Software Engineer Job Description - Top Skills, Salary & More

Wondering how to get a job as a software engineer? This career guide explores software engineer job requirements, top skills, average salary and much more. Find out if this is the right career for you!

Software Engineer





(May 2019)


Bachelor’s degree

(computer science degree preferred) 


3-5 years

Upward Mobility



(not required)

Job Outlook

22% growth between 2019-2029 (fast!)

 Software Engineer: understanding the job

What is a software engineer?

A software engineer job description looks a lot like a software developer’s, but software engineering is responsible for a bit more than development alone. Both software engineering and development involve creating, and writing software that instructs computers to perform specific tasks, as well as auditing and testing that software to update it and eliminate bugs. Both software engineer jobs and software developer jobs are full of converting instructions into many program languages and working with programmers to create the underlying code. The difference, however, is that software engineers then apply engineering principles to software development.

So, whereas software development focuses entirely on creating smoothly functioning software that meets exact client specifications, software engineering takes a much more holistic approach to software’s function for the client. Indeed, software engineering sometimes dives in to the creative specifics of programming with developers, but its ultimate goal is to engineer those programs to serve a specific purpose for clients or companies. This could involve customizing software to fill a special client request or fitting software seamlessly into a company’s system with a well-established structure that has already integrated various compatible and complementary programs. Much like a project manager a software engineer looks at a client’s requirements and makes sure the software and surrounding IT architecture meets them one by one.

Software engineers use both technical and soft skills in their jobs.

Get both technical & soft skills to grow your software engineer career! Find & compare training courses by top providers.

Technical skills: software development | software testing | DevOps | IT Infrastructure | cloud computing | C and C++ | Java | Python | Cybersecurity

Soft skills: communication | leadership | problem solving | customer relationship management | teamwork

Top software engineer skills

What does a software engineer do?

Most software engineer jobs can be considered to have a combination of titles because an effective software engineer has so many responsibilities. They interchangeably engage in software development, systems design, consultation towards software and hardware solutions for client products or a company’s IT systems, and leadership of the creative team that develops those solutions. This leaves much less time for pure development, which is what really separates software engineer jobs from software developer jobs.

Software engineer vs. software developer

These two professions are often confused, and for good reason. Both create software and  know the mechanical ins and outs of doing so, both work with clients to design software to fit their needs, and both work in teams with other developers and computer programmers to create software and test to see how well it works. There are, however, some big differences between the two positions.

Developers are in charge of the creative process of software creation from beginning to end whereas software engineers inform the software creation process with engineering principles. They make sure the software works likes it’s supposed to and that it provides a technological solution for the client. Software engineers depend on the creativity of software developers. Developers’ creativity is only effective if they communicate with clients enough to truly understand their needs. Clients for their part are heavily reliant on software engineers. They use the software they and developers make to develop IT processes that address client needs through some sort of technological solution. Software engineers lead development teams to serve clients in a broader way than just creating the software they commission.

''Great software engineers wear many hats - consulting with clients, leading a creative development team, writing code, analyzing programming languages, customizing diagnostics... ''

Software engineer technical work

Software engineers create many types of software. They can be for applications businesses to market to end users or for an organization’s internal computer systems. They help software developers map out the algorithms and mathematical patterns a software needs to match the limitations of the hardware in which it will be used and the platforms or systems on which it will operate. They then work to translate instructions into the right computing language and design and develop code that makes the software compatible with various operating systems.

Software engineers test and run diagnostics on software they create to make sure it’s bug-free and functioning efficiently under various conditions. They also analyze and shape IT architecture to fit software efficiently into a larger system to meet client needs regarding for example data storage or cloud access concerns. Finally, they check-in with the client to make sure software they created functions well within the client’s systemic parameters, that the software provided the IT solution met the client’s needs, and to suggest improvements where applicable. In the case of engineering software for a company’s computer systems or database, the engineer checks in with IT managers and end users to assess efficiency and functionality.

What great software engineers do

1. Great software engineers are technical experts

They have all-around knowledge of computer systems, IT architecture, software development, programming languages (e.g. Java, C, C++, Python), and hardware parameters.

2. Great software engineers are versatile specialists

If needed a great software engineer can specialize in a few different areas within a company or organization according to its needs, from applications to databases to operating systems.

3. Great software engineers wear many hats

Consulting with clients, leading a creative development team, writing code, analyzing different programming languages, customizing diagnostics - these are all expected of a software engineer at any given point. The great ones know when to synchronize these roles and when to dive deep in to one or another to either discover client needs or oversee software design within IT architecture.

Typical day as a software engineer

Software engineer work is typically project-based. The types of projects they undertake depend somewhat on whether they are applications engineers or systems engineers. Applications engineers work on projects with the end user in mind as well as the client requesting the software development, so their day is centered in one way or another around client needs: identifying requirements, developing solutions, and maintaining or improving software to meet client needs.

This could involve traveling to meet with clients, working closely with the creative development team to design software, creating diagnostic software to maintain a client solution, analyzing client IT systems to match software to their needs, or brainstorming and developing software improvements. Systems engineers perform quite similar tasks but typically on an in-house basis for the organization whose computing systems require updating, debugging, or augmentation. Instead of outside clients, systems engineers work closely with IT departments and end users of software within the organization to develop solutions.

Part of every software engineer job description involves spending a lot of time working in front of a computer either alone analyzing systems and diagnosing software or with a group of software developers and computer programmers to design and code software. An entry level software engineer may spend more time learning a company’s systems or getting to know the creative process of its software development team, whereas a senior level software engineer’s familiarity with their team may allow them to spend more time with clients, identifying project requirements and becoming familiar with their IT architecture to develop solutions that fit their needs.

 Basic software engineer duties

  • Designing and creating code for applications as well as designing and running diagnostic tests on them
  • Analyzing IT systems and advising clients on new uses for technical solutions
  • Translating instructions into multiple programming languages
  • Identifying and analyzing client, user or organizational requirements
  • Integrating multiple software programs to operate on a platform or multiple cooperative platforms within systems
  • Analyzing code, systemic risk, software reliability and requirements
  • Performing system maintenance and debugging software
  • Consult with clients, end users, systems designers, project managers, software developers ad computer programmers to satisfy requirements towards IT solutions
  • Develop software for the full lifecycle of applications
  • Writing systems and software structure and developing the necessary algorithms and charts alone and with software developers
  • Creating cloud-based systems, doing front end design and comfort using open-source tools

''U.S. News and World Report’s Money section ranks software developer as the #1 job on all its lists, including Best Technology Jobs, Best STEM Jobs and Best 100 Jobs.''

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Technical skills: software development | software testing | DevOps | IT Infrastructure | cloud computing | C and C++ | Java | Python

Soft skills: communication | leadership | problem solving | customer relationship management | teamwork

How to become a software engineer?

Software engineer job requirements


A bachelor’s degree in computer science or computing-related field is necessary for any entry level software engineer job. Other degrees are acceptable only with accompanying computer science training, technical knowledge or hands on experience one might gain through a software engineer internship.

Find entry level software engineer jobs and software engineer internships for international students

Technical Skills

Technical requirements include:


There are many technical requirements that an entry level software engineer needs to have under their belt. These can come through experience in a software engineer internship, self-education, or formal education. Experience working as a software developer is a also an efficient way to gain the experience necessary to engineer software and to fit various computer systems. Experience in business environments, particularly in B2B environments is preferred as is a knowledge of customer awareness and a business sense for marketability and UX.

Ideal software engineer resume

The ideal software engineer resume lists a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field and significant experience developing scalable data platforms, data analytics, and the business intelligence needed to deliver software and data products. The amount of experience is less important than showing the ability to develop software, knowledge of different computer languages, and expertise in designing and running diagnostics and automated testing on newly developed programs.

The ideal experience for a software engineer resume comes from 3-5 years working as a software developer or working closely with a software engineer to develop software and IT systems architecture either for external clients or for internal use of a business or organization. That experience could also come in part from being self-taught, from a software engineer internship, or from coursework in IT conversion, DevOps, various automation and monitoring technologies, programming languages, etc.

"The ideal software engineering skills to include in a software engineer cover letter and when answering software engineer interview questions are acquired by being immersed in data and computer science for a multitude of years either through study, software engineer internships or work experience or both.''

Soft skills are attributes that should accompany accomplishments listed in a resume and can be mentioned in a software engineer cover letter or when answering software engineer interview questions. Soft skills that supplement the requirements of any type of software engineer job description -- like working well as a team with other data scientists, communicating suggestions to colleagues and clients from a point of expertise, being a self-starter in coming up with creative solutions, and being a perceptive listener to ascertain client needs and project requirements -- all work well in a software engineer cover letter and should definitely be the focus in responses to software engineer interview questions.

 Software engineer salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) identifies the median annual software engineer salary (listed as software developer salary) at $107,510 in May 2019.

The BLS also identifies a very strong job growth outlook for software engineers at 22% between 2019 and 2029, a much faster than average growth rate.

Is software engineer the right job for me?

Software engineers have a similar job description to software developers. Many software engineers are software developers who have also learned to build IT systems architecture and custom fit software to create technical solutions for clients. Considering their close connection, U.S. News and World Report’s Money section ranks software developer at #1 job on its Best Technology Jobs list, its Best STEM Jobs list, and its overall Best 100 Jobs list. It tops all of these lists because of its combination of high salary, candidate-friendly job market, future growth outlook, relatively low stress and pressure, and possibility for a healthy work-life balance.

Something to consider when deciding if software engineer is the career path for you is that having neither experience nor education in computer science or a closely related field makes the path to becoming a software engineer significantly longer and more challenging.

Top of the best job list sounds great, but it requires a specific path to enter. The ideal skills we discussed earlier to include in a software engineer cover letter and when answering software engineer interview questions are acquired by being immersed in data and computer science for a multitude of years either through study, software engineer internships or work experience or both.

Software engineers typically report to project managers or other management executives and have average likelihood of upward mobility through experience and familiarity with either an organization’s computing systems and IT architecture or the needs of their client base and the markets wherein clients place their products. It is a niche position with salary gains and employer loyalty typically gained to the software engineer’s advantage over time.

Top software engineer skills

Computer programming - deep knowledge of building scalable and cloud-based platforms, multiple programming languages, multiple software development methodologies, automated testing services, and open source tools

Software development - in depth knowledge of programming languages, monitoring and testing capabilities, knowledge of integrated development environments, deployment, and test-driven development

Systems knowledge and analysis - IT architecture, DevOps knowledge, software engineering tools, relational database proficiency, analytical assessments of IT systems for client solutions

Communication - strong written and verbal communication to deliver client needs to creative development and programming teams, identifying and confirming requirements from clients, gathering client or organizational needs to build IT infrastructure

Leadership - leading creative and programming teams in developing software that fits architectural and systemic requirements for clients and organizations

Teamwork - working either remotely or in person with creative and technical ends of development teams to meet client needs towards technical solutions

Problem solving and customer awareness - business intelligence and market awareness to read client and user needs and troubleshoot software design to meet client and market needs

Similar or related job titles

  • Software developer
  • Computer programmer
  • Web developer
  • Systems programmer
  • Application developer
  • Computing systems analyst
  • Computer network architect

Take your software engineer career to the next level! Find & compare training programs by leading providers.

Technical skills: software development | software testing | DevOps | IT Infrastructure | cloud computing | C and C++ | Java | Python

Soft skills: communication | leadership | problem solving | customer relationship management | teamwork