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software engineer

A software engineer is a licensed professional engineer who is schooled and skilled in the application of engineering discipline to the creation of software.

A software engineer is often confused with a programmer, but the two are vastly different disciplines. A programmer is tasked with creating the code that makes a program run, whereas a software engineer is responsible for designing, developing and implementing the software solutions programmers create.

By U.S. law no person may use the title "engineer" (of any type) unless the person holds a professional engineering license from a state licensing board and is in good standing with the board. A software engineer is also held accountable to a specific code of ethics.

What is a Software Engineer?

Software Engineer Job Description and Requirements

The role of a software engineer, or computer software engineer, is to develop highly functional, solution-based software processes and solutions that address specific needs within an organization or department. These software solutions need to have been thoroughly tested for accuracy and security before implementation, and they need to comply with current coding standards and operating procedures.

Software engineers are tasked with evaluating existing operations within the company, finding and defining problems or areas for improvement, proposing and developing solutions for these issues in the form of new or improved software processes, and testing, implementing, and maintaining these software changes.

This requires in-depth knowledge and experience with the software development lifecycle (SDLC) and the ability to write and explain code created in a variety of languages such as C++, .NET, Java, Python, etc. A software engineer needs to be able to communicate at both a very in-depth, detailed level with computer programmers as well as a broader “big picture” level with IT managers and upper management.

Recommended Reading: Webopedia's Huge List of 65 Computer and IT Certifications.

What Does a Software Engineer Do in a Typical Day?

A software engineer’s typical work day involves juggling a variety of tasks and balancing working on numerous software projects that are often in different stages of the software development lifecycle (SDLC). Meetings to discuss software project status updates, new software project roadmaps, and organizational logistics such as new hires also play a key role in a software engineer’s workweek.

Software engineers are expected to prioritize their tasks while working on several software projects in parallel, and as a result their work day might involve writing or refining software code for one project in the morning before attending or running a meeting to cover the progress on another software project, followed by conceptualizing and developing ideas and requirements for an upcoming project, before finally wrapping up the day by documenting milestones and progress made over the course of the day or week.

Because a software engineer is expected to be able to balance numerous tasks as well as be able to tackle problems at both a deep, code-based level as well as a broad, “big picture” level, a computer software engineer’s work regularly involves:

  • Analyzing spreadsheets and reports to identify performance bottlenecks, operational issues, and other areas for improvement
  • Brainstorming and developing plans, flowcharts, layouts and resource requests as part of creating new software projects as potential solutions for identified issues
  • Write high-quality, well-commented code for new and existing software projects
  • Create software verification plans and initiate quality assurance processes
  • Test and integrate software code and components into existing software systems
  • Fully document software systems and plans for maintaining software projects
  • Ensure compliance with regulations and industry standards
  • Monitor, troubleshoot, debug and improve software code base for existing systems
  • Update and patch software systems as necessary with security patches and feature upgrades

How Do You Become a Software Engineer?

A software engineer needs to possess extensive knowledge and fluency in a variety of computer languages such as C++, .NET, Java, and Python, and be able to effectively and efficiently communicate technical knowledge with others in the organization.

In larger organizations, software engineers often have specialized roles in areas such as servers, operating systems, networks, databases, cloud, applications and virtualization.

A computer software engineer will typically need a Bachelor’s degree (or Master’s) in computer science, math / engineering, or science, and will need to show experience and proficiency in analytical and problem-solving skills, communicating and working well with others, specialized software knowledge, and time management.

Finally, companies will want to see that a software engineer has a proven track record of writing code that is efficient, complies with coding standards, and integrates well with code written by others.

What Is the Average Salary for a Software Engineer?

According to the U.S. Labor Department, software engineers and software developers earned an average of $100,080 in 2016, or approximately $8,340 per month. Depending on the industry and size of the company, software engineer salaries can typically range from around $50,000 to more than $150,000.

While the average salary for software engineers, or computer software engineers, is higher than most other software-centric positions, it is lower than that of IT managers, who earned an average yearly salary of $145,740 in 2016.

Similar jobs titles to a software engineer include software developer, software systems analyst, software or network architects, software project manager, senior software engineer, and senior software programmer. Average salaries for these positions ranged from $85,180 in 2016 for computer programmers to $91,620 for computer systems analysts and up to $104,240 for computer network architects.

While software engineers are employed across most industries, the highest number of software engineers is, not surprisingly, in the information technology and computer systems design industries.

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