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What is a Software Engineer?

Do you plan to pursue employment related to developing applications, systems, and software in Kentucky? If so, a degree in computer science or software engineering may be ideal. Majoring in this subject can lead to a wide variety of engaging career opportunities, especially in the telecommunications, healthcare, finance, and insurance fields. Graduates tend to possess knowledge and skills often sought most industries, however, as companies and organizations of every kind rely on experienced information technology (IT) professionals.

Software engineers can work in many different capacities but generally create and maintain the underlying systems that run devices and/or control networks needed for computer applications. While many other information technology professions have similar expectations, software engineers are unique in their broad view of project system and software requirements. Some professionals are more actively involved in the process than others, however. Most are capable of designing and developing mechanisms needed to meet user needs while others are responsible for creating every piece of the applicants and/or systems assigned to them and determining how all the pieces will work together in the end.

These professionals are also expected to perform regular software maintenance and testing to ensure that the systems developed continue to function properly. Additionally, they may be tasked with supervising other software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers. Another common expectation is record keeping, as software engineers must maintain exact documentation of every aspect of the systems in order to provide a clear reference for future upgrades.

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Online Software Engineering Education in Kentucky

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 Kentucky but, as previously mentioned, many sectors seek to employ workers with software engineering expertise. Professionals in the state are likely to find work in manufacturing, real estate, education, healthcare, business services, wholesale, retail, finance, transportation, construction, and entertainment.

Based on data provided by the BLS, Kentucky employed 5,030 software developers in May 2021. Overall, however, the state maintained 33,070 computer and mathematical occupations. The annual mean wage for these professionals ranged between $74,830 and $97,810. Notably, both of these are significantly above the state’s reported annual mean wage of $48,170 for all occupations.

Software engineering degree programs can be found throughout the nation, with many options offered online. Prospective students should be cognizant of where they choose to enroll. Not only can location impact the cost of earning a degree, but it often dictates where graduates are most prepared to work. Individuals planning to pursue employment in Kentucky may benefit from selecting colleges and universities in the state. As these institutions tend to be more familiar with professional standards in the region, they often offer geographically relevant curriculums that prepare those enrolled for work in the local area. These schools are also likely to have established relationships with nearby companies and organizations, which can make it easier to obtain relevant internships.

Many colleges and universities offer degrees in software engineering and other related subjects, with programs available at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Some academic institutions also provide professional certificates for undergraduate and graduate students.

Education requirements vary significantly for information technology (IT) jobs, with some entry-level opportunities available to those who possess only high school diplomas or GEDs. Most companies and organizations, however, give preference to candidates with at least some higher education. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers all typically need bachelor’s degrees in computer and information technology or a related field. Some employers primarily hire professionals with master’s degrees. In general, more advanced degrees tend to lead to higher-paying employment opportunities.

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. As undergraduate programs, they are typically comprised of both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. Curriculums vary, but students can expect to take an assortment of communication, mathematics, and science classes in addition to receiving instruction in many fundamental software engineering concepts. Those enrolled are likely to study basic programming, web design, and database management, as well as business and management.

This type of degree is a good choice for individuals eager to qualify for entry-level employment as fast as possible. Offered by community colleges, associate degrees also tend to cost less than traditional four-year programs. As a result, graduates often enter the workforce with fewer student loans and can begin earning money right away. It’s important to realize, however, that graduates are unlikely to qualify for software engineering positions. Instead, they are qualified to work as computer programmers and web developers.

Many graduates also choose to pursue bachelor’s degrees in the same or similar subjects. Undergraduate credit hours earned at accredited institutions can be transferable, making it possible to apply prior coursework towards new program requirements. Some colleges and universities accept up to 60 or 90 semester credits in transfer.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering (BS)

Bachelor’s degrees in software engineering generally consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately four years to complete. As undergraduate programs, they are typically comprised of both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. Curriculums vary, but students can expect to take an assortment of communication, mathematics, and science classes in addition to receiving a broad introduction to the field. Those enrolled often receive comprehensive training in various programming techniques and software design, as well as interactions between computers and humans. They are also likely to learn about current and future trends in mobile software development, cross-platform engineering, and security. Additionally, it’s fairly common for students to study leadership and business in order to prepare them for management-level employment.

Many colleges and universities also allow software engineering undergraduate majors to choose academic concentrations. This is particularly relevant to individuals planning to pursue careers that require specialized knowledge and skills.

These degrees are an ideal option for those planning to pursue entry-level employment in the field. Bachelor’s degrees are considered the academic standard for most occupations in the field. While it is true that more advanced degrees can lead to greater opportunities, graduates at this level are likely to qualify for work as software engineers, software developers, information systems managers, computer systems analysts, information security analysts, or network systems administrators. The knowledge and skills grained while earning this degree are also readily transferrable to other professions, making it possible to obtain employment across many different industries.

Notably, many graduates choose to further their 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 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. At this level, general liberal arts coursework is no longer incorporated into the curriculum. While some undergraduate prerequisites may be required, those enrolled typically focus solely on their major area of study. Instruction in management, innovation, information trends, and the latest technology developments is common, as are opportunities to gain hands-on experience. Students are also likely to spend a lot of time examining the software development lifecycle.

This type of degree is best-suited for those seeking leadership positions in the field. Graduates generally qualify to work as software engineers, software developer managers, computer network architects, senior software engineers, and solutions architects.

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. While curriculums vary, those enrolled often receive extensive training in the research and development of software systems. Students may also receive instruction on various techniques and tools used during advanced design and prototyping. Other common areas of study include economic trends and privacy laws, as well as maintenance and security strategies that are applicable to complex systems. Most programs culminate with the presentation and defense of dissertations before a board of professors.

Most jobs in this field do not require this level of education. In fact, graduates typically qualify for many of the same employment opportunities as those with master’s degrees. The biggest difference is that obtaining a PhD or doctorate leads to more occupations in upper-level management. Graduates may also seek post-secondary teaching jobs at colleges and universities or positions as research scientists.

Become a Software Engineer in Kentucky

The first step to becoming a software engineer in Kentucky is determining your ultimate career goals in the field. As previously mentioned, there are many different employment opportunities available. Taking time to identify the type of work you want to perform is beneficial for many reasons. Not only can you research your preferred occupation and any associated requirements for employment, but you will have greater insight when selecting an appropriate academic degree program. This ensures you gain the knowledge and skills needed to be successful. You will also be more familiar with associated education, training, and experience standards for new professionals.

Generally, hiring requirements for software engineers and other information technology (IT) workers are fairly standardized throughout the nation. While some opportunities may be available to those with little-to-no higher education, most Kentucky professionals in this field possess bachelor’s degrees.

It’s important to note that not all professions in the field require software engineering degrees. Many companies and organizations seek graduates who majored in computer engineering or computer and information technology. Depending on the job sought, degrees in engineering and/or mathematics may also prove useful.

Once you earn the necessary degree(s), it may be beneficial to obtain one or more related certifications. These credentials often demonstrate dedication to the field, as well possession of relevant specialized software engineering skills. While not necessarily required for employment, many companies and organizations give preference to candidates with certifications. As a result, they often lead to more professional opportunities and higher pay. This is particularly true for credentials administered by well-known organizations and associations within the field.

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There is no single most recommended credential for software engineers. Professionals are generally free to pursue the certifications they want, either because they expand their knowledge or due to personal interest. Most options are offered by companies, organizations, or associations. A particularly well-known and credible provider is the Institute of Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP). It’s important to note that pricing, skill level, and applicability can vary significantly depending on the credential.

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’s important to realize that application requirements also vary depending on the certification pursued. Some require candidates to pass written examinations, while others may necessitate completing an entire course. Additionally, many certifying bodies also expect recipients to meet continuing education guidelines as well. Ensure you meet minimum expectations by thoroughly researching expectations prior to beginning the process.

It's also common for software engineering and other information technology workers to join professional associations and organizations. These groups can offer many benefits, including access to helpful resources and opportunities to interact with like-minded individuals in the field. Memberships can also provide further career development, event discounts, monthly publications, and access to relevant academic journals.

Some prominent examples 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)

Potential Careers for Software Engineering Graduates

  • Application Developer
    Application developers create, develop, manage, and maintain new programs and software used on smartphones, computers, tablets, and more. They are often responsible for helping companies and organizations remain relevant with the latest technologies and web developments. In some instances, they may also be expected to collaborate with other web and information technology professionals. According to PayScale, application developers make an average base salary of $72,463 per year.
  • Computer and Information Systems (IS) Manager
    Information systems (IS) managers oversee teams of IT professionals for their employers. They are often responsible for troubleshooting problems, administering computer system updates, and installing hardware/software. They may also be expected to coordinate activities related to 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 $87,717 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 are generally responsible for presenting plans to management, as well as explaining why and how they will benefit the company or organization. In some cases, they may also perform upgrades to technology hardware and software such as routers, adapters, and network drivers. According to PayScale, computer network architects make an average base salary of $121,498 per year.
  • Computer Programmer
    Computer programmers work to ensure computer software and applications function more properly by writing, modifying, and testing code and scripts. They are often responsible for turning developer and engineer designs into instructions that computers can easily follow and may also update and expand existing programs, as well as testing programs for errors and fixing faulty lines of computer code. According to PayScale, computer programmers make an average base salary of $67,889 per year.
  • Cybersecurity Analyst
    Information analysts work for companies and organizations with information technology departments, collecting and analyzing network, software, and/or hardware data. They are generally responsible for identifying and anticipating problems within their various systems and providing detailed analyses of the systems and networks assessed. When necessary, they also provide feedback and recommendations to stakeholders. According to PayScale, information analysts make an average base salary of $69,335 per year.
  • Software Developer
    Software developers use various computer languages such as C++, Python, and Java to create computer applications that help users perform specific tasks on various electronic devices. They typically work with teams of systems engineers and computer programmers throughout the product creation process and utilize different operating systems such as Linux, Solaris, and HPUX. According to PayScale, software developers make an average base salary of $75,708 per year.
  • Systems Administrator
    Systems administrators are employed by companies and organizations to ensure local area networks, wide area networks, and other data communication systems are properly organized, installed, and supported. They are often responsible for managing, troubleshooting, and proactively updating hardware and software assets to prevent issues from developing and may communicate project status, activity, and achievement updates with partners. According to PayScale, systems administrators make an average base salary of $64,989 per year.
  • Web Developer
    Web developers provide support and maintenance for websites and various other digital products. They are often responsible for planning and creating software solutions and web applications, as well as validating test routines to ensure external and internal interface quality. They may be tasked with generating solutions for problems or bugs as they are identified, as well as examining written code to ensure it meets industry standards and device compatibility. According to PayScale, web developers make an average base salary of $61,677 per year.

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