Career Paths 101: Software Engineering

Do you want to know more about software engineering? The answer is right here.


Careers in Software Engineering

Software engineering is an umbrella term for a variety of roles, including front and back end software development, software testing, software maintenance, network architecture and management, as well as legacy software maintenance and management, among many others.


Programming, or software development, is one of the most common and accessible career paths available to aspiring software engineers. Not surprisingly, each software developer’s career path will be determined largely by which programming language or languages they learn.



Here are some of the most popular modern programming languages and their most common uses:


    • Java: systems programming and development for games, websites, and Google’s’ Android mobile operating system
    • JavaScript: cross-platform mobile development, as well as development for games and web applications
    • Python: operations and systems management, natural language, data science and analysis (“big data”), financial industry applications, machine learning, computer imaging, and development for games and websites
    • Objective-C and Swift: development for Apple’s iOS mobile operating system (Swift is a new language released by Apple in 2014)
    • C/C++: application development and systems programming (C is an exceptionally powerful but difficult to learn language)
    • PHP: cross-platform mobile development, and development for websites, web applications, and games


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Image Credit: The Top Programming Languages 2017


Breaking Into Software Engineering: Career Paths & Qualifications


General Qualifications
Different software engineering roles require experience with different platforms and knowledge of different programming languages, not to mention industry-specific expertise.


But all successful software engineers must have a strong foundation of technical skill as well as theoretical understanding of computer science and engineering concepts. Certain skills and methodologies are widely applicable throughout software engineering. These include: testing and debugging, git and version control systems, cross-platform development, team communication, and problem-solving.


Within software engineering there are many possible career paths. Here are the two most common specialities — front-end and back-end development:


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Front-End Developer — Position Overview
Front-end software and web developers build every part of the app or website that the user sees and interacts with. Front-end development goes hand-in-hand with user experience (UX) design. Front-end developers ensure that an application or website’s interface looks good, functions as expected, and is intuitive to new users. Every piece of software that will be used by non-experts, and especially consumer-facing software like mobile apps and websites, needs dedicated front-end development. And advanced front-end developers may specialize in one or more platforms or use-cases, including websites, web-based apps, mobile apps, and desktop apps.


In addition to developing functional and appealing software interfaces, front-end developers usually have additional responsibilities. These most often include routine maintenance and enhancement of existing products, assisting back-end developers with coding, testing, and troubleshooting, organizing usability tests with test users including analyzing feedback and other test results, and maintaining graphical and brand standards throughout the product.



Image Credit: The Role of a Typical Web Developer – Web Developer Job Description


Front-end developers in smaller firms may also serve as a point of communication between back-end developers, who decide exactly how the product can function, and strategists, creative directors, and marketers, who care deeply about how the consumer experiences the product.


Front-end developers may secure contract-based work, part-time work, or full-time work with regular 9am-5pm hours on weekdays, possibly working extra hours during crunch times ahead of major launches.


Starting salaries for front-end developers with one to three years of experience can range from $50,000 to over $75,000 per year. Front-end developers with more than three years of experience can make over $100,000 each year.


Front-End Developer — Qualifications
The best front-end developers have both a robust programming background and a strong understanding of UX design principles. The most common programming languages used in front-end web development are HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The languages used in front-end development for mobile and desktop applications are broader and more closely tied to the platforms themselves.


Those interested in a career in front-end development must also consider what platform(s) they want to work with, as this will dictate what programming languages, frameworks, and other tools they will need to learn.


Regardless of platform, all aspiring front-end developers must be able to demonstrate their understanding of UX design principles. This is best demonstrated with a portfolio of interface design work which should be either fully functional or heavily annotated with explanations of use-cases.


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Lastly, front-end developers should be strong communicators, as they will need to interface with multiple project teams. And advanced front-end developers may even interact with clients to obtain first-hand feedback on their work.


Back-End Developer — Position Overview
Back-end software and web developers create the logical back-end and core computational logic of websites, applications, networks, and other informational systems. In other words, back-end developers determine how an application will work. There are a many possible specializations within back-end development, dictated in large part by the programming languages an aspiring beck-end developer chooses to learn. (And most developers continue learning new languages as their careers progress.)


Some advanced back-end developers may take leading roles in developing new software products, working with C-level executives to decide on the overall direction of development and how best to implement features based on desired outcomes. This is especially the case in smaller firms and start ups.


More commonly, back-end developers are the firm’s workhorses. They are given specific tasks to complete and are expected to adhere to best practices and work within certain guidelines. But as skilled professionals they are also expected to find, implement, and document solutions to low-level problems on their own.


Back-End Developer — Qualifications
For most back-end developers — and particularly those just starting out — job responsibilities will rely 90% on programming knowledge and 10% on computer science theory. As an aspiring developer, regardless of your speciality, your ability to code well is your most important qualification.


The programming language or languages you know best are the next most important factor, as different companies and industries use many different programming languages. If you are not ready to target a particular sector, it is best to choose one of the more widely used programming languages such as Python, Java, JavaScript, Objective-C, PHP, or C/C++.


A bachelor’s degree in computer science (CS) will provide a solid foundation but is not absolutely necessary for success in computer engineering. This degree can help when applying to entry-level positions at large firms, as these firms receive hundreds or thousands of applications and their HR departments may immediately throw out all non-CS applicants as a time-saving measure.


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Nonetheless, anyone with demonstrable programming skill can find a job even if they have a non-CS or even non-STEM degree. Students who identify the industry or topic they want to specialize in early on can even put themselves at an advantage by receiving a more industry-specific degree in conjunction with developing their programming skills. For example, a candidate who wants to work on development for graphic imaging software can be successful with a degree in graphic design or even fine arts, provided they are also an outstanding programmer.


Software Engineering Industry Outlook

Software engineering remains one of the most robust and fastest-growing industries in the world, and the boom shows no signs of stopping. Software engineering work is as safe a career-choice as any for those who want job security, a nearly guarenteed minimum income, and outstanding long-term earning potential.


The vast majority of positions within software engineering are programming jobs. These jobs pay well and there are many available in virtually every city. While high-paying positions at prestigious companies are available to outstanding coders, many jobs are also available to programmers who are merely ‘good’, or who lack significant work experience and advanced degrees.


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