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What is Software Engineering?

By DeVry University

May 13, 2023
7 min read

Software engineering is a branch of engineering that deals with the development of software. Software generally refers to the programs used by computers; technically, it is the collection of codes, documents and triggers that do a specific job and fulfill a specific set of requirements. The development of software employs the best practices, principles and methods of engineering and computer programming.

If you are curious about what is software engineering, put simply, software engineering is the application of engineering practices and principles to the field of software development.

What is a Software Engineer?

Software engineers are computer science professionals who use engineering principles and programming languages to build software and run network control systems. Software engineers play an important role in making sure computers and mobile devices operate correctly. They bring a considerable amount of knowledge to roles in the areas of programming languages, software development and computer operating systems. They must also understand engineering principles as they relate to the creation of software applications and systems.

Software engineers are strategically minded individuals who tend to excel in left- and right-brained thinking (analytical as well as creative skills). They are usually instinctive problem solvers, able to use tools such as the principles of applied mathematics and computer science to design, develop and troubleshoot computer software. Ideally, software engineers should also be people that work well with others and are motivated to see a project through to the end.

All software engineers have the shared mission of solving digital problems with quality (debugged) software.

What Do Software Engineers Do?

Software engineers develop and build computer software.  Most software engineers focus on either software applications or systems. Computer systems software includes operating systems and applications such as web browsers and database programs.

Software engineers can further specialize in front-end, back-end or full-stack development:

  • Front-end developers deal with the aesthetics of software and what the users see and experience (aka the user interface or UI). The focus of front-end development is to design user-friendly software that engages people.

  • Back-end developers focus on the server-side of software development, writing and maintaining essential source code so that the server and application or system continue to communicate.

  • Full-stack developers are skilled in both front-end and back-end development.

Software engineers apply the principles of engineering to every stage of the software development process. Just as a civil engineer is responsible for the safety and security of a bridge, for example, a software engineer must be accountable for delivering sound, functioning software.

What Types of Software Engineering Fields Are There?

Software engineers can typically be divided into two categories:

  1. Applications engineers – This type of engineer creates or adapts applications or programs for businesses and organizations. They analyze the end user’s need then design, build, install and maintain the application as appropriate.

  2. Systems engineers – This type of engineer coordinates the creation, maintenance and growth of computer systems made for businesses. They collaborate with each department to identify its needs, provide technical recommendations and direction and set up networks that connect computers throughout the company.

There are a few different levels of software engineering:

  • Operational software engineering – Operational engineering focuses on how software interacts with the system in terms of its usability, functionality, dependability and security.

  • Transitional software engineering – This type of software engineering focuses on how changes in environment impact a system or developed application. This is usually done with scalability and/or flexibility in mind.

  • Software engineering maintenance – This type of software engineering is recurrent and focuses on how changes to the software or application function in concert with its existing environment.

There are many types of software that software engineers could end up developing in their careers, with more being added all the time.

Here are a just a few examples of the types of software being developed today:

  • Operating systems

  • Computer games

  • Middleware

  • Business applications

  • Network control systems

How Do You Become a Software Engineer?

Software engineers may have a bachelor’s degree in software engineering or information technology. They are also well-versed in software development and have experience working with a variety of programming languages.

One route to becoming a software engineer is as follows:

  1. Choose a career in the software engineering field and a specialization.

  2. Learn about software engineering by attending boot camps, studying independently or enrolling in a college certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree program.

  3. Practice, practice, practice! Develop and refine your skills and begin to build a portfolio.

  4. Look for internship opportunities.

  5. Prepare for and begin your job search!

Education is essential for this field, and a program such as our Undergraduate Certificate in Software Design and Solutions can help quickly lay the foundation you need. In the future, if you choose to continue your studies at DeVry, the courses you take as part of this certificate program can be applied toward the requirements of a degree program such as our Bachelor’s Degree in Software Development,1 which can help you prepare to pursue your goals.

Find out more

Skills Needed for Software Engineering

Due to its problem-solving nature, a software engineer’s job requires a medley of technical and workplace skills. Software engineering skills may include:

  • Knowledge of programming languages: Python, JavaScript and C or C++ must be in the software engineer’s skills set, as these are commonly used programming languages in software development.

  • Core computer knowledge: Software engineers should have a grasp of operating systems, database systems, networking and other basic computer concepts. Familiarity with a variety of operating systems such as Linux, and database management systems like SQL, is also required of most software engineers.

  • Cloud computing: Due to current demand for cloud developers and engineers, software engineers should be familiar with the principles of cloud computing.

  • Problem solving: Because software engineers spend a good portion of their time troubleshooting and looking for bugs and coding problems, highly sharpened problem-solving skills are essential. 

  • Communication: Software engineers must be able to communicate effectively with team members and stakeholders to explain the scope and various aspects of their projects. In some instances, their communication skills are put to work making technical issues understandable for non-technical audiences. 

  • Project management: Keeping track of the complexities of multiple projects requires excellent project management skills, which should include proficiency in the Scrum and Agile methodologies. Attention to detail is also an essential skill in this area, as it is interrelated with both problem solving and project management.

How Long Does It Take to Learn Software Engineering?

Many people who pursue software engineering begin learning computer programming on their own, either as a personal pursuit or on the job. While self-study can take you part of the way, a certificate or degree program from an accredited institution like DeVry University gives you the structured education that can help you pursue your career goals.

Here at DeVry, our Undergraduate Certificate in Software Design and Solutions can be earned in as little as 1 years and 4 months with an accelerated schedule (per 12 month period, does not include breaks and assumes year-round, full-time enrollment), 2 years with a normal schedule (per 12 month period, does not include breaks and assumes 2 semesters of full-time enrollment) — or even more quickly with qualifying transfer credits. Since this program is offered 100% online, you can study on your own schedule.

What Jobs are there in Software Engineering?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment in the computer and information technology field is projected to grow 15% from 2021 to 2031,  much faster than the average for all occupations, resulting in about 682,800 new jobs over the decade.2 This growth is projected on a national level and local growth will vary by location. This projection is not specific to DeVry University graduates and may include earners at all stages of their careers. Students completing a program such as our Software Design and Solutions Certificate program may consider job opportunities in the following roles:

  • Software application developer

  • Mobile device programmer

  • Software programmer and analyst

  • Mobile app developer

Challenges Software Engineers Face

Some of the challenges faced by professionals in the field of software engineering are occupation-wide while others are more specific to the individual’s experience, role and the organization they work in. Common challenges include:

  • Time constraints: Development timelines are often influenced by factors that are beyond engineers’ control and time limitations can hamper their efforts to deliver a high-quality software product.

  • Changing project requirements: Changes made during the development process can present difficulties and negatively impact project results and timelines. Software engineers are often required to have the agility to adapt to these shifting requirements.

  • Rapidly changing technology: Software engineers have to continually upgrade their skills to keep pace with the rapid and unrelenting introduction of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. In a highly competitive environment they are pressured to develop new applications that reflect and capitalize on these trends.   

  • Privacy regulations: Compliance with data privacy regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) can present challenges by restricting how software engineers can use data.

Interested in learning more about our programs?

Get started on the road toward your career in software engineering today!

1At the time of application to the next credential level, an evaluation of qualifying transfer credit will occur and the most beneficial outcome will be applied.


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