CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a software engineer.
Is becoming a software engineer right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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Accelerated courses in the following subjects during high school will help to lay a foundation for undergraduate studies in software engineering:
- Pre-Calculus and Calculus
- Computer Science
- Language Arts
- Foreign Language
It is important to select a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET accreditation is based on criteria such as faculty, curricular content, facilities, and ongoing program improvement, and practical/industrial applications versus theoretical focus.
A Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering comprises of instruction in digital logic, algorithm design, data structures, project planning, and structured approach to programming. Curricula typically include the following classes:
Object-Oriented Software Development
Using advanced programming language to solve common computer problems and tasks
• Computer programming expressions
• Understanding how fields and methods work
• Programming logic
Overview of computer security; ethical, legal, and practical considerations
• Disaster and data loss recovery
• User access methods
• Fundamentals of cryptography
Techniques and methods for designing and developing software projects on schedule and on budget
• Understanding project lifecycles
• Project planning
• Risk management
Applying the concepts of human communication methods to create user-friendly software
• User interface design considerations
• Tailoring software to human user specifics
• Usability testing
While a bachelor’s degree remains the preeminent requisite to enter the field, Coding Bootcamps are a relatively new educational path for software engineers. These programs typically last between eight to twelve weeks and place students into a hands-on, immersive learning environment.
Some software engineering undergraduate programs partner with technology companies to include an internship in their curricula. Internships normally last between three and six months and allow students to work on specific projects or products. This hands-on training provides opportunities to expand skills and network with potential employers.
The following are the most common specializations in the software engineering field:
Problem solving-based, non-Web-based software development that includes programming languages such as Java and C#
Designing and coding background software created to support application development; includes program languages like C and C++
Embedded Systems Development
Designing computing systems and software to work in non-computing devices, such as automobiles; involves using programming languages such as C and assembly language.
Employment options for software engineers include computer system design firms, computer services firms, software publishers, computer manufacturers, financial firms, and insurance companies. Some graduates in the field choose to work as independent contractors.
Certification & Continuing Education
There are no licensure requirements for software engineers, but there are many voluntary certifications that engineers can pursue.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
The IEEE Computer Society offers three certifications for software engineers:
• Associate Software Developer Certification – 100-minute online exam
• Professional Software Developer Certification – 120-minute exam plus two applied coding exams (two hours each)
• Master Software Developer Certification – 180-minute exam plus two applied coding exams (three hours each)
These certifications were launched in 2013 to create PE (Professional Engineer) credentials specific to the software engineering sector.
Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute (SEI)
The SEI offers a variety of certificates, authorizations, and certifications, each of which requires that applicants complete a specific curriculum and/or demonstrate specific proficiencies:
• Certificates – Complete a curriculum in a particular technical area
• Authorizations – Complete a specific training program to offer a specific SEI service
• Certifications – Demonstrate proficiency in a particular body of knowledge or skill set and ability to perform a task, service, or role
American Society for Quality (ASQ)
The ASQ defines the Certified Quality Engineer (CQE) as a professional who understands the principles of product and service quality evaluation and control.
Certifications from Technology Vendors
Various certifications in specific areas of practice are available from technology vendors such as:
Master’s Degree (optional)
A Master’s Degree in Software Engineering provides further training in the use of systematic, quantifiable, and cost-effective approaches to software development. It exposes students to a wider experience devising solutions that work across multiple hardware platforms and typically allows them to develop expertise in at least one programming language. Curricula typically includes the following classes:
Introduction to mathematical models, which have applications in understanding and predicting natural phenomena and human nature
• Applying models to real world problems
• Identification of a particular mathematical model for a given situation
• Quantification of variables and intended results
Examination of different programming languages and how their particular characteristics can be applied to software creation
• Reinforcement of object-oriented programming principles
• Critical analysis of existing computer code
• Techniques to effectively and efficiently design programs
Tools and techniques for practical testing of software and analyzing theoretical testing models
• Methods of debugging
• Analysis and interpretation of test results
Software System Architecture
The fundamentals of software architecture and their application to the software development process
• Identifying software architectural techniques
• Analysis of software design
• Tools used for software architecture design