Whether you’re just entering the workforce or in a career you dislike, finding a new career that you love can be difficult. Today’s digital world has opened up a vast selection of tech careers and it’s hard to decide which one is right for you. With all the career possibilities one can pursue in today’s world, choosing the right one can be overwhelming.
One career that is highly sought after in the tech world is software engineering. In order to help you in making that choice, we’re shining the spotlight on the position of software engineer today. Everyone these days seem to say that building a career in software engineering is not only highly lucrative but also safe. Software has become such an integral part of our day-to-day lives that there will always be a demand for new engineers in the field (and great companies that will pay top dollar for them). Software engineers are responsible for actually building all of the software we use on a daily basis through various coding languages. Those who thrive in a highly technical environment, love to problem solve, and enjoy building things from scratch will excel in a career as a software engineer.
When you’re finished reading this article, you’ll know everything you need to know in order to make an informed choice about whether or not the career of a software engineer is right for you!
What Is a Software Engineer?
Before learning how to become a software engineer, let’s get started with the basics.
So what exactly is software engineering anyway? The definition from Techopedia is "the process of analyzing user needs and designing, constructing, and testing end-user applications that will satisfy these needs through the use of software programming languages. In simpler terms, a software engineer is someone who:
- Designs, builds, and tests software applications
- Understands user requirements and solves problems using coding/technology
- Uses programming languages to turn instructions into something a computer can understand
- Codes something from scratch, or collaborates with a team of software developers, or improve/debug existing code
- Works with other professionals like UX designers, graphic designers, product managers, or technical writers
Like any role, the specifics of being a software engineer will differ depending on each company’s software engineer requirements.
Is Software Engineering Right For You?
Are you detail-oriented? Enjoy highly technical work? Enjoy building things and solving problems? A career as a software engineer might be right for you! It’s thanks to software engineers that our devices can become the invaluable tools we use today. The work coders do can seem daunting. But thanks to the expansion of computer science education and training options, it has never been easier to enter the software engineering field — even with little to no prior industry experience. All it takes is a healthy level of ambition and hard work.
While the upskilling process requires strong commitment and patience, the career rewards it provides are well worth the effort. Keep reading to learn how to become a software engineer in 2021! There has never been a better time to become a software engineer. You can get started today!
Software Developer Perks
There are a lot of reasons to choose a career in software engineering. Whether you want to change the world through the power of software or are just looking for a stable, long-term career, here are some of the other reasons you might want to pursue this career path. The software engineer career path comes with extra benefits such as:
Software engineering is a very remote-friendly job, so you’ll likely be able to work from home at least part of the time. Even before Covid, working from home as a developer was considered normal, with 86% of developers working remotely sometimes and almost one-third working from home full-time. Along with flexible schedules, software engineering roles often come with comfortable, casual work environments. Many software engineers enjoy extremely flexible schedules; a lot of jobs don’t even start until 10 am or later or allow you to choose your own schedule.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), demand for software developers is projected to grow by 22% by 2029. To put that figure in perspective, the average projected growth rate across all occupations is about 4%.
Additionally, the BLS projects that the demand for app developers, in particular, will increase by an estimated 26% by 2029, with roughly 310,00 new jobs being added in the coming years.
With so much job growth on the horizon, prospective software developers stand to see a bright future ahead of them. Those with proper training and education not only have great job security and a ton of options but a high-paying, rewarding career path.
That said, it’s important to note that software developers will need to continue to learn new programming languages and keep up with the latest tech trends to remain on the cutting edge.
Who doesn’t want a high-paying, flexible, stable job? Let’s take a look at the steps you should take to become a software engineer.
1. Plan Your Career Path
Transitioning into a new career is not easy. But when you have a final destination in mind, it’s easier when you hit bumps in the road. As well as the software engineering role itself, think about the type of company, industry, and work environment you’re looking for. Take five minutes a day, preferably first thing in the morning, and identity your goals for the next 12-15 hours. Strive to be among the 1% of those who perform this critical, daily practice.
A crystal-clear goal looks something like this:
- “I want to work as a software developer at an established tech company.”
- I want to work at a startup and make a difference
- “I want to build things on a team, and get paid well for it.”
To help you discover the role that’s right for you, check out Break Into Tech’s Find Your Fit course, a step-by-step guide for finding and positioning yourself for the perfect tech job.
2. Choose the Software Engineering Language to Use
When you’re just starting out as a software engineer, it can be challenging to figure out which coding languages have the most professional value. When starting out, many people get stuck deciding which programming language (and framework) they should learn. We’ve put together a list of the most in-demand coding languages on the market today. Keep in mind though once you know a particular language/stack well, it is not difficult to transition to a new one. As co-founder of Flatiron School Avi Flombaum says, “The most important aspect of it is that you’re learning how to think like a developer.”
Google-developed Go has seen a steady increase in popularity since its 2009 inception. According to analysts at HackerRank , it has been “the #1 language developers want to learn next” for three consecutive years; it was also found to be the “12th most known language for 2020.”
Despite its potentially intimidating name, “HyperText Markup Language” (HTML) is a highly accessible language often used to describe a web page’s formatting and overall appearance. As a markup language, HTML is more specific in its usability but remains one of the most commonly used languages worldwide.
3.Get an Education
Generally speaking, there are three main paths aspiring software engineers can take to pursue their education: coding bootcamps, college, and self-directed learning. The option you choose will be contingent on your preferences as a learner and your lifestyle circumstances (such as schedule conflicts, intended timelines, and financial resources). The best option for you depends on your preferred learning style. Each route comes with its own set of pros and cons, so consider them carefully before enrolling in a course!
An education in computer science will give you a firm grasp of the background and the theory you’ll need to get into software engineering, and you’ll have access to experienced professors who can help you on your way.
However, a college education can be less economical than a bootcamp, and a degree isn’t strictly necessary to become a software engineer, though you’ll often have to work harder to achieve your goals. The same survey also found that just over 20 percent of professional developers did not have an undergraduate degree. Roughly 16 percent of surveyed developers also described college degrees as “not at all important” or “not necessary.”
In summary — while college can be a fantastic option for those who have the time and resources to attend, it is not the only option to become a software engineer.
If you want to develop your coding fundamentals and start gaining work experience as soon as possible, you should still consider enrolling in a coding bootcamp geared toward helping you become a full-stack developer. By attending a coding bootcamp, you’ll have the opportunity to gain a set of job-ready programming skills through an accelerated curriculum.
Software engineering is challenging to learn from scratch — but with a bootcamp, even industry newcomers can build a strong knowledge base and ready themselves for an entry-level role quickly if they are willing to put in the time, hard work, and dedication.
Coding bootcamps may be worth it for those who don’t have the time or resources to attend a four-year degree program. The major focus of many coding bootcamps is to help students develop the right technical skills and build impressive portfolios, which are often the deciding factors when it comes to getting hired. Some platforms also have bootcamp-style courses that are very comprehensive and require more of a time commitment. And many of these bootcamps offer their education at no upfront cost where you only pay if the education gets you into a career.
There is also a range of self-directed learning opportunities to explore for those who prefer less formal academic options. For instance, learners can pick up necessary coding skills via free educational websites like Khan Academy and freeCodeCamp. In addition to being cost-effective, these classes are designed to suit self-guided instruction and scheduling, making them highly personalized by default.
But the flexibility provided by self-directed learning comes at a cost. Those who choose to learn independently don’t have the accountability a set schedule or formal instructor offers. You’ll be responsible for keeping yourself on track and productive.
Maybe try a few courses to see which you prefer before committing: Here’s a list of 101 places to learn to code for free.
4. Get Experience
You can’t become a software developer after 10 hours of isolated practice. It’s just not possible. As mentioned, coding bootcamps can provide good hands-on experience and help you build a respectable portfolio, but it’s up to you to take things further. Your skills training shouldn’t start and end with formal classes! It’s simple: a good software developer is just someone who works hard to develop software every day! What matters is learning by doing. This means dedicating some real time to perfecting your new craft. You must set aside a significant amount of time every day, every week, to learning.
Contributing to open-source coding projects can help you put theory and experience to work for actual results, while also networking and earning a little peer recognition in the process. Here’s your ultimate guide to how to contribute to open source.
5. Build Your Portfolio
A coding portfolio is a crucial asset for all aspiring software engineers seeking employment. This comprehensive body of work is often the first impression job recruiters have of you. It is a great way to showcase your past projects, too; these can convey your versatility and general know-how as a work-ready software engineer. Get creative. Prospective employers like seeing experience in their candidates’ history, or at the very least, possessing a verifiable set of skills in the areas they are looking for.
What kind of project should you pursue? It all depends on your interests and your abilities. You could build a simple operating system, create an encryption tool, make a chatbot, invent an app, or design a game.
Your job is to provide as much evidence of your abilities as possible — so take time to build out your portfolio. Here are some extra resources to get started.
- 5 Rules for Writing a Software Engineer Resume That Will Get You Hired — The Muse
- An Honest Guide to Building a Powerful Developer Portfolio — Better Programming
- How to Prepare For & Succeed In a Coding Interview — Glassdoor
6. Get Certified
You can do independent study and research into the field, pursue continuing education, or earn certification. The latter shows an employer verifiable, measurable proof that you possess the needed skills and abilities to do the job.
Want to maximize your chances of being chosen by employers? You may want to consider earning a certification. Certificates are valuable in today’s professional climate, as they quickly confirm your experience to employers seeking top-level candidates. Being certified may help you rise above other applicants when potential employers sift through resumes.
Below, we’ve listed a few certifications that might benefit an entry-level software engineer.
- AWS Certified Developer (Associate) — Amazon Web Services
- Java Certification — Oracle University
- Professional Scrum Developer — Scrum
7. Apply For Jobs
Once you’ve sought out proper training and certification and prepared a layered portfolio, you’ll be ready to apply for software engineering positions.
If you’ve been following these steps, then at this point you should be ready to start applying for positions. Make sure your portfolio accurately showcases the range of your software engineering abilities, and create a resume that focuses on relevant skills and experience. Update your LinkedIn profile, and other relevant application materials to ensure that potential employers have an up-to-date snapshot of your skills and capabilities.
Online job listings may connect you with some good job openings. Still, in business, sometimes it’s more about who you know. This is where your network really pays off.
Speak with your professors or bootcamp instructors and let them know that you’re looking for employment; they may know about specific openings you’d be interested in. Other personal and professional contacts can help you find good opportunities and can give you recommendations to help you get your foot in the door.
Always Keep Improving
Finally, landed that job in software engineering? You’ve still got one step left: keep going. After all, technology is always advancing, and if you want to keep ahead of the curve in your career, then you need to evolve right along with it.
Make it a point to always further your education, through independent study, side projects, and coding community involvement. Maintain your networking relationships and be willing to help others who are on their way up.
Most importantly, learn from your mistakes and become better. You’re bound to stumble every now and again, but if you can turn setbacks into learning experiences, then you’ll be all the better for it.
Here are extra resources as you continue your learning!
- Programmr - This free resource is an online educational tool. It is comprehensive and covers a wide range of subjects, such as Ruby, SQL, C++, Python, C#, HTML, PHP, and several others
Stackoverflow is a community part of the Stack Exchange network. If you have a question, you can expect to get it answered through this site.
Codecademy is an interactive site for aspiring programmers. The site provides access to a free program to build skills for web development. There are educational programs that teach you specific programming languages. The site also allows students to craft their curriculum and work at their pace.
- Code 4 Good — American Red Cross
- Hackathon Opportunities — Second Muse
- How to Find a Software Developer Internship as a Student — freeCodeCamp
Without software engineering, a computer is just an expensive hunk of parts. That’s why the world needs software engineers. And if you follow these steps, you’ll be ready to take your place among the software engineers and help guide the course of the future.
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