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What Does a Software Engineer Do?

What is a software engineer and what do they do? Learn more about a typical software engineering job description, including key skills, responsibilities, and salaries, in this online guide.

Software engineers are responsible for building—or engineering—any kind of software. There’s no limitation in terms of software type on what this can be. Software engineers can create desktop programs like GarageBand or PowerPoint, or mobile and web applications like Instagram or Gmail.

What Is a Software Engineer and What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Software engineers typically work in teams to build programs, platforms, and applications. While some software engineers can build both the front-end (user interface) and back-end (the code that makes the program functional), it’s not uncommon for engineers to develop a specialty in one or the other.

Software engineers can take their talent to almost any industry producing technology: video games, business solutions, mobile applications, and network control systems are all built by software engineers.

What Is the Average Salary of a Software Engineer?

According to Indeed, on average, software engineers earn an average salary of $109,330 annually in the United States. An entry-level software engineer can expect to make an average of $86,000.

The compensation varies across cities. The three highest-paying cities for software engineers are as follows:

  • San Francisco: $158,246
  • New York: $138,127
  • Seattle: $131,728

software engineer salaries

What Is a Typical Software Engineer Job Description?

A software engineer job description will usually feature three sections that break down the roles and day-to-day responsibilities of a software engineer. Potential software engineering candidates will be expected to:

  • Have the foundational knowledge and capability to use one or more programming languages
  • Analyze program needs, and tailor-designed software solutions to users using a problem-solving approach
  • Create and analyze visual diagrams and methods that communicate the necessary code components to other team members and explain how they might function together
  • 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 Qualifications Do Entry-Level Software Engineers Need?

In order to qualify for an entry-level software engineering job profile, aspiring candidates will need to be proficient in at least one programming language and have a fundamental understanding of the software development process.

Below is a list of the most popular programming languages today:

  • Python
  • JavaScript
  • Java
  • C#, C, and C++
  • Ruby
  • PHP
  • R

However, having good communication skills as well as an aptitude for logical thinking and problem solving will make the difference between a good and a great software engineer.

Learn more about how to build an effective entry-level software engineering resume here.

Code reviews are a crucial part of every software engineer’s journey, and having the ability to not only develop solutions but also explain their logic and reasoning to peers and team leaders is highly important. A synergistic result of both sets of skills results in an excellent ability to make tests—and know how to use them to iterate around new solutions.

Learn more about how to become a software engineer here.

What Are the Key Skills Of a Software Engineer?

Software engineers always have a very wide range of skills. While technical proficiency in a programming language is usually listed as a core competency, software engineers often also need coding-adjacent skills that help their teams set benchmarks, establish tests, and innovate on existing systems. Because of the iterative nature of software engineering roles, candidates should also come equipped with interpersonal skills.

While software engineers job specs will vary across different industries, most hiring managers focus on:

  • Technical skills. Every software engineering job profile will include a series of hard skills, including knowing how to build software, tests, and code reviews, and using a programming language.
  • Interpersonal and collaborative skills. Software engineers will always be working in teams as they build, test, and deploy solutions through various environments, so collaboration is key. Most software engineer role descriptions will mention excellent organizational skills and a roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic.

Learn more about the essential skills a software engineer needs here.

6 Common Software Engineer Job Roles

A software engineer’s role determines the type of work they focus on when building or supporting a product. A typical software engineer role will require applicants to have a firm grasp and knowledge of computing systems, technical architectures, and algorithm building.

Six common software engineering roles are:

  • Front-end engineer
  • Back-end engineer
  • Full-stack engineer
  • QA engineer
  • DevOps engineer
  • Security engineer

Learn more about the key roles of a software engineer here.

software engineer job roles

What Are the Key Responsibilities of a Software Engineer?

Software engineers use their skills across engineering, analytical thinking, and mathematics to design, develop, and test software applications for computers.

A typical software engineer’s job responsibilities may include:

  • Research
  • Design
  • Implementation
  • Support

Learn more about the responsibilities of a software engineer here.

Ready to switch careers to software engineering?

Springboard offers a comprehensive software engineering bootcamp. 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. 

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.

Download our software engineering salary guide

This 21-page guide breaks down the software engineering career path and how to optimize salary figures.

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