job description for software engineer
Job Descriptions

IT Software Engineer Job Description – What to Expect

job description for software engineerSoftware Engineering involves the design, development and maintenance of software systems to satisfy the specifications and requirements defined by the client. This field integrates proficiency in computer science, mathematics and the application of software engineering theories and concepts to create, test and evaluate applications and systems.

The work involved with software engineering reflects evolving technology as well as changing practices and new areas of specialization. In general, software engineers design and develop various types of software including business applications, computer games, new control systems, operating systems and middleware. With this line of work, a software engineer is required to be proficient in the theory and structure of software as well as the nature and limitations of hardware in order to ensure the underlying systems will function properly.

Educational Requirements for an IT Software Engineer

To become a software engineer, you will need to have a bachelor’s degree in either software engineering, computer science or a related field. Acquiring a degree in mathematics is also acceptable, although the most common is computer science mainly because the curriculum covers a broad range of topics.

software engineer degreeBoth software engineering and computer science degrees require a strong foundation in the fundamentals of programming as well as the basics of computer science. In particular, computer science degree programs maintain a small core and expect students to decide what advanced courses to specialize in, such as database systems, networking, theory and artificial intelligence.

On the other hand, software engineering courses expect their students to focus on key areas that are critical to the course agenda such as software design, problem modeling and analysis, software process, software quality and software management. In addition, students of software engineering are required to learn how to build fully functional software that is genuinely usable and useful. It must also fulfill specific requirements.

Required Skills for a Software Engineer

To prosper in this field, one must possess the following qualities:

  • Exceptional analytical skills. Software engineers are required to analyze specific user needs and design software that will meet/address those needs.
  • Excellent computer skills. Since software design and development mainly involves working on a computer, it is expected a software engineer will have an in-depth understanding of computer capabilities as well as programming languages.
  • Good communication skills. It is critically important for software engineers to be able to provide clear instructions to team members working on a project.
  • Detailed oriented. In most cases, a software engineer is expected to handle multiple aspects/parts of the application or system simultaneously. It is critically important that he/she is able to focus and pay attention to details.
  • Customer service skills. Because software and computer systems are designed to satisfy the specific requirements of a customer (whether this is an “internal” or “external” client), a software engineer should be able to explain how it works as well as address questions as they arise.
  • Problem solving skills. Software engineers are in charge of software design and development – from concept to deployment. It is important that he/she will be able to solve problems as they arise throughout the design and development process.

Job Requirements of a Software Developer

Most students who are interested in pursuing a career in software development gain relevant experience by completing an internship at a software firm while in college. Others acquire hands-on experience by working as a computer programmer before they move on to becoming a developer.

Over time, software engineers can advance to become IT project managers, high level Systems Architects or Computer and Information Systems Managers, and primarily oversee the development process. The table below presents an outline of the most common job requirements needed to become a software engineer:

Education Attainment/Relevant Skills Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor’s degree although many employers prefer a master’s degree
Degree Field Software engineering, computer science, any related field
Certifications No certification is required to practice software engineering, although there are many IT certification programs available that are oriented towards certain technologies. In addition, large software development companies like Microsoft, Apple and IBM sponsor their own certification examinations.
Experience Typically 1-3 years related experience is required 
Technical  Skills Database management, program testament, development environment, software design and development, requirements engineering, software engineering process, software quality management,  software configuration management

The work of a software engineer involves a variety of job descriptions and tasks, which is why you will need to conduct extensive research on a specific field to prepare for a particular career path. To penetrate this highly competitive industry and meet the stringent standards, it is generally best to participate in internship programs to acquire relevant experience in addition to a bachelor’s degree.

According to labor statistics, students who actively participate in internships during undergraduate education considerably enhance their respective employment prospects.

Duties and Responsibilities of a Software Engineer

As mentioned, a software engineer takes charge of the entire software development process. The project starts by asking the client specific questions to define the scope, requirements and specifications of the project.

The software engineer will design the program and then passes the instructions to computer programmers to write the code and conduct testing. If the program is not functional or user-friendly, the software engineer will need to review the design process and analyze what specific areas need to be modified to fix the issue or improve the program. Upon deployment of the program, upgrade and maintenance services may be offered.

A software engineer is basically responsible of the following:

  • Conduct thorough analysis of client/user requirements, design, develop and test the software to meet defined specifications
  • Recommend appropriate software upgrades to existing systems and programs
  • Design applications or systems and plan out how specific aspects will be integrated cohesively
  • Create diagrams and models to provide programmers detailed process flow, which will be used as basis for writing codes
  • Ensure that the software will remain fully functional and free of bugs/errors during software maintenance and upgrades
  • Document all aspects of a system or application to be used as a reference for future upgrades and maintenance work
  • Collaborate with other software developers and programs to design and develop superior software that will deliver value in real-world applications

Types of Software Engineers

For anyone who plans to pursue a career in software engineering, it is important to note that there are basically two different types of software engineers:

  • Applications Software Developers

This field of specialization focuses on the design and development of computer applications such as games and functionality software for regular users. Software engineers in this field may create custom applications based on the customer requirement and/or design commercial software to be offered to the general public for a specific price. Some software engineers design complex databases for large organizations and create programs whether within a company intranet or over the internet.

  • Systems Software Developers

This field of expertise focuses on the creation of systems to ensure computers will function properly. The work may involve operating systems or systems that are specifically designed for an organization. In such cases, a system software developer may also need to build the system’s interface or create operating systems to control exterior components such as mobile phones and even cars.

Career Outlook: Current and Future Expectations 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job opportunities available to software engineers is expected to significantly grow in the coming years, faster than the average occupation. In fact, it is projected that the employment growth rate or the demand for software engineers will grow as much as 30% from the year 2010 to 2020.

An increase in demand is anticipated in view of the rapid expansion of the internet and the increasing complexity of data processing systems currently used in businesses across different organizations, especially in the telecommunications, government and healthcare industries.

With the increasing popularity of outsourcing and off-shoring solutions, some raise concerns about its impact on the employment growth of software engineering jobs in the United States. However, despite these relatively new employment trends, it is anticipated that the demand for domestic software engineers will continue to grow, mainly because the nature of the job requires and involves significant research, innovation and development.

In general, the work of a software engineer involves working long hours and meeting deadlines, which means it can be a stressful job. This is why many software engineers work in comfortable settings and telecommuting has become increasingly common in recent years.

According to the 2012 Labor Statistics, industries that employ software developers are the following:

  • Computer systems, design and related services 32%
  • Computer and electronic manufacturing 9%
  • Finance and insurance companies 8%
  • Software publishing companies 7%

The average annual wage for software developers recorded in May 2012 was $90,000, which represents about 50% of the employees in this type of occupation. The lowest paid 10% of software engineers earned approximately $55,190 per year and the highest paid 10% were recorded to have earned over $138,880. People who have acquired over 20 years of experience in this profession typically serve in supervisory and management roles.

Cities that have been identified offering great pay for software developers are the following:

City Average Annual Salary
Sioux City, Iowa $121,750
Newark, New Jersey $121,630
San Jose, California  $116,610
Bakersfield, California  $115,450

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