Find out what to expect from a software developer career, what education is needed, and more about types of jobs available to graduates of campus-based and online computer programming schools.

Software developers are key to creating the countless web and mobile applications used by millions of people every day. Here's what to know if interested in a software developer career path.

What Does a Software Developer Do?

Although they may work on the same projects, developers shouldn't be confused with computer programmers. Those with a computer programming career spend their days writing and testing code. Meanwhile, software developers oversee the "big picture" by:

  • Developing and testing software designed to meet the needs of prospective users
  • Planning data architecture schemes and lifecycle project management agendas
  • Communicating design details to teams of computer programmers and other engineers
  • Extensively documenting the aspects of a particular software to create reference materials

Those interested in becoming an software developer can choose from two main career paths:

  • Applications software developers work on programs that are intended for consumer use, such as games or word processing applications.
  • Systems software developers create programs that keep computers running smoothly. They work on operating systems and system interfaces.

How to Become a Software Developer

Not everyone takes the same path to a software developer career. However, here's a look at what is typically involved in becoming a software developer.

1. Enroll in a degree program.

At many institutions, you won't find a specific software developer degree. Instead, you can earn a computer science or a computer programming degree. Even if you aren't interested in becoming a computer programmer, you'll need strong coding skills to be a developer. When it comes to minimum software developer education requirements, most employers prefer those who have at least a bachelor's degree. Students who complete Bachelor of Science degrees in computer programming often find work in the following jobs:

Computer programmer
Turns programs designed by developers and engineers into coded instructions that computers can read.
Database administrator
Use software to backup and store data from large and small businesses and government organizations. Also ensures security and proper access to data.
Network systems administrator
Ensures day-to-day operations of computer networks; organizes, installs and supports networking hardware and software.

2. Look for continuing education opportunities.

As long as you meet an employer's software developer degree requirements, you should be eligible for entry-level positions right out of college. No exams or licensure is required to work in the field. However, as computer technology continues to advance, you'll want to regularly update your skills to be a competitive job applicant. Online courses may be available to make it convenient to brush up on knowledge or even learn new computer languages.

3. Advance to a manager position.

For those who want to take their software developer career to the next level, becoming a computer and information systems manager often seems like a logical step. These professionals oversee an organization's computer system with top-level managers serving as the chief technology officer. While some managers have master's degrees, experience may be more important than education in some workplaces.

For additional insight into related careers, learn about becoming a computer programmer.

Skills and Abilities Needed for a Software Developer Career

Becoming a software developer is about more than having the right degree. You also need to have certain skills and abilities to do the job right. Software developer careers make use of the following attributes:


  • Active listening: Software developers often serve as part of a team. They must be able to carefully listen to reports from others and ask necessary questions so they can make appropriate decisions about how to move a project forward.
  • Critical thinking: As part of their role, software developers must be able to devise creative solutions to make applications more user-friendly or to overcome technical obstacles.
  • Complex problem solving: Creating software is a multi-faceted process that requires developers to not only address technical issues but also anticipate potential problems that application users might face and work to resolve them prior to a software launch.


  • Oral expression: Coding and software development is precise work. Professionals in the field need to be able to clearly explain their design expectations to programmers and others working on a project.
  • Inductive reasoning: When there are problems with a system or application, the cause is not always obvious. Developers are expected to be able be able to troubleshoot problems based on the information they have available.

Career and Salary Outlook for Software Developers

As with any profession, salaries for software developers vary by location, experience and other factors. Here's a snapshot of what job growth opportunities and pay ranges are in place for software developers:

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
Software Developers and Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers1,406,870$111,620
2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Professional Organizations

  • SaltStack: An automation standard for data center infrastructure and application environments. Earning SaltStack certification ensures that IT consulting and service professionals understand the complex needs of the software.
  • MCSD: Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer is a globally recognized standard for IT professionals who build solutions across a wide range of technologies.
  • JavaScript: A standard for software and web developers and application programmers. Students can earn JavaScript certification from the Certified Internet Web Professional (CIW) organization.
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Article Sources
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accessed June 2018,
  • How does a Software Developer Differ from a Computer Programmer? East Coast Polytechnic Institute, Accessed June 2018,
  • Software Developers, Applications, O*Net OnLine, Accessed June 2018,