Software Engineering degree will qualify you for a variety of positions beyond the entry level. You will be eligible to pursue technically complex and highly skilled positions within business, industry, and government. Many software engineers find work in the computer systems design and services field. You may also work for software publishers, financial institutions, insurance providers, and manufacturers of computers and computer equipment. With experience, you can become self-employed and work as a consultant on a contractual basis.

What Will I Do in This Career?

Depending on your degree specialty and career interests, you can find work designing and developing different types of software, such as business applications, operating systems, or computer games. You may start out testing designs and gradually work up to designing and developing software.

Software engineers are often hired as computer applications software engineers to develop computer applications based on users' needs. You might also work as a computer systems software engineer to oversee an organization's computer systems and needs, such as inventory, maintenance, and repair. Your skills may qualify you for computer programming positions, as well as research and development positions within universities and private laboratories.

What Career Advancement Opportunities Will I Have?

Software engineers generally advance with experience, eventually taking on higher-level positions with more responsibility. If you have business skills, you could become an information technology manager, project manager, or chief information officer, for example. Independent consultants often increase their earnings potential by moving into specialized fields, such as security or cognitive modeling.

Software engineers must continually increase and update their skill set to stay current with fast-changing technology. You may consider completing some type of continuing education on a periodic basis. Many employers, software vendors, training institutions, universities, and professional organizations offer different professional development options, such as workshops, seminars, and certifications.

Should I Become Certified?

Certification is generally optional in this field, but it can demonstrate proficiency in your area of expertise and may lead to greater employment options. For instance, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society offers the Certified Software Development Professional credential for mid-career professionals looking to advance their careers. You will need a minimum of two years relevant work experience in addition to a master's degree to be eligible to sit for the exam (www.computer.org). The Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals also offers certifications in many specialties relevant to a variety of computing professionals (www.iccp.org).

What Is the Job Outlook Like?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for software engineers was projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations from 2014 through 2024 (www.bls.gov). More sophisticated technology would drive demand for highly skilled software engineers. The increased use of websites and mobile technology would also contribute to this job growth.

Businesses would continue to employ software engineers to design and implement customized software to meet their specific needs. The BLS also stated that software engineers would enjoy excellent job prospects, as job openings would exceed the number of qualified candidates during this time period. Individuals with master's degrees should have good job opportunities, as many employers prefer individuals with advanced degrees for more complex work.

How Much Can I Expect to Earn?

Software engineers can enjoy potentially lucrative careers. O*Net Online stated that the 2015 median annual wages of computer applications software engineers was $98,260, and the median annual wages of computer systems software engineers was $105,570 in May 2015.

PayScale.com reported that software engineers with master's degrees had average annual salaries of $79,000 in 2016. In comparison, software engineers with a bachelor's degree earned an annual salary of $68,424 during the same period. Software engineers often receive profit sharing, health benefits, and bonuses in addition to their base salaries.

What Are Some Related Careers?

Some related careers include computer hardware engineering and computer network architecture. Computer hardware engineers have a similar job to software engineers, only working with computer hardware and systems rather than software and programs. Some larger firms require hardware engineers to have a master's in computer engineering. Computer network architects design computer networks, such as LANs, WANs, and intranets, and build them to their needed size, from intra-office to cloud-based storage. A bachelor's is required for this field, but a Master's of Business Administration (MBA) in information systems is sometimes preferred by employers.

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