With the rise of the internet and the continual development of new and different uses for technology like smartphones and tablets, the tech industry is the place to make a fortune. Many people interested in getting into the field of technology may not know what is required to become a software engineer or a software developer. Education is key, but the type of education you get is informed by what your career goals are and the experience you currently have.

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Software engineering students study mathematics, coding and programming languages and digital technology among other subjects.

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Many people know that software engineering is an important and often lucrative career but very often there is confusion over what exactly a software engineer does. The word "software" can be defined as any program run on a technological device. Every app, every music-streaming program and every operating system is a different piece of software that was engineered by someone. Learning how to engineer software and, more specifically, how to write code can help you get your foot in the door of the business.

In a nutshell, software engineers come up with solutions to problems or strategies for making these solutions available to consumers. Software engineers do one of two things: create and develop software applications or do software systems development. In the case of the latter, these engineers use the web, coding languages and digital frameworks to help maintain systems of technology.

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Generally speaking, software engineers solve business problems using their understanding of software and their business acumen. It is not sufficient for a software engineer to simply be well-versed in coding languages and technology. He must also be able to understand business, cost effectiveness and project management in order to be a success in this field.

How to Study Software Engineering

After you've decided that you want to study software, the next step is to figure out how. The "how" can mean different things to different people, but the method and the kind of study is always informed by the future software engineer's goals. A computer software engineer can find herself in a variety of roles at a company and throughout her career. Regardless of where you are in your current career or educational journey, there is very likely a path for you to take that will bring you close to your goals in a timely fashion.

If you are just finishing high school, you may be looking at colleges with a computer science program. If you are planning to spend four undergraduate years in college with an eye toward eventually joining the software engineering field, it is a wise idea to seek out colleges and universities with high-quality computer science and computer programming programs. Another good option is to pursue the study of mathematics. In almost every case, facility with numbers, equations and logic is a benefit to a future software designer and can help you advance quickly in the field.

There are bachelor's degree programs, associate degree programs, master's degree programs and eight- to 12-week coding boot camps that promise to get graduates up to speed on what they need to know to start an entry-level job in the industry. Depending on the time and financial resources you have available, you may only be able to pursue one of these educational opportunities to study software engineering. It is important to look at all of the study options available to you and figure out which one is best aligned with your goals and your resources.

What Do Software Engineers Study?

Software engineers have careers that are highly dependent on their skills with mathematics, coding and programming languages and digital technology. During the course of their education, software engineers will need to prove proficiency in several coding languages, such as C++, HTML, C#, JavaScript, Python or Ruby on Rails. Once you have mastered one of the coding languages, it is relatively simple to transition to the other ones. The more familiarity you have with these coding languages, the more valuable your skills are to startup and established companies alike.

Coding languages and practice building software are the bare minimum skills that software engineers need to possess before entering the workforce. Many eight- to 12-week boot camps provide these skills exclusively, but there is much more to learn to truly be successful in the field of software development and engineering. Students who attend associate programs in software engineering will learn the basics of software programming and engineering, some of the coding languages and the history and various strategies involved in software design.

Students who are pursuing a four-year degree, which is the most desirable to the majority of technology companies looking to hire entry-level employees, will get a more comprehensive and in-depth education. Bachelor's programs in software engineering give students broader training in mathematics and computer science. Students graduate with a solid understanding of not only programming languages but also the practice of program design, software architecture and the commercial side of the industry.

What Is an Advanced Software Engineer Degree?

There are people who choose to pursue an education at the master's level in the software design industry. These are typically people who have completed a bachelor's or associate degree and spent years working in the industry and are now interested in getting the education necessary to transfer to the business side of the field and away from simply coding and programming.

Master's programs in software engineering have a broad curriculum. Most advanced-degree programs are two years long and offer the students the opportunity to gain critical skills that will make them eligible for leadership positions in the field. Beyond programming and engineering, software leadership positions require an understanding of cost analysis, business acumen, project management and public relations.

For engineers and developers who have years of experience in the field and the necessary academic credentials, the pursuit of a doctorate may be appealing. Engineers pursuing a doctorate are very likely people who are hoping to devote their time and energy to research or classroom teaching and want to pursue this research in an academic setting. Unlike research-based doctorate degrees in the humanities or arts, professionals pursuing doctorate degrees in technology have almost always spent years working in the field getting practical experience.

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Software Engineer?

There is no official requirement in terms of the degree required to be a software engineer. Unlike a physician, an architect or a lawyer, software engineers do not need to prove any past credentials or achieve an academic degree in order to enter the profession. However, most employers, particularly profitable ones, do not want to hire engineers who have only limited experience and who have a very small skill set. Generally speaking, most employees want to hire entry-level employees who have a bachelor's degree from a four-year college with a major in computer science, programming or a related discipline.

This is the norm for people who want to work in an engineering capacity, but it is possible to get an entry-level job after completing an associate degree or even a bootcamp that provides students with the basics necessary to learn to code and to program. Generally, these graduates will stand to make less money than their peers with a four-year degree because they will have less background and training, but it is still possible to do very well without a bachelor's degree. Much of the training that is critical for success in the industry can happen on the job or independently.

Earning an advanced degree in computer programming, computer science or software engineering is not strictly necessary. Typically, a master's degree is for someone who is interested in learning more about the business side of the industry and who is hoping to find herself in a leadership position in the field. Doctorate degrees in the discipline are even less common and are generally pursued by people who want to teach or who want to do research. Neither of these are software engineer requirements.

How to Become a Software Engineer

For every engineer, the path to making career dreams come true is different. Some people teach themselves to code and then develop their own software that gets popular and lands them a job somewhere prestigious and beloved. Other people take the more traditional route of bachelor's degree, professional internship and entry-level job and then make the climb up the ladder.

There is a basic path for people starting from zero. The most important thing to do is to learn programming languages and get a strong understanding of software architecture, construction and testing. From there, you may choose to get an internship where you can develop the interpersonal skills that are critical to success in the workplace, such as problem solving, working effectively in a group and creative thinking.

There is also the option to pursue a certificate in a variety of programming languages. While this isn't critical or necessary, it can be a good bonus to have, particularly if you don't have the advantage of a four-year computer science degree.

How to Become a Software Developer

Becoming a software developer is a matter of learning the technology, the programming language and the theory and being able to apply these to the creation, development and maintenance of software. Many people think that learning a coding language is impossibly hard. The truth is that it is not difficult to learn these languages, but it is difficult to master them. For many people, the idea of learning a coding language is daunting. However, the hard part comes later.

When learning to develop software, you are essentially giving the computer a list of commands. These can range from the very basic to the very complex, but the more experience you have with the programming languages and the better understanding you have of the structure of software, the better equipped you will be to ask the computer to carry out these commands. This is not something that necessarily requires a degree. Not everyone learns well in a large group or traditional academic setting, so self-teaching is always an option.

One of the most critical aspects of beginning a career in software engineering and development is being aware of the realities of the industry. Stay informed. Read website publications and other media that will help you stay abreast of the important changes and developments in your industry. The more you know about the major players, trends and changes in the field, the better equipped you will be to navigate the waters of a still-developing and highly mercurial field.

About the Author

Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.