What is a Software Engineer?

Jul 6, 2021

5 Min Read

What is a software engineer?

Software engineering is a field within computer science that covers the structure and development of software for computer systems and applications. As you read this article or visit any other website or application that is found on-line, the interface you are using was all built with software engineering. 

As more complex technologies emerge and the penetration of the internet into our daily lives increases, the demand and investment for more software engineers also expands. There is a lot of money and other resources being poured into the research and development side of the tech world which means people looking to enter the field are in a great position to build a flourishing career. Some hot topics within tech include blockchain and artificial intelligence but existing fields that are still progressing should not be ignored. This can include e-commerce, mobile technology, and improvements around legacy systems.

What does a software engineer do?

To clarify, there are different interchangeable terms used for software engineers so we’ll list them here before diving in further. 

  • Software engineer
  • Software developer 
  • Programmer
  • Coder

Software engineering is a broad field so many programmers may eventually find their own niche. For example, if you have experience with coding languages meant for mobile apps, it might make sense to focus on building upon that to get more senior level roles. It is essentially the opposite of being a “jack of all trades”. As you gain more experience through work, you’ll find what you want to specialize in but here’s a breakdown of some usual paths.

Applications Software Developers

Software engineers who specialize in applications development design computer applications that are for a specific client, purpose, or end user. For example, if you use Gmail as your go-to email service, a team of application developers built the product and maintained it. As new features are designed and need to be added to Gmail, these developers will work on how to best roll out the features to production as they have knowledge on how the app was built.  New feature roll outs or issues that get resolved with the application are done with what is called releases. 

Whether it’s an email system, game, or web browser, all of these products need application software engineers who can do front-end, back-end or full stack development.

Systems Software Developers

Developers who work on the operating systems and networks that power applications are systems engineers. They are responsible for the back end of things and managing the connections between different systems within a company or across companies. Going back to the Gmail example, systems engineers would oversee areas like how the database storing all emails is maintained or what other applications (e.g. Gmail extensions) can connect with Gmail behind the scenes.

Systems engineers should be good at problem solving and seeing things from a comprehensive view. Since there are many parts needed to power the back end of any application, systems engineers must be able to understand the blueprint.

What Soft Skills Should a Software Developer Have?

Problem Solving Skills

Whether it’s a small part of a large application or a way to connect two different systems, software engineers need to code and build to solve problems. Understanding complex structures and breaking them down to tangible steps through code requires problem solving and critical thinking skills. It’s highly likely that you’ll encounter problems you have not faced before as a software developer and that’s actually one of the perks of the job. If you like new challenges and putting your mind to the test, software engineering may be the right career for you.

Communication and Teamwork

Communication and teamwork may be slightly different skill sets but they go hand in hand for software developers. Most likely, software engineers must work with others whether it’s other developers or other functional teams you need input from. Being able to convey complicated solutions concisely and simply is important in delivering the right message. Not everyone you work with is going to speak the same coding languages as you do so knowing how to put things in layman’s terms so non-technical teammates can understand is crucial for success.

In addition to communicating effectively, understanding that not everyone may grasp the necessary coding development at hand as quickly is also helpful. When people work across different functional teams, there are going to be terms that are unique to each field. That’s what makes specialists important and it’s not expected that everyone will understand terminology to the same degree. Coding and software development is no different.

Patience

Coding literally requires building things from scratch in many instances which means it can be quite tedious. For this reason, becoming a software engineer requires a lot of patience. You will encounter hurdles as you’re developing code so it’s important not to get frustrated or discouraged easily. Before you even get to coding, you’ll need to take time to mentally break down what you need to build into tangible steps and parts. Then, all of those parts need to come together to become a feature or system that works. Coding is like the building blocks of websites and applications so imagine how into the details you’ll need to go!

How Do I Become a Software Engineer?

Over the next 10 years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects software engineering jobs to grow 22% which is much faster than the average across all occupations. This means that if you’re interested in starting a career in software engineering, it’s a good time to invest in yourself. Most software developers hold a bachelor’s degree and usually a degree in computer science. However, that is not the only path to becoming a software engineer.

Over the last decade or so, many boot camps or accelerated programs have become available for those who have already gone through school and are looking to switch careers or for people who feel like they want to enter the workforce faster.

No matter which path you choose to embark on, StackCache’s advice is to just start. If you’re not ready to commit to any one path yet, try some free online coding courses to get a taste for what it’s like to be a software developer!

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