Software engineers work in one of the fastest-growing industries in existence today. As technology evolves, carving out specializations in artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, big data, and other subfields, fresh opportunities continue to emerge. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020) anticipated a 22 percent increase in positions for software developers between 2019 and 2029, more than quadruple the growth projected across all occupations during that same decade (4 percent).
These professionals unite the theories and methods of computer science, engineering, and math to create software applications, systems, and networks, paying thought to their integration into existing technologies.
Software is designed for two types of users: front-end and back-end users. Front-end users include those who use computers for home, school, and work, and back-end users are those who can make small and big changes to the software to publish content or change how a piece of software is used by front-end users.
A software engineer looks at both the front-end and back-end user experiences and designs programs to perform specific tasks to create and share information such as word processing or video-editing or manage business tasks such as point-of-sale software. According to the BLS, once a software engineer has an overall concept of the application, the work of creating it is given to programmers who write the code and test the application before it becomes available for consumers.
As well, the BLS shows there are generally two types of software engineers: applications and systems software developers. Applications software engineers are tasked with creating front-end user software such as games and word processing and can also include enterprise-level software such as robust databases.
On the other hand, systems software engineers include more complex systems such as operating systems for computers, mobile devices, and automobiles. As computer and mobile devices continue to infiltrate all facets of modern life, the work of software engineers will evolve to serve unprecedented levels of creativity for new and known products and services.
Read on to discover the typical responsibilities of a software engineer with discussions of the specializations and work environments.
As described above, software engineers apply traditional principles of computer science and engineering to create, test, and evaluate software applications and systems. More granularly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) describes the typical tasks in this high-growth profession:
Software engineers serve varied functions depending on their company. They may help design databases to store constituent information for a political action committee; assist in the development of a mobile ride-sharing application; or create project management software for public use. In sum, software engineers can work across virtually any industry, facilitating developments in healthcare, manufacturing, education, government, construction, aviation, and consumer products, among many others.
Software engineers can pursue unique specializations in their discipline. Some examples of these front-end and back-end applications include:
These are a few of the most common specializations in software engineering, although the growing sophistication of technology will continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible.
Software engineers not only work at startups producing useful apps but also with federal agencies that need assistance with the creation and maintenance of database software; healthcare companies that have pioneered new medical devices; automobile manufacturing plants seeking to optimize operations; or even non-profit organizations hoping to develop a new networking system. The most recent figures from the BLS (May 2019) found the following were the most common employers of the 1.1 million software developers nationwide:
The majority of software engineers work full-time on collaborative teams with other engineers and programmers.
In general, the day-to-day tasks of a software engineer depend on their individual responsibilities within the greater organization. Here is an overview of sample responsibilities taken directly from job postings on Indeed.com across various subfields of software engineering:
Software engineer at a financial technology innovator
Field software engineer at a private defense contractor
Java software developer at a worldwide online payments system
As evident from the above descriptions, the responsibilities and competencies of software engineers vary widely. To learn about the most benevolent positions in software engineering, check out Software Careers in Service to Society.
Because of the team-based nature of this profession, software engineers are encouraged to stay current with the latest trends and research. The IEEE Computer Society is a leading professional organization that serves its members through networking at international conferences, peer-reviewed publications, global standards, and digital libraries of learning opportunities. With membership benefits for researchers, industries, and students, IEEE offers job searching services and committees for software engineers wanting to connect with special technical groups, women in computing, or sister societies
Although it may seem like a misnomer, as modern society becomes more dependent on technology, software engineers can design applications that increase human efficiency and free up time and energy for more person-to-person connections.
Traditional forms of education are still important, but they can’t keep up with the rapid pace of cybersecurity. As soon as one form of threat is neutralized, innumerable others are developed. That’s why employers and employees are both increasingly turning to the more nimble world of professional certifications.
Data science, as described by University of California, Berkeley, involves the analysis and management of large quantities of data. The discipline requires professionals who can ask the right questions, chart out what information is needed, collect the data, and analyze it effectively.
Meet several leading professors of computer science, and learn more about what makes them standout educators and innovators.
Software powers a large part of today’s world. From hailing taxi cabs to ordering food, there is an app for everything. As a result, there is a growing demand for software engineers to develop new applications and websites.
In a world largely powered by software, there is a high demand for those trained in web development. A bachelor's degree in web development can allow students to gain a fundamental understanding of software as a whole and confidently launch their career in this exciting field.