How to Become a Computer Software Engineer

In 2008, median earnings for computer software engineers as $85,430 per year and $41.07 per hour[v]

Salary Potential if you become a computer software engineer

In 2008, median earnings for computer software engineers as $85,430 per year and $41.07 per hour[v]

What is a computer software engineer?

This role may sometimes be referred to as software developer or software architect, among other titles, but regardless of what these professionals are called, they often have an influential role in how we use technology to achieve personal or work-related goals. Those who become computer software engineers typically design, develop, and modify software, utility programs, and even operating systems. To ensure the program is the best solution for a problem or need, the software engineer must analyze user requirements and devise solutions that optimize efficiency, usability, cost, and other factors.

Computer software engineers are behind all of your favorite programs – from word processing software to PC games and quirky apps. If you’re thinking about pursuing this career path, keep reading to learn more about what this role involves. You’ll find information about computer software engineer salary potential, educational requirements, typical duties, and more.  

What Does a Computer Software Engineer Do?

A computer software engineer has to understand a particular problem or need that requires a software solution in order to design the right product for the job. But that’s not all – these professionals need to blend design and engineering knowledge with technical acumen.  After designing and modeling the proposed software solution, computer software engineers often work with programmers and other technology professionals to build and test the finished product.

They may devise custom software solutions for a small business or work for a software publisher like Oracle or Microsoft, among other possibilities. The process of developing software is typically collaborative, with many IT professionals involved in various parts and stages. Check out some typical duties for computer software engineers:

  • Recommend and make changes to existing software to correct errors or improve performance
  • Understand user needs as well as time frame, cost, technical limitations, and other aspects of a proposed development project
  • Design software solutions using engineering and mathematical principles to predict and analyze design outcomes
  • Create models, flowcharts, or diagrams in order to understand how all components of the software work together; these diagrams could serve as “blueprints” for programmers
  • Direct and supervise programmers and other IT staff during the development process
  • Recommend, supervise, or perform regular testing, maintenance, and upgrades to software
  •  Stay up-to-date on technology news, trends,  and competitors’ products in order to present the most current solutions

Computer Software Engineer Qualities and Skill Sets

So what competencies and knowledge areas do you need to become a computer software engineer? These professionals often work collaboratively, and familiarity with technology and engineering principles is often just part of the role. Here are some skills and qualities that may be helpful in this career path:

  • Experience with development environment software like C, Microsoft Visual Basic, XPATH; and more; database management software like Microsoft SQL Server; program and usability testing software
  • Knowledge of programming languages like C++, Python, etc.; knowledge of web development languages like JavaScript and HTML
  • Knowledge of design principles, tools, and techniques, such as CAD – Computer Aided Design
  • Knowledge of front end User Experience (UX) development – besides ensuring that software functions as needed, software engineers usually strive to create an intuitive, user-friendly interface
  • Interpersonal and communication skills – computer software engineers typically work closely with other IT staff members and may supervise a team
  • Industry-specific knowledge – for example, if you are designing software for a bank, it could be necessary to have some knowledge about the field of finance in order to engineer the best solution

How to Become a Computer Software Engineer

What Education do I need to become a Computer Software Engineer?[i]

While employer requirements may vary, computer software engineers usually earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, or an applicable field such as mathematics. While computer science degrees typically cover a wide range of subjects, students interested in software engineering can often focus on courses specifically related to designing and building software.

typical entry level degree to become a computer software engineer is a bachelors degreeProspective software engineers should also consider pursuing courses in computer programming, as a strong background in this area is usually recommended.

So how long might it take to pursue a career as a computer software engineer? Some companies may prefer candidates with a Master’s degree, so the answer depends on the level of education and experience desired by your prospective employer. Also keep in mind that computer software engineers often keep learning throughout their careers, so ongoing education and career development may be needed.

Training and Career Enhancement[i]

Some computer software engineers work in a different IT role prior to pursuing a software engineering career. For example, they may hold an IT internship or gain experience as a computer programmer. On the other end, some computer software engineers go on to pursue enhanced roles such as IT project manager. Career enhancement opportunities may depend on factors such as experience and leadership abilities.

Certification may also be recommended for computer software engineers. While not always required, certification may allow you to demonstrate your knowledge of software or products that could be useful in a software engineering career path. Here are a few to consider if you want to become a software engineer:

  • Adobe Certification for Developers – this certification for software developers could allow you to demonstrate your proficiency in Adobe LiveCycle Enterprise Suite, Flex, and ColdFusion.[ii]
  • Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialist – if you are interested in designing apps, this program could certify you in the deployment and configuration of Google Apps for Work.[iii]
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) – this series of certifications covers software engineering skill areas such as web applications development and application lifecycle management.[iv]

Computer Software Engineer Salary Potential and Job Growth

Wondering what computer software engineers could earn? Salary potential may vary in this field, depending on factors such as your experience and your prospective employer. However, here are some stats that might give you a general idea of earnings potentials and job growth in this field.

  • In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics listed median earnings for computer software engineers as $85,430 per year and $41.07 per hour.[v]
  • Projected job growth between 2012 and 2022 is 22%, which is much faster than average for all occupations.[vi]
  • Job growth may occur due to the increasing popularity of mobile devices such as tablets, as well as online shopping.[vii]

Check out some degree programs that may be useful for pursuing a computer software engineering career path. 


Sources:bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm  |  onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1132.00

[i] bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm#tab-4|[ii] adobe.com/support/certification/developer.html | [iii] certification.googleapps.com/deployment|[iv] microsoft.com/learning/en-us/mcsd-certification.aspx|[v] bls.gov/oes/2008/may/oes151031.htm|[vi] bls.gov/oes/2008/may/oes151031.htm| [vii] bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm

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