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What Do Software Engineers Do? Job Types, Training, and Salary

By Emily Rose Prats

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Anytime you visit a webpage or use an internet-powered application, you’re engaging with the end result of a software engineer’s work.

Software engineers are computer science professionals who use knowledge of engineering principles and programming languages to build software products, develop computer games, and run network control systems.

According to the US Department of Labor, there were well over 1 million people employed as software developers in 2019.

As more and more of us rely on smart devices, the number of software developers will only increase, with job outlook predicted to grow at 21 percent over the next 9 years.

To help you learn more about careers in software development, this article will cover the following topics:

What do software engineers do

Types of Software Engineers

The software engineering field is broad. Developers have different sets of technical expertise, from building computer information systems to maintaining network security to creating customer-facing web pages.

There are two primary types of software engineers: applications software developers and systems software developers.

Applications Software Developers


  • Client-focused
  • Design software for the end user to interact with
  • Develop applications for iOS, Android, Windows, Linux, and more
  • Conduct requirements analysis
  • Tweak software and release updates regularly

Front-end or back-end?


Who they work with

Graphic designers, project managers, marketers, and customer success staff

Systems Software Developers


  • Build operating systems and networks for user-facing applications
  • Responsible for both the hardware and software needs
  • Integrate disparate software products onto one platform
  • Often serve as general IT managers or systems architects
  • Design and enforce IT standards
  • Maintain IT documentation and update to new technologies

Front-end or back-end?

Mostly back-end

Who they work with

Data science professionals, senior systems architects, development teams, and senior management

How to become a software engineer

Software Engineering Jobs and Salaries

Thanks to strong industry demand and their own technical expertise, skilled software engineers on both the applications and the systems sides are compensated well for the value they deliver. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median annual salary for applications developers at $103,620 and at $110,000 for systems developers.

Of course, applications and systems developer jobs are not the only two positions available in the field of software engineering. Other common roles include mobile developers, applications architects, quality assurance analysts, and database administrators.

What job can you get as a software engineer?

How to Become a Software Engineer

Completing a two- or four-year computer science degree has, until recently, been the only path to successfully launching a career as a software engineer. Other math- and science-related degrees in fields like information systems, electronics, and civil engineering or even community college courses have also enabled people to transition into software development.

But a formal degree or some college coursework are no longer the only paths to becoming a web developer. Coding bootcamps are an increasingly popular option for those who want to quickly transition into software engineering.

Coding bootcamps are intensive eight- to 30-week programs that focus on practical, language-specific programming skills but also typically cover information technology fundamentals. Most bootcamps are designed to prepare students to enter the IT job market ASAP and focus on the skills most in-demand within a certain geography (check out these spots to learn if you're based in Chicago).

Before you choose a program, consider which type of job you are looking for and which language you should therefore learn. Based in New York? Check out these 10 Free Coding Classes in NYC.

Once your training is complete, you’ll need to build up your portfolio and touch up your software engineer résumé.

Every Industry Needs Software

With the proper qualifications, a software engineer can work in almost any industry with any type of organization. While IT firms lead the pack in hiring software developers, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, healthcare facilities, transit and logistics companies, and every other business needs software.

Curious about which programming language to learn this year? Here are the best programming languages this year.