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What Is Software Engineering?

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Software is the set of instructions we give computers to make them do the things we want them to do. Engineering is about developing products. So, what is software engineering? Software engineering focuses on software development. It’s an exciting technical career path for those with programming knowledge and a love for problem-solving.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

Overview of Software Engineering

Software engineering is all about the development and maintenance of software. Software engineers consider what users need or the client wants to create software and then manage its performance.  

Because software is a part of much of our everyday technology, software engineering can be applied in various industries. For example, a software engineer might help power a platform for open jobs or a patient portal for a hospital. They might work on cybersecurity for the government or help develop a new video game. 

A software engineer, regardless of their industry, will: 

  • Communicate with clients to understand their vision for the software
  • Write and test code 
  • Recommend software upgrades to their company
  • Document software applications for the team and future upgrades
  • Debug software issues

Types of Software Engineering

Different types of software engineering depend on what part of the software you’re working on. For example, if you’re working on the client side, you’re a front-end engineer; engineers who work as the go-between for operations and engineering teams are DevOps engineers

Types of software engineering include:

  • Front-End: specializes in software that the client, customer, or user will see and use
  • Back-End: focuses on system development and the underlying performance of the software
  • Full Stack: deals with both front-end and back-end work
  • QA (Quality Assurance): tests software through development
  • DevOps (Development Operations): the go-between for operations and engineers, overseeing the development, maintenance, and implementation of software
  • Security: tests security of the software and fixes any security flaws

>>MORE: What Is a Security Engineer?

How to Become a Software Engineer

Software engineers typically have a bachelor’s degree in computer information and technology, computer science, math, or another related field. However, not all jobs require a degree in a related field or a degree at all. Those who don’t have a relevant degree can gain the hard skills they need through courses, bootcamps, or virtual experience programs. Some engineers are even self-taught and harness their skills by working on their own applications and open-source projects (which anyone can view, edit, and contribute to).

Above all, you’ll need to know computer programming. Generally, you should have mastery over one programming language and two that you know very well. While some engineers are more loyal to some languages over others, the most common languages are JavaScript, HTML/CSS, Python, SQL, and TypeScript, according to a 2022 survey.

>>MORE: Learn how to get into software engineering.

Pros and Cons of Working in Software Engineering

Pros

Impact

“When an update ships or the product launches, your work can be seen and used by thousands of people,” Arun Godwin Patel, director of Halo Technology Lab, CTO and co-founder of Audico, and Forage program consultant, says. “Because you’re writing code for a product or service people use, your work can have a real impact on how users experience it.”

Constantly Learning

As the technology world changes, software engineers constantly expand their skill sets. Yet once you have a foundation in the field, “you can easily transfer your skills to any new technology that comes out,” Godwin Patel says. “Furthermore, if a new feature or product requires a new skill set, you get to be the first to learn how to use it because you need it to build your product or service.”

Strong Job Outlook

There are plenty of job opportunities, and this field is growing quickly. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for software engineers is 25% through 2031, much faster than the average (5%).

Technical and Creative

Even though software engineering requires technical skills, this field also allows you to exhibit your creative flair.

“There are so many ways to solve the same problem, and by working with other talented engineers, you will learn and see so many ways of doing things,” Godwin Patel says. “For me, this stimulates my creative thinking and makes me think about new ideas all the time.”

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Cons

Fast-Moving

Because technology is constantly changing, there can be added stress to always stay on top of everything. “You can sometimes feel pressure to always know how to use every language and be an expert of any new framework when it comes out,” Godwin Patel says. “In reality, this isn’t the case, but because it’s a fast-moving and competitive field, people naturally want to be the best.”

Getting Stuck

“There are those ‘I can’t solve this’ moments,” David Smailes, director and iOS engineer at My Learning Apps Ltd and Forage program consultant, says. “When that happens, it’s best to put the problem down and tackle something else, then return to it the next day having had time to process. Time away from the keyboard can sometimes be as effective in solving a problem as writing code.”

Burnout

Most software engineers work on tight deadlines, which can be difficult when development gets delayed. In addition, software engineers must often work long hours to meet client or company demands.

“A lot of your time will be spent looking at a screen and sitting down. Doing this for long periods of time without moving can be detrimental to your physical and mental health if you’re not careful,” Godwin Patel warns. “It is important to take regular breaks, walk around, have an ergonomic setup and to ensure that you give yourself time to unwind and release any mental strain.”

The Bottom Line

Software engineering is a fast-growing field that requires technical programming skills — either from a formal degree, outside courses, or independent work. If you’re interested in a career path that makes a tangible difference in how users experience many everyday applications and websites, this field might be right for you.

“For me, problem-solving is a very rewarding experience, so I find that I’m able to see myself reflected in my work, which is a huge positive,” Smailes says. “The pros far outweigh the cons if you are the type of person who gets job satisfaction from this kind of work.”

Learn the skills you need to land a role in software engineering with Forage’s software engineering virtual experience programs.

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