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How to Become a Software Developer or Engineer

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at AIU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

The use of smartphone apps and other computer programs has become commonplace both in and out of the workplace. Because of their ubiquity, the amount of meticulous planning, designing and testing that goes into creating any given software application may go unnoticed or be underappreciated by the average person. Nevertheless, behind every app and computer program are skilled software developers, also sometimes referred to as software engineers or software architects.

What Do Software Engineers and Developers Do?

Before diving into how to become a software developer or engineer, it makes sense to start with the most basic of questions—what do software engineers do? The answer depends, in part, on the type of software engineer you’re talking about—some specialize in application design, while others build the underlying systems that enable software to execute specific functions and communicate with other related programs. Software developers and engineers also develop and test user-interface and other functionalities and, depending on the organization, may work with computer programmers, discussing the fundamental design principles behind a piece of software so programmers can ensure the code functions properly with other programs and computer systems. Some may work exclusively on professional software for a particular field or industry, while others may work at consumer software companies designing software for personal computers and apps for mobile devices.1

Types of Software Engineers and Developers

Different types of software engineers and developers exist within the broader field, depending upon their primary focus:

  • Applications software developers work on specific pieces of software, including games for consumers, custom software for specific customers and professional programs used in the workplace. They are also responsible for releasing updates and patches to ensure that programs continue to function properly over time.1
  • Systems software developers create operating systems, for the public or specifically for an organization, that allow users to interact with computers, mobile devices and other consumer electronics. Software developers also build the user interfaces that allow users to interact with their devices.1
  • Information technology project managers are typically a type of software engineer or developer responsible for supervising a software project from planning stages through implementation by mapping out and overseeing the timeline and process through which an application is created. They manage multiple parts of a project, from initial research and design to testing and implementation.1

Other Potential Career Paths

Web Developer

Unlike applications software developers or systems software developers, web developers are responsible for designing the interface and appearance of a website, making updates and ensuring the site can handle traffic and be quickly and properly navigated by users. There are several types of web developers, including:2

  • Front-end web developers: Front-end development involves all the technical elements a user sees and interacts with when using a website. Responsibilities include designing the site’s appearance and layout, incorporating video or graphic content and ensuring that e-commerce functions like online payments and checkout work properly.
  • Back-end web developers: Back-end development involves the overall technical framework for a website. Back-end web developers ensure that a site can handle the design elements and functionality implemented by the front-end development team, and they work to make sure the site runs quickly and efficiently when experiencing high traffic. Back-end web developers may be required to have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field.
  • Webmasters: are responsible for keeping a live website updated and working properly. They may monitor traffic and rankings as well as test and fix any broken links or pages on the site.

Computer Programmer

Computer programmers work closely with software developers, though in certain roles their responsibilities can overlap. Programmers are primarily responsible for writing, modifying and testing the computer code and scripts that allows software applications and operating systems to run as intended. They turn the designs created by software developers and engineers into instructions that a computer can follow. Clear and efficient communication with developers is crucial as they often detail specific elements of an application’s user interface or functionality that can later translate into code. Computer programmers also test the code in newly developed software and applications for errors or possible bugs.3

Programmers must have proficiency in a number of coding languages and be able to utilize code libraries. Additionally, programmers must know how to code applications for a number of different operating systems such as Windows, OS X, or iOS. With the increasing number of applications being provided online through the cloud, programmers should also be able to write SaaS (software-as-a-service) applications that will work on any operating platform.3

Computer and Information Systems Manager

Computer and information systems management roles combine software development knowledge with development team/department oversight responsibilities. Their software developer responsibilities may include planning and directing application or software installation and maintenance and ensuring an organization’s network and data security, while their management responsibilities might encompass assessing the costs, benefits and funding implications of projects to top executives and determining personnel requirements.4

Software Development Degrees and Concentrations

There is no single prescribed method for how to become a software developer. A bachelor’s program in computer and information technology, engineering, or mathematics is commonly pursued by those interested in software engineering and development.1 However, a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology (BSIT) program with a concentration in software analysis and development could be an alternative academic option.

Software development courses typically cover coding and current computer languages, computer programming, software development and testing tools and sometimes software and hardware engineering. To gain additional experience, students may want to complete an internship at a software company while enrolled in school. For certain occupations, a broader knowledge of the field and/or a master’s degree and familiarity with government regulations could be necessary as well.1

For those currently working full time, pursuing an online software developer degree program might provide a much-needed level of convenience, as online degree programs generally offer more flexibility to complete coursework at your own pace and on your own schedule. Further, if the program includes an adaptive learning platform such as AIU’s intellipath®, you could potentially skip over lessons that cover skills and knowledge you’ve already mastered, leading to a more efficient educational experience.

Learn How to Code

A bachelor’s- or master’s-level degree program in IT or related discipline should provide at least some coverage of the major coding languages and programming tools commonly utilized in carrying out software developer responsibilities. However, various print and online resources can assist you in learning to code or building upon your existing knowledge.

For instance, some online coding schools offer a comprehensive library of coding languages, including basic HTML/CSS, web development and server-side programming languages. (This can be a useful resource if you need to look up a specific function or command for a commonly used coding language.) Additionally, several resources may be available online for free.

In addition to your assignments and coursework, devoting time each week to work on one or two personal projects can both test and help you further develop your coding and programming skills. A personal project may be anything from a website (if you know you need to become more familiar with web development) to small-scale mobile applications (if you plan to go into consumer or business software development).

Popular Coding Languages

When it comes to discussing how to become a software engineer or developer, the importance of learning code can hardly be overstated. Achieving proficiency in a number of different coding languages may prove advantageous for pursuing a career path in software development, with the caveat that different career paths may require a greater understanding of certain languages over others. That said, the following are some examples of popular coding and programming languages:

  • Python
  • C / C++ / C#
  • Java / JavaScript
  • Bash/Shell
  • SQL / JQuery
  • HTML / CSS

Is Software Development the Right Path for You?

Whether you’re someone who has spent time coding and developing applications in your spare time or simply someone who wants to learn how to, looking into becoming a software engineer or developer might be worth exploring. Although pursuing a degree in software engineering or development doesn’t guarantee you will ultimately become a professional software developer, formal education in information technology, software development, computer science, or a related discipline may nonetheless help you work to build up your software engineering knowledge.

Interested in learning more? Explore AIU’s Bachelor of Science—Concentration in Software Analysis and Development program today.


1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers,” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm (visited August 22, 2022).
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Web Developers,” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm (last visited 8/22/2022).
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Computer Programmers,” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-programmers.htm (last visited 8/22/2022).
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer and Information Systems Managers,” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/computer-and-information-systems-managers.htm (last visited 9/16/2022)

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