How To Become A Software Engineer - The Ultimate Guide 2021

August 10, 2021

Software engineers are in growing demand, and there are some essential skills you’ll need to learn if you want to become one. But how long does it take to qualify and find a job? Are online bootcamps worth it? Do you need a degree? We cover all your questions and more.

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Everyday we're continually surrounded by software, from the fitness app on our iPhone notifying us to take more steps, to the design tool suggesting the best template to use when we design our work presentation. These solutions rely on someone to build the software, maintain the software, and continually innovate it in line with a user's needs.

This is where a software engineer plays their part, using their computer science skills to build products or solutions that support the needs of the business. This could be a B2B company looking to help teams creatively collaborate or an e-commerce business wanting to improve their app user experience to sell more of a particular product.

On a day-to-day basis a couple of software engineers responsibilities include:

  • Working alongside various stakeholders to determine their software requirements
  • Taking stakeholder requirements and translating business design into a logical design
  • Designing, developing, testing and maintaining software according to the users’ specifications
  • Ensuring the system is maintained with all necessary updates and fixes
  • Performing code reviews where required
  • Supporting the testing team during testing phases of projects

A Software Engineer vs Software Developer

The main difference between a software engineer and a software developer is the scope of work. Whilst a software engineer is often involved with software development, a software developer is rarely an engineer. A software engineer applies engineering principles that are methodically problem-solving, as their role is to be involved in every part of the product life cycle.

Whilst a software developer still needs to be proficient in coding, their role is to ensure the product is performing at its best in all areas and they are more focused on finding creative solutions to problems. A developer will often work directly with the client and graphic designers, so that they can balance what the client is looking for with what the software can provide.

Qualification Optioons

To become a software engineer you'll have to dedicate time to learning your craft! Unlike some other careers where you can learn on the job, software engineering requires an understanding of programming fundamentals.

Many universities offer software engineering courses which can take between 3-4 years to complete . There is also the option to study more intensively with software engineering bootcamps or intensives. By completing an online software engineering bootcamp, you can become a university-accredited, entry-level software engineer within six months: it's simply a more intensive style of learning program.

Benchmarking Salaries

Are software engineers paid well? Yes - software engineering can be a very lucrative career. But it is worth noting that the salary of a software engineers can vary depending on the type of role, company, geographical location, and level of seniority.

In the UK, the average starting salary for a software engineer is £31,000, and in the USA it is $41,000. A senior software engineer can make on average £80,000 a year in the UK, with the average salary of a senior software engineer in the USA is around $130,000.

Soft Skills

There are several soft skills required to be a successful software engineer beyond knowing how to write code. Most software engineers will have to interact across various departments, be part of a larger team or liaise with senior stakeholders on different projects. This people interaction means they need a range of soft skills to work well across teams. Skills include:

  • Strong verbal and written communication skills
  • Approachability
  • Patience
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Excellent time management
  • Ability to be flexible
  • Empathy

Career Pathing

The career path of a software engineer may vary by company and individual but an average career path of a software engineer is:

  • Software Engineer: 0 - 3 years’ experience
  • Senior Software Engineer: 3 - 6 years’ experience
  • Tech Lead: 6 - 9 years’ experience
  • Engineering Manager / VP of Engineering: 9- 13 years’ experience
  • Chief Technology Officer: 13+ years’ experience

How to become a Software Engineer

1. Figure Out Your Long-Term Goals

Easier said than done! 

The first step to becoming a software engineer is to identify your long-term goal. Do you want to work for an established companythat has structured training programmes and fixed career opportunities? Does the idea of a fast-paced tech start up excite you? Or would you like to be part of an agency, where you will probably work across different projects and have a varying client base?

While your long-term goal can and likely will change throughout your career, it is a good practice to consider what you are looking for when you start out, as this may guide the choices you make throughout your career path.

Above all, if you're in the middle of a career switch, your transferable skills are incredibly valuable, so don't discount them!

2. Identify If You Would Like to Be a Full Stack, Front End or Back End Developer

Web development tends to break down into three components,the front end, back end and full stack development.

Front End Developer

A front end developer is responsible for everything you cansee on a website. They will work closely with the web designer and client to build a solution that has an excellent user experience, essentially packaging up everything from the back end in a way that users can interact with. A front end developer will usually work with HTML, JavaScript and CSS.

Back End Developer

A back end developer’s role is on the server side - they are responsible for preparing all the information for the front end developer, who will then take that information and make it appealing to the user. A back end developer is in control of how the website works. A back end developer will need to be proficient in programming languages such as Python, PHP or Ruby, while also having a solid understanding of databases such asMySQL, Oracle or MongoDB.

Full Stack Developer

A full stack developer is someone who can handle both front end and back end development - the full stack of technology that makes up a website. The benefits of a full stack developer is their ability to get a project finished from start to end.

A full stack developer will know how to use HTML (to add web content) and CSS (to personalize the web content), JavaScript (to make web pages interactive) and back end languages such as PHP, Python and Ruby. A full stack developer will also need to know how to design, understand and manipulate database queries.

Choosing a Software Engineering Certification

As you explore your options, you may consider a more formal degree or look for software engineering bootcamp style courses. Each style of learning brings its benefits, and one style may suit someone better than the other. A university degree in software engineering will usually last between 3-4 years and may have certain entry requirements.

This option may particularly suit someone who has just left school and is looking for the full university experience. ‍Intensive software engineering online courses are an excellent option for those who may have completed a degree previously, are looking to change careers, or for someone who wants a shorter learning program across six months versus four years.

Many of the top universities offer software engineering or computer sciences degrees which are usually spread across 3-4 years of study. A software engineering online course is designed for those who want to learn coding skills quickly. They are more intensive in nature and whilst shorter, they can prepare the student to be as skilled as their university degree holding counterparts.

Become A Software Engineer With Skills Union and NTU Asia

Get hands-on experience and build the confidence and skillset to become a software engineer. The SGUnited Skills Programme in Software Developer Immersive gives students hands-on experience on how to be an effective coder, build and test software products from scratch and collaborate with in-house engineering teams, jointly delivered by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Skills Union.

Find out more here. 

Become A Software Engineer With Skills Union and Ravensbourne University UK 

The Skills Union Software Engineering Bootcamp is a university accredited, intensive 24-week course which teaches students the practical skills and experience required to collaborate with an engineering team and code full-stack applications from scratch. 

Find out more here.

Find a Software Engineering Community

When you’re learning to become a software engineer it can be a great idea to find a community. Some of the best software engineering communities are:

Skills Union students study online with industry leading instructors and cohort-based classes

Top Five Books Recommended By Skills Union

Other Recommended Reading

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About Skills Union - Online Digital Learning Courses

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We deliver accredited, cohort-based active learning courses and bootcamps online, with part-time and full-time vocational courses to accelerate students at any stage of their career journey into work they love.

Our career-focused content ranges from software engineering and UX/UI design to growth marketing and digital entrepreneurship. To explore course information and sign up as a student, click here.

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