How to Become a Software Developer

| Doug Wintemute

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Software developers enjoy a very promising job outlook, with high projected growth numbers and strong salary potential.

What do software developers do? As the creative forces behind video games, computer programs, and cellphone applications, these professionals create products that many people benefit from but may not fully understand. This guide answers the questions: What is a software developer, and what does a software developer do?

In the ever-changing and competitive business and technology landscapes, organizations need innovative and dynamic software solutions to distinguish themselves from competitors. Software developers use their expertise and problem-solving skills to enhance technological possibilities, increase safety and privacy, and improve user and client experiences.

While most software developers possess bachelor's degrees, these professionals can come from many different backgrounds. Continue reading to learn more about the available educational and professional pathways to this rewarding career.

What Is a Software Developer?

Software development is made up of several related disciplines, including engineering, programming, and design. Software developers develop and manage systems, programs, databases, and applications. The field covers the design, development, testing, and use of software for computers, cellphones, automobiles, and robots.

Software developers may collaborate with different professionals or work independently. They often specialize in one aspect of the field or work under different job titles.

Alternate Job Titles for Software Engineers

  • Application integration engineer
  • Applications developer
  • Computer applications developer
  • Computer applications engineer
  • Database developer
  • Software applications architect
  • Software applications designer
  • Software applications engineer

What Do Software Developers Do?

Software developers design and develop applications for various technologies. They may assess system problems and identify software solutions or manage organizations' software performance upgrades. They test and implement new software, write code, and manage teams of programmers and designers.

Software developers typically use many different tools, such as database management systems, web development platforms, and various programming languages. These professionals also use integrated development environments for writing, editing, and compiling code. They may manage entire projects, specialize in front-end or back-end development, or handle hardware-specific software.

While software developer and engineer roles may overlap, the following information highlights some differences.

Software developers use their design and coding skills to create software for clients and users. Developers apply coding principles to create complete programs. They primarily focus on the design and development process and work alone or with programmers. Software engineers develop software by following engineering principles. They may also create an ordered development process and the tools required for projects. Engineers often manage the entire software development lifecycle. They work with teams and consider all relevant hardware components and stakeholder needs.

Where Do Software Developers Work?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), software developers work traditional hours in a collaborative environment. They work with programmers most often, ensuring their development and design ideas are effectively translated into code. Developers also work with clients, designers, engineers, and management.

While many professionals work in office settings, some work remotely. The computer systems design services industry employs 33% of software developers, while 11% work in manufacturing, 9% in software publishing, 5% in company management, and 4% in insurance.

Software Developer Skills

Software developers need both soft and hard skills to thrive in the industry. While most professionals learn these skills in software development degrees or related programs, coding bootcamps also provide an effective way to acquire new and lasting skills. In the best coding bootcamps, learners can obtain coding and programming expertise, along with many of the following skills.

Soft Skills

  • Problem-solving
  • Time management
  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Creativity
  • Analytical

Hard Skills

  • Cloud computing
  • Database
  • Object-oriented programming
  • Computer networks
  • Scripting

Steps to Become a Software Developer

Aspiring software developers can take several pathways to the profession, but many tend to follow a similar route. The following sections highlight some requirements that help aspiring developers land their dream jobs, including degree and experience demands, portfolio and resume expectations, and additional credentials.

1. Earn Degree(s)

Though not mandatory, software developers typically possess bachelor's degrees in computer-related fields, such as computer science, software engineering, or information technology. These programs usually take four years to complete, but accelerated options offer shorter pathways.

Most employers want candidates with computer science backgrounds, such as data science, computer programming, and software design and architecture. The best bachelor's degrees in computer science provide practical training opportunities, along with comprehensive training in various networks, databases, and programs.

In addition to a bachelor's degree, a software developer can also start their career with a two-year associate degree. A two-year master's degree can help candidates earn senior-level and management positions in some of the most desirable organizations. A Ph.D. in computer science, which typically takes 4-7 years, helps professionals advance the field with new research or teach the next generation of developers.

2. Gain Experience

Many employers prefer candidates with relevant work experience, which can help satisfy industry certification requirements and provide some of the most effective learning environments. Work experience introduces new professionals to software developer responsibilities, including common challenges and project management techniques.

Current students may find acquiring meaningful experience challenging, which makes getting an internship all the more important. Internships allow degree-seekers to join development teams to code, test, and design prototypes for actual web and systems applications. When choosing internships, learners should consider the role, responsibilities, and mentorship potential above all else.

3. Build Your Portfolio

A portfolio demonstrates your skills and experience to employers. Ideally, your portfolio highlights a diverse set of accomplishments and projects from school, internships, hobbies, and extracurricular work.

Some possible projects might include games or app design, websites, and coding assignments that showcase different languages, such as HTML 5, JavaScript, and SQL. Aim to include projects that relate to your target position, along with work that demonstrates multiple skills, such as full-stack development.

4. Earn Certificate(s)

Certificate programs can help aspiring software developers enter the field or develop skills to advance their careers. The training can fill in weaknesses from previous degrees and refresh outdated abilities. Certificates conferred by colleges and universities also provide higher education credits, which learners can apply toward their degrees.

Certificates offer condensed training that takes a few months to complete, allowing software developers to easily remain informed on changes in technologies, tools, and methods. Some popular and useful certificate options include:

5. Earn Certification(s)

Professional certifications help software developers highlight the industry technologies they have mastered. These credentials demonstrate that candidates can manage projects using a specific developer program, along with the determination and commitment to continue their education and advance their careers.

To earn certifications, professionals typically need to possess a certain level of relevant experience and training. They must then complete an examination, which may require completing a course or program. Individuals must renew their certifications every 2-5 years.

Popular professional certifications include Microsoft developer credentials, AWS certified developer credentials, and Oracle certifications.

6. Create Your Resume

To create the best resume, software developers should emphasize the skills and achievements that best relate to their ideal role. They should only include the courses and credentials that are relevant to the job being applied for. Resumes should also include any professional experience that demonstrates leadership, project management, and software development work.

Applicants can include a section on personal projects to showcase any extracurricular work. Look at the job description and application requirements to best understand each employer's ideal candidate.

What to Look for in a Software Development Degree Program

When choosing a software development program, students usually consider tuition, location, and program options. Candidates should also look at the program's faculty, internship opportunities, and transfer credit policies and make sure the institution holds regional and programmatic accreditation.

When choosing an online college, prospective students should research delivery formats, out-of-state tuition discounts, and residency requirements.


Accreditation can affect financial aid, employment, and certification eligibility. Regional accreditation depends on school location, but students should seek software development programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). This recognition assures employers that the candidate possesses training that meets industry standards.

Software Developer Salary Information

While software developers earn very competitive salaries, wages depend on several factors, including employer, candidate qualifications, and location. The following information includes job outlook data for software developers and the states with the highest salaries.

Software Developer Career Outlook

Median Salary

Job Growth (2019-2029)

Highest-Paying States (May 2020)

Source: BLS

Similar Careers

In addition to a career as a software developer, a computer science degree or training in a related field can lead graduates down several similar professional paths.

Computer engineers design and develop software and hardware to improve the effectiveness of computer systems. A computer engineering degree differs from computer science in that the former focuses on integrating all computer elements, while the latter emphasizes device processing and communication. Web developers design and create websites and their various components. They improve functionality, intuitiveness, visual appeal, and traffic management. Developers typically code and secure websites as well. Software engineers design and create software to perform various functions for clients and organizations. These professionals typically manage the entire development process and lifecycle, including planning and testing products.

Software Development Professional Organizations

IEEE strives to advance technology by developing industry standards, improving access to information and research, and supporting a large professional network. Members can access events, professional development opportunities, and training programs. This trade association for software developers provides members with a professional network and a supportive social learning environment. Members can also access publications, industry standards, and events. ACET promotes industry standards and professional protocols for software professionals. Members enjoy access to professional and personal services, discounts, and career support. WIT seeks to help more women in tech advance their careers. The organization provides educational and networking opportunities, leadership support, and mentorship programs

Doug Wintemute is a Toronto-based freelance writer with professional writing interests in higher learning and entertainment. He completed his BA and MA in English at York University, graduating summa cum laude and earning academic merit, research, and writing awards at both levels. Since 2014, he has contributed content and editorial work for award-winning digital trade publications, global SEO copywriting projects, and hugely popular online brands. He can be contacted through LinkedIn.

Common Questions About Software Development

true What Do Software Developers Make?

The median annual salary for software developers was $110,140 in 2020, according to the BLS. However, salaries for these professionals may fall within a wide range.

true What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Software Developer?

According to the BLS, software developers typically have bachelor's degrees in computer science-related fields. Most developers possess a combination of education and experience.

true How Long Does it Take to Become a Software Developer?

Most software developers take four years to complete their bachelor's degrees and enter the field. However, professionals can take many different pathways to software developer careers.

true How Do I Start a Career in Software Development?

While pursuing a bachelor's degree, aspiring software developers can gain experience and job opportunities through internships. Prospective developers should also create projects in their free time, which they can add to their portfolios to improve their chances of employment.

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