How to become a software engineer (Plus key skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 28 January 2023

Published 19 May 2022

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.

Software engineers are essential in the modern world, as these professionals design and develop digital solutions for various people and businesses. They may research, design and write software programs for computer operating systems, business applications or computer games. There are multiple ways to become a software engineer, such as through formal education or self-study and being aware of these may help you decide if the career is right for you. In this article, we explore what a software engineer does, what hard and soft skills they possess and the steps to take to become one.

How to become a software engineer

Understanding how to become a software engineer can inspire you to take the first step on this career path. There are multiple ways to become a software engineer, all of which involve gaining knowledge of computing and writing code. It's unnecessary to complete all the below steps, as you can do some in place of others. Here's an outline of the process after high-school, covering the various options:

1. Acquire A-levels

Completing your A-levels is important to get a strong foundational knowledge of computer systems and to gain the necessary UCAS points to progress. Studying a subject such as IT or computer science is advisable and aiming for at least 2 to 3 A-levels at grade C can maximise your chances of accessing higher level training. While at college, it's a good idea to tell your careers adviser that you want to become a software engineer, then they can help you decide the best course of action for your situation.

Related: How to write a software engineer CV (With template)

2. Find an apprenticeship

An apprenticeship is a great way to gain both practical, on-the-job experience and theoretical knowledge simultaneously. You also receive a wage through an apprenticeship, which can make life easier throughout your training period. Apprenticeships include game programmer degree apprenticeships, software development technician advanced apprenticeship, software developer higher apprenticeship and DevOps engineer higher apprenticeship. You can complete an advanced apprenticeship instead of college and these require you to have around 5 GCSEs at grades A* to C. Higher apprenticeships come after college and require you to have 4 or 5 GSCEs at grades A* to C, plus A-levels.

Related: How to be an application engineer (with duties and skills)

3. Attend a programming boot camp

Programming boot camps are intensive courses designed to train aspiring software engineers in a relatively short space of time, typically around 12 weeks. Highly trained programmers lead these courses and teach you the skills and theoretical knowledge that professionals use in the field. Typically, these programs are useful for people who intend to gain specialised knowledge of a particular aspect of software engineering. It may be possible to complete high-school, then a boot camp and gain the qualifications needed for a low-level software engineer position.

It's usually much better to gain A-levels and a bachelor's degree, as boot camps offer much less depth than a computer science degree and employers are aware of this. You can attend some of these boot camps remotely and complete the course from home. If you want to maximise your skills and knowledge as a programmer, you might want to attend one of these programs besides college and university.

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4. Get a bachelor's degree

If you choose to study for a bachelor's degree, this is where you can expect to receive the bulk of your training as a software engineer. Computer science and IT degrees include a combination of theoretical and practical training where you might cover programming languages, network engineering and hardware construction. Other acceptable degrees include software development and software engineering for business and aiming for a distinction grade is the best way to improve your employability.

5. Seek a graduate training programme

Graduate programs are an excellent way to go straight from university into a well-paid job and many large companies offer such avenues of progression. They are usually highly competitive and involve around two years of training and development to prepare you for a specific role within a company. These graduate schemes usually only require you to have a bachelor's degree in any field, as long as your grade is above 2:2, but companies usually prefer degrees related to programming.

Related: Software engineering vs. computer science: The differences you need to know

6. Earn a certification

Gaining a certification is a good way to develop your skills as a software engineer and show employers you are especially qualified. Certifications can train you in specific areas of software engineering or they can train you to work with certain brands of technology. Examples of relevant certifications include Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP), Certified Software Development Professional and Certified Software Engineer (CSE). Having a certification on top of your qualifications can help you access the most competitive and well-paid positions.

Related: How to become a software architect: Definition and steps

What is a software engineer?

'Software engineer', 'software developer' and 'programmer' are titles that people may use interchangeably. While these professionals sometimes train in one specialist area of computers, they can often write code for various types of software. They may write programs designed to help businesses improve their processes, they may work on creating video games or they may help design an operating system, like those used in smartphones and laptops. A software engineer takes a brief or a problem, then devises a software-based solution and implements this in computer code. They may also fix bugs and update and review software.

Software engineers have an extensive knowledge of IT and commonly hold bachelor's degrees in computer science or related fields, though they can gain qualifications elsewhere. These professionals spend their time writing, testing, debugging and maintaining computer code, which are the detailed instructions that computers follow to perform functions. Industry figures use the term ‘engineer' because software engineers design and test information structures, which act as logical pathways of information that computers can follow. Software engineers work in various industries, creating useful programs, such as flight simulators for the aviation industry, for example. They may develop entire systems or create applications.

Related: How to become a software development engineer in test (A guide)

Skills for software engineers

Regardless of who employs them and what software they are building, software engineers apply a consistent set of skills when performing their work. These include:

  • Analytical skills: Software engineers use analytical skills to solve problems in the most effective way possible. They also analyse and interpret data to find the source of errors and rectify them.

  • Mathematical knowledge: Programmers require this to perform analyses on numerical data. Software development uses the term mathematical logic, which is what computers use to come to conclusions, besides algebra.

  • Understanding of programming languages: Coding is an everyday part of a software engineer's job, so understanding how to code is essential. Software engineers may use various coding languages to complete a project, such as JavaScript and HTML, as each language offers different engineering possibilities.

  • Attention to detail: It's essential for software engineers to be extremely meticulous, as minor mistakes can lead to a domino effect of larger problems. These professionals study minute details to ensure that all aspects of programs are correct.

  • Innovative: Programmers differentiate the products they build from those of competitors using innovation. They also innovate to reduce the cost of products whilst also increasing their value to customers.

  • Problem-solving skills: Software engineers use problem-solving skills to overcome obstacles when developing software and they also design software to solve problems for businesses. As a result, it is imperative that software engineers have strong problem-solving skills so that they can design products effectively and design products that are effective.

  • Communication skills: Strong interpersonal and communications skills are important because software engineers liaise with stakeholders, other developers and clients when delivering projects. Employers may also require them to document each stage of the engineering process, which calls for excellent written communication skills.

  • Patience: Having patience not only improves productivity and ensures focus, but it also helps software engineers overcome challenges. It is sometimes difficult to overcome bugs and challenges when programming, so being able to display patience and not give up is a key trait for success in this field.

  • Extensive knowledge of computers: Software engineers cannot do their job without a deep understanding of computers and how they work. It's unnecessary to know exactly how to build computers and their components, but knowing how computers process information is vital.

These are the general skills that these professionals use across all industries, so if you are an aspiring software engineer, consider working on these core skills.


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