How to become a software developer

Learn what a software developer does and how you can become one

Image of a male and female software developer working together

Becoming a software developer isn't always the clearest path. In fact, it can be quite cluttered at times. Following that path and building a successful career in software development requires a commitment to learning and perfecting your craft. Every day new technology arrives, so constantly learning new skills is key to creating a software development career and remaining on the leading edge. 

Becoming a software developer is more than just having the right skills. Software developers must also have a passion for technology and developing solutions, and they must also commit to sticking it out, even when failure seems inevitable. Sans a love for programming or software, software developers can quickly experience career burnout and dissatisfaction.

There are countless online resources for aspiring software developers to wade through, but blazing a path through them and building a successful career can be difficult. Also, with almost limitless software developer career paths, deciding the right direction to go can be a struggle.

With this software developer career guide, we'll answer the most critical questions about becoming a software developer, including:

  • What does a software developer do?

  • What career opportunities are available to software developers?

  • What skills do I need to become a software developer?

  • How to become a software developer?

What does a software developer do?

Software developers are the creative minds behind the scenes, building software and overseeing its creation. 

Software developers flex their technical muscles to create software and are experts in creating software that enables users to perform specific tasks on their devices. Software developers also manage upgrades for existing software and monitor the quality and performance of projects through rigorous testing and routine maintenance.

While a software developer can code and program, their focus isn't on writing the code. Instead, they'll look at the project as a concept and develop ways to make it work better. The bulk of the coding will fall on programmers with the support of the developer.

Quick facts about working as a software developer:

  • The average salary for software developers in 2019 was $107,510 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

  • Employment opportunities for software developers are projected to grow by 21% by 2028.

  • Software developers who are proficient in multiple programming languages have the best job prospects.

  • 34% of software developers work in computer systems design or a related field. 

  • Software development is recognized as the best job in STEM and technology.

What type of software developer do you want to be?

Software development is a broad field with a wide range of job opportunities. While some software developers work specifically on creating computer programs, others develop software geared toward keeping an organization’s network secure. And as you develop your skill set and gain experience, software development job opportunities become even more plentiful.

Types of software development jobs:

  • Mobile app developers create applications that run on mobile devices. Most popular operating systems have their own programming languages, Apple, for instance, uses Swift, but developers use some traditional languages, such as Java, to create mobile apps too. 

  • Application developers create computer programs to assist with the daily functionalities and tasks of a specific user or business.

  • API developers build programs across multiple operating systems and allow third-party developers to interact with the tools or functions the API relates to.

  • Security software developers create software to protect company assets from theft, viruses, and other cyberattacks.

Do you need a degree to be a software developer?

If you want to be a software developer, having a computer science degree will help you stand out among other job applications, but one isn’t necessary. Potential employers often list a bachelor's degree in computer science as a requirement to be a software developer, but not all companies require software developers have one. 

If college isn’t in the cards for you, there are other ways to become a software developer. From online courses to hitting the books yourself, becoming a software developer starts with a commitment to learning industry fundamentals and best practices.

How to become a software developer:

  • Colleges and universities offer programs to help you become a software developer. Many schools offer computer science programs that teach you the latest in computers and programming.

  • Online organizations such as Udemy, Linkedin Learning, Codeacademy and edX offer courses related to software development. You can take these courses and coding boot camps from home and, in many instances, at your own pace.

  • Teaching yourself how to be a software developer can be difficult but is always an option. Watch YouTube videos, read books related to software development and get hands-on experience by developing your own software.

Soft skills needed as a software developer

Whether you decide to pursue a degree in computer science or opt for an online course in software development, you’re also going to need to hone a variety of other skills. These skills will help you kickstart your software development career and develop important work relationships along the way.

Fine-tune these soft skills:

  • Analytical skills: As a software developer, you’ll design software to satisfy specific user needs. You’ll also test and update software, so you’ll need top-notch analytical skills. 

  • Communication and interpersonal skills: Software developers often collaborate with a team, making good communication and interpersonal skills vital.

  • Creativity: You will have the creative mind behind new software. To be a successful software developer, a creative mindset is an absolute necessity.

  • Problem-solving skills: Software developers take charge of creating software from beginning to end. In doing so, they must effectively solve problems throughout the design process.

  • Attention to detail: Software developers work on multiple parts of an application or system and must catch even the most minuscule of details.

Applying for a software developer job

Applying for a new job can be stressful. To make the process easier, it’s best to develop a game plan. Before applying for jobs, ask yourself what type of software developer you want to be, what type of company you want to work for and the salary you expect. 

Don’t discount the benefits of talking people working as software developers or software engineers. If you know a software developer, ask them how they got their job and what words of wisdom they can share with you.

Tips for applying for a job:

  • Before applying for a job, you’ll need to update your resume to reflect your knowledge and skills, and highlight what you’ve accomplished in the past.

  • Rather than repeat what’s on your resume, your cover letter should expand upon your resume by explaining how your experience is relevant to the position you’re applying for and why hiring you is a smart choice.

  • Most employers will ask for references as part of the application process. Tailor who you use as a reference to the position you’re applying for. Remember to ask before using someone as a reference and make sure you confirm their contact details with them.

  • The internet offers countless numbers of job boards to search for opportunities. Many are geared specifically to the tech industry and allow job hunters to filter opportunities based on specific niches and skill sets.

Get on the software developer career path

With job opportunities on the rise, a stable future and high wages, there’s no better time than now to pursue a career in software development.

Kick off a job search to see what’s available in your area and what the requirements are. Or, if you’re willing to relocate, check out the software developer jobs in your preferred areas. With this data in hand, you’re ready to start planning your path into software development, which can eventually lead you up the career ladder to being a software engineering.

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