How do you become a software engineer?
UPDATED: From the moment you wake up to when you go to bed, you’re probably looking at a screen, from checking overnight email to doing some online shopping during your lunchbreak and playing a video game before bed.
Everything you see on your phone or your tablet or laptop needs code, instructions to tell the computer what to do. And all those thousands of lines of code have been written by a software engineer.
The UK technology sector has an acute talent shortage, with more than two million UK tech job vacancies in 2021. Yet the average tech salary is £62,000, which is more than double the average household income in the UK. And, according to TechNation, tech salaries are nearly 80 per cent higher, on average, than salaries for non-tech jobs in the UK.
“Software engineer”, “software developer” and “programmer” are job titles which people use interchangeably. They may write programs designed to help businesses improve their internal processes, or work on software licensed to other businesses, or create an app from scratch. Like physical engineers, their job is to find a solution to a problem.
Software engineers write code for hardware, operating systems, embedded systems, networks, enterprise applications, websites, or video games.
While you can sometimes train in one specialist area of computers, if you become a software engineer, you often write code for various types of software.
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Why are they called ‘software engineer’?
The industry uses the term “engineer” because software engineers design and test information structures, which act as logical pathways of information computers can follow.
Software engineers are normally involved with development projects from the beginning, liaising with clients and stakeholders to understand the required functionality and features of the system/software. Software engineers work to develop and create computer software and systems. They apply engineering discipline and scientific methods to the process of coding.
Software engineers are in demand
According to LinkedIn Talent Insights, there is a very high demand to hire software engineers, with currently having over 5,000 LinkedIn job postings in August 2023. The growth of software engineers on LinkedIn has also grown by 3.2 per cent from 158,250 professionals in 2022 to 163,360 professionals in 2023, however still being a very male dominated role only 17 per cent being female.
What areas could I specialise in?
Software engineering is a complex field, which means there are common specialisations in when it comes to designing software:
Back-end web development
Back-end web development is the under-the-bonnet part of software engineering. This means building and testing the behind-the-scenes functionality of websites and dealing with Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), databases, web architecture, servers, processing user requests, authentication and authorisation.
Designing and building cloud-based services to build scalable and reliable cloud systems, whether that’s running servers in data centres or storing data in the cloud.
Means specialising in the development and deployment of software that helps stop the continuous attacks on websites from cybercriminals, whether it’s closing out phishing emails or other types of hacking and malware.
Desktop application development
This means designing and building software applications that run on your desktop computer and feature a graphical user interface (GUI) such as a word processor or image editor.
DevOps combines development (Dev) and operations (Ops) to coordinate and encourage collaboration between formerly siloed roles such as development, IT operations, engineering, and security. It has its own processes, methodologies and tools which automate, manage and improve software applications.
Full-stack web development
Full-stack web development means designing, building, testing and deploying both the front-end and back-end of websites and applications from start to finish.
Front-end web development
Front-end web development is the area that involves designing, building and testing the User Experience (UX), User Interface (UI_ — the parts of the websites and apps which users see and interest.
Designing and building games that run on a variety of platforms, such as PCs, game consoles, web browsers and mobile phones.
Specialising in software applications that work on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets running iOs and Android mobile operating systems.
Operating system development
Linux, macOS and Windows are the operating systems that all software applications run on.
Information and cybersecurity recruitment specialist Via Resource has come up with a handy detailed software engineer job description guide here.
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What are the key responsibilities of a software engineer?
- Analyse user requirements
- Write and test code, refining and rewriting it as necessary and communicate with any programmers involved in the project
- Research, design and write new software programs and computer operating systems
- Evaluate the software and systems that make computers and hardware work
- Develop existing programs by analysing and identifying areas for modification
- Integrate existing software products and get incompatible platforms to work together
- Create technical specifications
- Write systems to control the scheduling of jobs or to control the access allowed to users or remote systems
- Write operational documentation with technical authors
- Maintain systems by monitoring and correcting software defects
- Work closely with other staff, such as project managers, graphic artists, UX designers, other developers, systems analysts and sales and marketing professionals
- Consult clients and colleagues concerning the maintenance and performance of software systems, with a view to writing or modifying current operating systems
- Investigate new technologies
- Continually update technical knowledge and skills by attending in-house and external courses, reading manuals and accessing new applications
What skills do I need to become a software engineer?
- Analytical skills: Software engineers use analytical skills to problem solve, plus analyse and interpret data to find the source of errors to rectify them
- Mathematical & Computer Science knowledge: Software engineering is the branch of computer science and maths that deals with the design, development, testing, and maintenance of software applications
- Attention to detail: It’s essential to be extremely meticulous, as minor mistakes can lead to a domino effect of larger problems
- Problem-solving: problem-solving skills are used to overcome obstacles when developing and designing software
How to become a software engineer
There are multiple ways to become a software engineer, such as through formal education or self-study.
You can become a software engineer either through:
- A university course
- A college course
- Degree apprenticeship
- A graduate trainee scheme
Do I need to have an A-level in computing?
Completing you’re a-levels is important to get a strong foundational knowledge of computing systems and to gain the necessary UCAS points to go on to higher education. Studying a subject such as IT or computer science at A-level can be very helpful. Also, speak to your careers adviser and tell them you want to become a software engineer.
You could do a foundation degree, higher national diploma or a degree in:
- Computer science
- Information technology
- Software development
- Financial technology
- Software engineering for business
A bachelor’s degree in a STEM-related field (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Computer science and IT degrees include a combination of theoretical and practical training where they cover programming languages, network engineering and hardware construction. A masters-level qualification is desirable.
You could do a college course, such as:
- A level in computing
- Level 3 Certificate in Programming
- T Level in Digital Production, Design and Development
- Higher National Certificate in Computing
After your course, you could go on to a more advanced qualification or get a trainee position with a company.
There are several certifications that future software engineers can get, with experience in certain programming languages, including Java, C++, C#, MATLAB and Python. However, on-the-job training in these languages and in other necessary technologies are frequently offered for graduate-level software engineer opportunities.
The main professional certifications and training programmes include:
- Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP)
- Certified Software Development Professional and Certified Software Engineer (CSE)
Additional resources that can benefit an entry-level software engineer:
- AWS Certified Developer (Associate) — Amazon Web Services
- Java Certification — Oracle University
- Professional Scrum Developer — Scrum
Get an apprenticeship
An apprenticeship is a good way to gain both practical, on-the-job experience and theoretical knowledge simultaneously, while earning a salary. Your employer will pay for you to study your chosen subject alongside part-time work. Companies may also offer code courses where you can learn a specific language such as Python and work on projects while studying.
Jorden Powley, a senior software engineer at insurance software developer Lucid, says: “I think the apprenticeship route is the best route currently as you’ll learn and get industry experience, which generally makes individuals more valuable to employers later on.”
Programming boot camps are intensive courses designed to train aspiring software engineers in a relatively short space of time, typically around three months.
Highly trained programmers lead these courses and teach you the skills and theoretical knowledge that professionals use in the field.
Typically, these coding bootcamps are useful for people who intend to gain specialised knowledge of a particular aspect of software engineering, such as data science, software engineering or web development.
5 leading coding bootcamps
Imperial College London
Ranked the sixth-best university in the world, science university Imperial College offers an online coding bootcamp in partnership with HyperionDev you can complete in either three months full-time or six months part-time.
You can choose between three online bootcamps:
- Object-oriented programming
- Python with NumPy
Where HyperionDev bootcamp graduates work:
Amazon, BMW, BT, Cognizant, Daemon, EY, Google, IBM
Probably the biggest online coding bootcamp brand, Le Wagon has 45 campuses around the world offering courses in:
- Web development
- Data science
- Data analytics
- Data engineering
Courses can be either in-person or online and last anywhere between two to six months.
More than 22,000 people have graduated from its 45 campuses spread around 25 countries. This includes entrepreneurs who have created 212 tech startups and raised more than $820m.
Its London teaching centre is located in Shoreditch, close to the centre of the tech community in east London.
Where Le Wagon bootcamp graduates work:
Le Wagon says its graduates enjoy a 93 per cent employment rate and on average find a job within three months. Employers that have hired Le Wagon graduates include Accenture, Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft, Shopify, Trainline,
With over a thousand hiring partners and a university credit rating from the University of the West of Scotland, Code Institute calls itself a European trailblazer in coding bootcamps.
Founded in 2015, Code Institute says its full-stack development course is the UK and Europe’s only university-rated online coding bootcamp. It has also been approved by education authorities including the DfE’s Matrix Standard in the UK, AZAV and ZFU in Germany and CSN in Sweden.
Before going on the course, prospective students must complete its free 5-Day Coding Challenge to see if they have an aptitude for becoming a junior developer.
Once accepted, the course takes 12 months to complete and requires a minimum commitment of 12-15 hours per week.
Diploma in full-stack software development
Coding essentials module
- UX essentials
Full-stack toolkit module
- Design thinking
- APIs and frameworks
- Django framework
- Agile development
- Building with Bootstrap
Specialist skill path module
Once students have completed the full-stack toolkit module, they then choose between three specialisations:
- Advanced Front-End with React JS
- Predictive Analytics
Where Code Institute graduates work:
Code Institute says that 28 per cent of its students find jobs are employed before graduating and that 98 per cent find jobs within one year. Employers who have taken Code Institute graduates include Apple, Dell, Hubspot, IBM, McAfee, Meta and Salesforce.
Code Institute tells Information Age: “Our commitment to excellence is evident through how we’ve shaped our curriculum to meet industry demands. With unwavering Career Services and unparalleled student support, we pave the way for success.”
Northcoders has been offering a software development bootcamp since 2016. These 13-week bootcamps designed to help you become a software developer, data engineer or cloud engineer. Its 66-strong dedicated teaching team have helped to upskill and reskill over 2,000 people to date. The organisation offers in-person training in either Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds.
Its team delivers ongoing mentorship and support, facilitating talks and hackathons, hosting social gatherings, and nurturing what it calls in “a truly inclusive atmosphere”. Northcoders gives students over 480 hours of contact time across the bootcamp.
Steven Oakes, Northcoders director of marketing, says: “Northcoders isn’t just a leading tech bootcamp; it’s a force for positive change. With our adaptive curriculum that reflects what the industry actually wants, hybrid learning flexibility, and over 480 hours of contact time, we’re bridging the digital skills gap.
“More than that, we’re championing inclusivity with initiatives like bursaries for women and other gender minorities. With Northcoders, you’re not merely starting a new career – you’re joining our movement for a more inclusive tech industry in the UK.”
- APIs and databases, SQL
- SQL Syntax
- Cloud operations and integration
- Agile methodologies
- Application deployment
Where Northcoders graduates work:
Arup, Barclays, The Co-Operative Bank, Jaguar Landrover, Money Supermarket, Spareroom
£8,500 but some courses are paid for by Government if you live in England, are aged 19 plus and meet eligibility criteria.
Northcoders has bursaries for women and other gender minorities to help with the cost of living while doing one of its bootcamps.
Makers offers 16-week, full-time courses in software development, DevOps, data engineering and quality engineering via remote or on-site learning at its East London campus in the heart of London’s tech scene.
Over the last 10 years, Makers has coached over 3,000 coding beginners into successful full-stack software engineers.
Each course begins with eight weeks of software engineering fundamentals, followed by options to specialise in software development, data engineering, DevOps, or quality engineering.
Weeks one to eight – software engineering fundamentals
- Git source control
- Test-driven development
- Program design
- Objector-iented programming
- Agile methodologies
- Intro to web apps
- Intro to databases and SQL
- Intro to cloud deployment
- Team-based projects
Weeks nine to 16 – specialist track
- How to learn new languages
- Working with mobile apps
- Working with web apps
- Continuous Integration and Deployment
- Working with cloud apps
- Problem-solving in a live environment
- Manual and automatic software testing
- Quality throughout the software lifecycle
- Live exercises with devs on other tracks
- SQL and data processing
- Data analysis and presenting insights
- Data warehouse modelling
Where Makers graduates work:
Comparethemarket, Ford, Google, Meta, Monzo, Ovo Energy, Tesco, Trainline
How much does a software engineer earn?
According to recruiter Hays, the average junior developer salary in the UK is £38,731.
The average tech salary across the board in the UK is £62,000 compared to £35,000 for non-tech jobs.
According to Via Resource, the median salary for a software engineer is as follows:
- 1 – 2 years experience median salary of £32,000 (14.3% increase)
- 3 – 5 years experience median salary of £65,000 (8.3% increase)
- 5+ years experience median salary of £80,000 (6.7% increase)
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