How to Become a Software Developer

Why become a software developer? Because the job provides the opportunity to shape the future like few other professions can. All those millions of lines of code combine to influence the way people live, work, and play every day.

Becoming a software developer is not for everyone. Software developers must be ready to dedicate the rest of their careers to constant learning and relearning. They need to be passionate about devising bug-free code that not only runs without hiccups but also is so well-crafted that it serves as a template for future projects.

Last but not least, programmers have to be innately curious and analytical to overcome the many challenges the profession presents. Much of the work of a software developer entails  long days of exacting and detailed work under tight deadlines. However, the rewards of the profession are as diverse as the type of projects programmers work on. Anyone with the itch for learning, an education in management information systems, and practical coding skills will find a career that bestows many benefits: for programmers, for their employers and clients, and for industries of all types.

What Does a Software Developer Do?

The general heading of “software developer” covers as many specialties as there are platforms on which the programs run. For example, front-end developers create the user interface portion of programs, while back-end developers devise the code that collects, processes, analyzes, and responds to the data people enter into systems. However, distinctions between front-end and back-end development are blurring, particularly when it comes to creating software for mobile devices. Programmers who work on both the front-end and back-end components of applications, particularly those that run on smart phones, are called full-stack developers. In addition, a growing number of programmers focus exclusively on developing apps for mobile devices.

What distinguishes these and other software development categories are the coding tools the programmers use to create their applications. Mobile developers are most likely to use Java, Swift, and Objective-C, while front-end web developers craft their user interfaces with HTML, cascading style sheets (CSS), and JavaScript. Back-end developers are usually versed in several different languages, including Java, Python, Ruby, C#, C++, and PHP.

Full-stack developers often have some experience with a range of tools in these categories, as well as some knowledge of hardware infrastructure (servers, networks, and hosting platforms), various databases and application programming interfaces (APIs), security issues, and business processes.

The Career Girls site lists what tasks a software developer is likely to do on a given workday:

  • Design and test code based on an analysis of user requirements
  • Identify the programs that customers need to upgrade
  • Create the separate program components that, when assembled, will make up the full application
  • Use flow charts and other models to demonstrate the code a given application will require
  • Maintain programs so that they continue to operate to their specifications
  • Ensure all aspects of an application are fully and clearly documented so future upgrades and patches can be applied when and where they are needed
  • Work in collaboration with other computer and business professionals to confirm apps perform optimally and are functionally complete

 

Steps for Becoming a Software Developer

The key to enjoying a long and successful career as a software developer is to find the perfect combination of broad information technology education, focused training in specific coding tools and environments, and hands-on experience working with various types of code. However, as John Sonmez writes on Simple Programmer, “if you choose to become a software developer, you’ll be a student forever, and you’ll have to be constantly improving and keeping up with your education.”

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s in a Computer-Related Field

Sonmez and other professional programmers highlight the traditional starting point for prospective software developers: earning a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field. On Coding Dojo, Stephen Sinco points out that while not all professional programmers possess a college degree, “a college degree certainly carries more weight” than experience gained by attending coding camps or through self-taught coding.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook states that software developers typically have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. It’s generally agreed that earning a college degree prepares people seeking to enter the profession by giving them a solid foundation in data structures, algorithm design, and other essential topics.

Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in management information systems is one such degree. The program introduces students to various coding languages and methodologies while emphasizing the benefits those tools and techniques offer to businesses. Maryville University constantly updates the curriculum for the bachelor’s in MIS program to reflect current and future trends in IT generally and coding in particular. The degree program has a heavy business management component to help students be ready for the tactical while also being mindful of marketing, finance, and other business operations and objectives.

Business core courses in the MIS program include Digital Foundations, Business Statistics, and Operations Management. MIS-specific courses include Cyber Security Principles, Database Design, Applied Operating Systems, and Networks and Security. Hands-on programming experience is available via an internship elective, as well as through the Cyber Fusion Center, which provides schools and nonprofits with free security services.

Step 2: Attend Coding Bootcamps and Seek Other Software Developer Resources

A college degree in MIS or other computer field is only the beginning of a software developer’s education. The field is in a constant state of flux as new approaches to application development, new languages, and new tools become available. Organizations of all types are always looking for innovative ways to apply technology to solve business problems. They expect their software development teams to deliver applications that take advantage of the latest innovations.

TechRepublic’s Alison DeNisco Rayome writes that the 95 coding bootcamps held in the U.S. in 2017 were completed by a total of nearly 23,000 people. Seventy-five percent of the bootcamp attendees had already earned a bachelor’s degree. After finishing the bootcamp, 80% of participants report getting a full-time job in IT, with an average salary increase of 50.5%, according to the Course Report Coding Bootcamp Alumni Outcome and Demographics Report. In addition, 80% of tech hiring managers in the U.S. report employing developers with coding bootcamp experience, and 99.8% of these managers state they would hire another such applicant.

Step 3: Gain Experience with Coding in Different Programming Languages and Development Environments

The key to getting hired as a software developer, according to TechRepublic’s DeNisco Rayome, is to present prospective employers with a portfolio of past coding work. Demonstrating competence in real-world projects and product development efforts is the best way to attract the attention of IT hiring managers. Working on such projects provides valuable experience in the many different programming languages and tools used in the course of developing applications and systems.

Programmers spend a great deal of time supplementing their education and developer skills by reading posts written by other developers on sites such as StackOverflow; picking up new coding techniques; learning new languages; participating in hackathons; and practicing at CodeWars, CodinGame, and similar sites. A great way for programmers to show potential employers what they are capable of is posting their coding creations online, which also invites constructive feedback from fellow software developers.

 

Software Developer Salaries

The BLS reports that as of May 2017, the median annual salary for software developers creating applications was $101,790, in a range from $59,870 for the lowest 10% to $160,100 for the highest 10%. Software developers working on systems software recorded a median annual wage in May 2017 of $107,600, in a range from $65,670 for the lowest 10% to $164,150 for the highest 10%.

The average base pay reported by software developers to employment site Glassdoor is $80,018 per year. Entry-level software developers earn an average of $68,000 per year, according to Glassdoor’s self-reported survey, while developers with 15 or more years of experience earn an average base salary of $104,461 annually.

 

Future Growth of Software Developer Careers

Money magazine’s claim that software developer is the “hottest job in America” is supported by BLS-compiled figures that forecast a growth of 24% in the number of software developer jobs between 2016 and 2026. This is well above the 7% growth rate predicted for all occupations. Application developers in particular will be in great demand: The BLS projects there will be 31% more jobs for app developers in the period.

In fact, the BLS forecast for software developer hiring may be too conservative considering the digital transformation now affecting businesses of all types and in all industries. CNBC reports there were 84,000 more job openings for all types of software developers in 2018 than in the previous year, far outpacing the next three fastest-growing professions: cyber security analyst (12,000 more jobs), cyber calamity forecaster (8,300 more jobs), and user interface designer (6,800 more jobs).

 

Becoming a Part of the Digital Reimagining of Business

The potential for good pay and solid job prospects are two good reasons to pursue any career, but few software developers choose the profession solely because of its compensation and job security. Software developers need a great deal of curiosity to drive the lifelong learning the job requires. They also need the ability to think analytically and solve problems creatively. Succeeding as a software developer requires combining these two traits with a solid educational foundation in computer theory and many hours spent transforming strings of code into useful applications. Interested in becoming a software developer? Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in management information systems can help equip you with the knowledge and business mindset you need to thrive as an MIS professional. Your reward is the chance to contribute to the reinvention of businesses, organizations, government, and entire industries, helping them to succeed in the digital age.

Sources:

Career Girls, “Software Developer: What You Need to Know”
CNBC, “The Fastest-Growing Jobs of the Future”
CodeWars
Coding Dojo, “How to Become a Software Developer: The Top 6 Myths Holding You Back”
CodinGame
Course Report, “2017 Coding Bootcamp Alumni Outcomes and Demographics Report”
Course Report, “2017 Coding Bootcamp Market Size Study”
HackerNoon, “Want to Become a Software Developer? Here’s How to Get There”
Maryville University, Management Information Systems Careers
Maryville University, Online Bachelor’s in Management Information Systems
Money, “These People Have the Hottest Job in America. Here’s What They Say It’s Really Like”
Noteworthy, “Three Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Software Developer”
PayScale, Average Software Developer Salary
Simple Programmer, “How to Become a Software Developer”
StackOverflow
TechRepublic, “How to Become a Developer: A Cheat Sheet”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Software Developers
WikiHow, “How to Become a Software Engineer”