Code on a computer screen.

What is Software Engineering?

Software engineering is the branch of computer science that deals with the design, development, testing, and maintenance of software applications. Software engineers apply engineering principles and knowledge of programming languages to build software solutions for end users.

Software engineers design and develop computer games, business applications, operating systems, network control systems, and middleware—to name just a few of the many career paths available.

A career as a software engineer can be both fun and challenging with opportunities to work in almost any industry, including large and small businesses, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, healthcare facilities, and more. And as technology continues to evolve, the need for software developers continues to grow. Many companies are also shifting towards hiring software engineers who work from home, allowing for increased flexibility and more opportunities to enter the field.

What Careers Are There in Software Engineering?

Student typing on a computer.

Career opportunities in software engineering are driven by new technologies in automobiles, aviation, data management, telecommunications, factory control, robotics, defense, and security. Software engineers may develop computer games, business applications, operating systems, network control systems, and more. A bachelor's degree or higher is often required to work as a software engineer.

Two common jobs within software engineering are applications developers and systems developers.

Applications developers design computer applications, such as games, for consumers. They may create custom software for a specific customer or commercial software to be sold to the general public. Some applications developers create databases or programs for use internally or online.

Systems developers create operating systems, either for the public or for an organization. These operating systems keep computers functioning and control most of the consumer electronics in use today, including those in cell phones and cars. Often, systems developers also build the interface that allows users to interact with the computer.

Of course, applications and systems developer jobs are not the only two positions available in the field of software engineering. Other common roles include mobile developers, applications architects, quality assurance analysts, and database administrators.

Some common job titles for software engineers include:

  • Applications Architect
  • Applications Developer
  • Computer Applications Engineer
  • Database Administrator
  • Mobile Developer
  • Program Manager
  • Programmer
  • Project Leader
  • Quality Assurance Analyst
  • Software Engineer
  • Software Quality Engineer
  • Systems Analyst
  • Systems Developer

What Tasks do Software Engineers do?

Successful software engineers use programming languages, platforms, and architectures to develop everything from computer games to network control systems. In addition to building their own systems, software engineers also test, improve, and maintain software built by other engineers.

Hands holding a cell phone in front of a laptop.

Day-to-day tasks for a software engineer might include:

  • Designing and maintaining software systems or applications
  • Evaluating and testing new software programs
  • Optimizing software for speed and scalability
  • Writing and testing code
  • Ensuring platform compatibility
  • Creating and enforcing IT standards within an infrastructure
  • Maintaining documentation of IT systems
  • Releasing software updates
  • Collaborating with development teams, senior systems architects, and data science professionals
  • Consulting with clients, engineers, security specialists, and other stakeholders
  • Recommending software upgrades for existing programs and systems
  • Presenting new features to stakeholders and internal customers

How Much do Software Engineers Make?

Thanks to strong industry demand and their own technical expertise, skilled software engineers are well compensated for the value they deliver. The mean entry-level salary for software developers is $68,041 (Payscale) and the mean annual wage is $138,110 (BLS) while the highest 10 percent earn $208,620 (BLS).

Salaries for Careers with a Software Engineering Degree
Career Mean Entry-Level Salary (Payscale) Mean Annual Wage (BLS) Top 10 Percent (BLS)
Computer Programmer $64,048 $107,750 $167,230
Computer Systems Analyst $60,865 $110,800 $165,700
Database Administrator $60,788 $104,810 $157,710
Software Developer $68,041 $138,110 $208,620
Software Quality Assurance Analyst or Tester $52,025 $108,460 $164,520
Web Developer $52,224 $95,570 $157,280

Figures from, accessed May 2024.

Figures from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dated May 2023.

See additional computing salary information.

What Skills do Software Engineers Need?

Person typing on a laptop.

Software developers design software to help solve problems faced by real people. This requires a combination of both technical and soft skills. A bachelor's degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related degree program is the most common entry-level requirement for software engineers.

Generally speaking, most software engineers will need to have the following technical knowledge and skills:

  • Coding languages like Python, Java, C, C++, or Scala
  • Object-oriented programming
  • Database architecture
  • Agile and Scrum project management
  • Operating systems
  • Cloud computing
  • Version control
  • Design testing and debugging

Other beneficial soft skills for a software engineer may include:

  • Collaboration and communication
  • Multitasking
  • Continuous learning
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving
  • Agile project management

The Future of Software Engineering

With our ever-increasing dependency on technology and the growing internet of things, the future of software engineering is bright. Software engineers are employable in nearly every industry, in both large and small organizations.

The career outlook for software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers is projected to grow 25% from 2022 to 2032, much faster than average.

Software Engineering at Michigan Tech

Michigan Technological University's College of Computing is the first college in Michigan fully dedicated to computing, and one of only a few nationwide. Secure your future in software engineering with a degree from Michigan's flagship technological university.

Software Engineering—BS

Michigan Tech's ABET-accredited Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering is consistently ranked among the top ten undergraduate software engineering programs in the country. Our curriculum provides a foundation in computer science during the first two years followed by specialized training for software engineers during the final two years focusing on both the practical and technical sides of software.

Opportunities to explore software engineering outside the classroom are numerous at Michigan Tech. You might choose to join a computing-focused Enterprise team or student organization, seek out research opportunities with faculty members, or develop an independent project. With an entire College dedicated to computing, you're sure to find your people and form lasting connections while exploring your passion for computing.

When you graduate from Tech, you'll be in demand by employers. 100 percent of our software engineering graduates are employed within six months of graduation. Their employers include major companies such as American Express, Argonne National Laboratory, Boeing, Blue Cross Blue Shield, General Electric, Google, Lockheed Martin, Motorola, Texas Instruments, the US Air Force, and more.

General Computing Program

If you're still deciding which computer science focus you want to pursue, the first-year undergraduate General Computing program gives you one or two semesters to explore the discipline and decide which degree program sparks your curiosity the most. It's a starting point to give you some space to choose the computing field that fits you the best.