What is software development? A comprehensive guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 19 January 2023

Published 30 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Today, software powers most pieces of technology, whether it be computers, applications or websites. Software development is an important skill in today's connected society where technology affects many aspects of our lives. If you're interested in the general role of a software developer, you might want to find out more information about the job so you can prepare yourself for this career. In this article, we discuss what software development is, the different types of software development, the skills you need for the job and how to get a job in the industry.

What is software development?

Software development is an IT role where a developer uses computer programming to develop software required for applications, computers or websites. They use processes and techniques such as requirements definition, code design, flowcharting, code creation, testing and debugging and general data flow design to create a working end product. The role has many responsibilities, so tasks are typically split between a team in corporate settings when working on big projects for clients. Overseeing all processes and steps of software development is commonly referred to as the software development life cycle or SDLC.

Software development is a much more accessible skill today with many online courses and resources to help you learn it. Smartphones and simpler applications have sparked interest in software development and developer tools make it easier to get started. Despite this, it's a challenging job that requires diligence and attention to detail.

Related: What is software development and why is it needed?

Different types of software development

Software is different from hardware as software is the combination of processes and techniques that provide functionality to a piece of hardware. For example, a computer (hardware) requires an operating system (software) if customers want to use it. Though the functions are the same, there are four distinct types of software development:

Application software

Application software is one of the more popular forms of software development. Application development is the process of creating apps that help users complete specific tasks. Examples of apps are security software, media players, office productivity programs or image readers. There are also web and mobile applications that are used on social media platforms or online shopping websites.

Related: What is application software? (With types and benefits)

Programming software

Programming software is software created to aid programmers specifically. These applications help programmers write code, debug software and plan data flowcharts. These applications are vital for modern software developers as they streamline the creation process and provide the necessary functions to complete end products.

System software

System software encompasses all features necessary for a piece of hardware or computing system to function. This includes hardware management, utilities, disk management and general operating systems. The development of system software is a huge task that requires an extensive team of highly trained developers who all focus on a specific area of the development process.

Embedded software

Embedded software isn't as common as the other areas of software development but is still important due to the development of software integration in products like cars, home utilities and robotics. Embedded software development is the creation of embedded systems software to provide functionality to various machines and devices.


Software development process

The specifics of each project or software you work on may have different micro tasks that the team is working on each day, but there are general macro processes that every development team follows. These seven stages are:

  1. Planning stage: The planning stage may sound straightforward but is a crucial step in the process. Here, developers plan every stage of the software development process so that all team members understand the task.

  2. Requirements of analysis stage: The analysis stage gathers all specific details to prepare for the following design and development stages. Here, developers perform research to determine software requirements and evaluate existing prototypes.

  3. Design and prototyping stage: During the design and prototyping stage, developers outline critical aspects of the software such as user interface, system interface, databases and network and system requirements. They also draft operation, training and maintenance plans so the team knows what to do during the development cycle.

  4. Software development stage: The development stage is where developers write code and construct the application or system as per the design and planning in the previous stages. Theoretically, the analysis, research, planning and design phases make the coding and development phase relatively straightforward. Developers utilise coding languages and guidelines as provided by the organisation to create drafts of the end product.

  5. Software testing stage: The testing phase is where developers make sure their software is functioning as planned and that there are no bugs that affect the end-user experience. This stage requires incredible attention to detail and diligence as developers check every line of code and track any bugs or mistakes.

  6. Implementation and integration stage: The implementation and integration stage is where developers prepare to publish their software. They integrate different modules or functions into the primary code and package them into the eventual final product.

  7. Operations and maintenance stage: The developer's job is not over once the software is released. After publishing their software, developers collect data and feedback from users to perform necessary maintenance and make any corrections. This maintenance can include dealing with residual bugs or exploits that users have found.

Related: 9 key software development methodologies (with tips)

Skills for software development

Software development requires a lot of technical knowledge and hard skills. A successful developer has mastery over particular coding languages and procedures and has in-depth knowledge of the niche they are working in. Here are a few skills to help you succeed as a software developer:

Coding languages

Coding languages are types of source code a developer writes to produce software. Each language has a specific use case, so it's important for developers to gain fluency in a language that is related to their niche. Most developers learn multiple languages as many are interrelated and can be helpful to know. Here are a few of the basic languages software developers learn:

  • HTML

  • Javascript

  • CSS

  • PHP

  • Python

  • C++

  • Java

Related: 10 of the most in-demand coding languages and their uses

Database knowledge

Databases are crucial for software developers as they store information and data that allow developers to organise and structure data. This is especially useful for tracking and recording company data. Developers with an in-depth knowledge of databases have fluency in a source code called Structured Query Language (SQL), which helps them operate database systems.

Related: Computer skills: definitions and examples

Testing procedures

All software needs to be meticulously tested before publishing, and it's a developer's responsibility to carry these tests out. They use digital tools to help assist them in this process and test to see if the software is functional on the necessary pieces of hardware. Testing includes rigorous bug testing and code revision. Here are three testing procedures developers carry out:

  • Unit testing: Unit testing is where a developer revises every line of code to check for mistakes. Developers do this with the assistance of programming tools to help identify areas of the code that need modification.

  • Integration testing: Integration testing is the process where the developer determines whether they can integrate and merge sections of code. Developers can use this process to observe how one program may interact with the other.

  • System testing: System testing is typically the last stage of testing that requires a neutral party to determine whether the software satisfies the end-users expectations. This is where developers receive any final bug reports and make final revisions before publishing.

Debugging knowledge

Debugging is just as important as writing the source code itself. The debugging process involves using specialised tools and software to revise and correct particular sections of code. Many developers opt to debug code during the writing process in tandem with these specialised digital tools to make the testing stage easier. Developers require fluency in debugging programs to use them efficiently.

Related: 6 essential software engineer skills

Operating systems

Developing software is a drastically different experience depending on the operating system you are developing. Each operating system has different system requirements and aspects that developers consider when planning and writing software. Having an in-depth knowledge of the operating system you're coding on helps as you understand the system requirements and end-user experience better. It's a good idea to understand multiple operating systems as applications today are available on multiple operating systems.

This article is based on information available at the time of writing, which may change at any time. Indeed does not guarantee that this information is always up-to-date. Please seek out a local resource for the latest on this topic.

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