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How to Become a Software Engineer

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Have you ever been talking on Skype with a friend in another state or even another country? If you wondered who developed this widely used application that allows you to video chat with faraway people for free, it was software engineers – that's who.

Software engineers are the creators behind many amazing inventions as well as lots of everyday technologies we take for granted. Whenever you set an alarm, put a reminder on your digital calendar or play a quick game of Candy Crush, you can thank software engineers, because they had a hand in the creation of all these innovative tools.

What Is a Software Engineer?

The title software engineer is often used interchangeably with software developer. There is debate over whether the two are different jobs. Some say they are essentially the same, while others say it's a key difference in educational background. Software engineers are trained in the principles of engineering and apply those principles to their software development.

Software engineers fall into two categories: applications engineers and systems engineers.

Applications Engineers

Applications engineers are the creative designers behind general computer applications, games and more. They figure out the specific technology needs of a company or client, then decide how the application or game they create for the client should look and how it will work. They typically create custom applications for businesses or organizations.

Systems Engineers

Systems software engineers work on a company's entire computer system. They might determine the needs of separate departments, then configure each group of computers to suit those needs. Often they work to ease communication among departments by setting up an intranet for a company or organization. Data and system security is also under the purview of this type of engineer.

What You Need to Learn

Most employers require software engineers to have a bachelor's degree, typically in computer science, software engineering or mathematics. A master's degree is sometimes preferred or required, depending on the complexity of the position. It's also important to be well versed in a wide variety of computer systems, and up-to-date on current programming languages. Getting an internship so you can gain experience is helpful for this type of position.

Average Salary for a Software Engineer

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, systems software developers earn the most in this field. In 2016, this position had a median salary of $106,860. Applications software developers also made a good salary in 2016, albeit slightly lower at $100,080.

The mean salary in 2016 also varied by industry. Systems software developers made the most in the manufacturing industry, with a mean annual salary of $117,360. Applications software developers made the most in software publishing, with a mean salary of $111,250.

In addition to high earning potential, software engineers can expect their industry to grow faster than almost every other occupation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Applications software engineers can expect 31 percent growth between 2016 and 2026; whereas systems software engineers have a predicted growth of 11 percent during the same time period.