How to Become a Software Developer

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In an age of escalating technology saturation, becoming deeply involved in software development is one of the most resilient and reliable career paths available. Companies and consumers alike use a steady stream of new software and hardware releases. Therefore, you have a chance to boost your earning potential and job stability by becoming a software developer and creating these technology products.

This is a field fueled by specialist knowledge, which means you’ll have to put in the time and effort in your professional development and education to secure a career in software development. If you have the dedication and passion for performing the specific processes related to developing and debugging software, however, there are ample opportunities for success, both in the tech industry and related roles across many other fields.

Software developers work on a project

It’s worth asking a few questions about the state of the software development profession as you decide whether to pursue such a role. What are the day-to-day expectations of these employees? What kinds of companies hire them? How are they compensated for their work? Finally, how can you pick up the skills and expertise hiring managers are looking for when assembling their development teams?

By learning about both the kinds of backgrounds that can earn software development job offers and the skills necessary to stay and thrive in these roles, you can assess your fit for such positions. Then, it’s time to plan your professional and educational future to build a resume that will make hiring managers take notice.

What Are a Software Developer’s Duties?

The exact role of a software developer within a company is to design and perfect software. This means working on new concepts and iterating older solutions, writing code, testing for bugs, and solving any problems that occur during these processes. U.S. News & World Report described software developer as the No. 1 job in technology ― and the overall best job across all sectors. Working on the programs that power entire industries is a highly in-demand and well-compensated position.

The Balance broke down software developers’ day-to-day responsibilities into four parts. First, they have to create and test new software, whether it’s meant for use by professional clients or the public. Second, they are sometimes called upon to work on existing applications, coding new features or updates. Third, software developers must test and maintain programs that are up and running, an especially critical step in the era of cloud-based web applications and solutions that can run in a centralized manner. Finally, these professionals must document their processes to ensure they and others will be able to carry the work on in the future.

While it may be tempting to assume that software developers’ coding work is solitary and independent in nature, they are actually members of teams. Modern software development is a collaborative process, with PayScale explaining that developers’ most frequent collaborators are systems engineers and computer programmers. Furthermore, software developers tend to connect with vendors and the users of their programs.

Which Skills Are Most Important for Software Developers to Possess?

Software development work is highly specialized in nature, calling for a mixture of non-negotiable technology proficiencies and collaborative soft skills. While not every competency needed to succeed as a developer is focused on hard knowledge, familiarity with major programming languages is foundational.

PayScale explained software developers today should be able to work with multiple operating systems and languages such as C++, HTML, XML, Java, Python, and more. Understanding the most common databases is also important. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted this programming knowledge is essential even though the developers are not the team members who primarily write code. Not only do software developers have to grasp these technical concepts, but they should also be able to act as interpreters of a sort, speaking with colleagues and clients who are not experts in programming, making their work intelligible to these outside parties.

The soft skills required to be a software developer go beyond this ease of verbal communication and include the ability to write clearly and intelligently about their work. Furthermore, PayScale urged software developers to keep their knowledge current. Since technology is a fast-moving field, an outdated understanding of the industry could lead to a professional being left behind. Furthermore, software developers should be prepared to train and mentor new employees in their departments.

What Types of Companies Employ Software Developers?

While the No. 1 employers of software developers are computer systems design companies, many other types of businesses also carry these employees on staff. Developing custom applications for internal or customer use is becoming a common feature of today’s fast-moving organizations, and this is driving demand for developers.

According to the BLS’ most recent data, compiled in 2018, 19% of developers work for manufacturers, while 6% are employed by financial or insurance companies, and 4% are employed by engineering firms. This is in contrast to the 31% of these workers who are directly employed in computer systems design.

What Is the Salary and Job Outlook for a Software Developer?

As evidenced by the No. 1 ranking on the U.S. News top careers list, there is plenty of interest in becoming a software developer and satisfaction among those who have made this career move. The demand for developers, coupled with the accordingly high salary potential, has kept this job hot over the past few years.

While there will certainly be competition for the promising job openings for software developers, a wide variety of companies need these professionals and are consistently looking to add to their teams. Taking on such a role is an exciting and potentially rewarding outcome.

How Much Do Software Developers Earn?

Median pay for software developers is $105,590 according to May 2018 BLS data. The figure differs slightly depending on the kind of software a professional works on. Systems developers make $110,000, while developers of software applications earn $103,620. In all cases, those figures are higher than the median for all computer occupations ― $86,320 ― and the $38,640 earned across every job in the country.

Differences in industry may affect earning power. For example, applications developers make the highest median salary in software publishing, followed by manufacturing. For systems developers, manufacturing is the best-paying sector, followed by engineering. The lowest-earning 10% of software developers make $66,740 and under, while the top 10% of these employees make over $166,960 annually.

This earning power demonstrates the value companies place on their software developers. Businesses are only willing to offer six-figure contracts to workers in high demand, ones whose efforts can directly affect the organizations’ fortunes. Software development roles fit into this rarefied category.

What Hiring Trends Are Impacting Software Developers?

Today, everything imaginable is powered by software. The spread of trends such as the internet of things has brought the need for secure, reliable, and frequently updated software into new realms. The developers responsible for creating and maintaining that software are now in demand at organizations of all kinds, and this is reflected in industry data.

While the economic uncertainty associated with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic may affect employment numbers for years to come, comparisons in demand between jobs can still offer a picture of which roles are the most popular. Research conducted before the crisis shows a much greater projected increase in software developer roles than the average across all occupations. In the most recent BLS data, the government agency predicted a 21% rise in positions during the 2018-2028 period, far above the 5% for all jobs.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Software Developer?

Achieving the high salary, job security, and level of responsibility associated with a software developer role is the product of years of effort. To join this career path, there are important steps you can take both professionally and in your education. While your job history and higher education will matter to hiring managers, you don’t have to supplement these with a specific certification ― The Balance pointed out that there is no universally required industry credential for software developers.

U.S. News explained the path to working as a software developer often involves completing a bachelor’s degree program in a related subject, then picking up hands-on experience. You can combine these two concepts by working while earning your bachelor’s credentials. Building your professional resume through full-time employment and also studying online for your bachelor’s degree can be a valuable strategy for minimizing the time it takes to build the necessary list of accomplishments to win hiring managers’ attention.

The exact amount of time required to become a software developer will depend on your approach to building this experience. Completing a bachelor’s degree and performing hands-on development work, either in an entry-level role or as part of an internship, are likely to factor into your journey. How much time you spend on these steps will be unique to you.

What Kind of Professional Experience Do You Need to Become a Software Developer?

The main requirement for building a software development resume is that you show potential employers you can perform the unique work associated with creating software. This means it can pay to seek out entry-level jobs and internships that involve getting hands-on time with software. In addition to these roles and your education, it can pay to have personal, independent projects related to development, keeping yourself busy with software and showing your commitment to the work.

Google’s Sam Schillace told U.S. News that companies are often very interested in candidates who show initiative and curiosity regarding software development. For example, Schillace mentioned “outside coding projects” and “interesting technical accomplishments” as the kind of things that catch hiring managers’ eyes. These may be difficult to accomplish because they are largely self-directed, but by that same token, you can focus on projects in areas that interest you. Bringing up these achievements in a job interview can give a concrete look at your capabilities.

Another consideration when building your professional history is that you should build real-world familiarity with the unique demands and processes in your industry of choice. Since software developers are in demand outside of companies that only focus on computer systems, you may need experience with the demands of finance, engineering, or another specific field. The BLS noted having a tailored professional history helps when it comes to aligning your software development efforts with the needs and requirements of your eventual employer.

What Kind of Educational Background Can Give You Software Developer Skills?

If you do not currently have a bachelor’s degree related to technology and software, you can enter a program such as the online Bachelor of Science in Information Systems from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business. Rather than joining the bachelor’s program directly out of high school, you can enroll while already a working professional. This degree is earned 100% online, meaning you can focus on your education and a full-time career simultaneously, building technology knowledge alongside practical, hands-on engagement in the professional world.

Formally studying information systems can build one of the most important traits for a software developer ― namely, continued engagement with the current state of technology. Knowing the requirements of today’s software users and the solutions being put in place to meet those needs can make you a more effective developer. When your work reflects the best practices and expectations regarding applications, you have the potential to impress colleagues, hiring managers, and end users alike.

The BSIS curriculum ranges from foundational courses such as Systems Analysis and Database Management to classes focusing on marketing, financial management, and business communications, giving you the well-rounded education and knowledge base to succeed in a professional world where software underpins everything. Entering this online bachelor’s program can be one step in shifting to the promising software development career path.

To learn all the details about the online BS in Information Systems, visit the program page.

Recommended Readings:

4 Reasons to Get a Degree in Management Information Systems Instead of Computer Science

9 Information Systems Jobs to Consider


Bureau of Labor Statistics – Software Developer

PayScale – Average Software Developer Salary

The Balance – What Does a Software Developer Do?

U.S. News & World Report – Software Developer Overview