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Your Ultimate Guide on How to Become a Software Engineer

Whether you’re enticed by the ability to speak to a computer through programming language or the high income, you’ve likely thought about how to become a software engineer.

After doing a quick search on the technical skills required, you may have faltered back. Building competence in data structure, algorithms, Python, and all other descriptions may seem far out of your reach.

Being a software engineer is challenging. You’ll want to prepare for a long and arduous process of building a formal education, entering the job market, and constantly refining your skills.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel as the role is in high demand, offers a competitive salary, and is flexible.

An Overview of Software Engineers: A Primer

Software engineering involves building software systems, applications, and products. They’re tasked with writing and designing software programs. In several roles, software developers maintain and upgrade existing software.

In this case, they work in a quality assurance scope and perform technical tests and documentation. The industry is versatile, where you can specialize in several subjects, such as data science.

Either way, you’ll be working on a part of the ultimate software lifecycle.

How Much Do Software Engineers Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, software developer careers project a 25% growth rate between 2021 and 2031. Their median pay averages an annual $109,020.

Overall, the prospect for software engineers is looking bright. The job’s growth rate is categorized as much faster than average.

What You’ll Need to Become a Software Engineer (& Associated Costs)

As with most traditional jobs, software engineering requires a college education. Additional certification and continued education will up your chances of getting hired.

  • Relevant Bachelor’s Degree: Tuition fees for software engineering degrees can go between $10,000 to $40,000 annually. The price depends on the college’s performance and ranking.
  • Professional Certifications: These examinations usually cost around $100 to $300 each.
  • Portfolio: You can build a portfolio from an open-source contribution or work experience. If you don’t have either, try to complete a project from scratch. In this case, it can cost you $100 per year to create a domain.
  • Coding Bootcamp: As an alternative to college, bootcamp programs have been on the rise, costing around $10,000 to $15,000.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Software Engineer?

Overall, the cost of becoming a software engineer is approximately $40,200 to $160,300. The highest expense is your college tuition fees.

If you don’t want to go through the traditional college route, you can opt for a much more affordable bootcamp. In this case, you’ll pay around $10,000 to $15,000 for the program.

Close-up of a female software engineer working on a desktop computer

Is it Hard to Become a Software Engineer?

The process of becoming a software engineer is drawn-out and intensive. Software engineers oftentimes have anxiety. Sometimes, they work overnight.

Starting with a clean slate and no knowledge about software development, you’ll likely have the most challenging time becoming a software engineer.

Background expertise in programming language and coding can ease you into the process, whether starting with a bachelor’s degree or bootcamp route.

Besides that, college-level knowledge doesn’t guarantee your professional success. In some cases, your job may not hold the same technologies you learned about. In turn, you’ll have to independently understand its functions.

If you’re working during college, add the stresses of deadlines and examinations to learning a new software program. That said, becoming a software engineer isn’t for everyone.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Software Engineer?

It can take around four years to become a software engineer if you’re pursuing a bachelor’s degree. A bootcamp can catalyze the process and last only four to five months.

A mentor checking the work of a junior software engineer

How to Become a Software Engineer in 5 Steps

Being a software engineer involves a few long steps. It starts with a formal degree and ends with sending off your portfolio.

Step 1: Earn a Relevant Degree

Computer Science vs Software Engineering – Which degree is better for you?

Breaking into the software engineering field requires a degree in most cases. The good news is that you don’t always need prerequisite Information Technology (IT) knowledge to enroll in a software engineering bachelor’s degree.

They usually begin with foundational topics involving coding and programming. That said, most programs last four years. You’ll be studying computer science and theory.

Afterward, you can specify your interests through a major like cybersecurity or IT.

Besides that, adding a master’s degree to your portfolio can boost your chances at higher-level positions.

Do You Need a Bachelor’s Degree?

You can enter the software engineering industry without a bachelor’s degree. You can go through a coding and web development bootcamp or undergraduate certification.

These will allow you to apply for entry-level positions. The downside to these is that you won’t get the similar foundational knowledge of a formal degree.

The short programs don’t lay a solid groundwork for technical skill-building, foundational math, and design principles. In turn, your career advancement will be restricted compared to applicants with a bachelor’s degree.

Step 2: Enlist in an Internship Program

How I got my first internship (software engineering)

After or during your education period, you can gain professional experience through an internship. You can search separately or use your college’s career path benefits to find a suitable program.

Your theoretical studies will be put into practice during your internship. It’ll also provide you with relevant experience, ideal for your resume. You’ll need it to stand out in the high-competition industry.

Internships last between three to six months. They provide the necessary professional exposure and an understanding of company culture.

You might also get an opportunity extension to work at the same organization after you graduate.

Step 3: Find Your Specialty

Software engineers can choose between two prime specialties, computer systems software or computer applications software. The prior involves learning about operating systems, like debuggers, system utilities, and file management tools.

An applications software specialty will dive further into word processors, spreadsheets, and web browsers. These tools assist users when completing a task.

Step 4: Consider Certifications

A professional certification maximizes your chances of getting an industry-specific role. They will help you stand out among the employee pool. It refines your resume and establishes your credibility.

You’ll likely take the certification through an online course. These software engineering courses can enhance your programming skills and catalyze your career path.

Some examples of popular certifications include:

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified Developer
  • Oracle Certified Java Programmer
  • Professional Scrum Developer
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer

Did you know? You can make money by becoming a Scrum Master. Organizations are constantly looking for increased efficiency, and this is a great way to earn money from that trend.

Step 5: Build Your Portfolio

Most employers don’t check your GPA to determine whether they’ll hire you. Instead, they focus on your practical achievements from your portfolio. They want to see how your years of education reflect on a project.

Whether a professional task or an open-source project, displaying it in your portfolio will maximize your chances of getting hired.

Ensure that you detail all the technologies you used to implement the project and other pertinent information, such as the process and ideology of the project.

Step 6: Start Applying

After going through your educational, practical, and professional phases, it’s time to kickstart your career with a solid software engineering role. You can apply for multiple industries, such as

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Programming
  • Computer Engineering
  • Software Application
  • Web Development
  • Software Design

Apart from that, you can expand your position radar to exploring roles as a Data Scientist, Front End Engineer, Data Engineer, Computer Systems Analyst, and other job opportunities.

Now that you’ve specified your niche, it’s time to build your online professional presence.

That means updating your LinkedIn profile, creating a job profile in multiple career portals, and sending your resume and portfolio.

Networking can raise your chances of getting a role. You can establish them through seminars and conferences. Take advantage of your alumni portal as well.

Reasons to Consider Becoming a Software Engineer

A side view of Software engineer wearing eyeglasses during her work

Despite the difficulties associated with becoming a software engineer, the role offers incredible work-life balance.

Some people don’t resort to full-time positions and believe that software development is among the best gig jobs, giving you many opportunities for second jobs.

Whether you’re satisfied with a 9 to 5 or freelance work, software engineering holds multiple benefits.

  • High Demand: With a higher than national average projected job growth rate, software engineering offers a high demand and safe position.
  • Versatile Industry: You can apply your skills to various industries rather than be limited to tech organizations. For instance, you can develop a mobile application for a bank or develop an education portal for a university.
  • Flexible: Software engineering workflows are versatile. You can work remotely on your projects wherever you please. The role can be full-time, part-time, hybrid, or freelance.
  • Competitive Salary: With high demand comes an equally high salary. Entry-level positions can earn around $107,000, while senior roles income a hefty annual $144,000 average.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Degree is Best for Software Engineering?

The best degrees to pursue a career in software engineering include computer science, software engineering, and computer engineering. 

What is the Highest Salary for Software Engineering?

The highest income rates for software engineering can reach around $200,000 to $300,000 annually.

These salaries are designated to high-level positions in the industry, such as principal engineer, technical architect, and Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

Similar Gigs to Check Out

You can apply to various other similar gigs besides software engineering, such as:

Wrapping Up

As you go through the process of becoming a software engineer, you develop multiple skills. Some of them include knowledge of algorithms and data structures, programming, agile project management, and engineering and design principles.

These skills come from your years of college education, internship expertise, and certification knowledge. You can also build them from bootcamps and software engineering online courses.

After approaching the finish line and landing a role, you’ll reap the several benefits of being a software engineer. Unlike other industries, the tech job market offers flexible work hours, a competitive salary, and high demand.

Let us know what you think in the comments, and don’t forget to share the article if you liked it.

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