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What is a Software Developer?

Are you interested in pursuing a career as a software developer? If you enjoy being creative and are good at working with computer programs, becoming a software developer may be a good fit for you. Whether you are a prospective student, are currently working toward a relevant degree, or are already professionally employed, it is important to realize that becoming a software developer will require time and dedication. The field is, however, projected to grow much faster than other occupations, making the investment worthwhile.

While the specific job responsibilities of a software developer can vary significantly depending on the industry they work in, most of these professionals are in charge of the development process for a software program. From conducting market research and assessing potential customer feedback to identifying core functionality and determining user requirements, they must design the program. Once complete, software developers then provide clear instructions to the software programmers, who must write the corresponding computer code and test it.

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Steps to Becoming a Software Developer

Software developers must acquire the appropriate level of education before they can find professional employment. The best programs tend to be broad and cover a variety of helpful topics in computer science. Students should also enroll in classes that appeal to their specific interests in relation to building software. Additionally, many opt to complete an internship before graduation and/or pursue a graduate degree.

  • Step 1: Complete the Necessary Education Requirements

  • Step 2: Complete an Internship with a Software Company

  • Step 3: Join a Professional Organization

  • Step 4: Seek Certification in Various Software Development Sub-Fields

  • Step 5: Find Professional Employment


Step 1: Complete the Necessary Education Requirements

In most cases, systems software developers choose to earn an undergraduate degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related field. While there are associate programs available, these often lead to lower paying jobs. Additionally, most employers prefer candidates with a higher level of education.

A bachelor’s degree in software development typically consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that can be completed in four years by students who are enrolled full-time. The curriculum generally focuses primarily on software building, mathematics, and physics.

As industry standards continue to rise, more and more individuals are choosing to enroll in computer science or software engineering graduate programs. While not required for employment, many companies give preference to candidates with a master’s degree in the field. These programs generally consist of 30-60 credit hours and can be completed in two years by students who are enrolled fulltime.

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Before selecting a degree program, you should confirm that it is properly accredited. Attending an unaccredited college or university can result in difficulty transferring credits, applying for higher education, and finding adequate employment. Give preference to institutions accredited by one of the four commissions operated by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET):

  • Computer Accreditation Commission (CAC)
  • Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission (ETAC)
  • Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC)
  • Applied and Natural Science Accreditation Commission (ANSAC)

Step 2: Complete an Internship with a Software Company

While working on their undergraduate degree, many students opt to complete an internship in the computing field. While not typically included as part of a program’s graduation requirements, the experience and connections gained through an internship can be invaluable assets moving forward. Software development internships offer a variety of benefits, including:

  • Real-world training and work experience
  • Opportunities to apply academic theory and best practices
  • Experience working on and communicating with a development team
  • Access to potential professional mentors
  • Skills development
  • Networking

The process for applying for an internship varies from institution to institution. Most colleges and universities have a career center or designated career counselor who can provide more information. You can speak with a professor within the computer sciences department for guidance.

Step 3: Join a Professional Organization

Students and professionals alike should strongly consider joining a professional organization. These are available at the state, national, and international levels and are available to individuals at every level of their career. While membership benefits vary significantly, most organizations offer exclusive access to field resources, discounts, training, certification programs, and networking opportunities. Some of the most prominent professional organizations, associations, and societies for systems software developers include:

  • Association of Software Professionals (ASP)
  • Association for Computer Machinery (ACM)
  • Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI)
  • Association for Women in Computing (AWC)
  • Computing Research Association (CRA)
  • Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
  • Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)

Step 4: Seek Certification in Various Software Development Sub-Fields

    It is important to realize that there are no state or national certification requirements for software developments. Many systems software developers do, however, seek certification in various computing sub-fields. This is rarely considered a requirement by employers, but being certified in a particular area can set candidates apart from their competition during a job interview.

    There are numerous certification options available. Most do not have education requirements, but do prefer candidates with one to two years of professional experience. Some of the most prominent certifications in the field include:

    • Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD)
    • Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA)
    • Amazon Web Services Developer (AWS)
    • Oracle Certified Professional (OCP)
    • Oracle Certified Master (OCM)
    • Red Hat Certified JBoss Developer (RHCJD)
    • Scrum Alliance Certified Scrum Developer (CSD)
    • Project Management Institute – Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI – ACP)

Step 5: Find Professional Employment

Technically, systems software developers can begin looking for employment immediately after completing the necessary educational requirements. While completing an internship, earning an advanced degree, joining a professional organization, and becoming certified are helpful steps, they are not entirely necessary. Completing these tasks can, however, result in better employment opportunities, higher pay, and more job advancement opportunities. You will have to decide whether or not the benefits outweigh the resulting time commitments based on your individual circumstances.

What is the Difference Between a Software Developer and Software Engineer?

While systems software developers and software engineers are often thought to provide the same services, there are a few significant differences between these two professions.

Software developers are responsible for managing the software development process. These professionals tend to be creative thinkers and work closely with potential customers to generate a successful product. Once the design is completed, they give the plans to programmers who are responsible for making the vision a reality.

Software engineers, on the other hand, are trained to apply engineering principles to software creation. They incorporate these principles into every stage of the development process. For these professionals, the emphasis is placed on technical skill and mathematics. While software engineers are frequently involved in software development, not all software developers are engineers.

What Does a Software Developer Do?

Simply put, applications software developers are the creative minds behind computer programs. They are responsible for developing the various computer applications that allow users to perform specific tasks. Many also develop the underlying systems that run the devices or that control the associated networks. After assessing user needs, identifying core functionality, and addressing security requirements, applications software developers must present the resulting design instructions to the programmers who will write the necessary computer code. If the program does not work properly, however, applications software developers must return to the design process and fix the problems. Once the program is successfully completed, software developers often perform any necessary upgrades and maintenance over time.

While the specific job requirements of a software developer can vary from position to position, common responsibilities include:

  • Analyzing user needs and creating software to meet those needs
  • Recommending software upgrades for existing programs
  • Designing each part of a program and planning how the pieces will work together
  • Creating models and diagrams that explain coding requirements to programmers
  • Ensuring that programs continue to function after maintenance
  • Maintaining program documentation for future maintenance and upgrades
  • Collaborating with other computer scientists

Most applications software developers work full-time in an office setting. It is not uncommon, however, for these professionals to put in additional hours each week, especially if a deadline is approaching. Software developers also work on teams with others who contribute to the program design and development process. Some do work at home, managing their own companies or as independent contractors.

Skills to Acquire

A career as a software developer is not for everyone. The computing field is extremely demanding and continually changing; they must work hard to remain informed and relevant. To be successful, these professionals must develop and hone several important skills. Most possess the following traits:

  • Analytical skills necessary to analyze user needs and design software that meets those needs
  • Communication skills necessary to provide clear instruction to others, as well as explain how new software works to potential customers
  • Creativity to dream up new computer software
  • Computer programming and coding skills in Java, Python, Mean, Ruby, and others
  • Detail oriented enough to work on multiple parts of an application at the same time
  • Interpersonal skills necessary to work well with others who are contributing to the design and development of software
  • Problem-solving skills necessary to address issues that arise throughout the software design process

Alternative Paths

The process for becoming a software developer is quite straight forward. Because most employers prefer candidates to have an undergraduate degree in computer science from an ABET-accredited college or university, there is not much opportunity for variation. While associate level degrees are available, these often limit employment opportunities and lead to jobs that pay less.

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If you have already earned a bachelor’s degree in another field but are interested in becoming a software developer, the best course of action is to enroll in a software development graduate program. Depending on your completed major, you may be required to take and pass a series of prerequisites. Regardless, this process will take significantly less time than earning a second undergraduate degree.

Once you have completed the necessary education requirements, you will be free to pursue additional training and certifications in specialty areas. These choices can have a large impact on future employment opportunities.

Software Developer Career & Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median annual wage for software developers in 2017 was $101,790. PayScale reports an average salary of $69,800 for software developers. Both of these figures are well above the median annual wage of $37,700 reported for all occupations. Entry-level professionals can expect to make around $65,000 annually, while those with 20 or more years of experience can earn closer to $99,000 a year. Salary is also impacted by location; the top paying states for this occupation include California, New Hampshire, Colorado, Delaware, and Virginia.

Where Might You Work?


Because many companies and organizations utilize computer technology and software, software developers can find employment in a wide variety of industries. From small businesses to multi-million dollar corporations, most companies benefit from working with software developers.

That said, the industries that hire these professionals most often are:

  • Computer Systems Design Companies
  • Software Publishers
  • Navigational, Measuring, Electromedical, and Control Instruments Manufacturers
  • Architectural and Engineering Companies
  • Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturers
  • Communications Equipment Manufacturers
  • Radio and Television Broadcasting Companies
  • Cable and Other Subscription Programming Companies
  • Semiconductor and Electronic Component Manufacturers
  • Monetary Authorities
  • Advertising and Public Relations Companies and Organizations

It is important to realize that most software developers work for firms that deal in computer systems; design and related services, manufacturing, or software publishing. Jobs in these industries are regularly available. The industries that pay the most, however, include radio and television broadcasting, subscription programing, monetary authorities, and electronic component manufacturing.

Potential Career Paths

There are many employment opportunities available to individuals with a background in computer science or computer engineering. Becoming a software developer is not the only career option. In fact, there are numerous jobs available in the field. The constant demand for new software, programs, and applications also increases the number of jobs available. While these professionals can find work in a wide variety of industries, some of the most common professions include:

  • Application Developer
    Application developers help companies and organizations remain familiar with the latest technologies online. These professionals work in a wide variety of industries, from banks to universities and news channels to hospitals. They often test and document software, analyze requirements, design application components, and debug software.
  • Computer and Information Research Scientist
    Computer and information research scientists are responsible for inventing and designing new approaches to computing technology. These professionals also find innovative uses for technology that already exists. They regularly help engineers solve complex computing problems, invent new computing languages, and analyze experiment results.

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  • Computer Network Architect
    Computer network architects usually design and build data communication networks, such as area networks, wide area networks, and intranets. These professionals have an extensive knowledge of a company or organization’s business plan. Software developers create data communication layouts, present layouts to management, upgrade hardware, and research new technologies.
  • Computer Programmer
    Computer programmers often write and test code that allows software programs and applications to work properly. These professionals turn program designs into instructions that a computer can easily and consistently follow. They also update existing programs, test programs for errors, and use code libraries to simplify writing.
  • Computer Support Specialist
    Computer support specialists are often responsible for providing help and advice to computer users, companies, and organizations. These professionals often test and evaluate existing network systems, perform regular maintenance, and troubleshoot networks and systems. They play an integral role in routine system maintenance.
  • Computer System Analyst
    Computer system analysts help organizations and companies operate more efficiently and effectively. They do this by first studying current computer systems and procedures, and then design solutions specifically tailored to address unique operational needs. These professionals often consult with managers, research emerging technologies, and prepare cost analysis.
  • Database Administrator
    Database administrators are responsible for using specialized software to store and organize data. This most frequently includes financial information and customer shipping records. These professionals ensure that this data is available to program users, secure from unauthorized access, and consistently backed up.
  • Information Technology Consultant
    Information technology consultants usually advise clients on how to use information technology properly in order to meet company or organization objectives more effectively and efficiently. They often analyze and solve technology problems while also building and improving upon the overall structure.
  • Information Security Analyst
    Information security analysts generally plan and carry out security measures intended to protect an organization or company’s computer networks and systems. They often install security software, prepare reports, and conduct penetration testing. Their responsibilities increase and expand as the number of cyber-attacks increases.
  • Network and Computer System Administrator
    Network and computer system administrators are responsible for managing the day-to-day operation of the computer networks utilized by a company or organization. This usually includes organizing, installing, and supporting computer systems, such as area networks, network segments, intranets, and other data communication systems.
  • Web Developer
    Web developers are responsible for designing and creating websites. These professionals are generally in charge of how a site looks. They are also responsible for the site’s technical aspects, including its performance and capacity. In some cases, software developers create site content.

Software Developer Career Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Software Developer $63,000 $83,000 $98,000
Computer and Information Systems Managers $59,000 $79,600 $99,000
Computer and Information Research Scientists $105,400 $120,000 $154,000
Computer Hardware Engineers $73,000 $92,000 $109,000
Computer Network Architects $83,000 $111,000 $131,000
Computer Programmers $56,000 $70,000 $86,000
Computer Support Specialists $45,000 $54,000 $70,000
Computer Systems Analysts $56,000 $72,000 $85,000
Database Administrators $56,000 $79,000 $99,000
Information Security Analysts $60,000 $82,000 $102,000
Web Developers $51,000 $67,000 $80,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

Career Outlook

Overall, the outlook for software developers is extremely promising. In fact, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that there will be a 24% increase in job availability between 2016 and 2026. Application developers, in particular, will likely see a drastic increase in job availability, as this sub-field is projected to grow by 31% before 2026. In both cases, this is significantly faster than the national average for other professions.

The major reason for this growth is an increased demand for computer software and applications. Additionally, as the number of companies and people using digital platforms increase over time, the demand for experienced developers will grow. The health and medical insurance industry, for example, will require new, innovative software to manage new healthcare policy enrollments.

It is also worth noting that the level of employment varies per state. The locations with the highest rates of employment for software developers include, but are not limited to, California, Massachusetts, Texas, Virginia, and New York.

Advancing From Here

Software developers interested in advancing their career often work toward becoming an information technology (IT) project manager, also commonly referred to as a computer and information systems manager. These professionals are responsible for overseeing the software development process. Candidates for these positions often have a graduate degree and several years of work experience. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, computer and information systems managers made a median annual salary of $139,220 in 2017.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What do systems software developers do?

Software developers focus on designing solutions for operating systems. This can involve using creativity to design software for applications in business, military, industrial, aerospace, communications, scientific, medical, and general computing applications.

How to advance your career as a software developer?

Most software developing jobs do not require a degree but a degree can be helpful. Education, certificates, industry experience, and networking will help you advance your degree. 

How long does it take to become a software developer?

Typically professional certificates can be completed in under 6 months. An associates degree can be completed in about 2 years. If you choose to get a bachelors degree in computer science, that will take around 4 years to complete.

What do software quality assurance analysts do?

Software quality assurance analysts test and manage software to make sure it works efficiently. Software quality assurance analysts also make changes to help the software function better.

What skills do you need to become a software developer?

Computer programmers should be creative, have a lot of patience, a strong desire to learn, and problem-solving skills. Computer programing requires a good balance of hard and soft skills. Computer programming requires skills in math, technology, and science.

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