Secure Long-Term Employability by Becoming a Software Engineer
To create or to have the ability to create — this is the dream of so many people. There are only a select few who get that chance, and very few of those individuals work in information technology (IT). One of the select few creative job roles in IT is that of software development engineer. Let's explore this rare opportunity.
What does a software development engineer do? This is a tricky question, because the answer "it depends" is a totally legitimate response. Sometimes in the movies, software engineers are like Thomas Anderson (duh, Neo) at the beginning of The Matrix, passing out dubious programs to ne'er-do-wells in dark doorways.
I have met individuals like that — and if you don't like The Matrix, then we can't be friends — but that isn't quite the real-world experience of most software development engineers in the IT industry. Maybe you envision a corporate-style engineer — wearing headphones and going to scrum meetings in an high-rise office. Or a freelance "digital nomad" engineer who codes in a cafe or on a park beach.
Simply put, a software engineer uses computer science principles to develop software solutions that will satisfy the wants and needs of businesses and consumers. Software engineers create many types of solutions such as desktop and web applications, mobile apps, games, robots, operating systems, and more.
They do so using programming languages, frameworks, databases, servers and other technologies to turn an idea into a final product. A good engineer can use a wide variety of tools in this effort and many computer languages to develop the code, but the principle and logic remain the same, weather you are developing an AI robot or a simple web site for a friend.
Developer or Engineer? Talking About Terms
Because software engineers work on many types of projects, they also take on varying job roles, responsibilities, and even different personalities. Across the IT industry, the terms "software developer" and "software engineer" are used interchangeably. Most people call them by the same name.
A software engineer is someone who applies computer science and engineering concepts to create software solutions. A software engineer understands how code works, and knows the best, most efficient way to write it. On the other hand, a software developer is also the creative driving force behind making the solution come to life. They combine a product manager and software engineer.
When you think of a software development engineer, think of an individual who is locked in a room and you slip Twinkies and Mt. Dew to them under the door all day. I had a supervisor once who hated the word "engineer" for anyone outside of engineering because, in his opinion, they didn't achieve that title.
When I think of a software engineer, I think of a keen, sharp-minded individual who has his or her eye on the ball, takes direction well and helps their fellow teammates. A well-rounded individual, even though "head down" coding is what you want most out of him or her.
In more concrete terms, a software engineer architects software solutions by making plans and designing a system, so that software developer can build the solution with code. We agree that "engineer" has a bit more weight to it than "developer," but for simplicity's sake we'll use them interchangeably. So now: What do software engineers do?
Software engineers support the product delivery process to take a project from its goals and requirements to the final product. Yes, this is once again a fancy way of saying "it depends," but let's look at some differences depending on the company's focus.
If you were working in a financial firm developing software for training, for example, your job duties might include design, implementation, testing and maintaining logic and components, and consistently improving the maintainability and stability of the code base.
Some software engineers collaborate with product and business operations teams to translate business requirements and build highly robust and scalable products. A person who can both develop code and is conversant with business requirements is a real keeper. If a software engineer can talk to the business team, then that engineer will have a long career.
Just remember that job responsibilities will vary. You may do many different things, depending on what software you are creating, and what its purpose is. What will be the same from job to job, wherever you work, is that you will spend a great deal of time joined at the hip to a workstation or laptop, writing code.
Keeping Pace with Changes
Are there areas where what employers expect out of a good software engineer is changing rapidly? Yes, absolutely. In the areas of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), engineers have both a growing toolset for development, and vastly expanding opportunities.
Not only are programming languages changing, but machines are already helping to insert and modify code. A great deal of time will be devoted in the near term to enhancing and improving such machine coding. Eventually the software development engineers may even directly interface with their machine counterparts, human brain to electronic brain. (If that isn't The Matrix, then I don't know what is.)
Training and Preparation
A good software engineer should be a critical thinker with solid logic skills. Most dreamers that have abstract ways of thinking don't make good Software Engineers. If you grew up thinking about numbers, or enjoy the logic of math, then you probably have a strong aptitude to become a successful software engineer.
What are some certifications or education that can really boost your chances of exceling in this profession? Let's start with education. I like the formal education of technology and a traditional four-year degree, but for this job role, a course-based bootcamp will actually work very well. Signing up for a Java course or a "fundamentals of software development" class on Udemy can work just as well as getting a four-year degree.
Why? Because the knowledge you need is all about using tools, once you've absorbed the logic of software development. Tools-based learning is the way to go.
For certifications, I recommend staying on the same track of software engineering and getting certified in the actual tools. Seek out a React class, pass the course, and get the certificate. Microsoft offers a C# certification? Get that. Certify yourself in the tools and you will be very marketable.
In summary, no matter what you are developing, how you are growing, or what you are certifying in, the software development realm will continue to grow and continue to be a hot commodity for years to come. I wish you the best and happy certifying!