What does a software engineer do? (Including salary info)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 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 play a vital part in developing, maintaining and upgrading software, applications and services. As technical professionals, their role is to apply scientific and mathematical principles to their work across a wide range of coding languages and programming requirements. If you enjoy programming or are interested in working with software, you might find a career as a software engineer rewarding. In this article, we explain what a software engineer does, discuss their responsibilities, list some necessary skills and explore where they work.

What does a software engineer do?

The answer to the question, 'What does a software engineer do?' is they typically work alongside software designers and development teams to provide the technical needs for an application or program. This role involves working in a continually evolving environment and keeping up with the latest programming languages and practices. Software engineers often work as part of a development team within an organisation, though they can also work independently as freelancers or contractors attached to individual projects.

Software engineer responsibilities

Software engineers are responsible for various tasks that can vary depending on their role in a business or as a freelancer. For example, a software engineer working as part of a team to update and maintain software may hold different responsibilities from one working on developing a new project or application. Some of the responsibilities that software engineers have are:

Determining the needs of users and clients

Software engineers who work as part of a wider team may help determine users' and clients' needs. They may have meetings with the clients to discuss what they want or need from the program. Software engineers use their expertise to advise on the best technical options based on user requirements.

Writing, testing and refining code

Software engineers frequently work with programming languages and code. This responsibility involves repeatedly testing and creating code to suit specific purposes, which the wider team often determines. For example, a software engineer may refine and rework code following feedback from QA testing.

Integrating and improving existing software

Companies looking to utilise specific software or technology for a business may work with a software engineer to correctly integrate platforms. For example, if two pieces of internal software currently don't work together, a software engineer may be responsible for adjusting code and upgrading applications to make them work together better. This responsibility is more common in businesses that produce applications and software.

Improving and patching released products

Software engineers who work on a development team may also be responsible for post-launch updates and managing applications and services. Many software companies continue to improve and patch their products after launch. For example, a software engineer may adjust the code of a released application in a patch to meet the needs of the latest update to an operating system.

Maintaining and correcting existing software

Software engineers may also be responsible for maintaining and correcting existing software to ensure it meets specific standards throughout its lifetime. Continued maintenance ensures the performance of existing software is as consistent as possible and safe for users. For example, software engineers may provide security updates to correct security issues in the software.

How much does a software engineer earn?

The average salary of a software engineer is £45,110 per year. The pay you receive as a software engineer can vary depending on experience and location. Software engineer roles that are niche or require a high level of skill in a complex or difficult programming language may have a higher pay grade than a more industry-standard role.

Related: How much does an entry-level software engineer make?

Software engineer qualifications

Software engineering is a technical role, making it important to have good skills and an understanding of various computer-related topics. Many employers are more likely to consider you as a candidate if you have a degree in computer or mathematics-related areas, such as computer science, electronics or mathematics. In addition to a degree, organisations typically require experience in a specific area of software engineering that meets their needs. Continued professional development in specific programming languages, types of programming and the obtaining of certifications may be relevant to starting a career in computer engineering.

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

Where do software engineers work?

The software engineering field has a variety of different specialisations, and software engineers can work in different sectors or industries. Some of the industries that you may work in as a software engineer are:

IT firms

Software engineers often work in IT firms and consultancies, delivering a wide range of services to their clients or internal customers within the business. In IT organisations, software engineers may maintain and develop new software programs. They may also work in consultancy roles for the company's client base. For example, a software engineer may work on an internal team that maintains and upgrades the software that internal teams within the IT business use.

Development companies

Development is a typical career path for software engineers. These roles involve using programming knowledge and expertise to support the creation, planning, design and development of new software to a specific market. Software engineers working in development companies may work as part of a development team on specific projects or as subject experts to support a range of ongoing developments.

Manufacturing

Technology is rapidly evolving in manufacturing, making software engineers important in these sectors. Software engineers specialising in manufacturing may work directly with automation programs or big data solutions to ensure manufacturing is as streamlined and effective as possible. For example, a software engineer may work in the automotive industry, providing programming and maintaining the software used by vehicles.

Finance

The financial industry requires a high standard of accuracy in the software and technology they use, making software engineering a valuable role. Global investment banks, banking organisations and the pensions sector hire software engineers to ensure their systems are accurate and functional for internal and customer use. For example, an investment bank may employ a software engineer to ensure their technology meets their financial safety and security standards.

Government and public services

Software engineers may also work as a part of government services or with public utility companies to provide programming and maintenance services. Many energy companies, for example, utilise software to monitor and report on smart meters. A software engineer supports the continued coding and upgrades of that software as the functionality of smart meters change over time.

Software engineer skills

Because they work in a technical field that requires a good understanding of coding language and mathematics, software engineers often require specific skill sets for employment. For example, working in a financial services company as a software engineer requires excellent attention to detail and accuracy for internal or customer finances. Some of the key skills that benefit software engineers are:

Programming and coding

Programming and coding are fundamental parts of most software engineer roles. Typically, knowing at least one of the more common coding languages, such as C++, Python or Java, is useful when working as a computer engineer. While programming may be self-taught, some employers may prefer you to have formal qualifications in particular languages. Some roles require expertise in multiple programming languages for different projects or team requirements.

Related: 6 essential software engineer skills

Communication and collaboration

As a software engineer, you typically work as part of a larger team, whether you're actively developing software or working on maintenance and upkeep. Strong communication and collaboration skills are vital for working with team members of all levels of skill and understanding. Communication skills are also important to convey technical information that makes sense for non-technical managers, colleagues or clients.

Design and architecture

Depending on your place of employment, you may also benefit from having skills in design and architecture, in addition to the more technical side of software engineering. This extra skill set is usually more desirable in smaller businesses, where team members take on tasks in a broader scope than they would in larger organisations. For example, as a software engineer, you may work with a designer to help decide on the look of software while also handling programming.

Project management

Software engineers often work on a project-by-project basis within organisations and as freelancers. Good project management skills can support better time management when working as a team, which is particularly important in agile environments. Project management can help you complete tasks within the necessary timeframe.

Attention to detail

Attention to detail is a crucial skill for computer engineers to ensure accurate work. As a technical role, it's essential that all coding and programming is accurate so software functions correctly without any bugs or unexpected issues. Attention to detail is vital in applications or software where security is a key concern, such as finance-based projects.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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