Written by ComputerScience.org Staff Writer
Last Updated: January 10, 2020
Software developers conceive of, design, and build computer programs. Some develop new applications for mobile or desktop use, while others build underlying operating systems. Either way, software developers identify user needs, build programs, test out new software, and make improvements. Working closely with computer programmers, software developers fill crucial roles in the computer systems, manufacturing, finance, and software publishing industries.
This page explores how to become a software developer and covers topics such as job outlook, salary expectations, and professional resources. Below you can also learn about typical daily responsibilities, educational requirements, and types of jobs, to help you decide if embarking on a career as a software developer is right for you.
What Does a Software Developer Do?
Software developers use various source debuggers and visual development environments to modify, write, and debug software for client applications. They also document and test client software and write code to create applications that either stand alone or boost access to servers and services. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), software developers earn a median salary of around $105,590 per year, and can earn higher salaries by pursuing advanced degrees.
Many companies require candidates to have experience in the field and a bachelor’s degree in software development, computer programming, information technology, or computer science. Software developers typically work in office settings, and many also serve as information technology specialists in addition to their software development roles within a company.
Key Hard Skills
Hard skills encompass the specific abilities necessary to excel in a particular job. Graphic designers need artistic abilities, surgeons need great hand-eye coordination, and software developers need a strong command of major programming languages, such as those listed below.
- Java: As a general-purpose programming language, Java features class-based, concurrent, object-oriented functions. Designed to minimize implementation dependencies, Java allows application developers to “write once, run anywhere.” Java is one of the most popular programming languages used today, especially for client-server software applications.
- C#: A general-purpose, multi-paradigm programming language, C# encompasses imperative, strong typing, functional, declarative, object-oriented, component-oriented, and generic programming disciplines. Developed by Microsoft within the .NET initiative, C# received approval as a standard by ISO and ECMA.
- Python: Python is an interpreted, general-purpose, high-level programming language. Python’s design philosophy emphasizes code readability by using significant whitespace and providing clear programming on large and small scales.
The list above details several important programming languages useful to software developers, but aspiring software developers can also learn a host of other languages. Depending on the job, industry, and specialty you plan to pursue, you may need to become an expert in other languages. Consider popular languages such as Ruby, Scala, and TypeScript, and learn more about programming languages as you explore your options.
Key Soft Skills
You may wonder: what are the skills of a software developer, aside from computer programming? Software development, like many other occupations, requires soft skills in addition to hard skills. Developers need to work well with others, exhibit attention to detail, and think through complex problems.
- Communication: Developers need to effectively communicate with customers, colleagues, managers, and employees in non-technical departments in order to do their jobs effectively.
- Teamwork: Software developers often work in teams to plan, design, and develop projects. They must collaborate effectively with others, receive feedback constructively, and participate in meetings.
- Problem-Solving: The responsibilities of a software developer include fixing problems that computer programmers or users find. They need great problem-solving abilities to ensure that a program works correctly.
- Attention to Detail: The best software developers possess detail-oriented sensibilities that enable them to identify and track small issues in code. They must also possess the ability to shift focus back and forth from the big picture to the minute details.
This section asks the question: what does a software developer do on a daily basis? In short, a software developer’s responsibilities vary depending on factors such as their specialization, the industry they work in, and their experience level. For instance, unlike entry-level workers, senior software developers may lead meetings, supervise employees, and manage budgets. Typical daily duties for a software developer include testing new programs, analyzing user research, and creating models for new applications.
What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Software Developer?
Software developers typically need a bachelor’s degree in software engineering, computer science, or a similar field. Some of the senior-level roles may necessitate a master’s degree.
Is It Hard to Become a Software Developer?
Any career can be difficult to break into at first. You can increase your chances of landing a job by taking relevant classes and by looking for summer internships.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Software Developer?
Many students secure software developer positions directly after completing a four-year bachelor’s degree. You can graduate faster by taking extra credits and summer classes.
What’s the Difference Between a Software Developer and Software Engineer?
You may wonder: what is a software developer, and how do developers differ from software engineers? Software engineers apply engineering principles to create computer programs. Software developers are the creative minds behind the design and implementation of programs.
What Do Entry-Level Software Developers Do?
Entry-level software developers report to senior software developers on their team. They work with other junior and mid-level developers to create, evaluate, and maintain programs.
Software Developer Salary Information
Software developers enjoy high salaries, as compared with the national median salary of $38,640. Salary data for developers specializing in systems software indicat
es a median of $110,000 per year, while those working in applications development earn a median of $103,620. For comparison, the BLS reports that the median income for all computer occupations is $86,320.
However, the size of a software developer salary depends on factors like industry, geographic location, and professional experience. About a third of all software developers work in the computer systems design industry, and the top-paying industries for software developers include advertising and public relations, electronic component manufacturing, and financial services. The best states for software developers, in terms of salary, include California, Washington, and New York. Judging by the data below, experienced software developers earn around $30,000 more each year than developers just starting out.
Average Salary of Software Developers by Job Level
|Entry Level (0-12 Months)
|Early Career (1-4 Years)
|Midcareer (5-9 Years)
|Experienced (10-19 Years)
How to Become a Software Developer
Earn Your Degree
Software developers must earn a bachelor’s degree in a relevant area of study. Most employers require a degree in software development, though some remain open to other areas including computer science, computer programming, and related disciplines. Typically, employers look for candidates from regionally accredited institutions so that they know what quality of education the professional received.
There are many online programs for software developers, allowing them to earn their degree at their own pace from any location and gain more experience while they pursue their education. Advanced degrees in software development can qualify graduates for new career opportunities and higher salaries.
Many employers look for software developers with professional experience. Professionals can demonstrate their work experience through resumes, cover letters, and portfolios. Depending on their level of education, professionals may have different experiences with field work. For instance, graduates with a master’s degree may have already started their careers before entering into a master’s program, or during their master’s program.
Undergraduate students, by comparison, do not typically graduate with much field experience, though they frequently pursue internship opportunities while in school. Internships often allow students to find full-time employment at their internship location after graduation. Professionals should focus on gaining as much work experience as possible during their programs and craft their resumes to demonstrate those experiences. Completing a coding bootcamp can also be a great way to get extra experience and learn marketable skills.
There are many certifications for software developers. Some of the most common certifications include Microsoft, Amazon Software Services, Cloudera, and Oracle. Many software development careers require professionals to obtain certifications before allowing them to work with certain software projects. These certifications provide verification that professionals know enough about the software in question to work comfortably with it. Often, these credentials boost software developers’ salary and employment opportunities since they set them apart from other candidates. Professionals can conduct their own research online or reach out to their college or university to discover different certification opportunities. Additionally, professional organizations may offer more certification opportunities.
Types of Careers in Software Development
Software developer education programs build the hard skills and knowledge that graduates need to pursue a variety of careers in the computer and information technology world. The specific opportunities available to you depend on your past work experience, preferred industry, geographic location, and education level.
Associate degree-holders may pursue jobs in web development, while bachelor’s degree-holders can become software developers or computer programmers. Additional higher education can boost job opportunities, and workers with master’s degrees can supervise teams of developers or become research scientists. Whatever career they choose, graduates of software developer schools can expect relatively high salaries. Software developers take home a median yearly income of $105,590 per year.
Careers for Software Development Graduates
Web developers design and build web pages. They construct the back-end of a site and create its outward (front-end) appearance. They often need an associate degree in web design.
Median Annual Salary: $69,430
Computer programmers build computer applications by writing code in various computer languages. They test new programs and check for bugs. Computer programmers usually need a bachelor’s degree, but some employers hire programmers with an associate degree.
Median Annual Salary: $84,280
These computer professionals store and organize data for various types of organizations. They back up information, secure data, and manage permissions for users. They usually hold a bachelor’s in IT or computer science.
Median Annual Salary: $90,070
Software developers design computer systems or applications. They may direct computer programmers or write code themselves. These professionals need a bachelor’s degree in a field related to software engineering or computer science.
Median Annual Salary: $105,590
Where Can I Work as a Software Developer?
Software developers can find jobs in many types of companies across several industries. Graduates of computer science programs may choose to work in a large tech company
or set their sights on small startups. Some developers even work independently as freelancers.
Geographic location plays a major role in the career outlook and salary a computer science graduate can expect. Certain areas in the country have an elevated demand for software developers, possibly leading to high salaries. Other states do not employ many software developers, meaning you may find it difficult to find a job. The charts below show that systems software developers earn the most in California, New Hampshire, and Colorado.
Companies of all sizes demand skilled software developers and computer programmers. Many students dream of working for a large and powerful technology firm such as Google, Facebook, or Microsoft. Others pursue jobs in small and scrappy startups with their sights set on innovation. Large companies have vast resources and a major impact on the public. Smaller companies also merit consideration, since some workers prefer to work in small teams, take on a variety of responsibilities, and help grow a business.
|Industries With the Highest Level of Employment of Software Developers
||Number of Software Developers (Applications) Employed
|Computer Systems Design and Related Services
|Navigational, Measuring, Electromedical, and Control Instruments Manufacturing
|Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
|Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing
Why did you decide to pursue software development?
My love for computers started the day my grandma brought home a used PC with Intel’s 386DX processor in it. I thought I was the coolest kid on the block with my 8MB of RAM. I immediately went to the local library and checked out an intro to computers book, came home, and started taking things apart. Fast forward to my senior year of high school. I took my school’s only computer programming class as an elective to fill out my schedule. We spent half the year learning QBasic and the other half learning C++. This was enough to get me hooked! I could now control this machine that, up until now, I was just familiar with its hardware pieces and how they were interconnected. I could now make it actually do things!
I was now in a position where I knew what I loved to do, but I wanted to make sure that the career path was viable. I started looking around online and read articles about how good tech talent was hard to come by and employers were in desperate need of it. That pretty much sealed the deal for me. I would get to do what I love while actually making an impact at an organization.
I was always told that you’ll know when you’ve found your calling. Not everyone will be fortunate enough to experience that feeling, but if you are, you’ll know. The more I read about computers and software, the more I built little programs that turned into big programs, I knew I had found my calling.
What are the biggest challenges of working as a software developer?
One of the biggest challenges is the constantly changing landscape of the profession. The day I graduated with my bachelor’s in computer science, one of my professors pulled me aside and said, “Congratulations…you’re officially obsolete.” I didn’t realize at the time how true this statement was, but I would learn soon enough.
Another challenge for me specifically is that most of my career has been spent in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). It’s a type of facility that you are required to work in if you deal with classified government information. For a software developer, it’s an absolute nightmare. In a nutshell, it means no personal electronic devices and no direct access to the internet. If you have a Linux problem, it’s just you and the pages. Python problems? Better get used to the help() function. Luxuries like stackoverflow, reddit, and MSDN that you come to rely on all through undergrad aren’t there to help you anymore. It’s a significant sacrifice, but the sense of mission accomplishment is second to none.
The most rewarding aspects? <
The most rewarding aspect of being a software developer is getting to build things! A lot of times it can be a frustrating process debugging, testing, and rewriting to improve efficiency. However, the first time you navigate to the webpage or fire up the desktop application or download your app from the app store, that sense of accomplishment you feel at that moment makes it all worth it.
Another rewarding aspect is getting to work on teams. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the brightest minds in the field, and it’s given me the chance to grow and develop myself into the engineer that I am today.
At this point in my career, another rewarding aspect is the opportunity to mentor and teach new software developers. Not only is it a chance for me to relearn some things I may have forgotten along the way, but it’s a rewarding feeling when a new developer starts making an impact, or reaches a career milestone, or even teaches you something!
Was it challenging to find a job in the field?
It was challenging for me to find my first internship during undergrad, but after that it was all downhill. I got my associate degree before starting at Florida Tech, so I started there as a junior having taken no CS courses yet. Needless to say, I was far behind my peers who had been taking CS courses along with general education classes for 2 years already. That didn’t do anything to curb my ambition though. I started studying material 2-3 semesters ahead of my current classes.
I was in Java 1, but when I got home, I studied algorithms, data structures, graph theory, and dynamic programming. After one semester of CS courses, I taught myself enough to land phone call interviews with Google, Amazon, and Mirosoft, and even make it to the Microsoft on-campus six-round interview pipeline in Redmond. None of those worked out, though I had a new boost of confidence that I was on the right track. After a career fair on-the-spot interview, I landed a summer internship with Northrop Grumman writing software for the GlobalHawk UAV platform.
Once you land that first opportunity, it becomes a mix of your technical abilities and your ability to professionally network and market yourself. In the software developer world, it’s not uncommon for people to have vast professional networks that span numerous companies and areas of IT. Never underestimate the power of a “good word” from somebody.
Also, do your best to continuously learn. Always be working on a personal project. When you are in an interview, I guarantee you they will ask about any projects you are working on. It’s a great way for an interviewer to gauge somebody’s passion. If you go home at the end of the day and you shut software development out of your personal life entirely, how passionate can you possibly be then? Interviewers can sense someone’s passion, and they usually respond favorably.
What did your career trajectory look like?
My career actually started out in the U.S. Navy, where I served 6 years as an Aegis Fire Controlman. In this role I operated and maintained the ship’s primary air defense weapon system. I became proficient in microelectronics, transistor logic, pretty much all things computer hardware. I finished my associate degree soon after leaving the Navy, and decided to go to the Florida Institute of Technology for a bachelor’s in computer science.
I figured I had a good handle on the hardware, so let’s go actually learn about the software side of the house that I fell in love with in high school. During my undergrad, I had the opportunity to complete two internships. My first summer was at Northrop Grumman working on the GlobalHawk, and my second summer was spent writing software for the Department of Defense. It was this second internship that would launch my post-undergrad career. After returning from my second summer internship, I worked part time at a company called Modus Operandi writing web software.
As I was finishing my second internship, I applied and was accepted to one of DoD’s prestigious development programs. These programs are three years long and allow you to rotate to different offices, giving you breadth of experience, all while giving you time to get your master’s degree. You’re responsible for selecting, applying for, and being chosen for each tour. This is where my love for cybersecurity really took off. My first tour didn’t really involve software development. There was a little bit of coding done in C#, .Net, and Windows Forms, but it was more project management and gave me an opportunity to oversee some pretty awesome projects.
My second tour, I was chosen to join an elite Red Team as a penetration tester, where I had the chance to pentest some of the government’s most complex and secure networks across the globe. This is where I learned how to use Powershell, batch scripting, and Python. For my final tour, I was hand-selected for an external detail at the White House.
There, I served as a technical subject matter expert, advising senior west wing staff on complex technical subjects and ensuring the protection of White House principals, assets, and equities against cyber threats. At the conclusion of this tour, I had the honor of meeting with the National Security Advisor, Gen. McMaster, to talk about the great things I had done while serving the Administration.
After my development program came to a close I decided to pursue a career in the private sector for once. I joined Blue Star Software | Cyber as both a computer scientist and as their Director of Commercial Business Development. As a computer scientist, I currently conduct vulnerability research and develop exploits. As the Director of Commercial Business Development, I play a key role in Blue Star Cyber, the company’s commercial cyber consulting division.
How do you organize, plan, and prioritize your work?
This is usually one of the hardest things to do in the software engineering world. One reason is because there’s no way to predict how long something will take you in real time. It’s easy to look at a task and hand wave that it should only take one week. However, you quickly realize that the project has other plans. You start the task on Monday. By Tuesday the requirements have changed, Thursday you are staring down a very confusing bug that you are 65% sure is a race condition, and Friday you’re finally starting to write your tests, in hopes of maybe being done by Wednesday.
When you are actually done on Friday, you put it up for code review, make the changes, merge to trunk, adjust the rest of the tasks by the week you ran over, and get ready to start again on Monday. The only saving grace is that as you gain more and more experience, you become better at gauging how long something will actually take. Not only that, but you become quicker at bug squashing and test writing, and your code becomes cleaner so the code reviews don’t take quite as long.
When I first started, I was lucky enough to have high quality team leads that had been developers for a long time. They were there to caution me when I told a customer that a task could be done in a week. They reminded me that the profession of software engineering always deals in the worst case, like big-O notation for calculating runtime. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver, but not the other way around.
Once you’ve been at it for some time, you’ll get the hang of it, and be able to start actually prioritizing on your own without the help of a more seasoned team lead. Nowadays, I keep a whiteboard in my office with a weekly breakdown of the tasks I plan to accomplish. Next to that weekly breakdown are three lists: Current (current tasks I’m working on), Upcoming (tasks that aren’t current but need to stay on my radar), and PITAs (upcoming tasks that I predict are going to be “pains in the ass”, and therefore be a little more unpredictable timewise). However you choose to do it, it’s important to always manage your priorities.
Take the time to determine what works and what doe
sn’t work for you. That way, when you are promoted to team lead and given junior personnel to lead, you’ll be able to immediately help them. There will also be times where you have more than one boss and more than one set of priorities. If you have no method for keeping track of tasking, you’ll quickly find yourself underwater.
Advice for newcomers to the profession?
Always be learning! Always be doing your best to keep up with the cutting edge. At times, it will be extremely hard and feel like a losing battle. That’s OK! As soon as you start your job, do everything you can to hit the ground running. Seek out the best person, the person that you hope to one day become (this usually doesn’t take very long), and ask that person if they’ll be your mentor. Always keep track of your goals.
You should have immediate (a couple of months), short term (2-5 years), and long term (10+ years) goals. You should always have at least two mentors. One should be a mentor who is just ahead of you on the corporate ladder that can help mentor you in reaching your immediate and short term goals. The second mentor should be where you want to be in accordance with your long term goals.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something. With the constantly changing landscape, people won’t expect you to show up knowing everything. Even if you are familiar with the new hot language, chances are you won’t be familiar with how your organization uses it or their way of doing things. Sometimes, you’ll have to do what we like to call “eat your vegetables”. This is the work that generally no one enjoys doing.
This is stuff like writing the documentation or cranking out the unit tests that accompany the awesome code you just wrote. Keep a good attitude about this, understand why it’s important, and use it as a chance to continue learning. Take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
These might manifest in the form of small task forces, tiger teams, or quick reaction teams. You really never know when something will come in handy. Archimedes said, “Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough, and I’ll move the world.” You found your place to stand in this challenging and growing profession. Now just take your time and build your lever, and before you know it, you’ll move the world.
What are some of the best ways you gained experience outside of primary education?
Gaining experience outside of your primary education is what is going to set you apart from your peers that never speak of software engineering outside of their classes. It’s what is going to show future employers that you really are passionate about this profession that you’ve chosen.
From the minute I walked into Florida Tech, I felt like I was behind. The course structure went: Java 1, Java 2, and Algorithms and Data Structure. As a junior level student based on credits, most of my peers were in algorithms. So, the first week, I went to the library and checked out books on algorithms. I also utilized platforms like edX and Coursera. I enrolled in MIT’s OpenCourseware class on algorithms. I studied hard. I was always on my computer practicing, learning, coding. Nights, weekends, holidays, whenever I could spare time, I was always doing something to better myself. I started tutoring some of my friends in my Java 1 class that were struggling.
I also participated in Florida Tech’s competitive programming club. We would meet every Friday to study programming challenges and learn new concepts. Every weekend would be a set of programming challenges that we would get together and solve. I also competed in TopCoder competitions, Google’s CodeJam, and Facebook’s HackerCup, and any other programming competition I could find. By my senior year, I developed a love for hacking and cybersecurity, and so I also started competing in capture the flag competitions.
When you are brand new to a profession and have no work experience, the interviews you do happen to land can be difficult. But when they ask about why you are excited about software engineering, or to tell them about a project you are working on, they can tell if you are passionate or not. If you truly are, it’ll show, and they’ll see.
What direction do you see your career path trending in?
My career has definitely been a roller coaster so far! I’ve spent almost my whole career working for the Department of Defense. I’ve worked in many different locations, from a Naval Destroyer in Mayport, Florida, all the way to the west wing of the White House. I’ve also worked in many different roles, from an Aegis Fire Controlman, to a software developer, Red Team operator, technical SME, and even exploit development.
I plan to continue my upward trend in both of my current roles. From a business standpoint, as I continue to come up to speed in the private sector, I plan to further develop myself as a leader and a businessman. I will soon return to school to earn my MBA so that I can become a CISO or CIO for my current organization.
As a computer scientist, I plan to stay technically relevant in the field of cybersecurity. I hope to transition into a team lead role and continue my team’s path to success! I plan to continue learning and conducting research in the field. It is my goal to begin a computer science PhD program in the next five years. I really want to become a thought leader, driving change for the better and giving back to my field.
Continuing Education for Software Developers
Through continuing education programs and classes, college graduates can continue building up their skills throughout their careers. By developing both soft and hard skills, software developers can earn promotions, become more specialized, and excel at their jobs. Aspiring software developers should pay special attention to Udacity, which offers classes specifically for workers in computer science-related fields. LinkedIn Learning offers a variety of classes, including ones on soft skills like communication and leadership.
Building a portfolio can prove crucial to finding a software development job. Employers often prefer to hire applicants who can demonstrate their coding and developing expertise through finished projects.
Continuing Education Resources
- Udemy Udemy offers 100,000 online video classes on a variety of topics. Software developers may pursue courses on ethical hacking, Amazon Web Services certified development, Linux, or cybersecurity.
- Udacity This organization offers professional development courses on computer science-related topics. Some programs of study include machine learning, full stack web development, and data structures.
- LinkedIn Learning This continuing education resource, administered by professional networking site LinkedIn, offers courses that develop both soft and hard skills. Developers can enhance their knowledge of programming languages such as Python, C#, and Java.
- Coursera Coursera enables users to watch lectures from experts at top universities such as Yale and the University of Pennsylvania. Students can choose from over 3,900 courses, including many on computer science and information technology.
- Hack Reactor This coding bootcamp offers online and on-campus course options. Throughout the program, students build software projects. In the final phase of the program, students build and launch a functioning application.
- Iron Hack Iron Hack offers intensive programs in web development, UX/UI design, and data analytics at several global locations. Students learn by building projects.
- Codecademy Code
cademy boasts free and paid classes on programming languages, web development, data visualization, and many other topics. Students can build their portfolio by learning new skills and working on side projects.
- Google Code Through the Google Code Archive, students can access open source projects to help with their own programs. Students can also explore code through Google Open Source.
How Do I Find a Job in Software Development?
Your job search process should begin well before graduating from a computer science program. Be sure to take advantage of all the job search resources and events your school offers. University and college career centers typically host job fairs and other events where students can network and meet recruiters. You may be able to search for open positions through a university-affiliated job board. Below you can learn about some additional resources for finding a job in the tech industry.
Through Indeed, you can search for job openings using keywords and location preferences. The site also lets users compare salaries and read company reviews.
Monster enables users to search through and browse job listings. It also offers career advice resources on general topics such as finding a job, choosing a career, and changing careers.
ComputerScience.org features a multitude of useful resources to help you find a job. Here, you can consult a guide to finding a computer science job. You can also explore in-depth information on various software developer careers.
This site lets job-seekers search for open positions or upload a resume so that employers can find them. Additionally, the site offers helpful articles on professional development.
Professional Resources for Software Developers
Computer science students, entry-level software developers, and senior developers alike should take advantage of the many professional resources available to them. Software developers should strongly consider joining a professional association, since membership organizations support developers through continuing education opportunities, networking events, professional development resources, research reports, and news updates.
Some associations serve a variety of IT professionals, while others focus on a specific computing occupation. Either way, professional associations can help you develop your career, gain new skills, and meet like-minded professionals.
- IEEE Computer SocietyThe IEEE Computer Society links students, professionals, and researchers in the computer science and technology fields. Member benefits include a magazine, access to the IEEE’s digital library, local networking events, and career development webinars.
- CompTIA CompTIA offers continuing education opportunities, including independent and instructor-led training courses. It also offers several certifications, resources on trends in the IT industry, and a membership association.
- Association of Software Professionals This trade association supports developers working on desktop programs, mobile apps, and cloud computing technologies. Members gain access to discussion groups, a monthly newsletter, marketing advice, and discounts.
- Association for Women in Computing Established in 1978, AWC aims to advance women in technology professions. Members include programmers, consultants, and systems analysts. AWC offers professional networking meetings, continuing education programs, and mentorship opportunities.
- The App Association This association supports over 5,000 application development companies across the U.S. It advocates on behalf of developers and offers reports on research and policy.
Last Updated: January 10, 2020