Software Engineer Roles: 6 Popular Software Engineers Titles
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There’s never been a better time to become a software engineer. With strong job growth, entry-level salaries that frequently exceed $100,000, and demand across a range of industries, software engineering offers job stability, high compensation, and the chance to work on innovative technologies. But not all engineers have the same responsibilities. Software engineering is an umbrella term that encompasses several distinct areas of specialization. This guide will cover six of the most popular roles.
What Do Software Engineers Do?
A software engineer uses their knowledge of systems architecture, programming languages, and user requirements to build software programs and applications. They often collaborate with development teams: in addition to writing code, they review the code of other software developers, envision solutions, and meet with product developers and project managers to understand what features need to be built.
What Are the Responsibilities of Software Engineers?
The responsibilities of a software engineer will depend on the maturity of the organization (i.e. does the engineer work at a small startup or are they one of hundreds at a legacy company?) and their area of specialization (i.e. Is the engineer focused on front-end development or DevOps?). While the specific responsibilities will vary from role to role, a typical software engineer job description usually seeks candidates with the following skills:
- Possess the foundational knowledge and capability to use one or more programming languages such as Java, Python, C++, Ruby, and R
- Analyze program needs
- Tailor software solutions
- Create and analyze visual diagrams and methods that communicate the necessary code components to other team members
- Observe program functionality throughout various testing, development, and production phases and environments
- Collaborate with a team of software engineers, designers, and data scientists to optimize and iterate on software solutions
What Are the Types of Software Engineering Roles?
A software engineer’s area of specialization determines their role on a development team and how they support a product’s development. Here are the most common types of software engineers.
The “front-end” is the interface that a user sees on a website or in a piece of software. A front-end engineer is responsible for the look, feel, and user experience of the application.
Front-end engineers are among the most highly paid software engineers, according to Hired. The average front-end engineer makes around $110,000 a year, though, in larger cities such as San Francisco and New York City, front-end engineers have an average salary closer to $140,000.
Front-end engineers plan, design, and build the user-facing components of a software application. They ensure that the interface meets both an organization’s goals and user needs.
It is possible to become a front-end engineer without a degree. Hiring managers often look for candidates who have the following skills, many of which can be self-taught or learned through online courses and bootcamps:
- Technical skills such as knowledge of programming languages (Python, Java, C++, R) and front-end development tools (jQuery, Sublime Text, GitHub)
- Problem-solving and analytical skills
- Communication skills and the ability to collaborate
Back-end engineers work on the server-side of software programs, which includes all the infrastructure that the user doesn’t see, but which makes an application run.
Back-end engineering is a lucrative profession, with the average back-end engineer in the United States making around $130,000 a year, according to Glassdoor. In competitive markets such as San Francisco and New York City, the average backend engineer salary is around $160,000.
Back-end engineers design, build, and maintain the server-side of web applications with a focus on responsiveness, speed, and functionality. They write server scripts and work with application programming interfaces (APIs) that are eventually used by front-end engineers.
Hiring managers typically look for back-end engineering candidates with the following skills:
- Fluency in programming languages
- Server-side experience with SASS and Less
- Understanding of server compliance
- Knowledge of database systems and operating systems
As the name suggests, a full-stack engineer does it all—they are familiar with the full software development cycle and can contribute to both the front-end and back-end development of a piece of software.
A full-stack engineer in the United States makes around $122,000 a year, according to Glassdoor. In markets such as San Francisco and New York City, the average salary is closer to $144,000.
A full-stack developer’s roles can vary greatly, depending on the type of organization they join. At a startup, they might be in the programming and UX weeds, while at a larger organization, they might take on more of a project management role.
In addition to the skills required of both front-end and back-end engineers, full-stack developers need to have the following:
- Strong interpersonal skills
- Knowledge of the complete software development process
- Project management skills
- Knowledge of the fundamentals of design
Also known as a quality assurance engineer, QA engineers test issues with a piece of software before it launches.
QA engineers in the United States make around $89,000 a year, according to Glassdoor. In markets such as San Francisco and New York City, the average QA engineer salary is around $108,000.
QA engineers have in-depth knowledge of different testing processes and methodologies. They are knowledgeable in data management, bug reporting, and creating test environments.
As the engineers responsible for the testing of software, QA engineers need to have the following skills:
- Communication skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Curiosity to delve into the folds of software to evaluate different features
- Analytical skills
- Basic coding skills for scripting automated tests
DevOps engineers facilitate code releases and deployments. They sit between software development and IT operations and have extensive knowledge of performance testing, benchmarking, and ways of improving the core infrastructure.
DevOps engineers in the United States make around $122,00 a year, according to Glassdoor. In markets such as San Francisco and New York City, the average DevOps engineer salary is closer to $134,000.
DevOps engineers perform many non-coding tasks to improve the productivity of the workplace. They analyze existing technologies, help automate repetitive tasks, benchmark system performance, monitor and report errors, and improve IT infrastructure so that software engineer teams can work more quickly and efficiently.
DevOps engineers don’t usually work directly on code, but knowledge of coding languages and the ability to write automation scripts is usually required. Other skills that hiring managers look for in DevOps engineers include:
- Strong interpersonal skills
- Time management
- Problem-solving skills
- Knowledge of relevant tools
- Cloud management
Security engineers build the technology to protect computer systems, networks, data, and mobile devices from being accessed by unauthorized people or organizations.
The average salary for a security engineer in the United States is around $111,000, according to Glassdoor. In larger markets such as San Francisco and New York City, the average salary is closer to $123,000.
Security engineers are cybersecurity specialists who are trained to detect security flaws within systems and build protections from malware and unauthorized entry. They are also trained in digital forensics to determine how and when an attack took place.
Similar to other software engineering roles, a college degree is not required to become a security engineer. However, online courses and cybersecurity certifications can equip you with the necessary skills to get hired. Some of the common skills include:
- Experience with cyber attack detection and response
- Experience with digital forensics
- Build and maintain firewalls
- Knowledgeable in programming languages such as C++, Ruby, Python, and Java
- Knowledgeable in hacking techniques
What Is the Difference Between a Junior, Mid-Level, and Senior Software Engineer?
The titles of junior, mid-level, and senior software engineer are usually determined by an engineer’s level of experience, whether they have an area of expertise, and if they hold management responsibilities.
Junior software engineers have an entry-level role. They typically assist the engineering team with basic tasks such as writing code and debugging existing software.
Junior developers typically have 1-3 years of experience, are proficient in at least two programming languages, and are quick learners. In addition to learning the code base, junior developers write basic code, repair bugs, and are often paired with more experienced engineers to develop their skills.
Get To Know Other Software Engineering Students
Mid-level software engineers are competent in all stages of the software development cycle and can usually work independently.
Mid-level developers typically have 3-5 years of experience, are proficient in at least 2-3 programming languages, can debug software, set up their own development environments, and can create and write simple unit tests.
Mid-level software engineering roles are typically marked by the years of experience required. For example, a job listing for a front-end engineer that requires at least four years of experience is intended for a mid-level software engineer.
Senior software engineers have the most autonomy. They usually have an area of expertise (i.e. DevOps, full-stack development, back-end development), have demonstrated leadership capabilities, and are able to lead a project from start to finish.
Senior software engineers usually have 5+ years of experience. They work closely with management and other teams to design new systems and set goals. Their job might require them to mentor less experienced engineers, provide code reviews, manage projects, and clear roadblocks for their team.
Senior software engineering roles are typically marked by the years of experience required. For example, a job listing for a full-stack engineer that requires at least five years of experience is intended for a senior software engineer. Roles that require leadership and management skills are also intended for senior engineers.
Software Engineer Roles & Responsibilities FAQ
How Hard Is It To Land an Entry-Level Software Engineering Job?
Although there is high demand for software engineers, the job market remains competitive. It’s not enough to simply hold a degree in software engineering. Hiring managers look for well-rounded candidates who possess the technical knowledge, soft skills, and curiosity to learn and thrive in their organizations.
To improve your chances of landing an entry-level software engineering job, keep your software engineering skills relevant, build a great resume, and be prepared for both behavioral and technical interview questions.
What Type of Software Engineer Gets Paid the Most?
A software engineer’s salary is determined by their level of education, years of professional experience, the market in which they work, and the type of organization they’ve joined. Based on self-reported data from Glassdoor, back-end engineers have the highest average salary among popular software engineering roles, with an average base salary of $130,000.
What Software Engineer Role Has the Highest Demand?
Front-end engineers are in the highest demand and make up the majority of the software engineering talent pool.
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