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Software Engineer: Career Definition, Occupational Outlook, and Education Prerequisites

Explore the career requirements for software engineers. Get the facts about salary, job outlook, job duties and education to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Is a Software Engineer?

A software engineer, or a software developer, creates computer programs and keeps them functioning properly. As a software engineer, you will figure out users' needs and then design and develop software to meet them. You may also make recommendations on software updates for current programs. You will instruct computer programmers how to write the desired code, test and maintain software and document everything in order to improve subsequent versions of the software. Fixing problems or errors and improving the software are other responsibilities you will have. Read the table below to find out what else you might need to know about becoming a software engineer.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Software engineering or computer science
Key Skills Design, build and maintain software and applications
Job Growth (2018-2028) 21% for all software engineers*
Average Salary (2018) $114,000 for systems software engineers;
$108,080 for applications software engineers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Tasks Will I Perform as a Software Engineer?

Games and software aren't the only things you'll create as a software engineer; operating systems, network systems and applications also need to be built. Once you've created these programs, you'll test them, troubleshooting and fixing errors that may occur. As technological needs and trends change, you'll make patches, upgrades and new software to replace the old. You may also modify existing software and systems to improve performance.

Using algorithms and computer languages, you'll build software while providing detailed instructions on how they work. You'll work under the direction of companies and provide status reports on the software development. You may also consult with other departments to meet the client's needs.

What Is the Future of This Career?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of computer software engineers was anticipated to grow at a rate of 21% from 2018-2028, which is much faster than average growth (www.bls.gov). This number reflected two types of software engineers. Those who develop applications were expected to see an increase of about 26%, and those who specialize in systems software could experience an increase of around 10%. The reason behind this projected job growth was based on the expected need for newer software and applications as mobile technology advances.

In 2018, the BLS reported an average annual salary of $114,000 for developers of software systems. Software developers who produced applications made an average of $108,080 per year.

What Educational Requirements Do I Need to Fulfill?

While no set educational requirements are in place, a bachelor's degree is recommended. After graduating from high school, you could earn a Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering, or you may major in computer science. You'll learn about different programming languages and design while gaining technical experience through internships or hands-on projects. As technology improves and evolves, you may want to consider furthering your education with an advanced degree or with seminars and courses. If you'd like to work in computer security, a higher degree may also be beneficial.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The field of computer technology offers several similar careers that require a bachelor's degree. Computer programmers work closely with software engineers to write and test code for programs to work. Computer hardware engineers formulate and test computer systems and their various parts, like circuit boards and routers. Computer network architects work to create data communication networks to improve networking capabilities.