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How to Become a Software Engineer

With the internet growing all the time Software Engineers are going to be in high demand for quite some time. Job openings for Software Engineers will continue to grow. That will open up many jobs in the industry. On top of the growing job market, the salary of a Software Engineer is good. The  Indeed Career Guide  states that the salary ranges anywhere from $65,550 to $149,055 per year. Additionally, according to the  Bureau of Labor Statistics  the 2017 median pay was $103,560, and there is an expected 24% increase in jobs between now and 2026. It isn’t too late for you to decide on a career in Software Engineering. 

In order to get a job as a Software Engineer, you may need to go to college and obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science or a related field. This is not always necessary, however. You can get a job as a Software Engineer with only a killer portfolio and a decent amount of experience. The experience can be for non-profit companies or even from software that you developed on your own. 

What is a Software Engineer?  

Software Engineers develop new applications based on the needs and wants of the users. Software Engineers are also responsible for analyzing software in order to update it to meet current demands. With current electronic devices having similar hardware, Software Engineers have to design software that will be different from other engineers so that it will stand out. Those in this career field don’t focus on simple programs, instead, they typically focus on the bigger systems that are used by businesses. 

As a Software Engineer, you would have to focus on the minor details of software coding. The simplest issue could cause the software to run improperly so attention to detail is a must. You also have to be willing to sit for long periods of time working on the same project. If you are interested in becoming a Software Engineer you may be stumped on how to get started, so here are some steps for you to follow. 

How to Become a Software Engineer  

Determine Your Goals  

This is the first step on your journey to becoming a Software Engineer. Before anything else, you must decide what your end goals are. You need to figure out the exact job you want to apply for in the end. Who you want to work for is also a huge consideration. Research the jobs or companies you are interested in and see what they require of a Software Engineer. 

Another part of determining your goals is deciding how you are going to learn to do the job. Are you going to enroll in a college program or are you going to teach yourself? Your goals are going to determine the learning path you take, and your learning path could play a role in the job you end up with. 

Choose Which Language You Want to Learn  

This doesn’t mean you are going to learn a foreign language, it just means you are going to learn a certain computer programming language. These languages are what gives a computer instructions and makes electronics respond quickly to commands and given information. There are many different computer programming languages but some are used more often than others. You can’t learn them all at the same time so you have to choose one to begin with. After you learn one computer programming language there will likely be others that are similar or have certain things in common with the one you are already familiar with. 

There are guides online that will help you choose which language to begin with. The guides were put together by Software Engineers. One of the guides is posted on computerscience.org and it details each of 12 common computer programming languages. The guide is titled  Guide to Programming Languages , and it will tell you everything you need to know. Another great article that explains how to choose a computer programming language is titled  How to Learn a Programming Language . The author of the article explains what each language is best for such as computer programming or web design. As long as you do your research and choose a language that is common and works for you, you will be all set. 

Learn the Fundamentals  

As you’ve read before, you can enroll in college courses and work your way toward a degree, or you can teach yourself. The way you can teach yourself is through online bootcamps and websites, but it is best to begin with the computer programming language that you chose in the step above. You will need to  learn the core concepts of the language  before you can move further in the learning process. The core concepts are the same throughout many of the languages, so learning them makes it easy to learn the other languages later on. 

Once you have learned the core concept, you can then learn through examples online. The secret to learning through online examples is to deconstruct them and see how each component of the code works. Once you have a general idea you should make some changes to the code and see what works and what doesn’t. This gives you a chance to fix the code if the changes don’t work, which is also an important step to learning. 

Another great learning tool is a free course created by developers at Harvard called  CS50X . This program teaches how software programming languages and algorithms work. You will also create a programming project at the end of the course and present it to the other students. After the completion of the course, you can receive an optional certification for $90. If you choose to get the certification you can include that in your portfolio. 

Practice What You Have Learned  

After learning the fundamentals of being a Software Engineer, practicing is essential to meeting your goals. The best and only way to learn is by actually doing some coding. It takes many hours to become good at it. One program that you can use to practice is an  online Software Engineering program  developed by Flatiron School. This course offers more than 700 hours of practice and can be completed in the time frame you decide on. If you have quite a bit of time to dedicate to the program you can get it done quickly, but if you don’t have as much time you can do it at a slower pace. 

There are many free online coding programs that offer software engineering practice.  HackerRank  is one of these programs and you can work on hundreds of coding problems. You will know instantly if your answers are correct, so you can figure out the problem and fix it while your mind is still focused on it. You can choose which language to use on HackerRank, too, so you can use this program to practice no matter which language you chose to learn first. HackerRank starts easy and then gets harder as you solve the problems. Lessons are also built into the program in case you are struggling, and the lessons teach you how to do that particular problem. 

Another free program to practice with is  FreeCodeCamp . With FreeCodeCamp you can learn more about coding, but the focus is on web development. You set your own pace with this program, so there is no pressure to get it done during a certain time frame. When you are comfortable with your coding abilities you can work on projects for non-profit organizations through FreeCodeCamp. These projects will be great experiences for you and can make it easier for you to get a job as a Software Engineer later on. 

Build a Network  

One of the most important steps to becoming a Software Engineer is to build a network of other Software Engineers. Your network can include those who are professionals and even those who are just starting out. Networking with other people who are at the same level you are at can be just as beneficial as networking with professionals. Those at the same level are working through the same types of problems you are and can offer their input. 

Building a network also offers you a group of people who support you and can help you when you can’t figure something out. They can build you up when you lose motivation or can give you input on one of your ideas. Making these personal connections and developing relationships can even help you get a job, so it is important to keep things friendly and professional. 

There are different options for building a network. You can try and find an in-person group in your area, but they are sometimes farther away. Another option is to join an online community of Software Engineers. The online communities are sometimes easier because you don’t have to work it into your schedule, and you don’t have to travel. You can also network with people from all over the country if you network online. The creator of the blog  Learn to Code With Me  helped created a program called  Learn-Verified , and signing up gives you access to a networking group of other people who are just learning how to code. Within this group, you can work on problems with others through a video chat. 

Ask For Help  

Once you have developed a trusted network of Social Engineers you have the perfect group of people to ask for help. You can reach out to individuals or you can post the question in a group or a forum. Even professionals have to ask for help sometimes, so don’t feel bad if you have to do so. If you are using groups and forums to ask for help you should be willing to return the favor, however. If you see that someone asked a question that you know the answer to, make sure you are offering your advice. Doing so will make others more likely to respond to your questions, and it can potentially grow your network even further. 

Use Development Tools  

It only makes sense to use the development tools that the professionals use. If you choose to use other tools, you may be wasting your time if you plan on becoming a professional Software Engineer yourself. Using the tools that the professionals use allows you to learn how those tools work right from the start. You need to use tools that you will use in the real world, and avoid using tools that are just for fun. 

There are many tools you can use, so it is important to do your research and determine which ones are the best. The tools you need may depend on the type of software you want to develop or edit. It may also depend on how quickly you need the program to work and if plugins are necessary. Some of the best development tools are explained in an article titled  25 Tools Every Software Developer Should Master . The author of this article goes into detail about each tool and describes what it is useful for. 

Learn to Read Other Code  

Learning to read other code is so important because you will need to read it in many different instances. When you are trying to solve a problem in a code that someone else created, you must know how to read it. If you don’t know how to read other code you will not be able to solve the problem. You can also use your ability to read other code to create a program of your own. If you can figure out which part of the code another person used for a certain aspect of their project, you can implement something similar into your own code. If you have already implemented something similar but are having errors with it, you can rely on someone else’s code to help you solve the problem you are having with your own code. 

Additionally, you must be able to read your own code at a later time. If you create a project and have to add things to it later, you will need to know which part of the code needs to be changed. You will only know if you can read the code. You must be familiar enough with it that you know, without a doubt, what each piece of your code means. Luckily, there are resources available to guide you with your learning. There is a blog post written for  LaunchSchool that offers tips and suggestions for those who are learning to read code. When the author learned to read code he could find very little in the way of resources and tips, so he wanted other beginners to have a detailed guide to reference. 

Put Your Skills to Use  

Once you have become confident in your skills as a Software Engineer you will need to build your own project. It can be whatever you want it to be but it must work well. If you plan on landing a job as a Software Engineer, you need to have many completed projects that work as expected. You should create projects that highlight your skills and areas of expertise. If you aren’t ready to create your own project yet but want to start building your experience you can work on other projects instead. When you are working on other projects, you will be responsible for fixing errors in a code that has already been created. You will also be responsible for adding new features to other code. 

Learn About Computer Science Topics  

The next step in your process should be learning more about computer science topics. Learning about databases, cybersecurity, search engine optimization, or any other computer science topics will allow you to become more comfortable navigating a computer. It can also help you come up with new ideas for your own projects. A writer for Forbes created an article about  some of the most popular computer science topics  to learn about. You can reference the article if you want some different ideas for what to research. 

Create a Portfolio and Resume  

In order to be considered for a job as a Software Engineer, you must have a proof of your abilities. You should create a portfolio that includes examples of your work. This could be unique projects that you have created on your own, or it could include work you have done for non-profit companies. You will likely need more than one example of your work. The more you can include the better your chances of being hired are. Your resume is just as important as the portfolio. Without a strong resume you may not even be able to land an interview at all. In your resume you should include all courses you have completed in regards to Software Engineering. Free online courses or college courses should be included. You should also list all any Software Engineering work you have done for others. You will want to include the skills you possess that relate to Software Engineering. 

Find an Internship  

Working as a Software Engineer intern can work in your favor in a couple of ways. First, it will get your foot in the door, so to speak. You will be able to get to know the employees that work in the field and, if they like your work, could offer you a paid job before long. They could also direct you to other organizations that are looking to hire paid Software Engineers. 

Another way working as an intern can help you is by giving you more real-life experience. You would be learning from Software Engineering professionals and you may be given your own projects to work on. There are many possibilities for an intern, but they all will offer you experience that you won’t get anywhere else. Plus, you can add the internship to your resume for when you are looking for a paying job. 

Apply For Jobs  

When you have learned the fundamentals, practiced and developed some expertise, created or worked on projects, built a strong network of other Software Engineers, and created a resume and portfolio, you are ready to apply for paying jobs. Look back on the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the process. Remind yourself of the job you wanted when you first began this journey and then ask yourself if your goals have changed. If your goals have remained the same, apply for the job you had originally desired. If your goals have changed, think about the job you want now and apply for that one. Take another look at your resume and portfolio, and make any changes that could increase your chances of landing the job you are applying for. The author of  FreeCodeCamp explains the importance of editing and personalizing your resume and portfolio to fit the description of the different jobs you are applying for. You can read all about his experience with searching for a job and how he got hired after making some changes. 

There are reliable websites to use when applying for Software Engineering jobs.  Indeed  is one of these reliable websites. When using Indeed you can read the job descriptions and requirements, and many times you can check the salary for that particular job. You can also use the Indeed search to find jobs in different states if you are willing to relocate.

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If you use any of the content on this page in your own work, please use the code below to cite this page as the source of the content.

  • Stewart, Suzy. "How to Become a Software Engineer". After Hours Programming. Accessed on June 6, 2024. https://www.afterhoursprogramming.com/blog/how-to-become-a-software-engineer/.

  • Stewart, Suzy. "How to Become a Software Engineer". After Hours Programming, https://www.afterhoursprogramming.com/blog/how-to-become-a-software-engineer/. Accessed 6 June, 2024.

  • Stewart, Suzy. How to Become a Software Engineer. After Hours Programming. Retrieved from https://www.afterhoursprogramming.com/blog/how-to-become-a-software-engineer/.

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