How to Become a Software Engineer

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If you’re a tech lover with a passion for problem-solving, then a career as a Software Engineer could be for you. The tech industry is thriving, with technology now more important than ever before and the software engineering unemployment rate currently sitting way below average at 1.9%. So, with that in mind, it’s a fantastic time to get on board.

What do they do?

Every time you visit a web page or load up an app on your smartphone, you’re interacting with the work of a Software Engineer.

Software Engineers are professionals who have a strong foundation in computer science which they use to build, develop, maintain and test computer software for clients. They will usually have detailed discussions with a client to establish the desired outcome of a project.

A Software Engineer’s role typically involves three core components:

  • Problem-solving
    Although the end goal of their project may be clear, the route needed to get there may not be. It is the Software Engineer’s job to map out a pathway by building models and using other problem-solving techniques.
  • Logic
    Software engineers usually work by thinking about things in steps, e.g. “do x then do y” or “if a is true, then do b, otherwise do c” etc. Those who have a background in maths, physics and engineering typically find this easier.
  • Coding
    There are a range of computer programming languages (or codes) e.g. Java and Python that are used to communicate instructions to a computer. A Software Engineer will have knowledge of one or more codes which they can use to design and maintain software.

With an increasing reliance on technology, Software Engineers are in high demand – and there are plenty of types of software that an engineer can develop. These include operating systems, computer games and network control systems.

What skills do I need?

The right person will:

  • Love problem solving
  • Have the ability to work well as a team.
  • Be able to take a creative approach to problem-solving as the answers may not always be immediately obvious
  • Be able to explain complex technical processes in a non-technical way to clients or other team members
  • Have a good understanding of customer care, so you can effectively deliver what your client needs
  • Be comfortable working to tight deadlines
  • Have a working knowledge of at least one programming language
  • Be able to concentrate for long periods of time
  • Have respect for confidentiality and data protection issues
  • Enjoy learning new things, as technology is constantly changing (as are the needs of the client) and you must be able to adapt with it
  • Have enthusiasm for technology
  • Have patience, as although some problems may be complex and time-consuming, you should be prepared to see them through until the end

What will I love about the job?

  • The opportunity to learn everyday
  • The option to work remotely – if your employer is happy for you to spend a day or two working at home, you could save a lot of time by not having to commute
  • Software Engineering is a creative outlet, as you will constantly be creating and developing programmes
  • The role rarely consists of routine tasks – everyday can be different, so it’s unlikely you’ll get bored
  • The option to become self-employed, working remotely for multiple clients

What are the challenges?

Problem-solving is not always easy, and it can be frustrating if you cannot find a suitable solution. But when you eventually do, the feeling of achievement can be even greater.

How much will I earn?

As a Software Engineer, you could earn anywhere between £35,000 and £100,00 depending on experience. If you have highly desirable skills and experience then this can increase further in certain sectors.

Are there opportunities to progress?

With enough experience, a Software Engineer may go on to become a Senior Software Engineer or Team Leader.

Advice from our very own Lead Software Engineer, Duncan…

Duncan Butler - Software Engineer at Rest Less
"Ask the Butler". Duncan Butler, 58, Lead Software Engineer at Rest Less.

Duncan Butler, 58, is a Lead Software Engineer at Rest Less – he’s offered some friendly advice to anyone looking to start a career in the industry.

“You should remember that every Engineer or Developer you watch, read about or talk to, started not knowing anything about programming! You’ll never stop learning as a Software Engineer and will always be a novice in one area or another.

“There’s lots to learn – with new frameworks or languages being released almost daily – so don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense straight away.

“The role itself involves problem solving, so trying to understand how and why something works is just another part of the job! The best thing to do is just create, play and have fun building small applications or snippets of code. Follow tutorials, watch videos, join a user group and see what happens!”

How do I get started?

Teach yourself the basics and apply for a trainee job straight away…

The good news is you don’t need any formal qualifications to become a Software Engineer, but you do need enthusiasm, passion and the drive to self-learn. Most employers want to see that a Trainee Software Engineer has a strong interest in solving technical problems, as well as an understanding of the basic foundations of software engineering (including programming e.g. Python) – and you can learn these basics yourself.

Before you set out on a self-taught route, it’s best to equip yourself with as many different resources as you can – textbooks and online guides will all be extremely helpful.

It’s also a good idea to speak to other Software Engineers (or trainees), to compare notes and get further insight into your new career. Treehouse is a fantastic website which you can use to do this – it has a number of courses to help you on your way, and connects you with a network of other tech students who can help support your learning.

Once you’ve gained enough practice and built up a good level of confidence in your software engineering abilities, there’s no reason why you can’t apply for your first job as a Trainee Software Engineer.

…Or take an intensive course lasting a few weeks

If you would rather take a fast-track route to becoming a Software Engineer then you could consider taking an intensive course that will give you all the basic knowledge and skills you need to help you secure your first job as a Software Engineer. You’ll learn quite a lot in a short space of time, but you’ll always have support available from tutors and other students.

If you’d be willing to travel to London (which is where some of the best intensive courses are) for a 12-week course, then it’s worth applying to Makers – they’ll teach you everything you need to know and guarantee you a job offer at the end. Plus they offer holistic learning in the form of yoga and meditation for when you’re not busy coding!

…Or take the degree route to increase your confidence and employability

If you have the time and money, then degree courses are a great way to get your head around the knowledge and practical skills needed to become a Software Engineer.

A Software Engineering BSc course typically includes topics such as:

  • Distributed Systems Development
  • Information Systems Modelling
  • Specification of Software Systems
  • Software Evolution
  • Software Quality
  • Agile Methods
  • Data Integration and Analysis

A Software Engineering degree will usually take between 3 and 4 years to complete, giving you plenty of time to practice and develop your skills before looking for your first Software Engineering role. You will be able to apply for loans (and possibly grants), to help you cover the costs of your course – it’s best to contact each university directly to find out more about course fees and entry requirements as they can differ.

Did you find this page helpful? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at [email protected].

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