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What Does a Software Engineer Do?

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.

Software engineers, or software developers, are the invisible force behind much of today’s modern technology. Internet browsers, computer operating systems, video games, mobile apps, and more—all of these technologies are made possible through their work. And as our reliance on software increases by the day, so too should the need for capable software engineers. Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of software developers is projected to grow 25 percent—a rate that is faster than the average for all occupations—from 2021 to 2031.1

If you have an interest in computer science, computer engineering, or information technology, a future in software engineering might be worth considering.

Let’s begin our examination of the field by addressing some basic questions like, What is software engineering? And what does a software engineer do? Then we’ll round out our discussion with a look at how to become a software engineer and ways to prepare for potential job interviews in the field.

What Is Software Engineering?

Software engineering is a branch of computer science that involves the design, implementation and maintenance of complex computer programs.2 In other words, it is the process of applying engineering to software.3 Two of the main types of software development are systems (or system) software development and applications (or application) software development.1

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Software engineers assess user needs and develop software to address those needs. They create computer software, network software, and utility programs and apply updates and enhancements. Some of their typical tasks may include:4

  • Analyzing project data to determine specifications or requirements
  • Applying mathematical principles or statistical approaches to solve problems in scientific or applied fields
  • Assessing database performance
  • Coordinating software or hardware installation
  • Designing software applications; modifying software programs to improve performance; and providing technical support for software maintenance/use
  • Identifying information technology (IT) project resource requirements; managing IT projects or system activities

Software engineers may be categorized by whether they focus on developing applications or systems, or whether they are more focused on planning a project’s scope:1

  • Applications software developers: Responsible for designing computer applications, such as custom software or commercial software, that allow users to carry out certain tasks. Some applications software developers may create databases or programs for internal or online usage.
  • Systems software developers: Create operating systems that enable computers to run and control most consumer electronics. Systems software developers also build the interfaces that allow users to interact with their device.
  • Software engineers: Assess a project’s system and software requirements broadly. They plan a project’s scope and may direct the work of software developers, quality assurance analysts and testers.

Although the BLS differentiates between applications and systems software developers and software engineers, the fact is that job titles in the software development field can vary or overlap. Examples of software developer job titles include Applications/Application Developer, Application Integration Engineer, Developer, Infrastructure Engineer, Network Engineer, Software Architect, Software Developer, Software Development Engineer, Software Engineer and Systems Engineer.4

Do Software Engineers Write Code?

If one of the typical tasks of software engineers is to develop or direct computer programming, does that mean they need to know how to write computer code?

Before we answer that question, let’s take a step back and answer a different one first: What is programming?

Computer code instructs a piece of software to do something. Computer programming (or, often, just programming) is the process of creating this code. Computer programming languages allow programmers to communicate instructions to a computer in a way that the computer can understand. Every programming language is different and has its own unique features, although there can be some similarities between programming languages (in the same way that there can be similarities between languages that human beings use to communicate with each other).

As for whether software engineers must also be programming experts, the answer is—it depends. Software developers usually provide instructions to the computer programmers who are responsible for writing the code.1 In such cases, computer programming knowledge is important, but expert coding skills may not be. However, in certain roles or organizations, software developers may have to write their own code.1

Software Engineering Career Paths—An Overview

Potential Software Engineering Job Titles

Although the field can generally be broken down into systems development and applications development, software engineering job titles can vary quite a bit. Examples of software development or engineering job titles may include:4,*

  • Application Developer
  • Application Integration Engineer,
  • Developer
  • Infrastructure Engineer
  • Network Engineer
  • Software Architect
  • Software Developer
  • Software Development Engineer
  • Software Engineer
  • Systems Engineer

* AIU cannot guarantee employment, salary, or career advancement. The list of career paths related to this program is based on a subset from the Bureau of Labor Statistics CIP to SOC Crosswalk. Some career paths listed above may require further education or job experience.

Software Engineering Job Outlook

The BLS projects employment of software developers, quality assurance analysts and testers to grow 25 percent from 2021 to 2031. What are some reasons behind this growth?1

  • Continued expansion of software development for artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and other automation applications
  • Increased investment by organizations in software that protects their electronic networks and infrastructure
  • The increasing number of products that utilize software

How to Become a Software Engineer


So how could you become a software engineer? To enter the field, a computer and information technology (IT) degree (i.e., computer and information systems, information sciences, computer administration management and security, computer networking and telecommunications, and computer science)5 or a degree in another related field is typically necessary. However, in some cases employers may have a preference for those with a master’s degree in IT. (American InterContinental University offers both bachelor’s in IT and master’s in IT degree programs, which includes an online Software Analysis and Development degree concentration option. Apply now.)

Additionally, the knowledge and skills you could study in an IT degree program may help you prepare for more than just software development roles. You might also consider pursuing the following opportunities:

  • Computer and Information Systems Manager (e.g., IT Manager or Director, Application Development Director, Computing Services Director, Data Processing Manager, Information Systems Manager or Director (IS Manager))6,*

  • Computer Systems Analyst (e.g., Applications Analyst, Business Analyst, Business Systems Analyst, Computer Analyst, Information Systems Analyst (ISA), IT Analyst, System/Systems Analyst)7,*

  • Computer Network Architect (e.g., Network Analyst, Network Consultant, Networking Systems and Distributed Systems Engineer, Telecommunications Analyst)8,*

* AIU cannot guarantee employment, salary, or career advancement. The list of career paths related to this program is based on a subset from the Bureau of Labor Statistics CIP to SOC Crosswalk. Some career paths listed above may require further education or job experience.

Relevant Work Experience

Although pursuing an information technology degree or computer science program can be significant step toward realizing your academic goals, it’s not necessarily the only qualification you’ll need to seek software development opportunities. Some employers may look for candidates who have prior experience in a software engineering-related role. Relevant experience—which can also be gained through an internship—could help you sharpen your skills and knowledge.

Additional Software Engineering Training

Even though software engineers usually develop their coding skills while in school, the field of computer programming is always evolving. Software engineers should be aware of these developments and make sure that their skills stay sharp and relevant.1

Coding bootcamps—intensive programs that cover fundamental programming skills and software—are a coding training option for both beginners and seasoned software engineers who want to brush up on their programming skills. Other schools or organizations may offer coding certificate programs or software development certificate programs that can be used to help you develop your skills and enhance your resume.

Software Engineering Interview Preparation

Let’s say you’ve been applying to various software engineering positions and you finally get a response. An employer wants to schedule some time for you to come in. What now? How do you prepare for a software engineering job interview?

While every employer and role will be different, investing time in software engineering interview preparation could increase your chances of performing well during an interview.

Researching software engineering interview prep questions should be near the top of your to-do list. While you can’t anticipate every question, practicing your responses to potential questions could make you more comfortable with discussing your work and highlighting your qualifications.

Making sure that your software engineering portfolio is up to date and complete should also be a priority. You may need to decide whether to code your site from scratch or use a template (if you’re pursuing a career path in front-end development, writing the code for your portfolio site yourself could further demonstrate your skillset). In either case, putting together your portfolio could be time-consuming, so make sure you leave yourself sufficient time.

Interested in learning more? Explore AIU’s online information technology degree programs or check out our full range of convenient online degree programs today.

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers,” (visited 5/1/23). This data represents national figures and is not based on school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary.
2 Merriam-Webster Dictionary, s.v. “software engineering,” engineering (visited 5/1/23).
3 “Software engineering,” SEVOCAB: Software and Systems Engineering Vocabulary, (visited 5/1/23). Copyright © 2021, IEEE. Used by permission.
4 O*NET Online, “15-1252.00—Software Developers,” (visited 5/1/23).
5 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Field of Degree, Computer and Information Technology, Chart 1. Type of Computer and Information, 2019,” (visited 5/1/23).
6 O*NET Online, “11-3021.00—Computer and Information Systems Managers,” (visited 5/1/23).
7 O*NET Online, “15-1211.00—Computer Systems Analysts,” (visited 5/1/23).
8 O*NET Online, “15-1241.00—Computer Network Architects,” (visited 5/1/23).

AIU cannot guarantee employment, salary, or career advancement. Not all programs are available to residents of all states. REQ1933257 5/2023

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