Software Engineer Career Path & Salary

Most people are familiar with older, more traditional engineering fields such as mechanical, civil, or electrical. Software Engineering is a relatively new discipline, but in today’s increasingly interconnected world, it is becoming more and more important.

Software Engineering differs from Computer Science or Web Design in that you are formulating how the overall software system functions, and how it works within its intended hardware environment.

Software Engineers are responsible for every phase of a development project, not just for writing the computer code. Upon the initiation of a project, they make sure requirements are documented and validated.

This assures the entire project is working toward the correct goal. They then move on to system design, often overseeing the creation of software prototypes to present to clients for additional validation.

Once the design is solid, Software Engineers manage the overall development effort to make sure the pieces are coming together as planned. Finally, they create and oversee test cases which assure system functionality is complete and traceable to the requirements generated at the time of project initiation.

Software Engineering is the discipline that makes sure computer systems are developed methodically and result in building the right product with quality built in from the beginning.

How to Become a Software Engineer

Software Engineering degrees are available at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctorate (PhD) levels. As you move up in a Software Engineering career, increasing your education level will allow you to tackle ever more complex systems. At the pinnacle of Software Engineering are people that design the systems behind well-known technological marvels from the Space Shuttle to Google’s databases.


Most colleges require similar courses as prerequisites for their Software Engineering programs. You’ll normally be expected to study mathematics up through Calculus, basic computer programming, and cross-discipline engineering basics. You’ll also take courses in computer algorithms and system documentation methods prior to moving on to the core Software Engineering program.


Once your undergraduate prerequisites are met, you start taking classes in Software Engineering. This is where you gain cutting-edge expertise in skills like requirements identification, system design, software integration and software testing methodologies. During this coursework, you’ll learn how modern software systems are designed and implemented.

There are an incredibly complex number of variables when engineering software components, and a Software Engineering degree provides the educational foundation you need to be productive in the field.

There are numerous avenues for studying Software Engineering. Virtually every major university offers this as an undergraduate major, and many larger colleges offer Master’s and PhD programs as well. You can also get a Software Engineering degree through many of the top online colleges.

Since a lot of the software work being done is on the Internet and mobile devices, studying Software Engineering online can be a flexible and effective method for pursuing your education.

An undergraduate Software Engineering degree is normally a 4-year program. There are some colleges where this can be accelerated, and others that demand enough coursework to take up a fifth year. A Master’s in Software Engineering will usually take 2 years to complete if you’re able to go full time, and your doctorate degree will take as long as 3 years to finish due to the writing and research involved at that level.

Software Engineer Career Advancement

The job market for Software Engineers is incredibly broad. There are software components involved in virtually every modern development you can think of. Computers control everything from aircraft to medical imaging devices, and these systems are conceived and executed by Software Engineers.

Since it’s such a big part of our daily lives, most people think immediately of software running on the Internet when they envision a career in this arena. While there are a plethora of rewarding jobs developing software for use on the Internet, it’s a good thing to know that there are also rewarding jobs in areas like computer simulations, artificial intelligence, real-time systems, aerospace, and embedded systems.

How Much do Software Engineers Make?

According to an October 18th, 2012 report on, Software Engineers at top companies average $92,648 annually. Google topped the compensation charts, paying their Software Engineers an average of $128,336.

The US Government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reports earnings on multiple software development jobs, none specifically labeled as Software Engineers. However, the average annual earnings reported for several different Software Engineering-related career fields corroborate the salary figures reported by GlassDoor.

Professional Associations

There are numerous professional associations where Software Engineers can network and share information. One of the largest and oldest is the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). The ACM boasts membership of more than 100,000 professionals as of 2011.

Another major association is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). While IEEE’s title might not sound like it would be fruitful for Software Engineers, the IEEE Computer Society has teamed with the ACM on numerous projects to enhance the professionalism of the Software Engineering field.

Like any degree in engineering, a Software Engineering degree is a demanding course of study. It requires an aptitude for math and science and favors those who love to think logically and methodically. The rewards for pursuing this degree are numerous and tangible: great salary, a growing job market, and a career working with like-minded professionals building the future. Check out the many programs available and see if one is right for you.

Scroll to Top