Software engineers build purposeful software applications for companies or institutions. They use their mathematical and computer-based knowledge to design, debug and launch programs.
What is a software engineer?
Software engineers work within a wider team of developers to facilitate computer software plans. You’ll listen to the overall requirements for a piece of software, then build it, spot issues in the building process and test it to ensure it works as it is designed to. The exact duties of a software engineer will often vary depending on the size of the team they work in. You may oversee all areas of the building process, or focus only on troubleshooting or testing. You could also be referred to as a software developer or programmer depending on your employer.
Your responsibilities as a software engineer will vary depending on your company, and your level of responsibility.
Common duties include:
- Listening to the client or team needs surrounding the planned software, such as usability requirements, the purpose of the software, and the expected user.
- Researching the best software solutions to meet the needs of your client or wider team.
- Offering feedback to the client or team requesting the software around coding requirements or any issues you might encounter in your coding plans.
- Writing code to create the software, depending on your role.
- Troubleshooting issues with the software in beta testing, rewriting code where necessary.
- Overseeing or working on beta testing of the software, listening to any user issues and adjusting code and usability where needed.
- Troubleshooting or updating existing software systems, adjusting where needed or proposing a new type of software that would better suit the needs of the client or team.
- Performing system maintenance on operating systems that are already in use.
- Working in a wider team involved in developing software, including system architects and designers, working collaboratively on large scale projects such as computer games.
- Recording any changes you have made to software, logging issues you came across and what you did to solve them.
- Keeping up to date with relevant knowledge of the profession, the industry and any set products that are specific to your work.
- Putting together documentation to explain the processes of the software, as well as how to use it.
- Making final checks before a piece of software is released within your company, or if an external piece of software, with the wider public.
A software engineer salary will vary depending on your company, level of experience and location. A London software engineer salary, for example, will likely be higher than those in smaller towns and cities.
Much of the skills required of a software engineer role will come from your previous studies.
A software engineer salary on average ranges between £26,000 and £63,000. The average salary sits at around £38,000. A junior software engineer or entry level software developer jobs will sit at the lower end of the scale. With experience, you’ll access a higher senior software engineer salary.
Software engineering is largely a graduate profession. While you don’t necessarily need to have a specific software engineering degree, a degree that covers aspects of engineering, computing, and mathematics will be advantageous in giving you the skills you will need in this role. You will usually need a minimum of 2-3 A Levels to apply, as well as 4-5 GCSEs at grades 9-4 including English and maths.
Examples of relevant degrees include:
- Computer Engineering degrees
- Computer Science degrees
- Digital and Technology solutions degrees
- Electronics degrees
- Financial Technology degrees
- Mathematics degrees
- Physics degrees
- Software Development degrees
- Software Engineering degrees
- UX/UI degrees
If your degree is in an unrelated area, you could take on a postgraduate conversion degree in information technology. A conversion degree tops up your skill set to enable you to enter a career which would not naturally align with your undergraduate degree.
Alternatively, you could study towards a college course in software engineering. You may find that some employers require degree entry, so it’s worth looking into whether this option is right for you.
You could also study an apprenticeship in software engineering. Many software engineering and development apprenticeships are assessed at advanced, higher, or degree level, so it is a good idea to look into the entry requirements for each course.
Training and development
Much of the skills required of a software engineer role will come from your previous studies. The level to which your skills are transferable will depend on your degree choice, and the type of software engineer role you apply for. If you begin work through a graduate scheme in a software engineer graduate job, you will usually carry out on the job training in your first role. This will cover key knowledge and skills required of your specific position within the company.
Much of your work experience within this industry will come from your degree or apprenticeship study.
There are plenty of opportunities to upskill independently, too. The typically digital nature of software engineering means many software programs and coding platforms are accessible remotely, and you don’t necessarily need to be within a company to access new knowledge. The British Chartered Institute for Information Technology (BCS) offers access to online courses and training. It’s important to note that training up in new coding software, especially when this leads to a certification, will be at your own cost if you take on the training independently. Having these additional certifications could make you a more attractive candidate to employers, so you may feel it’s well worth the investment.
Your skills as a software engineer combine technical skills with advanced knowledge of the computer systems you work on.
- A robust knowledge of various different computer platforms, coding languages and software packages, depending on your area of interest and expertise.
- Strong attention to detail, especially when debugging a program, checking code or testing it to ensure it works appropriately.
- Excellent problem solving skills for finding creative solutions to software issues that crop up as work develops.
- Strong verbal communication skills for dealing with your wider team or clients, explaining the reasons why you have made particular engineering decisions, or explaining why an issue has appeared with software you are working on.
- Strong written communication skills, especially when recording reports of your work or writing up your software development plans.
- A good awareness of how your work fits into the wider team within your organisation, such as being aware of how the work of graphic designers is incorporated in your efforts.
- An ability to work well independently, as much of your work involves deep thinking on minute details.
- An ability to work collaboratively within a wider team of engineers, designers and other information technology professionals.
- Ability to keep up to date with new software packages, new technologies, and their overall advancements to feed this into your own work.
- A good knowledge of mathematics and physics to ensure you can keep a grasp on the inner workings of the software you work on.
- Creative thinking, especially when debugging or thinking of new ways to create or adapt software.
- Mental resilience - you may find yourself working for long periods of time on the small details of a piece of software, so it’s key that you can keep your focus and deliver.
Much of your work experience within this industry will come from your degree or apprenticeship study. If you’re keen to ensure you incorporate industry time during your studies, you might consider a degree level apprenticeship with a reputable company, or taking a degree that incorporates a year in industry (also known as a sandwich course). If this isn’t something you are keen to do, it’s a good idea to reach out to your course leaders while you’re studying to ask if they have any contacts in industry that you could shadow or spend time interning with to develop your practical knowledge of software engineering.
Software engineers work within a wider team of developers to facilitate computer software plans.
You could also develop your work experience outside of your studies. You could take on small freelance projects, or freelance entry level coding jobs to build up your experience of practical, paid work within your area. You could also design and develop your own softwares in your own time - though this may require you to pay for software design packages in order to do so.
As software engineering advances quickly as new technologies develop, the field is growing. This gives ample opportunity for development within the industry.
You could begin as a junior developer, under supervision by a more senior engineer. With time and experience you could advance to more senior positions, taking on particular responsibilities for a set area of company software development. You may find that in order to advance quickly, you need to move between different companies - or you might prefer to stay in one firm and develop a really robust knowledge base before progressing.
You could also move towards independent work as a freelance software consultant. This could give you more flexibility to work with clients you are most interested in, as well as determining your own hours. This will usually involve business skills and an ability to market yourself.
- Average Software Engineer Salary in United Kingdom — PayScale.com Retrieved 10 November 2022.