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What is Software Engineering?

Software engineering is an ideal major area of study for individuals interested in learning how to develop applications, systems, and software. A degree in this subject can also lead to a wide variety of engaging career opportunities, especially in the telecommunications, healthcare, finance, and insurance fields. Additionally, the knowledge and skills obtained by graduates is highly applicable to various industries, making is a good choice for those attracted to other information technology (IT) professions.

Software engineers typically create and maintain the underlying systems needed to run devices and/or control networks for computer applications. They tend to have a broad view of project system and software requirements and are often actively involved in most associated processes. The scopes of their responsibilities vary, however, with some taking more active roles than others. Duties can range from designing and developing single mechanisms needed to meet user needs to creating every piece of the applicants and/or systems, as well as determining how all the pieces will work together in the end.

Other common responsibilities include regular software maintenance and testing. Once created, systems typically continue to require attention in order to function properly. It’s also vital that these professionals maintain documentation of every aspect of their systems as reference. This is especially important during upgrades. Additionally, some employers may also task software engineers with supervising other information technology workers.

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Online Software Engineering Education in Missouri

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 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 is the ninth largest industry in Missouri, accounting for $12.9 billion in revenue each year. Professionals in this field are also likely to find employment in many of the state’s other top sectors such as business services, manufacturing, education, finance, retails, and entertainment.

Based on data provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Missouri employed 22,530 software developers in May 2021. Overall, however, the state maintained 87,450 computer and mathematical occupations. The annual mean wage for these professionals ranged between $88,390 and $101,990. Notably, both of these numbers are significantly above the state’s reported annual mean wage of $54,520 for all occupations.

Academic institutions throughout the United States offer degree programs in software engineering and other related subjects. However, those planning to pursue employment in Missouri should give particular preference to local colleges and universities. Schools located within the state will provide the most geographically relevant education. As a result, graduates will possess the knowledge and skills employers in the region seek most.

Students interested in earning an associate or bachelor's degree in this field will have many options throughout the state, both public and private institutions. Some of these options include Missouri University, Saint Louis University, the University of Missouri, Washington University, etc.

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.

It’s important to realize that education requirements for information technology (IT) jobs vary significantly, with opportunities available even to those without higher education. While a high school diploma or GED may be enough to qualify you for some entry-level opportunities, most companies and organizations prefer to hire candidates with at least some type of academic degree. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bachelor’s degrees in computer and information technology or a related are standard for software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers throughout the nation.

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. The majority of undergraduate programs like these are comprised of both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. This means that students typically study basic communication, mathematics, and science subjects in conjunction with major-specific content. As a result, those enrolled often develop strong academic foundations for future learning, as well as a basic introduction to the field. While curriculums vary by institution, software engineering programs at this level often cover topics in basic programming, web design, and database management. Instruction in business and management is also common.

Graduates with associate degrees of this kind can generally pursue employment as computer programmers and web developers. This is often particularly appealing to those who want to save money while pursuing higher education. These programs are typically offered by community colleges, which charge lower tuition and fee rates than traditional four-year institutions. As a result, it’s often possible to enter the workforce with fewer or no student loans.

Associate degrees are unlikely to qualify graduates for software engineering positions, however. Individuals seeking this type of employment will require additional education. In fact, many associate degree graduates choose to pursue further education in order to improve their job prospects.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering (BS)

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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, most are still comprised of both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. In addition to basic communication, mathematics, and science subjects, organizational leadership programs of this kind often cover topics in mobile software development, cross-platform engineering, and security. Those enrolled are also likely to receive instruction in leadership and business, which is meant to help prepare them for management-level employment. Additionally, it’s common for software engineering students to receive comprehensive training in various programming techniques and software design, as well as interactions between computers and humans.

Software engineering majors pursuing bachelor’s degrees may also be given opportunities to select concentrations. This is particularly relevant to individuals planning to pursue careers that require specialized knowledge and skills. Choosing a sub-field specialty area like this can help direct instruction and prepare students for work in certain jobs.

Bachelor’s degrees are considered the academic standard for most occupations in information technology field. As a result, graduates often qualify for entry-level employment as software engineers, software developers, information systems managers, computer systems analysts, information security analysts, and network systems administrators. The knowledge and skills gained while earning this type of degree are also highly transferable, which can lead to opportunities in many other industries, as well.

Notably, more advanced degrees can lead to greater opportunities. As a result, not all graduates seek employment right away. Those interested in pursuing advanced employment opportunities and higher pay potential often choose to continue their education by enrolling in master-level programs. Prospective graduate school students should be prepared to meet established minimum grade point average (GPA) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) score requirements set by their chosen school.

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Online Master's Degree in Software Engineering (MS)

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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. General liberal arts classes are no longer incorporated into graduate program curriculums. In some cases, however, students may be required to have taken certain undergraduate prerequisite courses. This ensures those enrolled have the basic knowledge needed for the advanced study of specific topics.

Graduate school curriculums are typically designed to prepare students for high-level positions in the field. Every institution is different, but those enrolled in these programs can expect extensive study of topics related to the software development lifecycle, management, innovation, information trends, and the latest technology developments. Opportunities to gain hands-on experience are also common, with capstone project and/or internship requirements possible.

Those who complete these programs often possess superior knowledge and skills, which are strongly preferred by employers. As a result, graduates can qualify for some of the most lucrative careers in the field. Career options commonly available include software engineer, software developer manager, computer network architect, senior software engineer, and solutions architect.

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. Notably, graduates typically qualify for many of the same employment opportunities available to those with master’s degrees. They may, however, have an easier time acquiring upper-level management occupations. Additionally, only individuals with doctoral degrees may seek post-secondary teaching jobs at colleges and universities or positions as research scientists.

As terminal degrees, these are known to be academically intensive. Every college and university is different, but most design their curriculums to incorporate extensive training in the research and development of software systems. Students can also expect to receive instruction on various techniques and tools used during advanced design and prototyping. Additionally, those enrolled will likely study economic trends and privacy laws, as well as maintenance and security strategies that are applicable to complex systems. While the first few years of these programs typically consist of traditional coursework, this gradually transitions into independent study, research, and writing that culminate in the presentation and defense of dissertations.

Become a Software Engineer in Missouri

Becoming a software engineer in Missouri often begins simply by deciding to pursue this particular career. There are, however, many other related employment opportunities available within the field. As a result, it’s important to spend some time determining exactly what type of work you want to. Not only will this help you identify your ultimate career goals, but it will make it easier to create a clear course of action moving forward. Every profession is different, with unique employment standards and expectations. Once you select a preferred occupation and research these specifics, you can confidently pick an appropriate academic degree program, major area of study, and specialty to focus on. This also helps ensure you choose extracurricular activities and internship opportunities that will complement your professional goals.

As previously mentioned, a limited number of information technology (IT) employment opportunities may be available to candidates with little or no higher education. Jobs like this are rare, however, with the mass majority of professionals in this field possessing bachelor’s degrees. This is true in Missouri and throughout the United States.

It’s important to note that degrees in software engineering may not always be required. Some related major areas of study may be suitable, as well. Degrees in computer engineering and computer information technology are often acceptable. In some cases, majoring in basic engineering and/or mathematics can also prepare you for work in this field. You should always consider the education requirements for your desired career carefully, as these should dictate the type of degree you seek.

Many software engineering professionals also choose to pursue one or more relevant certifications, especially when they pertain directly to the type of work performed. In addition to demonstrating dedication to the field as a whole, additional credentials are an ideal way to prove you possess a specific type of knowledge and skills. While not usually required for entry-level employment, hiring managers do tend to give preference to candidates with certifications. In some cases, they can also lead to increased pay and promotional opportunities.

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While there is no single recommended credential for all software engineers, certifications administered by well-known organizations and associations often have the best results. A particularly well-known and credible provider is the Institute of Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP). You are, however, free to pursue any of the options available. Important factors to consider before making your final selection(s) are pricing, skill level, and applicability.

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)

Every certification has different application requirements. Depending on the credential, candidates may have to pass written examinations or complete a course. As technology changes rapidly, most certifying bodies also necessitate recipients meet continuing education guidelines each year.

Additionally, you may want to consider joining a professional association or organization. This is common among software engineers and other information technology workers as these groups often offer many benefits. Perks vary, but may include access to helpful resources and the ability to interact with like-minded individuals in the field. Becoming a member of one of these organizations can also provide opportunities 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

  • Computer Programmer
    Computer programmers strive to improve the functionality of computer software and applications by writing, modifying, and testing code and scripts. When developers and engineers create new designs, these professionals are responsible for transforming them into instructions that computers can easily follow. They may also be tasked with updating and expanding upon existing programs. In some cases, this can entail 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.
  • Computer Systems Analyst
    Computer systems analysts are hired by companies and organization to study current computer systems and procedures with the intent of designing and implementing improvements. These professionals often start by consulting with managers in order to determine how information technology is utilized, then research various ways it might be possible to increase efficiency. They are also often expected to find ways to make existing computer systems more functional, as well as providing a breakdown of potential upgrade benefits and costs. According to PayScale, computer systems analysts make an average base salary of $73,224 per year.
  • Information Security Analyst
    Information analysts are employed by companies and organizations with information technology departments to collect and analyze network, software, and/or hardware data. In most cases, it’s their responsibility to identify and anticipate problems within their various systems, as well as providing detailed assessments of the systems and networks they evaluated. When appropriate, these professionals may also be expected to 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 typically work to create computer applications intended to help users perform specific tasks on various electronic devices. Utilizing a variety of computer languages such as C++, Python, and Java, as well as different operating systems such as Linux, Solaris, and HPUX, these professionals can generate many different types of software. While it’s possible to work alone throughout the product creation process, they often function as part of teams comprised of numerous systems engineers and computer programmers. According to PayScale, software developers make an average base salary of $75,708 per year.
  • Software Engineer
    Software engineers work to develop computer software, often by utilizing various engineering principles. Notably, these professionals most frequently deal with complex and large systems, rather than individual networks. Additionally, they are often expected to analyze and modify existing software to ensure they meet user needs. In some cases, it may also be necessary to design, construct, and test new applications as well. According to PayScale, software engineers make an average base salary of $90,649 per year.
  • Systems Administrator
    Systems administrators work for companies and organizations, ensuring various types of networks and other data communication systems work properly. This generally entails organizing, installing, and supporting these various systems, as well as managing, troubleshooting, and proactively updating associate hardware and software assets. In addition to preventing issues, they may also be responsible for sharing 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 may work for themselves or be hired by companies and organizations to support and maintain websites and various other digital products. They typically spend a lot of time planning and creating software solutions and web applications but may also be responsible for validating test routines in order to ensure the quality of external and internal interfaces. They may also generate solutions for problems or bugs. According to PayScale, web developers make an average base salary of $61,677 per year.

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