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The outlook for software engineer job growth is excellent. Jobs for software engineers, a role within the field of software development, are projected to grow exponentially faster over the next decade than the national average — 25% by 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). And there are many opportunities to advance into high-level software engineering roles.
But what do software engineers do, exactly? Like software developers, software engineers are coding experts with a proficiency in programming languages who use complex algorithms to build various front-end, back-end, and full-stack software programs and applications.
In addition to development, software engineers also design the blueprint from which that software is built. To do this, they need to analyze and understand the needs of end users and apply engineering principles to plan detailed, front-end software that satisfies those needs. Software engineers are also involved in quality control by maintaining and revising software even after it’s developed to ensure it performs properly, satisfies users’ requirements, and is financially efficient.
If you’ve been considering an online master’s degree in software development, you should know the software development field offers robust opportunities for career growth — not just as a software engineer, but in other exciting, related jobs as well. Continue reading to learn more about how to grow your career in software engineering, skills you need to advance as a software engineer, and other roles available in the rewarding field of software development.
How to Advance Your Career in Software Engineering
Becoming a software engineer traditionally requires you to hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, cybersecurity, or a related subject. From there, you might consider pursuing an advanced degree or additional certification, gaining entry-level experience, and networking with industry professionals to move into an advanced software engineering job.
Earn an Advanced Degree
To become a software engineer, you need to learn and master a number of skills and concepts, including computer systems design, data structures, network architecture, and project management, as well as gain fluency in various programming languages.
While an advanced degree isn’t required, a master’s in software development or a related discipline can make you a more competitive candidate to potential employers and help you further your knowledge in the field of software engineering. In a graduate program, you’ll also learn more about the latest advancements and trends, which can give you a solid foundation for understanding, keeping up with, and even predicting developments in the fast-paced, ever-evolving digital landscape.
Gain Experience in Entry-Level Positions
Entry-level positions are an excellent way to gain the experience you’ll need to grow in your career as a software engineer. For example, as a junior software engineer, you can further develop your problem-solving skills, decision-making processes, and other acumen by applying what you learned in your degree program to problems in real-world settings.
To increase your versatility and differentiate yourself from other job applicants, you can try working at both well-established and startup companies. You can also develop your overall acumen and acquire transferable skills in a related role, such as any of the following:
Working in any of these or another similar role may also afford you more time to train, develop, and get certified in hard, technical skills that can make you a more competitive candidate for future software engineer roles.
Build Networks and Take Advantage of Mentoring Opportunities
As is the case in most professional fields, networking is essential to software engineer job growth. Networking is less about progressing your personal agenda and more about building and maintaining healthy, friendly connections.
At some point, someone you have met, have worked with, or are connected to on LinkedIn will know of a job opening, and you’ll want them to think of you not only as a solid potential candidate but also as someone who’s generous and helpful.
When you’re working in those first entry-level positions — or pursuing your master’s in software development or another field — taking advantage of mentoring opportunities can be helpful. You can try reaching out to your managers, leads, and even professors and schedule meetings to discuss how you’re doing, where you’re successful, and what skills you need to upgrade.
Skills Needed to Grow in Your Software Engineering Career
To qualify and advance in your career as a software engineer, you need to develop both hard skills, which are the technical competencies necessary to execute specific job functions, and soft, or nontechnical, skills, which demonstrate how well you work with others.
One of the most important hard skills you need to cultivate to be a successful software engineer is fluency in several different programming languages, such as:
Programming languages, or code, can become obsolete after a few years. At that time, the code is either rewritten, or a new, more capable programming language is invented to replace it. That’s why software engineers need to learn new programming languages as they’re released while also staying current with any updates to popular coding languages.
Other Core Technological Competencies
Like software developers, software engineers develop programs, applications, networks, and even operating systems using complex algorithms and programming languages.
However, software engineers are also involved in the design, production, and maintenance of these projects. As such, software engineers also need to possess the following core technological competencies:
Project management: Software engineers work with a team, communicate with key stakeholders, and are often involved in the overall development of a software program, application, website, or operating system, so experience and competency in project management are often qualifications for these positions.
Network architecture design: A job function of some software engineers is to help build secure network systems that allow businesses and organizations to control their internal and external communication.
Computer systems design, testing, and analysis: In addition to designing operating systems and network systems, software engineers also maintain these systems, which includes running tests and analyzing performance results.
Software engineering, like software development, is a highly technical profession. However, because the job requires client-facing tasks — as well as working with a team of other software engineers and developers, computer programmers, and stakeholders — it’s important to have the following soft skills, or nontechnical competencies, to grow your career in software engineering:
Analytical thinking skills
What Are Some Advanced Software Engineering Careers?
As you gain more experience and expertise as a software engineer, you may be surprised at the wealth of career paths that branch from this profession. You can choose to continue growing in your software engineer job, or you may elect to pursue any of the following roles that align with other interests you’ve discovered while working in software engineering.
Software Test Engineer
One of the primary responsibilities of software test engineers is to evaluate applications and programs for bugs, errors, or other potential issues.
To do this, software test engineers need to be familiar with various programming languages to be able to code scripts for assessing the software’s scalability, user acceptance, and other performance metrics. They’ll also need to be skilled at clearly communicating their testing procedures and results to clients, stakeholders, and their team.
The median annual salary for software test engineers was about $81,000 as of September 2022, according to PayScale.
Full-stack engineers use programming languages to develop programs and applications for front-end and back-end software to improve its functionality and the overall user experience.
Full-stack software developers had a median annual salary of about $80,000 as of September 2022, according to PayScale.
Computer Network Architect
Computer network architects design and build wide area networks (WANs), local area networks (LANs), intranets, and other data communication networks. Computer network architects had a median annual salary of $120,520 as of May 2021, according to the BLS.
Chief Technology Officer
Usually the highest ranking technology executive in a company or organization, chief technology officers (CTOs) do research, generate reports, and stay current on best practices to ensure their company’s technologies stay up to date, competitive, and conducive to a positive end-user experience.
CTOs’ median annual base salary was around $166,000 as of October 2022, as reported by PayScale.
A technology architect role resembles that of a project manager or other leadership role and requires keen multitasking and interpersonal skills to be able to delegate tasks to the members of the IT team while evaluating their performance and setting milestones to help guide their career advancement.
Technology architects also oversee the implementation, maintenance, and security of a company’s computer systems, including its networks, applications, and other software.
Technology architects had a median annual salary of about $121,000 as of October 2022, according to PayScale.
Pursue a Dynamic Career Path
A background in software development along with additional education, training, experience, and ambition can be just the tools you need to pursue a software engineer career. But your professional advancement doesn’t have to stop there. Opportunities for job growth are available within software engineering and in other related fields.
If you’re considering a career in software engineering or another discipline in the software field, explore Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Software Development to learn how the program can help you realize your career potential.