Most of our days are spent interacting with technology. In order to power these technologies, we need one critical component – software. Software refers to the programs, instructions and other information that tells a computer what to do and how to do it.
But software is more than just coding and creating apps. Software plays a vital role in the economy, and it acts as the driving force behind every digital device and computing system that we use.
As technology continues to advance, the role of software becomes increasingly important, creating a growing demand for software developers. In fact, there were more than 1.2 million job postings for software developers in the United States in 2022 according to Lightcast.
You might be thinking:
- What exactly does a software developer do?
- How much money can I make?
- How do I become one?
Let’s answer these questions and explore how you can kickstart your career in software development.
Role and Responsibilities
Software developers – sometimes referred to as a software engineer – are the masterminds behind a variety of programs. Software developers design, create, evaluate, modify, maintain and configure software solutions for computer systems to meet user needs and client specifications.
They may also oversee the entire software development lifecycle, conduct research, debug code, deploy upgrades and build diagrams and models to communicate end results.
A day in the life of a software developer may also involve:
Meeting with internal and external clients to discuss desired outcomes and project scope
Working individually or with other programmers, designers and QA analysts as part of a team
Verifying and validating proper functionality of applications
Creating flowcharts and logic workflows
Performing requirements analysis and functional unit tests to identify gaps and other potential issues
Troubleshooting and improving existing applications and software
Analyzing and formulating software requirements
Reviewing system performance and evaluating results
Writing code and implementing larger frameworks to support specific devices or technologies
Developing and maintaining technical documentation as a reference for functions and use cases of applications
For team leaders or project managers working in the software development space, working in an agile environment requires frequent feedback and iterative development to deliver software programs faster, optimize operational efficiency and adapt to meet evolving needs.
Types of Software Developers
Software development is a broad field, and developers often work on large, complex projects, making it difficult to have every required skill and an in-depth understanding of all development environments.
This is why most software developers fall into two main classifications:
- Applications software developers
- Systems software developers
Both groups perform similar tasks but focus on different aspects of development and computer programs; some focus on a specific program or application, while others create systems that power other programs or networks. Regardless, career prospects for all types of developers are in abundance.
Within the two main groups of software developers, there are different specializations that tech pros might pursue based on their specific skill set and/or interest.
Applications Software Developers
Applications software developers focus on designing and developing applications for computers and mobile devices. They might create custom programs for a specific customer to be sold, an organization’s internal network or for the general public.
Types of applications software developers include:
- Front-end developers
- Back-end developers
- Full-stack developers
- Web developers
- Game developers
- Mobile app developers
- Solution architects
- Desktop software developers
Systems Software Developers
Systems software developers are responsible for building, overseeing and optimizing operating systems-level solutions for consumers or enterprise organizations, as well as the implementation and documentation of system architecture.
Operating systems are what keeps computers functioning; it serves as an interface between a user and computer hardware, manages system resources and provides a platform for applications and programs to run on. It can be found in most of the technology we use, so it’s crucial to have tech pros who are skilled in building and ensuring that those systems remain functional.
Types of systems software developers include:
- Security developer (DevSecOps)
- AI/machine learning engineer
- DevOps engineer
- Embedded system developer
- Operating systems developer
- Data engineer
Skills Required To Become a Software Developer
In today’s technology-driven world, software developer skills are highly valuable, and demand is at an all-time high. In fact, employers listed 3.9 million job postings in the United States seeking candidates with software development related skills during 2022, according to Lightcast.
Software developers need a robust set of technical, professional and analytical skills to properly execute specific tasks.
Here are the top skills that employers are looking for.
Due to the complex nature of the role, aspiring developers must have technical skills in order to get – and be successful in – a software developer job.
Most software developers have experience with the following:
Operating systems (Linux, macOS, Windows)
Data structures and algorithms
Integrated development environments (IDEs)
Agile software development methods
Software development process
Mastering the technical know-how is only half of the equation. Successful software developers typically have durable, transferable skills to complement their technical knowledge.
Some qualities that employers are looking for when vetting candidates include:
Tools and Technologies
As you already know, the tech industry is fast-paced and constantly evolving. To stay ahead of the curve, software developers utilize a variety of tools and technologies to streamline workflows, enhance productivity, collaborate more effectively and – most importantly – save time.
Common tools used by software developers include:
Software Developer Salary and Career Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median advertised salary for a software developer is $120,730 as of May 2021 – 164% higher than the median national wage for all occupations. Of course, many factors influence salary such as location, job level, organization size, specialty skills, years of work experience, industry sector and more.
Check out CompTIA’s IT Salary Calculator for more details.
Software development is one of the largest tech occupation categories with an estimated base of 1,581,000 employed U.S. workers in 2023. And it’s no surprise that the need for software developers will continue to grow, with the 10-year projected growth being 180% above the national rate, according to the CompTIA State of the Tech Workforce 2023, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lightcast.
What does this mean for the future of careers in software development? Let’s take a look:
Heavier emphasis on user experience: Developers will focus on finding innovative ways to give users the best experience possible.
Usage of smaller applications: Developers have already started providing consumers with bite-sized applications, and it will continue to gain more popularity in the future.
Increased innovation: As more and more people shift to online, and with the advent of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, the key to thriving in the tech industry is to keep innovating and getting as much experience as you can get.
How To Become a Software Developer
If you want to pursue a career as a software developer, it’s good practice to plan out your career journey. There’s no single path to getting your first job, but there are steps you can take to help you get started:
Step 1: Determine Your Career Path
Choosing a career path can be challenging and time-consuming, but each journey starts with a single step. There are many positions you can work toward, which gives you plenty of opportunities to find your niche or specialty. Software use transcends industries, offering many opportunities for growth and the ability to tailor your career to fit your preferences.
There are several options to choose from when it comes to work environment. Many work as traditional full-time employees, but there is also opportunity to work as freelancers or in an agency. Additionally, software development provides professionals the opportunity to work from home or in a hybrid arrangement.
Software developers work in a wide variety of industries such as:
Finance and insurance
Management of companies and enterprise
Computer systems design and related services
Step 2: Pursue a Degree, Bootcamp or Certification Program
Pursuing software development-focused degree programs, bootcamps and certifications build the skills and knowledge you need to boost job opportunities and fast-track your career.
Pursue an Undergraduate Degree
Software developers typically have a high school degree, vocational training, or an associate or bachelor’s degree in computer information systems, computer science, software development, software engineering, information technology or a related field. Students often select specializations during this time. As the field becomes more competitive, you might consider pursuing a master’s degree to advance your career and stand out among the competition.
Complete a Bootcamp
Bootcamps generally last three to six months through online, in-person or hybrid formats, making it a popular option for those who don’t have the time and/or money for a four-year degree. They offer hands-on learning and equip individuals with the necessary skills to prepare them for their first software development job. Some may start with bootcamps before pursuing an undergraduate degree, while others may already have a bachelor's degree in another field and enroll in bootcamps to pursue tech roles.
Earn Professional Certifications
Another way you can verify your skills is by earning industry-recognized certifications. There are a variety of reasons to get certified, like having a competitive advantage over other job candidates or helping you advance your career.
Some software developer certifications include:
- CompTIA ITF+
- Oracle Certified Associate, Java SE 8 Programmer
- Java EE 7 Application Developer
- Certified Entry-Level Python Programmer
- Certified Associate in Python Programming
- Certified Professional in Python Programming
When deciding which certifying body to choose, make sure to take into consideration each institution's quality, affordability and reputation. And even after you get your first software developer job, it’s important to keep pursuing continuing education opportunities to remain up to date with the latest technologies and broaden your skills as your career progresses. If you’re already pursuing a degree, check to see if your current curriculum includes certification preparation and examination.
Check out the CompTIA Career Roadmap to see what other certifications can help you become a software developer.
Step 3: Gain Hands-On Experience
People can land entry-level software development positions right after graduating or earning a certification, but employers often want candidates to have some experience.
Aspiring software developers can gain experience through the following ways:
- Internships and apprenticeships
- Capstone projects
- Experiential learning
As you complete projects, be sure to add your work to your portfolio to showcase your ability, creativity and individualism to hiring managers – especially if you don’t have formal education or experience.
Step 4: Develop Your Network and Apply for Jobs
Networking, mentorships and working with career coaches are highly valuable when job hunting. They can help you:
- Identify and pursue career goals
- Understand job search strategies
- Develop your personal brand
- Explore possible careers
- Build a compelling resume and LinkedIn profile
- Practice for interviews
- Expand your network
- Discover virtual employer events
Once you’re ready, start looking for and applying to potential jobs on employment websites or job boards, like ZipRecruiter. Be sure to thoroughly assess the job description to see if it’s a good match for your skills and preferences.
You might start as a junior software developer before moving into senior or lead developer positions, and then later advancing to management positions. Software developers can also follow a pathway to different careers, such as data analyst, database administrator or IT project manager.
Check out our career resources series:
- Job Search Communications: Positioning Yourself for the Job You Want
- Positioning Your Transferable Skills for the Job You Want
- Job Search Best Practices: Follow-up Communications
- Networking: Connecting with People Who Can Help You Get the Job
- Interviewing Best Practices: Research, Professionalism and Practice
A role as a software developer is a great option for individuals looking to switch careers or enter the technology field. Equip yourself with the resources you need to take on the challenges of the modern workplace.
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