You interact with computers every single day. But getting them to do what you want doesn't begin when you turn them on. Instead, they are loaded with software that helps users connect and communicate with them. The software created is specific to the computer's function. In other words, you may not use the same software to search the web as you do to use your computer's calculator. Each of those actions is specific to the computer, and software engineers create them.

Software engineers write code and design software that make up the operating systems, apps for smart devices, social media, video games, traffic and transportation systems, education, healthcare systems, network controls, and more! Sometimes they can be confused with software developers, but there are differences between these two jobs. This article explores a software engineer's role, day-to-day workload, and what you need to know to become part of this in-demand career.

What Is Software Engineering?

Merriam-Webster defines engineering as "the design and manufacture of complex products." Engineers rely on math and science to help bring about things in a way that is useful to people. In the case of computer systems and applications, software engineering is the application of a systematic, disciplined and quantitative approach to the development, operation, and maintenance of software so that users can interact with computer systems. 

Basic software engineering skills include:

  • Object-oriented programming

  • Operating systems and cloud computing

  • Experience with open source

  • Deep knowledge and understanding of coding languages (Python, Java, C++)

  • Agile and Scrum project management

  • Database architecture and module development

In essence, software engineers write code using programming language and build the systems or architectures that make up our digital world. We can't function without software engineers. And with technology advancing daily, industries and consumers greatly need more. 

The Difference Between Software Engineers & Software Developers

Sometimes the terms software engineer and software developer are used interchangeably as many of their skills overlap. But there are a few key differences.

Software Developer Job Description

Software developers create code but are more front-end web developers in many cases. Software developers use forward-facing programming languages like HTML, CSS, or JavaScript to create the environment a customer sees–like web pages, app pages, email, etc. So they need to understand software systems, as well as the needs of the client or customer.

Software Engineer Job Description

Software engineers take a pragmatic approach to designing, building, and implementing code solutions that enable websites, apps, games, and more to function correctly for the user. Like typical engineers, they apply math, science, and other problem-solving principles to create, test, and maintain the computer system.

Software engineers work with development teams as engineers–analyzing, scaling, and testing the software. Software developers rarely do these tasks, mainly focusing on user-specific needs and front-end software development. 

A Day In The Life of A Software Engineer

Software engineers are problem-solvers wrapped up as programmers, developers, coders, and project managers. Danning Ge, a senior swift software engineer at Frame.io, recently described a day in the life of a software engineer. On any given day, she works with the development, creative, and engineering teams to strategize tasks that increase the user experience, such as researching logic, writing code, calculating metrics, and testing the code. The team's software solution is also tested again and approved before implementation. 

Overall, the duties of a software engineer include the following:

  • Analyze the need, then design each piece of an application or system, creating various modules and diagrams showing how it functions as a whole and the code needed to build it.  

  • Maintain operating systems and software solutions so that it continues to function normally.

  • Identify project risks, document and report defects, and implement testing (automated and manual)

  • Evaluate new software programs and functionality and optimize existing systems software for speed and scalability.

  • Consult with teams, clients, and sometimes even stakeholders (depending on the hierarchy of the job, such as project manager)

  • Research, build, test, and present new features or software to the team.

Career Options For Software Engineers

Now that you know what a software engineer is let's look at what jobs software engineers do and the career options available. Here's a glance at how software engineers contribute to a company's success

Retail

Decades ago, Amazon hugely disrupted retail sales. Online shopping has become a cheaper, more cost-efficient way to reach consumers and maintain profits over brick-and-mortar stores. As a result, many retailers are creating new online consumer experiences to stay in business. Software engineers help build online infrastructures to present their goods and reach buyers where they now prefer to shop–on their phones or computers.

Healthcare

In the past, if you wanted to reach your doctor, you had to call the office and leave a message, hoping you'd get a callback. Now we have patient portals that give us easier access to doctors, diagnoses, and results. Software engineers design and maintain these systems, developing new digital imaging software for more accurate diagnosis. 

Government and Defense

Cybersecurity software, remote drone control, military management systems, and even the voting technology that helps give you a voice–all are made possible by software engineers. In addition, municipal, state, and federal agencies rely on software solutions and operating systems to conduct daily business and keep citizens safe. 

But the best part of being a software engineer–you don't need a master's degree. Coding bootcamps are a great place to start, even if you have no college experience. As of 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobs available to software engineers are well over one million openings, with closer to two million projected by 2031, a 25% growth in software engineer employment opportunities. Why? Because computer systems are crucial to our way of life. 

Should I Become A Software Engineer?

We can help propel your career in software engineering. The UMass Global Software Engineering Bootcamp will teach you programming fundamentals, introduce you to the most popular tools and technologies, and help you develop the practices you'll need to land a job. With the skills you'll learn, you'll be well prepared for a job as a web developer, full-stack engineer, front-end developer, and back-end developer. 

This program is 100% online, and you'll be set up for success in just nine short months. As one of the most in-demand jobs, software engineers make a pretty good salary, especially if you work for a big tech company. If you're considering a career in software engineering, email the UMass Admissions team or check out our FAQs section for more information on the program and how to sign up for tuition assistance.