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Skills and Traits of the Successful Software Engineer

Many people can succeed in software engineering, but an inherent interest in technology and engineering should exist since these are so fundamental to the career. In addition, many different types of jobs are available in the field, and specific interests and passions may help drive a person’s career direction. According to Arkhitech, a solutions provider, and O*NET OnLine, some of the skills that could be helpful to a successful software engineer include:

  • Technical knowledge: Programming languages and the processes and technologies that make specific solutions viable are constantly updated. Staying up-to-date on new skills, technologies, and methods can result in more creative and focused solutions.
  • Attention to detail: Software engineers often need to oversee many different parts of an application, project, or system, meaning there is a constant need to be aware of how various aspects of an engineering project are symbiotic.
  • Being a team player: More often than not, a software engineer has to work as part of a team and ensure that a specific app or project continues down the pipeline toward speedy completion and implementation.
  • Problem-solving: Although there may be more than one solution to a problem, software engineers must decide between the various alternatives and identify the overall best-case use fit.
  • Creativity: Software engineers often must devise new solutions to achieve the desired functionality, factoring in constraints, dependencies, and established best practices.

Software Engineer Role Requirements and Responsibilities

Those entering the software engineering field will be tasked with unique engineering responsibilities on the job and foreseeably in project management or in helping guide projects through the product release cycle. Understanding the processes of testing and feedback is also essential to the career.

According to the BLS, a bachelor’s degree in computer and information technology, software engineering, or a related field helps provide the foundational education for licensure. Classes such as engineering statistics, applied linear algebra, and software engineering testing lay the foundation for future careers in software engineering. Some programs require a capstone project to enable students to synthesize their learning better and be more uniquely prepared to enter the career field.

Licensing for Software Engineers

Should software engineers be licensed? Many arguments exist about whether licensing is necessary for the field, mainly since software engineering is still relatively new.

In 1998, Texas was one of the states to prioritize PE licensing of software engineers. It began licensing through the use of a portfolio review. Completing a college degree, gaining work experience, and passing the appropriate engineering exams are typically the steps software engineers must take to become licensed.

In 2008, support for a licensing exam for software engineering began at the behest of the IEEE Computer Society and multiple additional organizations. That licensing exam – Principles and Practices of Software Engineering — became available in 2013 and is offered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), which also provides other engineering licensing exams. In addition, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has a committee dedicated to monitoring and recommending changes in state law resulting in 30 states requiring licensure. However, NCEES discontinued this exam in 2019 due to a lack of participation and adaptation.

In 2022, the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) offers the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) for college graduates with four years of experience. The FE exam is comprised of 110 questions which must be completed in six hours. The FE exam fee is $175.

In short, a candidate must pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam upon graduating from an ABET-accredited BS in software engineering program (some states still allow candidates with other degrees or no degree to sit for the exam). Then, after four years of relevant work experience, candidates can take and pass the Principles and Practices Exam of Software Engineering. Please note that the specific experience requirement varies by state.

As of July 2023, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits 23 online engineering programs, including software engineering and information technology.

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Software Engineer

Becoming a software engineer is somewhat straightforward, but there are variations in degrees pursued at the college level. Below is a list of common steps:

Step One: Graduate from high school (four years). Students are encouraged to prepare in high school by taking as many math, science, and programming classes as possible, including advanced or AP courses.

Step Two: Earn a bachelor’s degree (four years). Students can apply to several colleges offering software or computing engineering degrees.

For example, Middle Georgia State University offers a 120-credit online bachelor of science in information technology specializing in software engineering. Students in this program must earn a grade of C or higher in all courses. The core curriculum includes 42 credits in precalculus mathematics, lab science, public speaking, and human-computer interaction. In addition, students can choose from nine concentrations, including software engineering, web applications development, and networking technologies and administration.

  • Location: Macon, GA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: ABET
  • Tuition: $150-$199 per credit hour

Step Three: Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam (timeline varies). The FE Exam offered by NCEES is the preliminary exam all engineering licensure candidates must take. In addition, some undergraduate programs include preparation courses for the FE exam, which students can take before or after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in software engineering.

Step Four: Earn work experience (four years). To qualify for the PE credential, applicants must earn four years of professional engineering experience under the supervision of a licensed PE. Study guides and courses are available to prepare for this exam.

Step Five: Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) Software exam (timeline varies). Those seeking the PE Software credential need to graduate from an ABET-accredited program, pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, gain at least four years of experience (varies by state) in the field working under a PE, then pass the PE exam in their specific engineering discipline – in this case, software engineering. Professionals are encouraged to contact their state’s board of engineering to learn more about state-specific licensing requirements for software engineers in the state where they plan to work.

Step Six: Earn a master’s degree (optional; two years). If your undergraduate degree is in a different field from software engineering, or if you wish to deepen your software engineering knowledge and hone your skills away from the workplace, consider a master’s degree in software engineering.

For example, Arizona State University offers a 30-credit online master of science in engineering in software engineering (MSE). This program requires ten courses offered over 7.5 or 15-week classes. This degree program is designed for students with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, software engineering, or a related field.

Core courses include software verification and validation and testing; software project, process and quality management; software engineering principles and concepts; and a portfolio capstone course. Graduates from this program pursue careers in senior managerial and executive roles and optimize and streamline software processes.

  • Location: Phoenix, AZ
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $1,021 per credit hour

How Long Does it Take to Become a Software Engineer?

As illustrated above, the length of time it takes to become a software engineer depends on a student’s background knowledge and commitment to completing their coursework. However, a focused student on a direct path to a software engineering career can become a licensed software engineer approximately 4-5 years after graduating high school.

To learn more about online software engineering degree programs, please visit our page, which outlines a complete list of different types of online degree programs.

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