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How to Become a Software Engineer [Complete Guide]

Dev Support
Published: November 1, 2022

The demand for skilled experts in software engineering careers is on the rise and more people are searching for how they can break into the field.

According to insights from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for software experts will grow by 25% between 2021 and 2031. This percentage is said to be much faster than the average. 

So, how do you take advantage of this prediction and become a professional software engineer?

In this guide, you’ll find out everything you need to do step-by-step to become one.

Here’s what you’re about to learn:

  • What do software engineers do?
  • Steps to becoming a software engineer
  • How long does it take to become a software engineer?
  • What programming languages are in demand for software engineers?
  • Software engineer salary
  • FAQs about becoming a software engineer

What Do Software Engineers Do?

A software engineer is a professional who uses the concepts of engineering to design, develop, test, and maintain computer systems and software applications for organizations.

They have a wide scope of work that go beyond programming, and software development. They implement the knowledge of engineering principles to solve real-world problems. 

Related: [THREAD] What is the difference between a developer, programmer, and software engineer?

Here are the key responsibilities of software engineers:

  1. Software engineers understand and apply engineering principles and best practices during projects
  2. They design, develop, model, and simulate software products
  3. They write and test well-structured code
  4. They keep software products up-to-date
  5. Software engineers evaluate and test new software programs 
  6. They debug software products
  7. They monitor, maintain, and optimize software systems for functionality, speed, and scalability
  8. They are on top of current trends to discover innovative concepts
  9. They execute and manage the entire software development life cycle (SDLC)
  10. Software engineers build layouts, documentation, and workflow specifications for software projects
  11. They integrate software components into systems
  12. They analyze clients’ specifications and user requirements
  13. They create and present new features and innovations to company executives
  14. Software engineers communicate with other team members and oversee the progress of software projects

How to Become a Software Engineer

Are you wondering what path to follow to become a software engineer? It doesn’t have to be complicated. With the right steps, you can become proficient in whatever software engineering path you choose.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to become a software engineer: 

Choose an Area of Interest

Within the field of software engineering, there are different areas to specialize in. Different systems require the attention of various software engineers such as:

  • Video game developer
  • Security engineer
  • Front-end engineer
  • Quality-assurance engineer
  • DevOps engineer
  • Full-stack engineer 
  • Data analyst 
  • CRM project manager.

While there are many different types of software engineering roles, they still have several similar functions. These can often be transferable from one role to another. However, choosing an area of specialization is a great way to set yourself apart as a sought-after software engineer. 

Most people don’t want a jack of all trades, they want a professional. Working on refining your skills in one area will make you more valuable to employers down the road.

Choose an Education Path

Now that you’ve defined your area of specialization in software engineering, you need to acquire the relevant knowledge and training you need. 

Depending on your:

  • Financial capacity
  • Learning preference
  • Availability

—you can invest in a formal college education, coding bootcamp program, or self-paced learning

A college program will grant you a Bachelor’s degree certification in your area of software engineering expertise, but you need to dedicate time and money. A Computer Science degree takes up to 52 months on average – that’s four years and four months. This degree can range anywhere between $15,000 to $80,000 total, not including other expenses.

While a formal degree is a good option, note that it isn’t a requirement to become a proficient software engineer. So, if you don’t have the time, money, or interest to chase an official degree program, you can still become a professional software engineer.

How? Through coding bootcamps.

Coding bootcamp programs are designed to be a cheaper, faster, and more flexible alternative to college degrees. They are intensive, interactive programs designed to help you become proficient at software engineering without spending a fortune and within a very short period.

For instance, Treehouse designed five intensive bootcamp programs that cost $199/month to train and certify learners in tech development. And after analyzing the learning pattern of our Techdegree students, we found that our bootcamp with the longest duration took students five months (on average) to complete after dedicating 3 hours per day to studying. 

That’s less than one-hundredth of the cost and more than 10 times less than the duration of a college program.

Related: How a marketing student became a startup software engineer by joining Treehouse education

Create a Project Portfolio

As you learn, you should practice. Theoretical education isn’t enough, you need to practice alongside — and build a portfolio that showcases these samples of your work. 

What’s a portfolio? A project portfolio is a collection of the projects you’ve worked on in the past and a brief analysis of your process. It’s a vital resource that every software engineer needs to land jobs. It’s the proof of your skill to potential employers — it’s how you impress them. 

At Treehouse, we understand the importance of building a portfolio. This is why we provide suitable working environments, real-life projects to practice, and an exclusive community to enhance collaborations.

As an aspiring software developer looking to build their portfolio, you should be on the lookout for:

  • Open-source projects you can contribute to
  • Volunteer work you can do
  • Personal projects you can take on
  • Internship opportunities offering hands-on experience

By doing these, you can build an excellent project portfolio that showcases your level of expertise, ideology and methods, and versatility as a software engineer.

Update Your Resume

After you’ve acquired the required skills and have work samples to show for it, then, it’s time to start applying for jobs.

The demand for software developers and engineers is on the rise. CompTIA’s analysis of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that job opportunities for tech roles have increased by 46% from 2021 and 92% from 2019. But as the demand increases, so does the number of available software engineers. 

So, how do you stand out, impress the recruiter, and get the position?

  • Create a relevant resume
  • Apply to jobs
  • Prepare for the interviews

A resume is an essential document that details your relevant skills, qualities, experience, and past projects so that potential employees can see them at a glance.

A resume is used alongside a portfolio to determine your level of expertise and whether you are a good fit for recruiters. If you have an existing resume, keep it up-to-date. If not, create a new one.

Here are some tips to create an impressive resume:

  • Keep it clear and concise
  • Highlight relevant accomplishments and experiences
  • Reduce it to a maximum of two pages
  • Proofread for grammatical errors

For the places to look for software engineering jobs, check tech and non-tech job boards (such as Stack Overflow, Glassdoor, and Indeed), social media channels (such as LinkedIn, Reddit, and Twitter), and forums (such as Slack, Facebook Groups, and Discord Servers). You can also network with others in your community for job opportunities.

Note: When applying for jobs, you should first review the information about the company and role. Then, give convincing reasons for how you will excel in this role and why you’re going to be a valuable addition to the company.

By carrying out research on companies you apply to, you will submit better job applications and scale subsequent interviews.

Adopt a Continuous Learning Mindset

Learning should never stop, especially if you’re in the field of software engineering. This is because the evolution of concepts, methods, and processes is fast and constant. You need to keep yourself updated on current technology trends to maintain relevance and distinction. 

Also, you may consider getting a professional certification to boost your skill level and your recruiters’ interest. Many people have the same education level. But, having a professional certification is a quick and easy way to stand out among other applicants. 

Here are some professional certifications you can consider taking depending on your area of specialization in software engineering:

  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
  • Certified Data Professional (CDP)
  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect

How Long Does it Take to Become a Software Engineer?

The duration to become a software engineer can be anywhere from a few months to four years. Generally, how long it will take depends on the following factors:

  • Learning resources and method
  • Area of software engineering specialization 
  • Availability
  • Commitment

Taking a college course will lengthen the period it will take you to become a software engineer since you’ll be spending four years at the university.

You only need a few months to become proficient at software engineering if you invest in coding bootcamps. But, it would take longer if you decide to try solo learning and curate your curriculum by yourself.

The area of software engineering you want to specialize in also determines the duration you need to complete your program.

For instance, our certification bootcamp programs at Treehouse have different durations. If you dedicate 3 hours every day to these Techdegrees, here’s what the completion duration looks like:

Here’s the complete list of Treehouse Techdegree programs.

Overall, keep in mind that whether you apply for a college degree, bootcamp program, or learn solo, nothing beats your commitment.

The amount of time and dedication you put into learning determines how long it will take you to become a software engineer. So, draw a study plan depending on your availability and stick to it. It’s important to maintain consistency in your study.

What Programming Languages Are in Demand For Software Engineers?

As an aspiring software engineer, you need to become vast in different programming languages because these are the tools you will use when working on projects. 

Here are some of the computer programming languages you should focus on:

Python

Python is a widely used, high-level, and open-source programming language that is excellent for web and software development. Its code has a simple syntax that is concise and easy to read. 

Python is a general-purpose language that is object-oriented and used by programmers and non-programmers for processes such as data analysis and visualization, statistics, task automation, machine learning, and software development. Python is easy to learn and considered beginner-friendly.

Treehouse Python Development and Data Analysis Techdegrees are geared towards helping you acquire the relevant training you need (when it comes to the Python programming language) to become a software developer.

JavaScript

JavaScript is a popular and versatile programming language that works for both the front-end and back-end of software applications. This object-oriented language can work in tandem with other programming languages like C++, Python, and Java.

Treehouse Full-Stack JavaScript Techdegree will train and certify you to build fully functional software applications (both their front-end and back-end setup) using JavaScript.

Java

Java is another popular high-level object-oriented programming language for software development. It is general-purpose and compiled — that is, it’s designed to run on multiple platforms once without recompiling. It’s called a WORA (write once run anywhere) program

Java is a robust and secure computer programming language that is designed to reduce implementation dependencies to the barest minimum.

C#

C# is an object-oriented programming language developed by Microsoft and widely used due to its flexibility and versatility. 

C# is a general-purpose language that works for software development. It provides a cross-platform feature that is useful in building .NET software applications on an open-source developer platform for any operating system — Windows, Mac, or Linux).

SQL

SQL, or Structured Query Language, is the standard language used in programming for managing relational database management systems (RDBMS). 

With this language, a software engineer can access, store, maintain, manipulate, or retrieve information from databases or even create entirely new ones. 

Kotlin

Kotlin is a cross-platform programming language that’s official for developing mobile software applications on Android. It makes it easy and quick to develop multi-platform or mobile apps. 

Kotlin is Java Virtual Machine (JVM) based and therefore, can run on all platforms that support it. It’s easy to use for both beginners and advanced software engineers. It’s easy to learn (easier if you already know Java) and write. Also, it can run simultaneously with Java.

Software Engineer Salary Insights

According to Indeed salary insights, software engineers make an average of $93,954 annually excluding cash bonuses and the value of non-cash benefits. 

This shows that software engineers earn much more than employees in other industries. However, these earnings depend on various factors such as:

  • Location
  • Company
  • Experience
  • Industry
  • Special qualifications and skills.

Software engineers who have management experience and skills get the highest pay  (Source). 

Based on location, here’s a list of the highest-paying cities for software engineers near the United State:

San Francisco, CaliforniaNew York, New York StateSeattle, Washington StateChicago, IllinoisSan Diego, CaliforniaAtlanta, GeorgiaHouston, TexasPlano, TexasKansas City, Missouri$114,943 per year$108,978 per year$105,649 per year$102,079 per year$100,745 per year$98,842 per year$96,061 per year$95,751 per year$93,124 per year

Source: Indeed

FAQs About Software Engineer Careers

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about how to become a software engineer.

  • What qualifications do you need to be a Software Engineer?

You don’t “need” qualifications to become a software engineer — whether that’s a BSc. degree or general and professional certifications. What you need are the right skill set, a portfolio, and a resume. 

If you have any qualifications, that’s fine because they can serve as a boost to your confidence and expertise score in the eyes of a potential employer. 

  • Is it hard to become a software engineer?

As with anything new and great, becoming a software engineer is not an easy task. You need commitment, discipline, and motivation. From scratch, learning programming languages and other software engineering processes might be challenging. But, with constant learning, you will eventually find it easy.

Also, finding a community of like-minded people who can educate and motivate you is worth recommending. 

As a part of Treehouse Techdegree programs, we provide an exclusive Slack group where developers can ask and answer questions, collaborate, and build a strong network of people. This has helped many of our students learn better, have a go-to knowledge base, and prepare for job opportunities. 

Related: Jonas’ story on how to become a software engineer despite imposter syndrome.

Kickstart Your Career With Treehouse

Becoming a web developer is a great career path. As shown in our step-by-step guide above, you can grow from “aspiring’ to “a professional software engineer” without hassle in only months.

What you need is the right skill set which you can either acquire through a college degree, coding bootcamps, or solo learning. Also, it’s important to build an excellent portfolio and keep a mindset that’s always looking to learn and evolve. 

At Treehouse, we have courses on processes and programming languages to help you kickstart your software engineering career. Get started with Treehouse for free today.

Source: blog.teamtreehouse.com