If you are interested in the tech industry, then you might consider a career as a software engineer. But what is a software engineer and how do you become one?

In this article, I will explain what software engineers do and the steps you can take to become one.

What is a software engineer?

A software engineer is a person who uses computer science, engineering principles, and programming to build software products. They work with clients to plan, design, program, test, and maintain software applications.

Here are some of the important skills software engineers need to have:

  • Ability to write clean and efficient code
  • Good understanding of computer science
  • Problem solving
  • Testing applications
  • Fixing errors ("bugs") in the code
  • Good communication and listening skills
  • Ability to work well within a team

Software engineers are highly skilled individuals who spend their lives learning new technologies and solving complex issues. And if you want to become one, it's important that you know to how to practice patience and perseverance since the job can be difficult at times.

Software engineers will either work for companies or as freelance contractors. Good software engineers are high in demand and tend to be well compensated financially.

What is programming?

A key component of being a software engineer is to develop a strong foundation in computer programming.

A computer program consists of code that is executed on a computer to perform particular tasks. This code is written by programmers.

Programming is the process of giving machines a set of instructions that describe how a program should be carried out. Programmers will spend their whole careers learning a variety of programming languages and tools so they can effectively build computer programs.

Programmers will start by using a code editor or IDE to write what is called source code. This is a collection of code written in a programming language that other programmers can read.

Source code needs to be converted into machine language so machines can understand the instructions and execute the program. This process of converting source code into machine language is known as compiling.

Examples of compiled programming languages would be C and C++.

There are other languages that do not use compilers. Instead, these languages will use an interpreter that will read and execute the code.

Examples of interpreted programming languages would be JavaScript and PHP.

Once the code is executed, then the computer program can run. The different types of computer programs include Word processors, Database systems, video games, and websites.

These computer programs allow us to interactive with different software devices and services like phones, websites, and the computers themselves.

Types of programming languages

There are hundreds of programming languages in existence. Developers will first consider the needs of the application so they can decide which languages would be appropriate to use.

Here are a few popular programming languages.

  • Python
  • JavaScript
  • C/C++
  • Java
  • C#
  • Ruby
  • PHP

Programming languages are  grouped in a variety of categories. Here is a list of some of the categories.

  • Machine language – a low level language that consist of 0's and 1's (binary). High level languages are compiled into machine code so the code can be executed by the computer.
  • Assembly language – a low level language that is compiled by an assembler. Assemblers translate human code to machine code.
  • Procedural languages – this approach goes through a series of procedures before a program is executed on the computer. (For example, Go and Julia)
  • Scripting languages – these languages often times don't need to be compiled but rather interpreted. Interpreted means an interpreter will read and execute the code instead of being compiled into machine code. (For example, JavaScript and PHP)
  • Functional languages – this works with the idea of building complex programs through a collection of smaller functions. (For example, Haskell and Scala)
  • Object-oriented languages – this works with the idea of building programs around collections of objects. (For example, Java and Python)

There are many more software paradigms and languages to explore that we didn't cover in this article. But this should give you a good start into the various types of programing languages out there.

What education do you need to become a software engineer?

For many years, the typical education for software engineers was to get a bachelor's degree in Computer Science. This degree focuses on teaching the fundamentals and theory behind software and hardware computer systems.

If you have the time and money to study at a university, then a computer science degree can provide a solid education and foundation. There are also a lot of internships geared towards college students which help build up experience.

While college is a viable option to become a software engineer, you could also choose to teach yourself. The self taught route requires a lot of research, discipline, and structure to ensure that you are learning what you need to in order to land a job.

There are plenty of resources where you can teach yourself computer science fundamentals online. For a list of free resources, I suggest you read through this article.

Can you become a software engineer in a few weeks or months?

There is a lot of debate within the tech community on whether or not you can call yourself a software engineer within a few months of learning.

There are a lot of advertisements out there that claim that you can become a software engineer in 3 months if you go through a software bootcamp program.

You have to be really careful about these types of ads because a lot of them overpromise and underdeliver. In order to become a good software engineer, it will take a lot more time than a few months of learning.

Bootcamps can be good at teaching a specific set of skills for a specific job like web development. To learn more about bootcamps, I would suggest reading through this article.

At the end of the day, to become a really good software engineer, it takes time, practice, and experience – which happens over a span of years.

Types of software engineer jobs

There are many types of software engineer jobs that you can choose from. This article will just focus on a few areas.

Full stack, Frontend, and Backend engineers

These types of engineers build applications for the web. They will work with languages like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, Python, and more.

There are plenty of courses that you can take online to teach yourself.

Salaries will differ between locations but they tend to be high paying jobs.

Here are some resources to look into if you are interested in this field.

Mobile Development

These types of engineers build applications for mobile devices. Programming languages will include React Native, Swift, Flutter, Java, and Kotlin.

There are plenty of courses that you can take online to teach yourself. Salaries will differ between locations but they tend to be high paying jobs.

Here are some resources to look into if you are interested in this field.

Game Development

These engineers will build custom games for mobile, desktop and game console use. Programming languages can include, C++, C# and Lua.

These engineers will work for small independent game studios as well as larger international companies like Sony.

There are plenty of courses that you can take online to teach yourself. Salaries will differ between locations but they tend to be high paying jobs.

Here are some resources to look into if you are interested in this field.

Computer Systems Engineer

This profession combines computer science and engineering to work on complex business applications. Programming languages will include Python, Java, and C++.

The typical educational path would be a formal bachelor's degree in computer science. Salaries will tend to be in the six figures.

Other types of software engineer roles include DevOps engineer, data engineer, Security engineer, and QA engineer.


Software engineering can be a very rewarding career both intellectually and financially. Software engineers need to be willing to learn new things and solve complex problems.

There are many different fields to explore like web, mobile, game development or systems engineering. Some fields will require formal education while others are open to being self taught.

I hope you enjoyed this article and best of luck on your software engineering journey.