What career options are available for a software engineer?

Technology is growing at a rapid pace, and opportunities in software development are growing right along with it. For software engineers with an appetite to develop valuable interpersonal skills, management roles are widely available. Interpersonal skills (or soft skills) include communication, conflict management, empathy, leadership, listening, negotiation, a positive attitude, and being able to work as part of a team.

Individuals who are technically skilled communicators have many options available to them. They can, in time, qualify for a variety of roles, including Senior Engineer, Team Lead, Architect, Manager and can eventually make their way to senior management. The pace of a career path progression depends on someone demonstrating technical ability, inner drive, analytical thinking and excellent communication skills.

A software engineer's career path could look something like this:

Junior Web Developer
This is a starting or ground-floor position that an individual right out of college or an accelerated course could get with little to no computer programming experience. One can start applying for job postings as a junior web developer with a working knowledge of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and jQuery. Any number of online coding schools or in-person programs and dev bootcamps offer classes in these programming languages.

Requirements for a junior web developer include: being able to write simple scripts; having an understanding of the expected application lifecycle; and possessing a basic understanding of database and application services, such as caching and queues.

There may be occasions when junior web developers feel overwhelmed when they are asked to write complicated applications. Other days they may wonder why they are doing similar work to a senior web developer and not getting promoted. Both scenarios are completely normal. However, the biggest difference between a junior and senior developer is their level of experience.

Software Web Developer, Sr. Software Web Developer
A software web developer, or senior software web developer is someone who has: several years of professional programming experience; can write complex code; possesses a thorough understanding of databases, application services and application lifecycle development; and has become proficient at creating entire applications. Much of a software engineer’s career path will involve spending several years as a senior web developer.

People who don’t like the idea of management and prefer to stick with writing code can spend many years or even their entire career as a senior web developer. However, this position can also be a great jumping off point to a position as a software engineer or a manager, such as lead software engineer or CTO (chief technical officer) of a startup.

Lead Software Engineer, Technical Architect
For someone who wants to take on additional responsibility and more of a challenge, but is not interested in team management, a lead software engineer or architect role may be a great fit.

Lead engineers are looked to for guidance and direction by other engineers and programmers, and the role is seen as a mid-level management position. Lead engineers still write code, but also collaborate with others regarding work flow priorities and implement final decisions. They have years of programming experience, expertise in a specific subject matter, and can think of, plan, and build appropriate software to solve complicated problems.

Architects still write code occasionally as well, however they are mainly responsible for designing complex systems that other web developers will implement. The role of architect is a technical one and not usually a stepping stone to something more - often thought of as the highest position on the technical side of things.

Development Team Lead, Software Development Manager
Management is the next step along the software engineer's career path that can involve different focuses and responsibilities. These can include managing teams of developers, managing large-scale projects, and hiring and firing developers.

Mid-level managers (like lead software engineers) keep track of productivity and workflow in the department and report to a senior manager. A senior manager coordinates the needs of the project leader with the development team, which requires excellent people skills and the ability to resolve conflict effectively. The senior manager’s job is also to add or terminate employees to the team whenever necessary which can be a challenge at first, but a powerful leadership skill when mastered.

Director, Vice President, Chief Technology Officer
Senior management (which can include titles such as director, vice president, or chief technology officer) report to the CEO or to the company's board of directors. They oversee the work of other managers and often have some responsibility towards setting strategic and corporate direction. Some executive type responsibilities may include setting goals and initiatives, developing long-term strategies, and holding various departments accountable for specific measurable objectives. Senior managers are also responsible for supervising, hiring, and firing mid-level managers.

If managing people is just not something you are interested in, a career as a software engineer still provides such a decent level of income that you can still be a team contributor and have a rewarding career.

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