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What is Software Engineering?

Are you considering enrollment in a software engineering degree program in Alaska? This is an ideal major for individuals interested in developing applications, systems, and software. The field offers significant flexibility, however, as companies and organizations in almost every industry rely of professionals with expertise in this area. Telecommunications, healthcare, finance, and insurance entities, in particular, regularly hire software engineers. After earning a degree, you may also be qualified to pursue careers in computer systems design, manufacturing, or management. Notably, these programs are best-suited for those who possess strong analytical and problem-solving skills.

Software engineers create and maintain the underlying systems that run devices and/or control networks needed for computer applications. They typically analyze users’ needs and then work to design and develop mechanisms to meet those specifications. Depending on the scope of their job, these professionals may be responsible for designing each piece of an application or system while planning how the pieces will all work together. This often requires creating numerous models and diagrams to show which code is necessary. Additionally, software engineers must perform regular software maintenance and testing to ensure that the systems developed continue to function normally. They are also regularly asked to document every aspect of the systems to provide a clear reference for future upgrades.

While there are many information technology professions with similar responsibilities, software engineers are unique because they tend to take a broad view of a project’s system and software requirements. This often requires more extensive planning in terms of scope and order of work. These professionals are also likely to be tasked with supervising other software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers.

Writing code is rarely a primary expectation, but software engineers with a strong background in computer programming often have the best employment outcomes. Other important attributes include good analytical, communication, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills. It’s also important for these professionals to be creative and detail oriented.

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Online Software Engineering Education in Alaska

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers is projected to grow 25% from 2021 to 2031. This is much faster than the average for all occupations and will result in an increase of about 162,900 job openings each year.

Information technology (IT) is not among the largest industries in Alaska, but experts in the field tend to work in many of the state’s top sectors. While computer system design and related service companies are the number one employer for software developers, these professionals are also commonly hired by finance, insurance, manufacturing, and management enterprises. As a result, graduates should still be able to find opportunities in Alaska.

Based on data provided by the BLS, Alaska employed 270 software developers in May 2021. Overall, however, the state maintained 4,910 computer and mathematical occupations. The annual mean wage for these professionals ranged between $83,340 and $113,800. Notably, both of these are significantly above the state’s reported annual mean wage of $63,480 for all occupations.

Many colleges and universities offer degrees in software engineering, as well as other related subjects. These programs are particularly popular among distance learning students, which allow students to complete requirements virtually. While online learning options are often more flexible, and courses can be taken from nearly anywhere with internet access, enrolling remotely may not be optimal. Individuals planning to pursue employment in Alaska may want to give preference to academic institutions located in the state. This is because local schools tend to be more familiar with employer standards and expectations in the area and adjust their curriculums accordingly. This ensures that graduates possess the knowledge and skills needed for success in Alaska specifically. Additionally, it’s common for colleges and universities in Alaska to establish relationships with nearby companies and organizations. These connections can give students better access to paid and unpaid internships, as well as help alumni find professional employment.

Education requirements can vary significantly for information technology (IT) professionals. Even among software engineers specifically, expectations will differ depending on preferred work settings and employer size. While it’s possible to find employment in this field with only a high school diploma, many companies and organizations give preference to candidates who possess some amount of higher education.

Online Associate Degree in Software Engineering (AS)

Associate degrees in software engineering generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately two years to complete. These are undergraduate programs, which typically require students to take both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. Curriculums vary, but those enrolled can expect to learn many fundamental software engineering concepts including basic programming, web design, and database management. It’s also fairly common for students to complete some business and management courses.

This type of degree is ideal for those who want to obtain the minimum knowledge and skills needed to pursue entry-level employment in the field as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Associate degrees are often administered by community colleges, which typically charge lower tuition rates. As a result, graduates spend less and have fewer academic loans when they join the workforce. Some common employment opportunities include computer programmer and web developer. Those seeking to become software engineers will likely require further education, however.

Software engineering associate degrees do tend to provide a strong foundation for future learning, making enrollment in bachelor’s programs a natural next step. This is especially true when students are able to transfer the undergraduate credit hours earned between institutions. Most colleges and universities accept up to 60 or 90 credits in transfer, which generally equates two full academic years. While every school is different, those with associate degrees can often complete bachelor’s degree requirements after only a couple additional years of study.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering (BS)

Bachelor’s degrees in software engineering often consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately four years to complete. These are also undergraduate programs that typically require students to take both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. Curriculums vary, but students can expect to receive comprehensive training in various programming techniques and software design, as well as interactions between computers and humans. Instruction also often covers current and future trends including mobile software development, cross-platform engineering, and security. Additionally, programs sometimes incorporate training in leadership and business to better prepare graduates for management-level employment.

It’s also worth noting that many colleges and universities offer software engineering students opportunities to choose academic concentrations. Like electives, these can allow those enrolled to pursue knowledge and skills in a specific sub-field. This can be particularly helpful when pursuing a certain career path.

This type of degree is ideal for individuals who plan to seek entry-level employment in the field. Some common opportunities include software engineer, software developer, information systems manager, computer systems analyst, information security analyst, and network systems administrator. The knowledge and skills gained may also be applicable in other professions and across many industries.

Graduates may also choose to pursue further education by enrolling in related master’s degree programs. Prospective students should be prepared to meet minimum grade point average (GPA) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) score requirements set by gaining institutions.

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Online Master's Degree in Software Engineering (MS)

Master’s degrees in software engineering generally range from 30 to 45 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately two to three years to complete. Curriculums vary, but most focus on management, innovation, and providing hands-on experiences that can be applied to most workplaces. Those enrolled can expect to examine the software development lifecycle, as well as the various stages involved. Instruction also often teaches those enrolled how to manage each of the stages independently. The latest technology developments and trends are also regularly covered.

This type of degree is ideal for those interested in leadership positions within the field. In addition to seeking employment as software engineers, graduates may qualify for jobs as software developer managers, computer network architects, senior software engineers, and solutions architects. Many companies and organizations regularly give preference to candidates who have completed graduate school. Graduates are also likely to promote faster and make more money.

Online PhD Degree in Software Engineering (PhD)

A PhD or doctorate in software engineering may consist of between 60 and 120 credit hours that can take full-time students up to seven years to complete. Program structure and length varies, but students can typically expect to receive advanced training in the research and development of software systems. Those enrolled often learn about various techniques and tools in advanced design and prototyping. It is also common for those enrolled to study maintenance and security strategies that can be applied to complex systems. Additionally, some programs incorporate economic trends and privacy laws into the curriculum.

This type of degree is rarely required. In fact, graduates typically qualify for many of the same jobs as those with master’s degrees. That said, individuals with doctorates do tend to have better access to upper-level management positions. Graduate will also qualify for post-secondary teaching positions at colleges and universities, as well as research scientists.

Become a Software Engineer in Alaska

The first step to becoming a software engineer in Alaska is establishing your ultimate career goals. There are a wide variety of information technology (IT) professions available, all with their own unique standards and requirements. Taking time to identify your preferred occupation early will make it easier to determine the level of education necessary to meet minimum hiring qualifications. It will also allow you to select the most appropriate minor areas of study, academic concentrations, and/or elective courses. Additionally, once you have researched your intended profession, you will also have a better understanding of the knowledge, skills, training, and experience needed to be successful.

While Alaska has no established minimum education requirement for software engineers in the state, most employers in this field expect software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers to possess bachelor’s degrees. Hiring standards are, however, managed by individual companies and organizations. The most useful majors are likely computer engineering and computer and information technology, although degrees in engineering and mathematics can also lead to related careers.

Once you have achieved your desired level of education, it may be beneficial to obtain one or more relevant certifications. These typically confirm you have a certain level of skills for various concepts and/or tasks related to software engineering. Every credential has set qualifying requirements, ranging from taking a written test to completing an entire course. Deciding to earn certifications can help prove your expertise to potential employers and will often set you apart from other job candidates. This is particularly true for credentials administered by well-known authorities. You can further distinguish yourself and increase your value to potential employers by obtaining a variety of certifications. This may also help you qualify for more positions and can be instrumental when negotiating higher pay.

Notably, there is no single most important credential recommended for software engineers. Instead, you are generally free to pursue certifications that expand your knowledge in areas of interest. Options vary significantly, making it essential to consider pricing, skill level, and applicability prior to making a final selection. You will also need to verify that the credential is offered by a credible provider, such as the Institute of Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP).

Some examples of potential certifications available to software engineers include:

  • Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP)
  • Certified Software Development Professional (CSDP)
  • Certified Software Engineer (CFE)
  • CIW Certified Web Development Professional
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified Developer
  • Oracle Certified Master (OCM)
  • Salesforce Administrator
  • Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)

It is also common for software engineers to join professional associations and organizations. These can help you remain connected with others in the field and often provide development opportunities that can further advance your knowledge and skills. These bodies can also be a great resource throughout your career. Other membership perks include discounts, access to academic journals, and invitations to networking events. Some also offer reduced membership rates for recent graduates.

A few prominent options include:

  • Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)
  • Association of Software Professionals (ASP)
  • Association for Women in Computer (AWC)
  • Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society
  • Python Software Foundation (PSF)

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Careers for Software Engineering Graduates

  • Computer and Information Systems (IS) Manager
    Information systems (IS) managers oversee teams of information technology (IT) professionals as they work to maintain employer needs. They often troubleshoot problems, administer computer system updates, and install hardware/software. These professionals may be responsible for budgeting, hiring employees, training new professionals, monitoring performance, delegating assistance requests, and researching new business technologies. According to PayScale, information systems managers make an average base salary of $87,700 per year.
  • Computer Network Architect
    Computer network architects design and build data communication networks such as local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and Intranets. They present plans to management and explain why and how they will benefit the company or organization. These professionals also upgrade technology hardware and software including routers, adapters, and network drivers. According to PayScale, computer network architects make an average base salary of $121,500 per year.
  • Computer Systems Analyst
    Computer systems analysts study current computer systems and procedures for companies and organizations, designing improvements when needed. They often consult with managers to determine how information technology is utilized, then perform research to determine if it is possible to increase efficiency. These professionals also devise ways to add functionality to existing computer systems, as well as analyzing the potential costs and benefits of recommended upgrades. According to PayScale, computer systems analysts make an average base salary of $73,200 per year.
  • Information Analyst
    Information analysts collect and analyze network, software, and/or hardware data for companies and organizations with information technology departments. They generally work to help identify and anticipate problems within systems. These professionals also provide detailed analyses of the systems and networks they assess, providing recommendations when appropriate. According to PayScale, information analysts make an average base salary of $69,350 per year.
  • Software Engineer
    Software engineers apply engineering principles to the development of computer software. They often analyze and modify existing software, as well as well as design, construct, and test new applications to ensure they meet user needs. These professionals typically work with complex and large systems rather than individual systems. According to PayScale, software engineers make an average base salary of $90,650 per year.
  • Systems Administrator
    Systems administrators organize, install, and support local area networks (LAN), wide area networks (WAN), and other data communication systems for companies and organizations. They manage, troubleshoot, and proactively update hardware and software assets in order to prevent delays. These professionals may also work with partners to communicate project status, activities, and achievements. According to PayScale, systems administrators make an average base salary of $65,000 per year.
  • Web Developer
    Web developers support and maintain websites and digital products by planning and creating software solutions and web applications. They often validate test routines to ensure external and internal interface quality, as well as generating solutions for problems or bugs when identified. These professionals also evaluate written code to ensure it meets industry standards and is compatible with all devices. According to PayScale, web developers make an average base salary of $61,700 per year.

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