What Skills Do You Need to Become a Software Engineer?

Guest ContributorGuest Contributor | 8 minute read | May 4, 2022
What Skills Do You Need to Become a Software Engineer

In this article

Software engineers need to do more than just code. To be a successful software engineer, you need to have the right combination of hard and soft skills, in addition to having the more specialized skills required for your software engineering subset. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of software engineering, the skills a successful software engineer needs to have, the different kinds of software engineering jobs, and how to grow your skills. 

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

A software engineer uses their knowledge of systems architecture, programming languages, and user requirements to build software programs and applications. This is a collaborative role that involves writing code, reviewing code, and working with product developers and project managers to understand what features are needed to complete a project. Check out this blog post to learn more about the many career paths to becoming a software engineer.

What Software Engineering Skills Are Needed To Succeed?

Like any profession, becoming a software engineer requires a mix of hard and soft skills. We’ve broken things down so that you know how to succeed. 

Software Engineer Hard Skills

Software Engineer Hard Skills

Hard skills are the technical abilities learned through education or professional development. These are skills that can be objectively measured for proficiency and competency. Software engineers need to be familiar with:

  1. Programming Languages
  2. Data Structures and Algorithms
  3. Testing and Debugging
  4. Containers

Let’s take a closer look at what these skills entail.

1. Programming Language Skills

Programming language skills are the bedrock of software engineering. Through programming languages, you’re able to create instructions for a computer to execute. Software engineers don’t need to know every language out there, but they should be an expert in at least one. The four most commonly used software engineering languages are Javascript, HTML/CSS, Python, and SQL.

JavaScript

JavaScript is a core scripting language used in website development. It powers a website’s behaviors and functionality, allowing a site’s visitors to interact with its content. Because JavaScript is primarily a client-side language, it runs within the user’s computer browser. However, the introduction of Node.js allows JavaScript to also execute code on servers.

HTML/CSS

Technically, HTML/CSS isn’t a programming language. It’s a markup language used for presenting UI to web users. A mark-up language is readable by humans and uses tags to differentiate elements of a document. Once these tags are included in a document, the computer interprets them, and displays the content according to the tags’ instructions.

Python

Python is a general-purpose programming language that’s popular with data scientists and is commonly used as a back-end server language. It’s known for being simple and readable and includes tools that work with big data processing and large-scale code. Something notable about Python: It has upwards of 135,000 libraries to simplify operations.

SQL

SQL is the most popular language for extracting and organizing data stored in databases, and is used to retrieve information. This process is key for data analysis. Even if the analysis is being performed in Python, SQL is what’s needed to extract data from a company’s database.

2. Data Structure and Algorithm Skills

Data Structure and Algorithm Skills

Proficiency in data structures and algorithms is a high priority for a software engineer. It’s what makes for efficiently optimized code. To round out this skill, you need to have a good understanding of math, computer architecture, and dynamic programming. 

3. Testing and Debugging Skills

Testing and debugging skills are needed to ensure that code is running properly. Testing code identifies errors. Debugging fixes them. Testing can be automated, but debugging cannot. 

4. Container Skills

Containers bundle the software that engineers develop into virtual packages which can interact with a range of different operating systems. Proficiency in either Docker or Kubernetes is an increasingly sought-after skill in the software engineering world. 

Want to improve upon these skills? A great way to practice your software engineer hard skills is by solving creative coding challenges.

Top Software Engineer Soft Skills

While technical skills are essential, software engineers need to also have the necessary soft skills. Here are the top soft skills software engineers need:

  1. Collaboration and communication
  2. Multitasking
  3. Continuous learning
  4. Attention to detail
  5. Problem-solving
  6. Agile project management

Collaboration and Communication 

Software engineers need to collaborate and communicate with their team to complete projects. Being on a team isn’t always easy, but listening to differing opinions offers new perspectives, and will ultimately help the team solve problems.

Multitasking

As a software engineer, you need to manage multiple projects with competing deadlines. This is why multitasking is a non-negotiable soft skill for software engineers. Successful software engineers understand that prioritization and time management are key. 

Continuous Learning

Software engineers have to be committed to continuous learning. Whether it’s a new language or software, great engineers are prepared to be a student forever. Continuous learning isn’t all lectures and studying. Often it happens by talking with others in your field and examining their work. 

Attention to Detail

Software engineering requires precise and scrupulous work. This is true in everything from testing and debugging, to coding and documentation. Attention to detail will minimize mistakes too. Remember, computers can only understand you if you precisely tell them what to do.

Problem Solving

Problem-solving skills are relevant in every step of software engineering. There will always be problems, bugs, deadlines, miscommunications, and broken code. Being able to approach problems and create solutions to solve them is an indispensable skill. 

Agile Project Management

While usually managed by either a product or project manager, software engineers must also learn the operational frameworks of a sprint plan. Usually, a software engineer’s work is assigned to them via a sprint plan with deadlines. Understanding how to work within a project management system such as Agile is a key skill for a software engineer.

Think you have what it takes to be a software engineer? Check out Springboard’s Software Engineering Career Track to see if you qualify.

Types of Software Engineers: Different Coding Skills for Different Roles

Types of Software Engineers: Different Coding Skills for Different Roles

Different kinds of software engineering jobs require different skills. Seven common career paths for software engineers include: front-end engineer, back-end engineer, full-stack engineer, DevOps engineer, QA Engineer, security engineer, and data engineer.

Front-End Engineering Skills

Front-end engineers build websites and applications that are user-friendly and engaging. To do this, they need to have:

  • Technical skills, such as a knowledge of programming languages (Python, Java, C++, R) and front-end development tools (jQuery, Sublime Text, GitHub)
  • Problem-solving and analytical skills
  • Communication and collaboration skills 

Back-End Engineering Skills 

Back-end engineers build the structure for software. They spend their time writing server scripts, business logic, and API’s. To be a back-end software engineer, you need to have:

  • Fluency in programming languages
  • Server-side experience with SASS and Less
  • An understanding of server compliance
  • Knowledge of database systems and operating systems

Full-Stack Engineering Skills

Full-Stack Engineering Skills

A full-stack engineer has both front-end and back-end skills. To do this, they need to have the following skills:

  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Knowledge of the complete software development process
  • Project management skills
  • Knowledge of the fundamentals of design

DevOps Engineering Skills

DevOps engineers typically don’t work directly with code, but they do need to have a general knowledge of languages and automation scripts. Hiring managers also want DevOps engineers to have:

  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Time management
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Knowledge of relevant tools

QA Engineering Skills

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

Security Engineering Skills

Security Engineering Skills

Security engineers build and maintain security systems for companies. In this role, the engineer runs security tests, responds to security incidents, and researches new attack vectors. Here are the skills they need to have:

  • Experience with cyber attack detection and response
  • Experience with digital forensics
  • Building and maintaining firewalls
  • Knowledge of programming languages such as C++, Ruby, Python, and Java
  • Knowledge of hacking techniques

Data Engineering Skills

The title of data engineer encompasses a large swath of sub-specializations, including data analytics, AI, and machine learning. A data engineer’s main role is to analyze large amounts of data. To do this, they need to be familiar with:

  • Database systems like SQL and NoSQL
  • Data warehousing solutions
  • ETL tools
  • Machine learning
  • Data APIs
  • Python, Java, and Scala programming languages
  • Distributed systems
  • Algorithms and data structures

How To Grow Your Software Engineering Skill Set

How To Grow Your Software Engineering Skill Set

There’s no right or wrong way to grow your software engineering skills. However, some of the most effective learning happens in bootcamps, online courses, and self-teaching.

Bootcamps

Coding bootcamps are intensive learning opportunities that teach you the skills you need to be a successful software engineer. Typically, they’re offered in full-time or part-time cohorts to accommodate different time commitments. Bootcamps focus on the most important aspects of programming, while teaching you the on-the-job skills you’ll need. This is a great option for those looking for a structured approach to learning. Springboard’s Software Engineering Career Track bootcamp is designed to teach you all the skills necessary to land a career as a software engineer.

Online Courses

Online courses are especially useful if you’re looking to improve your skills in a specific area. Focused courses are less time-consuming than bootcamps because they tend to focus on a particular subject. This is a great option if you’re looking for a crash course, or if you want to try out a different area of programming. Springboard offers a great prep course for software engineering. It covers the fundamentals of web development like using HTML and CSS to add content, style web pages, and manipulate them with JavaScript.

Self-Taught 

There’s a growing number of software engineers who are self-taught. It’s a daunting prospect, but opting to teach yourself is possible with discipline, persistence, and practice. Take advantage of online resources and forums. If you’re looking to practice what you’ve learned, check out training on Codewars, where you can solve and create coding challenges while tapping into the collective knowledge of the Codewars community.

Ready To Switch Careers to Software Engineering?

A career in software engineering requires a range of hard and soft skills. Springboard offers a comprehensive software engineering bootcamp to prepare you for your future. You’ll work with a one-on-one mentor to learn key aspects of front-end web development, back-end web development, databases, and data structures and algorithms. Modules include learning resources, practice exercises, projects, and career-related coursework. To learn more about what to expect from your experience with Springboard, check out our Student Stories page.

Check out Springboard’s Software Engineering Career Track to see if you qualify.

Not quite ready to dive into a software engineering bootcamp

Springboard also offers a Software Engineering Prep Course, where you can learn the foundational web development skills (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) needed to pass the technical skills survey for the Software Engineering Career Track.

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor