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University of Sunderland

What is software engineering?

Posted on: April 26, 2022
Close up of a screen showing coding

Software engineering is an important area of computer science. It focuses on the design, development, and testing of computer software and applications that meet predetermined user requirements, as well as software maintenance and management.

It’s an incredibly varied field, employing engineering and mathematical principles as well as  systematic methods and programming expertise to analyse user needs, design programmes, and solve problems.

Is software engineering a good career?

Software engineers are in high demand. Recruitment site Indeed reports that the consistent demand for new software and applications means that the need for software engineers continues to rise. In fact, it states that employment for software developers – including software engineers – is projected to grow 22% by 2029. This is compared to a 4% average across all careers, and it says there are four main reasons for this trend:

  1. A need for innovative software
  2. The limited lifecycle of code
  3. The accelerated growth in technology
  4. The increasing complexity of projects

Given the demand for software engineers, salaries are competitive, and there is strong job stability.

Prospects, which specialises in recruitment for graduate students, reports that the average annual salary for a software engineer is between £25,000 and £50,000. And according to the UK government’s National Careers Service, software developers are paid, on average, around £70,000 annually at the more experienced end of the wage scale.

The National Careers Service also emphasises that the role is a dynamic one, with day-to-day tasks that can include:

  • Discussing requirements with clients and development teams
  • Taking part in technical design and progress meetings
  • Writing and amending code
  • Testing software, and diagnosing and fixing problems
  • Carrying out trials and quality checks before product releases
  • Maintaining and supporting systems once they’re up and running

An article from BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT – previously known as the British Computer Society – reports that nearly a fifth (19%) of all Generation Z (people born after 1997) job applications are for software engineer roles – a fact welcomed by an industry that has been plagued by a skills shortage in recent years.

Additionally, a background in software engineering can also open a whole host of other job opportunities, including:

  • DevOps engineer
  • Software architect
  • Web applications developer
  • Cyber security analyst
  • Game developer
  • Information systems manager
  • IT consultant
  • IT project manager
  • Multimedia programmer
  • Web developer
  • Web designer
  • Systems analyst
  • Systems designer
  • IT architecture specialist
  • Forensic computer analyst
  • Business systems analyst
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) data specialist
  • Robotics software engineer

It’s also worth noting that software engineering can be a very flexible job, with full-time and part-time roles available in both offices and remotely. Consultancy and international work are also options.

How to become a software engineer

Software engineers typically have a software engineering degree or a similar qualification in computer science, and an interest in topics like computer systems, software systems, software design, web development, and computer programming. According to Prospects, they should also have other, non-technical strengths, including: 

  • an ability to explain complex issues clearly and concisely.
  • a meticulous and organised approach to work, with strong attention paid to detail.
  • logical, analytics and creative problem-solving skills.
  • an ongoing approach to learning and development, with new skills and technologies adopted quickly.
  • an understanding of the wider computer science industry, its challenges, and its emerging trends.

In terms of key skills, though, the most important are programming language skills. It’s not necessary to know all programming languages for software development, but a solid foundation in the area is crucial. Recommended programming languages include:

  • HTML
  • Java
  • JavaScript
  • SQL (Structure Query Language)
  • C++
  • C#
  • Python

It also helps to have a solid understanding of topics such as data structures, algorithms, operating systems, and the basics of project management.

How to progress within the software engineering field

People already working in software engineering can progress in a number of ways. 

  • Get lots of experience. Indeed recommends software engineers gain experience at large, well-known companies, as well as smaller organisations. Work experience at companies like Microsoft and IBM can stand out on CVs and provide additional development opportunities.
  • Develop soft skills. Skills in communication, problem-solving, and teamwork can help software engineers progress into management and other senior roles. For example, strong communication skills can help a software engineer better understand a product specification, thereby allowing them to develop a piece of software that’s perfectly suited to the user’s needs.
  • Pursue leadership experience. Coaching and mentoring junior colleagues looks great on a CV and helps further develop leadership skills, making it a great means of real-world professional development.

The future of software engineering

As technology continues to evolve and advance, so too does software engineering. Current and predicted trends within the field include:

  • Cloud computing. The Covid-19 pandemic created a huge shift into remote working, which in turn pushed more IT services onto the cloud.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality, and virtual reality. There is a growing demand for AI software engineers across several industries, as well as engineers who work in augmented and virtual reality. 
  • Automation. As automation becomes more and more ingrained in tech processes, software engineering for automation is expected to become an increasingly valuable skill. 
  • Cyber security. As cyber threats grow more clever and complex, so too must cybersecurity software.
  • Blockchain technology. The skills required for software engineering also apply to blockchain development.

Build a career in software engineering

If you have an interest in software engineering or computer science more generally, the MSc Computer Science from the University of Sunderland is the perfect way to kickstart your career in the industry. The flexible master’s degree has been designed for people who don’t work in computer science but want to launch a new career in the field, as well as for computer science and IT professionals who want to gain an academic qualification to enhance their credentials and career prospects. 

Coursework on this postgraduate programme will enable you to gain practical skills in programming, cyber security, and data science – and software engineering is one of the key topics taught on the course. It’s also taught 100% online, so you can study around your current work and personal commitments and earn while you learn.


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