How to Become a Software Developer in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a software developer. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages, and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Software Development & Engineering degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Software Developer?

Software developers create computer programs for personal and business use. Some of them develop applications that enable people to perform tasks on devices like computers and smartphones. Others build the systems that operate the devices and control computer networks. Both types of developers must work closely with clients and employers to ensure that they understand their needs and design new software systems or applications. The table listed below provides information about education, professional skills, and employment for software developers.

Degree PreferredBachelor's
Education Field of StudySoftware engineering, mathematics, computer science
Key SkillsComputer programming, system software development, operating system design, application development and design
Job Growth (2014-2024)*19% (applications software developer), 13% (systems software developer)
Median Salary (2015)*$98,260 (applications software developer), $105,570 (systems software developer)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Software Developer Do?

Software developers utilize their computer science and mathematical skills to create computer programs that run on operating systems. As a software developer you evaluate, design, develop, and test programs and systems of programs. These tasks and skills will evolve as technology changes and you specialize, but you will need to have strong programming skills.

Step 1: Research Software Developer Career Options

There are many types of software development: web, front-end, mobile, desktop, etc. The different types of developers write software code for different types of applications and different components of applications based on the needs of the user. As an application developer, you can write software to work on servers, desktop operating systems or create applications for mobile devices. Software system engineers create customized computer systems that are secure for organizations and businesses. As a software system engineer, you could upgrade user interfaces and adapt existing software to new hardware for clients.

Of the 1,114,000 software developers in 2014, about 718,400 worked on applications and 395,600 were systems software developers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The overall growth of employment for software developers is projected to be 17% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov).

Step 2: Earn a High School Diploma

To become a software developer, you need to start by earning a high school diploma or GED. Some vocational schools will further prepare you with a career-specific education. Advanced placement and collegiate-level classes taken while you are in high school may transfer to the college you choose, but you should check when you apply.

Step 3: Get A Higher Education Degree or Specialized Training

Most employers prefer you to have a bachelor's degree in a related field like computer science, software engineering, mathematics, or computer information systems. There are also accelerated training programs such as Codeup which offers an educational opportunity for a career in software development after about 20 weeks of intense training. There are many freely available tools materials for learning to code and its possible to get an entry level position with a sufficient amount of training, certifications and project experience in lieu of pursuing a college degree.

Step 4: Accrue Software Development Experience

According to the BLS, most employers prefer applicants with experience and established skills. You can begin gaining experience through an internship or co-op during the school year or summer months. Many colleges and universities have established partnerships with organizations to provide these opportunities, which may turn into full-time employment.

Step 5: Pursue Continuing Education and Advancement

Software developers must constantly keep abreast of developments in the industry to move ahead. You can do this by taking continuing education classes at a university or by participating in free or paid training offered by software vendors or other third party training companies. Gaining experience and furthering your education can help you advance to positions including application architect, application development manager and chief technology officer. You could also become an independent consultant.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

People interested in becoming software developers may also be interested in becoming computer hardware engineers, a job that also involves assessing, designing, and fixing computer parts, though on the hardware side. This includes circuit boards, routers, networks, and memory devices. Hardware engineers typically hold a bachelor's degree. Some other careers that also have some connection to the software development field are software security engineer, system engineer, or network engineer.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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