How to Become a Software Developer – A Complete Career Guide
As the twenty-first century continues, our lives are becoming increasingly reliant on and connected to the technologies we use on a daily basis. From smartphones to the cars we drive, countless aspects of our lives have been made easier and admittedly more streamlined. Because of these conditions, organizations across an array of industries have realized the importance of staying relevant by offering dynamic programs, applications, and software to sell products, drive consumer engagement, and even promote immediate communication between people across the world.
At the center of all of this technological development is the software developer – the idea cultivator, the creator, the editor, and the deliverer all in one. And as companies have realized the incredible value that software developers offer as they help organizations accomplish their growth goals, more positions in the field exist now than they ever have before. In this guide, we detail what it means to be a software developer, how to become one, what skills are necessary for the role, what kind of money you can expect to make in a yearly salary, and the position’s career outlook.
- What Is a Software Developer?
- Software Developer Job Description
- Software Developer Skills
- How to Become a Software Developer
- Software Developer Career Path
- Software Developer Salary
- Software Developer Job Growth
- Write Your Own Code and Launch Your Career
What Is a Software Developer?
Virtually all of the computer programs, phone apps, and digital features contained in practically all modern devices today have been created by individual or teams of software developers. The back-end programming that drives so much of the way we live our lives and even the ways that we now communicate with each other have all been made possible because of effective, forward-thinking software development. Many of the 21st century’s greatest inventions and most widely used applications and devices can be attributed to the vision and focus of software developers.
Software developers work in practically every industry. From car applications, video games, social media, and even banking, software developers work alone or in teams of other trained professionals to deliver functional programs that help organizations achieve their goals and improve people’s lives. Moreover, developers work with a number of digital tools to ensure that the programs they design work, that users are able to access and engage with them, and that their companies receive the highest possible ROI.
In this capacity, developers of software operate within different hardware contexts. Developers who create film editing software will work within very different hardware environments than programmers creating an application used in a smart refrigerator. Because of these different focuses, software developers have a lot of flexibility in where, when, and how they work. At the same time that some developers will spend countless hours creating programs that clean up or improve database storage, others may work to create cutting-edge design frameworks that other developers can use. In other words and on a foundational level, software developers will typically create a program or piece of code that solves some kind of problem.
Importantly, there are different kinds of developers who carry different responsibilities. Front-end developer positions are designed for people who build programs through a more design-oriented focus, while back-end developers are typically more concerned with the functionality and performance of a program. Full-stack developer positions, on the other hand, are structured to accommodate those who are proficient in both back-end and front-end programming.
Software Developer Job Description
Even though different developers will have different focuses depending on the industry and the scope of the project, the consistent job responsibility for software developers will be to brainstorm, write, edit, debug, and execute code. This code may make up an entirely new program, or the code may be an addition to an already existing project. Typically, developers will work in teams of other software professionals, project managers, creatives, and business stakeholders to deliver original programs or solutions to problems with programs.
Centrally, developers will create plans for, build out, actively run tests on, and run performance assessments for software, applications, and programs. By working with other team members in collaborative ways, developers are able to build, deliver, and maintain functional code. Additionally, software developers carry on a trove of other responsibilities that include:
- Program modifications to solve problems or update outdated software.
- Offer system testing to validate programming procedures.
- Provide coding documentation to guide other developer team members on the coding process.
- Build code that meets organizational performance requirements.
- Troubleshoot and debug programs to improve software performance
- Assess the effectiveness of original programs / code for quality control.
- Collaborate with other team members or departments to resolve technical issues in software.
- Work independently to improve programming skills to adapt to industry changes.
While different developers working in different sectors may have other kinds of responsibilities, it’s important to note that a software developer’s day-to-day activities will remain relatively consistent. Because most software developer positions are project-based, they are evaluated by their managers on both the effectiveness and the punctuality of the work they submit. When developers are able to offer high-quality, optimized, and debugged code that meets the project’s deadline, they will have a much better chance of landing a promotion and entering into leadership positions in the field.
Software Developer Skills
To be successful in a position, regardless of the industry or the sector, software developers need to develop certain tools in their education and training. Both soft and hard software developer skills can be adopted either independently or by learning from trained professionals in the field. The following skills are necessary for every developer to be effective in their role.
Algorithmic Problem Solving
Data structures and algorithms are considered by many to be the cornerstone of programming. For every software developer, having a knowledge base established on algorithmic problem solving will often be the difference-maker in both the interviewing process and on the job. Essential data structures that developers should employ in their coding include arrays, lists, sets, and maps. By adopting and utilizing these kinds of data structure, algorithmic methods, developers will be able to more effectively and more optimally store, call on, and pull information in the program they’re creating or editing.
The most successful software developers are able to apply creative solutions to the problems they confront. Creativity is rewarding for everyone involved in the software development process. For developers, more creative code for more creative projects can result in a more meaningful project. For stakeholders, more creative solutions often result in higher performance and higher quality software. And for users, the more creativity funneled into a program will likely lead to a better received, more engaging experience. Finally, in programming, developers can take countless different routes often to arrive at the same solution. Developers who are able to channel more creative energy into their work will likely feature a more original and better overall solution.
Depending on the type of software or programs that developers will be creating, it is essential for them to hold a comprehensive understanding of the syntax and purpose of the most popularly used languages. These include:
Probably the most popular or common type of programming, apart from programming that relies on logic or functions, is object-oriented programming. When developers know how to create and manipulate classes and objects in their code, they are able to build programs that perform some kind of action. In most educational settings, instructors will teach the fundamental concepts of coding in languages like Java, Python, or C++ through the tenets of object-oriented programming. And when developers are able to refine their skills in object-oriented programming, they will be able to engage with other kinds of programming that will open new doors to advanced problem-solving.
In addition to a familiarity or understanding of object-oriented programming, developers should have some knowledge of database management. In languages like SQL, developers are able to collect and streamline larger data sets and perform table design functions. Even if the developer has no long-term professional interest in managing or working regularly with databases, it’s essential for every software professional to at least have a working knowledge of how to operate within basic database functions.
Precise Attention to Detail
While most modern integrated development environments (IDEs) now have some kind of intellisense, which works similarly to a spell check function in a word document, the feature can’t be totally relied on in most situations. Like spellcheck, the feature has the propensity to miss certain errors. Because of this reality, it’s necessary that software developers carry an advanced attention to detail. When developers are able to identify their own mistakes or flaws in others’ code, they will be able to progress through the debugging process much more quickly and efficiently. Conversely, when software developers are more careless in the execution and reviewing of their programming practices, they will ultimately deliver sloppier code that will contain structural problems. Because of this fact, it’s necessary that burgeoning developers maintain an alertness when writing and editing their code.
Ability to Juggle Tasks
There are often several moving parts in a program-based project. From the planning, writing, editing, and debugging phases of delivering a new program, different developers will have to intervene, depending on the size of the team. While developers will certainly at times have to follow a project’s trajectory from start to finish, it’s common that developers from other teams jump in on projects to offer a new set of eyes and a new approach to build more refined, more efficient code. In this vein, developers should expect to be part of several projects, each of them in different phases, at one time.
Because there are several stakeholders involved in the creation and delivery of new software, developers must be able to communicate and collaborate with other team members throughout the production process. For both technical and non-technical stakeholders, it’s imperative that software developers are able to work together with other team members to ensure the project moves at an efficient pace. In this capacity, developers must be transparent about what they need and responsive to the needs of others on the team. When everyone works together proactively during the development phase, the software that’s ultimately created and delivered will have fewer problems and will reach the market or the client faster.
How to Become a Software Developer
There are many avenues to become a software developer. The most recognizable and probably most traditional route for aspiring developers to enter the field is by getting a bachelor’s degree in a relevant computer science discipline. These kinds of disciplines include software engineering, data science, mathematics, information technology, and business, to name a few. At the same time that there are definitely ways to get into the industry outside of getting a degree, this is probably the most reliable, safest direction to take.
Software Developer Requirements
It’s important to note that software developer position requirements will be different depending on the general industry and the specific business. While one company may require 5 or more years of work experience to be hired, other organizations may require significantly less – all for the same kind of position with the same responsibilities. Generally, though, most entry-level software developer positions will require the following:
- A bachelor’s level degree in a computer science – or relevant – field
- Some work experience – typically 2 to 5 years
- A proficiency in programming languages that include Java, C++, Python
- An understanding of coding repositories like Git
- Knowledge of Agile and Scrum workflows
Still, organizations may have more stringent or more flexible requirements going into the hiring process. As interested developers begin to look more ardently at available positions across industries, it will be vitally important to analyze diligently the software developer requirements laid out in the specific job description.
Software Developer Education Requirements
Again, different levels of positions will have different software developer education requirements. Senior and managerial level roles will probably have more advanced educational requirements in their job descriptions, while entry-level positions will likely outline that it’s necessary for applicants to enter with a bachelor’s degree. This distinction proves how important it is for interested candidates to understand clearly the kind of position they’re seeking and the specific requirements that the position has.
For a more unconventional but less reliable approach on how to become a software developer, it’s important to consider pathways into the field without getting a degree. Innovative substitutes to traditional degrees have begun to pop up across disciplines and sectors. For example, instructor-led data science training programs are intensive, concentrated sessions that promote an expedited entry into essential and fundamental programming skills. These kinds of programs can also be helpful for experienced professionals with an already established foundation in programming. Separately, bootcamp programs like The Software Guild offer a variety of options for aspiring developers to hone their skills and enter the field. Still, while these options can be excellent supplements to application materials, aspiring developers who choose not to pursue a traditional degree should compensate that absence with more relevant work experience through an internship, externship, or co-op opportunity.
What Degree Do You Need to be a Software Developer?
Software developer positions will likely require a degree. While some employers will find greater work experience or direct training to be enough of a substitute, most will end up choosing a candidate who has completed an undergraduate or graduate program in a computer science-related discipline. The level of degree will determine, however, the readiness of some candidates for different kinds of leadership positions.
Most entry-level developer roles will require at least a bachelor’s degree for consideration. By completing an undergraduate degree, applicants will be able to communicate to potential employers that they have developed both critical thinking skills and a technical prowess to enter into the position. Additionally, most accredited computer science-related disciplines will feature a focus on the teaching of hard, technical skills that future developers will be able to use on the job. Employers are aware of these conditions, which is why most developer positions will outline the requirement of at least a bachelor’s degree in their job description.
For those who want to pursue a leadership position in software development, most employers will require either a Master’s degree in data science or a computer science / business-related discipline or a substantial amount of relevant, applicable work experience. Because graduate study typically demonstrates a refined, specialized knowledge in a specific aspect of software development, employers will be more likely to trust candidates who can prove that credential over those who cannot.
Software Developer Career Path
There are several pathways to enter the field of software development. Probably the most traditional way for candidates to reliably land a developer position is to start by going to school for a computer science-related undergraduate degree. As students engage with their general education requirements, their core major-specific courses, and their discipline-related electives, they’ll be able to gain exposure to what will be expected of them as future software developers. This in-depth learning process will prove critically important for those who aim to land a career in the field.
Importantly, because so many developer positions will require that applicants have completed some kind of work experience prior to applying, students can use this requirement as an opportunity to find an internship opportunity. Most undergraduate programs will offer students the ability to use the time spent at an internship as course credit, which can typically be directed toward an elective. By working in an internship – either paid or unpaid – candidates after graduation will be able to explain to prospective employers that they understand the day-to-day responsibilities and expectations surrounding the role.
After graduation and after being hired on as either a junior or standard-level software developer, it’s recommended that professionals stay in that role for at least a couple of years. After gaining necessary hands-on experience in the position, developers can then consider moving onto a more senior position with the same organization or returning to school. By getting a Master’s degree, developers can make a much more effective case to prospective employers as to why they should be considered either for a senior-level or leadership position.
Either as a senior-level developer or a leader of a software development team, professionals will be able to oversee the creation, cultivation, and adaptation of different programs that will make a major difference in the future of their role. For managers and leaders of these kinds of teams, it’s vital that they can build a portfolio of projects that have successfully driven business or engaged clients in some way. By demonstrating this growth, professionals will be able to rise the ladder even more, and, depending on the size of the company or organization, they will be able to compete for director, vice president, and even corporate officer roles in the future. These positions are typically considered the apex of the professional ladder.
Software Developer Salary
As one of the most in-demand positions for companies and organizations across practically all industries, software developers tend to earn a lucrative, comfortable wage. Across the country, software developers are typically compensated very well for the value that they bring in their work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has found that the median software developer salary is $120,730 as of May 2021. Importantly, this is a figure that factors in all software developer jobs in the country.
Developer positions in densely populated urban areas with higher costs of living may pay more than their rural counterparts. According to the BLS, the best-paid developers can earn over $168,570 while the lowest 10% of developer roles have been found to earn around $64,470. This more nuanced set of figures fills in some important gaps when considering the average software developer salary.
Software Developer Job Growth
Developer jobs all over the world are booming. As more companies realize the importance of creating, editing, updating, and delivering applications and programs to enhance their business or ship their product, they will continue to bring on trained and qualified professionals to help them achieve their goals. Through this lens, it’s never been a better time to become a software developer. As the BLS has outlined, developer positions are expected to grow by 25% through 2031.
Write Your Own Code and Launch Your Career
You can take control of your professional future by receiving the education and training to become a software developer. By learning more about different programs in computer science, you can begin your journey toward developing software and creating programs that can change people’s lives. Let us help you take the first step toward becoming a software developer. Explore the coding bootcamps that are available to you or request more information on the courses and online degree programs available.
Gain the skills and necessary degree to pursue your career as a marketing analyst. Explore How Data Scientist vs. Software Engineer Differ, How to Improve Your Programming Skills or if your long terms goals include machine learning. Your future as a software engineer awaits you!
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for software developers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.