When deciding on what to study after high school, nothing is set in stone.
Why might a student choose software engineering as a college major or profession? Our world relies increasingly on software engineers to help us solve problems using computer systems and applications. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the occupation categories of software development, and quality assurance analyzing and testing are facing a projected growth rate of 22% from 2020 to 2030. This sits far above the national average of 8%, presenting enormous opportunity. An additional 409,500 jobs are expected to open up in the U.S. in the next decade, and this means that graduates from software engineering programs have a higher chance of being able to contribute their skills to the marketplace in immediate and necessary ways.
Why do we need software engineers?
According to Forbes.com, Venture capitalist Marc Andreesen once said, “In the future, every company will become a software company.” This may be stretching things a bit, but in many ways, Andreesen may be right! Wherever you look today, from our schools to workplaces, banks, restaurants, government, and more, software is running the processes and systems that enable these organizations to function.
Simply put, a career in software engineering can be challenging and exhilarating. In this guide, we’ll explain what the software engineering path entails, how software engineers fill important roles, and how Sphero can help jumpstart an interest in software engineering, today.
What is software engineering?
Software engineering is a type of engineering focused on the design, building, and proper functioning of software applications.
To understand what this really means, we need to consider what software is, itself. In simple terms, computers rely on instructions in order to complete tasks for us. How do they do this? This is done by using both computer hardware and software.
Computer hardware involves the physical components of a computer like its monitor, the central processing unit, the computer’s graphics card, and so on. In contrast, computer software comprises the programs and procedures that allow the computer to operate. Essentially, software is the instructions written by engineers that tell a computer what to do.
With this in mind, software engineers are computer scientists who work with the development, design, maintenance, and testing of all software applications. Software engineers are skilled in programming languages and can apply engineering principles in a wide variety of ways.
What do software engineers do?
Software engineers are also sometimes referred to as software developers, and they create the software described above to be used by computers and in their applications. Software engineers use programming languages, architectures, and platforms to develop and build a wide variety of things. These can include:
- Computer games
- Software used to run cars
- Applications like Microsoft Word
- Search engines
- Mobile apps
- Just about any system used by a computer
In addition to building new software, software engineers also help maintain and run existing systems. Because of this, a career in software engineering means you may also:
- Maintain software built by others
- Test software
- Improve upon existing software
Every work day as a software engineer can be different, as with most careers. Generally speaking, however, software engineers hold a variety of responsibilities and these can include:
Examples of Tasks for Software Engineers
- Writing code
- Testing systems
- Evaluating new software programs
- Maintaining older software systems
- Designing new systems
- Optimizing software to make it fast and scalable
- Consulting with others, including clients and security specialists
- Presenting new software to customers and other stakeholders
Most software engineer responsibilities involve the application of logic and troubleshooting systems for the best possible outcome.
Application Developers vs. Systems Developers
While there are many types of software engineers, this career is often categorized into two distinct groups: application developers and systems developers. Here’s a bit about both.
What’s an application developer?
Application developers design the software users will interact with such as that found in mobile applications. In this role you might:
- Analyze and adjust software
- Help release new software updates
- Develop applications for operating systems like Android or iOS
- Collaborate with customer-facing groups, project managers, and others, like graphic designers
What’s a system developer?
In contrast to application developers who focus on front-end development, systems developers help build back-end computer networks and systems that front-end applications rely on to operate. In this role you might:
- Update new technologies
- Help ensure various software programs on one platform are communicating properly
- Enforce IT standards within a system
- Work and create projects with senior systems architects, data science professionals, and development teams
Why are software engineers important?
Modern society is relying more and more on computers in order to function. From our banking needs, to education, office-based (or remote) employment, the development and maintenance of our transportation systems, government systems, entertainment, cell phone communications, and more, we use computers to get the job done and enhance our lives. Why do software engineers matter amid all of this?
For each of these uses, we need software to help complete our tasks. Software engineers, therefore, are crafting the way our world works. These individuals are a cornerstone of society and will become increasingly essential moving into the future. We need to help foster successful careers in software engineering in order to maintain a fully functional, globally competitive society in the future.
What skills do software engineers need to have?
While you do need math skills for some software engineering roles, the idea that you need to be a mathematical whiz to excel in this area is largely a myth. Software engineers simply need to be solid analytical thinkers (although this, too, can take years to develop) and problem solvers.
If you or someone you know enjoys solving interesting problems, this career path might be ideal!
Hard Skills for Software Engineers
Generally speaking, software engineers need to be able to:
- Apply engineering principles
- Have knowledge of multiple programming languages
- Think logically
- Be rational
- Enjoy analyzing problems
- Be able to break problems down into smaller units
- Have knowledge of algorithms and data structures
- Be skilled in object-oriented design
In addition, for some graphics software engineering you need a solid foundation in linear algebra and other math skills. For most higher education degrees in software engineering, students are required to take high-level math courses, so having a solid base in mathematics is essential for the successful completion of an undergraduate degree in this area.
As a software engineer, some of the most popular programming languages you might use at your coding job include:
Interested in software engineering but not sure where to start? We’re here to help. Sphero offers a wide variety of engaging resources you can use in the classroom or at home to jumpstart future software engineers. Check out our resources that introduce kids to coding including our standards-aligned Sphero Computer Science Curriculum, for ideas to add to your existing teaching plans. Our goal is to help you broaden and enrich the STEAM, robotics, and computer science experiences students have access to.
Soft Skills for Software Engineers
Software engineers also need to have a variety of “soft” skills in order to be successful. As with many jobs, being able to communicate your ideas effectively and work in a positive way with others is a definite asset.
Depending on your work environment, the soft skills you may need as a software engineer can include the ability to:
- Communicate clearly with stakeholders
- Collaborate with others
- Attend to details
- Learn new things over time
- Manage projects
- Team leadership
- Take instruction
- Receive constructive feedback and take action
How to Get Started in Software Engineering
Students who engage with logical learning and STEM curriculum components in their classrooms and at home can help open doors to the type of thinking required to be a successful software engineer. Activities that encourage problem solving, analytical thinking, and the application of logic to challenging situations can help foster the type of curiosity needed to be a software engineer.
Get a Head Start on Software Engineering With Sphero
Knowing what type of engineering you’re interested in before entering college can give you a head start. At Sphero, our STEM and computer science education tools for kids encourage fun and purposeful play while delving into big ideas.
Sphero coding robots, in-depth curriculum, design-and-build kits, and engaging activities and lessons present pathways that supercharge imaginations. If you’re interested in helping your students become the software engineers of the future, or you’re an eager parent or student, contact us to learn more about what we offer. Our knowledgeable team can help point you in the right direction. Today is a great time to take advantage of fantastic learning opportunities that can lead to exciting futures!