How to Become
a Software Engineer

Best Education Tracks, Key Skills, and Top Certifications

Software engineering is one of the most important tech fields in 2021. Computer hardware runs on software, so almost every business relies on software engineers.

There are lots of different roles and responsibilities in this field. If you want to learn more about becoming a software engineer, read our comprehensive guide below.

What Is a Software Engineer?

A software engineer is a computer science professional who can perform many roles. Software engineers use their skills to develop and design computer games, software products, and more. Without these professionals, we would have significantly less technology in our lives.

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This field is large and varied. Software engineers have different types of skills that are useful for different applications. Some are responsible for maintaining network security while others build computer information systems.

What Type of School Should You Attend
to Become a Software Engineer?

To become a software engineer, you can attend many different types of schools. One way is to earn a computer science degree from a university or community college. A bachelor’s degree or associate degree will help you start out as a professional.

Another education alternative is a coding bootcamp. Coding bootcamps are excellent for prospective software engineers. They are short, intensive programs that focus on specific skills that you can use in the field.

Best Software Engineer Education Tracks

Many software engineers come from different educational backgrounds. Some start with a computer science degree, while others learn from online resources. The most popular track in 2021 is coding bootcamps. Read more below to learn more about different education options and choose the best one for you.


Community College

Community colleges offer associate degrees in computer programming or software engineering. The programs can last for two years. Most employers may prefer a four-year degree, but an associate degree can help you land entry-level positions. It is a faster and less expensive way to become a software engineer.

At a community college, you can pursue different majors like software systems engineering or software engineering technology. You can learn the core principles of programming and other modern software engineering skills.


Software Engineering Degrees

If you want to become a software engineer, you should have a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science or something similar. The programs have a much broader curriculum than community colleges. They teach the foundations of computer science and programming. You can learn the intricacies of software architecture, programming, and software testing.

Bachelor’s degree programs are taught by industry experts. You can start from the basics of coding and computing and advance to specialized topics. These degrees involve a lot of theory and less practice compared to other options.


Software Engineering Bootcamps

Coding bootcamps are still new, but they have quickly become one of the most popular education tracks for software engineers. The programs are short and intensive. They last for 12 weeks on average and focus on hands-on, immersive training. When you graduate from a bootcamp, you will be ready for an entry-level role as a software developer.

Bootcamps have different schedules to meet different preferences. You can choose to attend full-time or part-time. Some bootcamps have a self-paced option if you need more flexibility. Some bootcamps have job placement services to help you find internships or job opportunities.


Software Engineering Courses

If you want to learn specific software engineering skills, you can find online courses. You can find specialized classes to learn Python, C++, JavaScript, and other vital software engineering skills. There are also free courses if you want to try software engineering without breaking the bank.

a female software engineer coding on computer

How to Become a Software Engineer: A Step-by-Step Guide

Software engineering is dynamic. It adapts to new technologies as they are developed. Due to this ever-changing nature, it has multiple entry points. Even though every software engineer takes a different path, you should follow these basic steps to become an expert.

Get an education.

As stated above, you need to get an education from a university, college, or coding bootcamp. Some people manage to teach themselves with available resources online. However, if you want to get a great job in tech, you should pursue a degree or bootcamp program.

Find an internship.

Completing a software engineering internship after or during school will give you real-world experience. You can practice what you have learned and network in the industry. Some tech companies offer internships to students with degrees. Some coding bootcamps also include internship placement.

Choose your specialization.

Since software engineering is so broad, you should choose what you like to do. You can master a single programming language or development position. Some popular specialty areas include DevOps, web development, mobile development, Python development, and game development.

Apply for jobs.

By this point, you should have a degree or certificate and a portfolio. This is when you can start applying for jobs. Be sure to focus on entry-level positions. There is a high demand for software engineers, so you should find a spot to continue practicing what you have learned.

Get Certified.

Certification improves your marketability and employability. The marketplace is competitive, and a certification will help you stand out. Some technology vendors issue certification exams like Oracle, Cisco, and Microsoft. You can choose a certification based on your preferred specialization.

lines of code

Key Software Engineer Skills

As a software engineer, you should have industry-specific skills and programming knowledge. These skills include object-oriented design, coding, and software testing. You should also develop soft skills like teamwork, communication, and problem-solving.

If you want to become a software engineer, you should seek out the vital skills below.

Programming Languages

Most software engineers have basic knowledge of different programming languages. However, it is important to choose at least one and become an expert. All programming languages can be useful for software engineers, so choose one based on your preference and field.

Software Documentation and Testing

It is important you learn how to document and test your software. You need to be able to figure out why programs are not working. You should also learn how they could be better with your deep knowledge of system architecture and programming. Every software engineer should document their process to better solve problems.

Software Design and Development

Another crucial skill is software design and development. All software engineers must be able to understand how systems work and design them according to the standard. As a software engineer, you should know how to use different resources. When programming, you should always take design and usability into account.

Software Engineer Salary and Job Outlook

Software engineering has an excellent job outlook and salary. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, software engineers earned a median annual salary of $110,140 in 2020. This is an impressive number, even in the tech field. Since our society is dependent on technology, the software engineering job outlook will only continue to grow.

Min salary


Median salary


Top salary


Entry-Level Software Engineer Job Requirements

Entry-level software engineers test, develop, and update programs and software. They handle routine tasks that help them get used to the company’s codebase. This job is perfect if you’re a beginner because you can move up the ranks. According to PayScale, the average entry-level software engineer salary is $76,524 per year.

an iPad displaying apps

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Software engineers use computer science principles to build software for different uses. They create solutions for web and desktop apps, games, mobile apps, network systems, and operating systems. Below are some major roles and responsibilities of software engineers.


Software engineers collaborate with data scientists, designers, and project managers during the process. They come together to find the best way to create the processes and projects. Software engineers are sometimes in charge of code reviews, team meetings, and research sessions. These are all vital to the development process.

Client Research

Software engineers also identify what clients need and design software accordingly. They develop functional pieces of software to serve different needs. Client research is important because it can help engineers predict what kinds of software will be popular in the market.

Debugging Software

Software engineers need to test and read through code to make sure there are no bugs. If there are issues in the software, engineers need to debug and fix the problem. Software engineers often ask users to test apps to ensure that they work properly. There are lots of different ways to test and debug software.

Software Engineer Certifications

Certifications can prove that you have the technical expertise you need to become a software engineer. There are a lot of certifications for software engineers based on their professional goals and career needs.

Below are a few certifications to consider as a software engineer.

C++ Certification

This certification is one of the most popular ones for software engineers. It was designed by the C++ Institute to prove your skills in C++. This certification has multiple programs to help you learn C++ and other C-based programming languages. It also has different difficulty levels depending on your needs: associate, professional, and senior.

IEEE Software Engineering Master Certification

The IEEE certification was created by the IEEE Computer Society. It is a vendor-neutral certification for experienced software engineering experts. The exam is an advanced certification to test your knowledge of software engineering principles. This certification can prove that you have all the technical skills you need.

Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer

This exam tests your ability to develop and design custom business applications using Microsoft technologies, tools, and platforms. The certification covers different areas like web applications, Windows store apps, SharePoint applications, and application lifecycle management. It also covers Azure solutions architects and Universal Windows platform.

How to Prepare for Your Software Engineer Job Interview

How to Prepare for Your Software Engineer Job Interview

You can ace your job interview and become a software engineer if you plan ahead. Plan a 30-second elevator pitch in case you are asked to talk about yourself. Try to study software fundamentals and programming languages. Some applications require technical tests. Read below for some questions you should practice before your interview.

Software Engineer Job Interview Practice Questions

  • What is the difference between computer software and computer programs?
  • Briefly talk about the software development process.
  • What is your software development tracking process?
  • What is your preferred language for programming algorithms?
  • How do you approach debugging

How Long Does It Take to Become a Software Engineer?

Becoming a software engineer can take a few months or a few years. This depends on the education path you have chosen. For instance, an associate degree takes only two years to complete. If you want a bachelor’s degree, you will be studying for at least four years. You also may need a few more years of practice before you are ready to apply for jobs.

However, bootcamps are the fastest way to start a software engineering career. They are short programs that last for a few weeks and offer hands-on training. When you graduate from a coding bootcamp, you’ll be ready for entry-level positions without needing extra training. Some bootcamps even include guaranteed internship opportunities.

Associate degree


Bachelor’s degree


Master’s degree


Should You Become a Software Engineer in 2021?

Yes, you should become a software engineer in 2021. As stated earlier, the demand for software developers is expected to grow by 22 percent in the next few years. This job growth shows that the profession has a huge potential in a world that is focused on digitization.

You should become a software engineer because it will increase your skills as well as your employability. Also, you will be among the top earners with the potential for salary increases in the future. Software engineering is one of the most promising fields you can enter.

Software Engineer FAQ

What coding language should I master to find a job as a software engineer?

Start with HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. A basic understanding of these languages can give you a head start. You can do your research and choose a language based on what field interests you most.

What do software engineers do?

Software engineers use computer science skills to create and develop software. They can develop apps for web and mobile and also create games and other software products.

What skills do you need to become a software engineer?

You need many skills to thrive as a software engineer. The most important ones are analytical skills, coding skills, problem-solving skills, and collaboration skills.

Do I need to get a software engineering degree to become a software engineer?

No, you do not need to get a degree to become a software engineer. Coding bootcamps make it possible to learn the skills you need without a degree.

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