Building a Career in Software Engineering

A career in software engineering can be yours—once you earn a degree from a top accredited school.

software engineers discuss a project

By Jennifer Wegerer

You've earned your software engineering degree. Now it's time to land that first job and start building your career in software engineering. Sounds easy, but of course there's more to it than sending out a few resumes, waiting for offers and coding your way to the top after a few short years.

So what does the software engineering career ladder look like? And what credentials do you need to advance?

Steps to Your Career

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), software engineers who stay up-to-date with the latest technology have the best advancement opportunities. In fact, software developer jobs will grow at a rate of 24 percent through 2026.* Of course, experience also plays a strong role in advancing your career in software engineering, as does the type of software engineering that you do. 

Generally speaking, software engineers fall into one of two categories:

  • Applications engineers who develop and maintain software applications sold to customers
  • Systems engineers who work exclusively on an organization's internal computer systems.

Where Software Development Can Take You

Software engineers who design and develop applications for customers typically have broader opportunities for advancement. Product development groups are continuously trying to expand or enhance product lines, and software engineers play a prominent role in putting fresh, innovative products in customers' hands, which, in turn, helps companies make money.

As the BLS describes, a software engineering job that involves developing software applications typically requires a bachelor's degree or higher and can lead to a position as a project manager or lead engineer. The next step might be a higher-level technical or management job. Depending on the company, these roles might include senior software engineer, chief architect or engineering manager.

Where Systems Engineering Can Take You

Inside organizations, systems engineers play a crucial part in making sure internal systems are up and running round the clock. They also research and recommend the latest technologies to implement within an organization and help coordinate implementation plans. These software engineers also usually hold bachelor's degrees, but a two-year associate's degree may suffice for some strictly programming roles, which can serve as a point of entry to a career in software engineering.

The BLS reports that software engineering jobs in a company's information technology group can lead to a supervisory software engineering position, as well as specialized technical roles in areas such as network security and database development. Some systems engineers might become chief architects, managers of information systems or independent consultants in a particular area of information technology.

*National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.