How to Become a Software Developer

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 have become commonplace in both the workplace and for personal leisure. However, it can be easily forgotten how each software application had to be meticulously planned, designed and tested.

Software developers and engineers carefully design the systems used to run popular programs and develop and update various types of software and applications.

If building computer programs and software interests you, then you may have previously looked into becoming a software developer. Additionally, you may have coded and developed applications on your own. While earning a degree in software engineering or development doesn't guarantee a position in the field, formal education may help build specific skill sets and knowledge that could take longer for you to learn independently.

What Do Software Developers Do?

A software developer is responsible for the research and planning of software programs and applications through the final testing and release process. Software developers build the underlying systems that allow software to execute specific functions and communicate with other related programs. They also design and test user interface and other functionalities. Software developers often 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.1

Developers and software engineers must also understand what a targeted user wants and needs from a particular application. Therefore, time may be spent with clients or sales representatives discussing specific uses, industry requirements, and other ways to best meet users' needs. Depending on the field and the type of company, this could also include looking at consumer-level market research or discussing relevant industry-specific regulations.1

Some developers 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

If you are interested in pursuing a specific field or type of software development, consider taking courses and looking into specializations or concentrations that will help you focus on skills in this particular area.

Software Developer Degrees and Specializations

More than one path can be taken to become a software developer. A common degree for those pursuing software engineering or development is a bachelor's in computer science or software engineering. However, if you pursue an information technology degree, you may also choose a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology (BSIT) with a specialization in Software Analysis and Development.

Education in software development typically includes courses in coding and current computer languages, computer programming, software development and testing tools, and sometimes software and hardware engineering. To gain additional experience, students may complete an internship at a software company while enrolled in school. For certain occupations, a broader knowledge of the field may be necessary as well. (For example, if you plan to work for a company that builds medical billing or record-keeping software, you may need to be educated in the functions of the healthcare industry’s current privacy regulations.)1

For those who currently work full time, the pursuit of an online software developer degree may be a feasible option. An online degree program may allow you to work through course materials at your own pace and on your own schedule. Additionally, the use of an adaptive learning platform may permit you to skip over lessons that cover skills and knowledge you've already mastered. This can be especially useful, for example, if you are educated in coding and have built basic applications on your own yet are returning to school in order to add a bachelor's degree to your resume.

Learning How to Code

The education you receive while pursuing a bachelor's or master's degree should provide you with an overview of the major coding languages and programming tools desired in software development. However, various online resources can assist you in learning to code or building on 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 online coding tutorial websites are available for free.2 The tutorials allow users to test their knowledge retention from coding-specific courses. Moreover, certain sites offer quick supplementary lessons while others present coding problems and bugs to solve.

In addition to your assignments and coursework, devoting time each week to work on one or two personal projects can both test and 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

If you decide to pursue software development, proficiency in a number of different coding languages may prove advantageous. While your specific field and role may result in a greater understanding of certain languages more than others, the following are popular coding and programming languages:3

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

Types of Software Developers

There are several different types and levels of software developers, all of whom are generally responsible for designing the applications and underlying programs that consumers and businesses use on personal computers, websites, and mobile apps. Types of developers include the following:1

  • Applications software developers work on specific pieces of software, including word processing programs, games, and complex 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.
  • Systems software developers create the operating systems that allow users to interact with computers, mobile devices, and other consumer electronics. While these systems are often more invisible in their function than the specific programs created by applications developers, systems developers are typically responsible for designing the user interfaces through which people interact with their devices.
  • An information technology project manager is usually a type of software developer who is responsible for 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

Software Developer Career Paths

Software developers have a range of options with regard to career paths. While you may decide that you've found your ideal job as a software developer, some may choose to build on this early experience and pursue a career path in software engineering, project management for new programs and applications, or management within a company's development department.

A degree does not guarantee employment in any of these positions; however, there are several possible career paths you can pursue as a software developer.

Computer Programmer

Computer programmers work closely with software developers, and in certain roles their responsibilities may even overlap. Programmers are primarily responsible for writing the computer code that allows software applications and operating systems to run as intended. 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.4

Programmers need to have a versatility in a variety of coding languages and 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.4

Web Developer

If, during your research and education to become a software developer, you discover a passion for web-related applications, you may consider pursuing a career as a web developer. Rather than working on a variety of operating systems and applications, web developers are responsible for designing the interface and appearance of a website, making updates, ensuring the site can handle traffic, and that the site can be quickly and properly navigated by users.5

There are several types of web developers, and each is dependent upon the varying aspects a developer is responsible for creating and updating. These include the following:5

  • Front-end web developers are responsible for all of the 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. (Due to the limited range of web coding languages used by front-end developers, some employers may only require an associate degree for entry-level positions.)
  • Back-end web developers may be required to have a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field. These developers work on the technical framework for a website to ensure that the site can handle the design elements and functionality implemented by the front-end developers. Additionally they work to make sure the site runs quickly and efficiently when experiencing high traffic.
  • 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 and Information Systems Manager

If you have an interest in pursuing a management position, then you may consider a role as a computer and information systems manager.6 These roles require you to utilize your knowledge of software development and oversee a team of developers or an entire department.

Often called information technology managers or IT project managers, responsibilities typically include overseeing the entire development process for a new application or piece of software.

Computer Hardware Engineer

While engineering and development are different roles, overlapping can occur. Engineers are responsible for building the systems on which computers and software programs run. If you're interested in becoming a software engineer or a hardware engineer, you'll want to explore classes and training that further develops your understanding of the underlying equipment that makes up computer systems, such as processors and circuit boards. In addition, engineers are often responsible for ensuring multiple different pieces of a computer system properly work together as a whole.7

The field of computer programming and software building offers many different career paths. Which path will you pursue?


1. "Software Developers." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm (Visited 10/18/18).
2. "11 Websites to Learn to Code for Free in 2017." Forbes. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurencebradford/2016/12/08/11-websites-to-learn-to-code-for-free-in-2017/#479d038969c4 (Visited 10/18/18).
3. ”Stack Overflow Developer Survey.” Stack Overflow. Retrieved from: https://insights.stackoverflow.com/survey/2018/#technology (Visited 10/18/18)
4. "Computer Programmers." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-programmers.htm (Visited 10/18/18).
5. "Web Developers." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm (Visited 10/18/18).
6. "Computer and Information Systems Manager." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/computer-and-information-systems-managers.htm (Visited 10/18/18).
7. "Computer Hardware Engineers." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/computer-hardware-engineers.htm (Visited 10/18/18).

American InterContinental University cannot guarantee employment or salary. For important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended these programs, go to www.aiuniv.edu/disclosures.
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