Software Developer Careers

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A software developer is a tech specialist who creates computer programs. They develop applications that run computers and create operating systems.

Essential Career Information for Software Developers
Median Annual Salary $105,590 per year
Employment Growth Forecast from 2018-2028 21% (Much faster than average)
Number of New Jobs from 2018-2028 +284,100
Average Entry-Level Education Requirements Bachelor's degree
Annual Salary of the Highest 10% $166,960
Annual Salary of the Lowest 10% $66,740


What is a Software Developer?

A software developer is a tech specialist who creates computer programs. They develop applications that run computers and create operating systems. Similar job titles include software engineer, database developer, software applications architect, and software designer.

The average software developer salary exceeds $105,000 a year, with much faster-than-average projected job growth through 2028. This guide covers how to become a software developer, including education requirements and career advancement opportunities.

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 Does a Software Developer Do?

Software developers create and develop computer programs. They analyze users' needs and develop software to meet those needs, including designing software and working with programmers to create the software code. After creating a program, software developers conduct tests to ensure everything works as intended.

Software developers create and develop computer programs.

In addition to designing and testing software, software developers oversee an organization's current software programs and systems. They recommend upgrades, conduct software maintenance, and test software to make sure it functions normally. While creating software, developers collaborate with programmers, software engineers, and other computer specialists. Software developers work for tech companies and other businesses that rely on custom software development.

Software developers can work in a variety of specialties. Software developers who oversee a software project from planning through implementation are called IT project managers. An application software developer or software application developer creates computer applications, including word processors, mobile apps, and games. Systems software developers design the systems that run computers, including operating systems for mobile devices and custom systems for an organization.

Software developers usually hold at least a bachelor's degree. They bring strong analytical, programming, and problem-solving skills to their jobs.

How to Get Into Software Development

Most software developers hold a bachelor's degree, often in computer science, software engineering, or a related field. During a bachelor's program, students take courses on topics like software design, computer programming, and software development. Some employers prefer candidates with a master's degree for advanced roles.

After meeting education requirements, software developers can apply for entry-level jobs. With experience and/or a master's degree, software developers can move into management roles, including IT project manager and computer and information systems manager.

Certificate Programs

Students can pursue a software developer certificate at the undergraduate or graduate level, depending on prior educational experience. During an undergraduate software developer certificate program, learners study topics like software architecture, programming languages, and software engineering. Depending on the program, they may also study programming languages like Python, Java, or C#. These programming skills help software developers work with programmers to design new software.

Additionally, software developer certificates emphasize software testing practices to debug applications or systems. Students may also gain web development skills, including backend and frontend web development. This training prepares graduates for careers in enterprise web development and web application development.

Software developer certificate programs typically take one year or less to complete. Graduates can often transfer their credits into an associate or bachelor's program. Some schools also offer graduate software developer certificate programs, which emphasize advanced software development skills for students with a computing background. With a graduate certificate, software developers can pursue career advancement or transfer into a master's program.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

A bachelor's degree represents the entry-level education requirement for software developers. Prospective software developers can pursue a bachelor's degree in computer science or software engineering to gain the skills and training required for careers in software development and software engineering.

Software development students take courses on topics like information technology, programming languages, and data management. They also study scripting applications, software engineering, and software quality assurance. Additionally, many bachelor's in software development programs include management and business courses to prepare software developers for leadership roles. Coursework in project management, for example, helps graduates pursue IT project manager jobs.

Students often complete internships to gain experience and build a professional network while earning a degree. Interns learn from experienced software developers while strengthening their hands-on skills. A bachelor's degree typically takes four years of full-time study to complete. Graduates can pursue entry-level software developer jobs or continue their education with a master's degree.

The Best Online Bachelor's Programs in Software Engineering The Best Online Bachelor's Programs in Computer Programming The Best Online Bachelor's Programs in Computer Science

Master's Degree Programs

A master's in software development, software engineering, or computer science can lead to career advancement and higher earning potential compared to a bachelor's degree. Students take classes on topics like advanced programming, software design, and information systems design.

Many master's programs let students customize their degree through electives on topics such as server-side web development, security management, and mobile application development. Students may also complete an internship to gain hands-on experience.

A master's degree in software development generally takes two years of full-time study to complete, though some programs offer accelerated timelines. Learners can earn a master's in software development online to prioritize flexibility. Online master's in software development programs often feature flexible schedules, allowing students to balance school with work and family responsibilities. Graduates qualify for management roles, including senior software engineer and IT project manager.

Doctoral Degree Programs

A doctorate represents the highest software development degree. While most software developers do not need a doctorate, some career paths require the degree. For example, most tenure-track professors need a doctorate. Candidates seeking advanced positions, including chief technology officer and chief information officer, may also benefit from earning a doctorate.

Students can pursue a Ph.D. in software development, software engineering, or computer science. Learners complete advanced coursework in software analysis, software design, and software-intensive systems. Students also take research methods courses. After completing coursework requirements, doctoral students take comprehensive exams before proposing, researching, writing, and defending a dissertation.

A doctorate represents a significant time commitment. Doctoral students generally spend at least five years earning their degree, and many programs require applicants to hold a master's degree. Graduates qualify for academic, research, and business leadership roles.

Professional Licensure and Certifications

Software developers can demonstrate their skills and advance their careers by pursuing professional certification. Specialized software developer certifications in specific programming languages or systems can help software developers showcase their training. For example, Amazon offers the AWS certified developer credential to recognize software developers who can develop and debug cloud-based applications using Amazon Web Services. Candidates for the credential must pass an examination.

Software developers considering career advancement can demonstrate leadership and management skills through a certification like the certified project management professional credential, offered by the Project Management Institute. Candidates must meet the education and experience requirements and pass an examination to earn the credential. Certified project management professionals must renew their credentials every three years by completing continuing education requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you do as a software developer?

Software developers design and test new software programs. They work with programmers to code software and ensure programs perform required tasks.

What qualifications do you need to become a software developer?

Most software developers hold at least a bachelor's degree in computer science, software engineering, or a closely related field.

How long does it take to become a software developer?

Software developers typically hold a bachelor's degree, which takes four years of full-time study to complete. However, some employers prefer candidates with a master's degree.

Is it difficult to become a software developer? How do I start a career in software development?

Software developers must bring strong programming, analytical, and technical skills to their jobs. They often hold at least a bachelor's degree in computer science or software engineering, though some employers require a master's degree.