Best Software Engineer Careers

by Genevieve Carlton
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Software engineering offers problem-solvers and technical gurus rewarding careers across many different industries, including cybersecurity, gaming, and education technology.

Software engineers work at the intersection of computer science and computer engineering. They develop software and solve problems in computer programs. They also evaluate and test software to ensure it functions correctly. Software engineers often work closely with software developers and computer programmers and bring strong technical, analytical, and problem-solving skills to their roles.

A background in software engineering opens many diverse career paths. Different roles draw on different strengths, including design abilities, leadership, and teamwork. This guide introduces the best software engineer jobs, along with the requirements to get started in a career in software engineering.

Outlook for Software Engineering Jobs

Software engineers benefit from a strong career outlook and many opportunities in diverse fields. Many software engineer jobs offer above-average salaries — software developers earned a median annual salary of more than $110,000 as of May 2020.

A software engineering background serves professionals looking to work as software engineers, computer engineers, and software developers. Thanks to their strong computer science and engineering skills, software engineers work in diverse areas like operating system design, software programming, and mobile app development. They can also move into management-level roles or work as consultants.

Most careers in software engineering require a bachelor's degree, but with a graduate degree, professionals can advance into decision-making and research-driven roles. For example, a Ph.D. in computer science prepares graduates for academic and leadership positions.

What Makes Software Engineering Unique?

Software engineer jobs require strong technical and problem-solving skills. The field overlaps with several other career paths, including computer engineer, software developer, and web developer. They even share some duties with web designers.

Software engineers also play a unique part in the software development process. Thanks to their engineering backgrounds, they understand how different parts of projects work together. Software engineers often step back from projects to analyze the broader architecture of a program. They work closely with software developers and programmers to design, develop, test, and evaluate software programs.

As a result, software engineers often work in leadership roles, making recommendations to improve the finished product.

Software engineers use engineering principles to design and test software programs. They have a broad view of how elements of software fit together and how to identify improvements.

The Best Software Engineer Jobs

Methodology

We ranked the best careers in software engineering for 2021 using salary and projected job growth rate data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

true Information Systems Manager

Information systems managers, also known as IT managers or IT project managers, direct organizations' computer and information systems, help them reach their IT goals, and manage their computing needs. In addition to maintaining computing systems, information systems managers secure networks, recommend upgrades, and monitor IT professionals.

Computer and information systems managers often hold a bachelor's degree or higher in computer science, computer information systems, or information technology.

  • Median Annual Salary (2020): $151,150
  • Job Growth (2019-2029): Much faster than average
true Software Developer

Software developers design and create computer programs. They design applications to complete specific tasks or run systems and devices. These developers research user needs, and work in teams to develop software that meets specific needs. Throughout the design process, software developers coordinate different pieces of the project and test their functionalities.

Careers in software development require strong technical skills and the ability to work in teams. A software developer typically holds a bachelor's degree or higher in computer science.

  • Median Annual Salary (2020): $110,140
  • Job Growth (2019-2029): Much faster than average
true Software Quality Assurance Analyst and Tester

Software quality assurance analysts and testers evaluate software programs to identify bugs. They also create software tests that will locate and identify the causes of problems. Before releasing software, these analysts and testers evaluate the program. When they identify defects, they document issues and recommend changes.

Other common titles include production assurance engineer, quality assurance analyst, and software quality assurance engineer. The role typically requires a bachelor's degree.

  • Median Annual Salary (2020): $110,140
  • Job Growth (2019-2029): Much faster than average
true Information Security Analyst

Information security analysts design cybersecurity measures to protect private data and computer systems. They monitor networks for potential cyberattacks and investigate any breaches. When a breach occurs, they document the event and implement repairs. These analysts also install tools to improve security, such as data encryption programs or firewalls.

As a high-demand career with strong earning potential, employers typically seek candidates with bachelor's degrees in computer science, information technology, or cybersecurity.

  • Median Annual Salary (2020): $103,590
  • Job Growth (2019-2029): Much faster than average
true IT Consultant

IT consultants possess strong information technology and business skills. They advise organizations on how to improve IT efficiency and increase profits. These consultants meet with organizations' executives and decision-makers to research their procedures and develop solutions to improve data management, computer systems, and networks.

An IT consultant typically holds a bachelor's degree with a background in information technology, at minimum.

  • Median Annual Salary (2020): $93,710
  • Job Growth (2019-2029): Much faster than average
true Computer Systems Analyst

Computer systems analysts evaluate organizations' computer needs and current procedures to increase efficiency. By blending business and information technology skills, they help companies improve data management processes. They also troubleshoot computer system issues and add functionalities.

These professionals must possess both business and technical skills. A computer systems analyst typically holds a bachelor's degree with coursework in computer science and information technology.

  • Median Annual Salary (2020): $93,730
  • Job Growth (2019-2029): Faster than average
true Computer Systems Engineer/Architect

Computer system engineers and architects design the systems that connect data, including local area networks. They implement cloud-based infrastructures for businesses with customer-facing components.

When designing computer systems, these engineers must consider information security needs and upgrades. The field requires a bachelor's degree in an area like computer science or computer engineering.

  • Median Annual Salary (2020): $92,870
  • Job Growth (2019-2029): Faster than average
true Web and Digital Interface Designer

These designers create websites and interfaces for mobile apps and other software. They build layouts while considering user experience, aesthetics, and performance. Web and digital interface designers also craft navigation menus and ensure functionality for desktop and mobile platforms.

Some web and digital interface designers specialize in optimization for speed and search engine ranking. This career typically requires an associate degree with training in design and programming.

  • Median Annual Salary (2020): $77,200
  • Job Growth (2019-2029): Much faster than average
true Web Designer

Web designers create web page aesthetics and establish proper functionality. They construct layouts, choose color schemes, and assess the best ways to display website content. This field blends graphic design and web development, with professionals drawing on programming languages like HTML and CSS to design websites.

These designers also test interface layouts and functions to ensure websites appear as designed. A career in web design typically requires at least an associate degree with training in design and coding.

  • Median Annual Salary (2020): $77,200
  • Job Growth (2019-2029): Much faster than average
true Web Developer

Web developers build website code using programming languages like HTML, CSS and Javascript. They work on front-end development, creating the parts of a website that users interact with, and back-end development, where they connect websites with databases and other tools. Web developers must understand website layout, performance, and usability.

The career path requires strong communication and technical skills. Employers typically seek web developers with associate degrees.

  • Median Annual Salary (2020): $77,200
  • Job Growth (2019-2029): Much faster than average

How to Determine the Best Career for You

How do we measure the "best" when it comes to careers? The best career for one person might rank among the worst careers for another. While salary and job growth data offer valuable insights, candidates should still consider other factors when choosing their career path.

Issues like work/life balance, commute times, remote work options, and an organization's commitment to sustainability are critical considerations. Job-seekers should consider these factors when researching potential careers.

Is Software Engineering Right for You?

Software engineer jobs offer high salaries and strong demand, but some people may find that the challenges of a career in software engineering outweigh the advantages. Prospective software engineers should consider their strengths, weaknesses, and professional goals before pursuing careers in the field.

Software engineers require strong analytical and problem-solving skills. Technically minded people who enjoy programming often thrive in these roles. A background in computer science, data analytics, and systems architecture provides the hard skills that software engineers need to succeed.

This career path also requires leadership abilities. Software engineers often oversee software development teams and coordinate work with software developers and programmers. They consider the entire scope of projects to develop creative, effective solutions. Strong interpersonal and communication skills help software engineers work effectively in teams.

While software engineers need many hard skills, including exceptional programming abilities, computer science training, and an understanding of computing systems, soft skills offer a major advantage to software engineers. Software engineers benefit from the ability to stay organized, work on a team, and communicate effectively.

While some people thrive in software engineer jobs, the career path does not align with everyone's skills or interests. For example, software engineers spend most of their time sitting at desks working on computers, which may not appeal to some.

The field also requires strong computing and engineering skills, including proficiency in multiple programming languages and the ability to learn new technical skills quickly. Technology continues to evolve quickly, meaning software engineers must constantly improve through classes, webinars, and continuing education programs.

The work environment can also be stressful. Project deadlines, difficult computing problems, and issues within teams can pose challenges. People without strong organizational, problem-solving, or communication skills may struggle. In the precise world of software engineering, a missed line of code or a single misplaced semicolon can make the difference between a program working or failing.

Becoming a Software Engineer

Software engineers can take multiple paths to work in the field. For example, software engineer jobs hire candidates with degrees in computer science, computer engineering, and computer information systems. A background in information science or other computing fields can also lead to software engineering roles. This section introduces common educational pathways to becoming a software engineer.

  • Computer Engineering: A computer engineering degree covers core computer science principles and engineering skills. Enrollees learn to build network architecture and design and test software programs. The degree prepares graduates to pursue employment as computer engineers, software engineers, and software developers.
  • Computer Information Systems: A computer information systems degree combines computer science with business. This major focuses on the applications of computer systems in areas like database administration, network architecture, and systems design. Learners also take business courses to design organizations' computing systems. The computer information systems major emphasizes analytical, decision-making, and communication skills.
  • Computer Science: A computer science degree trains students for many careers in tech and computing, including in software development and software engineering. During a computer science degree, undergrads explore programming languages, operating systems, data structures, and systems architecture. These computer science courses prepare graduates for specialized careers in computer science.

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.

Frequently Asked Questions

true What Can You Do as a Software Engineer?

Software engineers design mobile and desktop programs. They use engineering principles to manage computer systems, create programs, and solve computing issues.

true Is Software Engineering a Good Major?

A software engineering major prepares graduates for high-paying, in-demand roles in tech. Software engineering graduates can work as software engineers, software developers, or information systems managers.

true Is Software Engineering a Growing Career?

Yes. Software engineers are in high demand in several career paths, including as software developers. These professionals earn a median salary of $110,140 per year.

Header Image Credit: Luis Alvarez | Getty Images

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