What Skills Do You Need to Become a Software Engineer?

What skills do you need to become a software engineer? Learn how to grow your software engineer skillset with this introductory guide.

Although software engineering has a relatively steep learning curve, mastering its basics can often reap the rewards for those looking to acquire a more comfortable salary and a leg-up in a challenging industry.

As more and more businesses and organizations rely on digital products and software, the need for competent software engineers has become increasingly relevant across many industries.

Read on to find out more about all the essential skills required to become a software engineer.

What Are the Key Skills Needed for a Software Engineering Career?

There’s more to code than meets the eye. Aside from keeping proficient in advanced mathematics and statistics, software engineers need to keep up to date with a variety of evolving languages, toolkits, platforms, and architectures. Community moderated technical documentation and open-source technologies all can help a software engineer stay on top of what’s relevant to their job.

Below are a few of the most popular languages and tools. Together, they make up the essential hard skills all software engineers require.

Learn more about how to become a software engineer here.

4 Essential Programs Software Engineers Use

All software engineers need to be proficient in one or more of the following programming languages.

  1. Python. Currently one of the most popular programming languages in the world, Python allows software engineers a common and open-source language to use for general-purpose programming. Python offers a dynamic feature set that is portable across a variety of operating systems. Python also has automatic memory management – this means that software engineers don’t have to keep manual tabs on memory management. Python is one of the most key skills for software engineers today. To learn more about data mining in Python, check out this comprehensive guide.
  2. Java. Another general-purpose programming language, Java has nearly a two-decade run of being a foundational object-oriented language and one of the most important skills for software engineers to know. Java is particularly trusted by software engineers due to its strength in security. Also platform-agnostic, Java enables software engineers a reliably safe and design-friendly language that can find them jobs almost anywhere.
  3. SQL. More than 30 years old now, SQL is one of the most widespread database languages. Software engineers typically aren’t responsible for maintaining or organizing databases, but they do need to understand how to navigate databases so that they can build programs that speak to them.
  4. Ruby. Developed originally in 2011, Ruby is another object-oriented language that software engineers utilize to build web applications at a high pace. Often, Ruby is paired with the Ruby on Rails framework. Open-sourced as well, Ruby also utilizes automatic memory management (or “garbage collection”) to support multiple programming paradigms or features.

software engineering programming language

3 Essentials Platforms Software Engineers Use

Software engineers should be skilled at using the following operational tools and platforms.

  1. Cloud platforms. As tech continues to shift towards big data, software engineers continue to hone their skills in cloud platforms such as AWS (Amazon Web Services) and GCP (Google Cloud Platform). Cloud platforms allow companies and products to scale and require software engineers to have experience working with cloud-native applications. Products or platforms that promote strengths in data science, artificial intelligence, or machine learning all utilize cloud platforms.
  2. Containers. Containers allow software engineers to optimize for multiple operating systems. Containers bundle the software that engineers develop into virtual packages that can speak to a variety of different operating systems. Proficiency in either Docker or Kubernetes is an increasingly sought-after skill in the software engineering world.
  3. Version control tools (Github). When a software engineer writes code, they store it in a platform called a “source-control.” If teams of software engineers are all writing code for the same product or application, version control tools allow them to collaborate without interfering with each other’s work. Github is overwhelmingly popular and is the best version control tool for software engineering beginners.

Important Soft Skills for Software Engineers

A software engineer’s technical skills are not the only skills required for software engineering. A variety of interpersonal skills are also essential for software engineers. Because software developers usually work in teams, understanding how to operate within those teams, and communicate with peers is crucial to a successful engineer’s outcome.

Here are a number of essential soft skills for software engineers.

  1. Collaboration and communication. Being programmatic can often appear isolating but in reality, it’s quite the opposite. Software engineers routinely communicate progress, collaborate on projects, and manage others during a development sprint. Any issues with collaboration or communication can threaten a deliverable or deadline.
  2. Multitasking. A mastery of multitasking is one of the most essential skills required to become a software engineer. Software engineers work in deadline-driven sprints that often have them working on multiple projects at once. Software engineers understand the fundamentals of prioritization and time-management so that they can multitask their way to success.
  3. Sprint project management. While usually managed by either a product or project manager to manage, software engineers must 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 in a project management atmosphere—such as Agile—is a key skill for a software engineer to master.

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

software engineer technical skills

Software Engineering Educational Backgrounds

Qualifications to be a software engineer require a deep understanding and knowledge of mathematics, computer science, and data analytics. The skills needed to be a software engineer can be obtained in a variety of places.

  • Many successful engineers do not have computer science undergraduate degrees. A 2019 developer survey found that only 62% of software engineers had a degree related to their current roles.
  • Software engineers now rely on online bootcamps to get technical expertise. For example, Springboard’sSoftware Engineering Career Track offers an online, six-month, self-paced curriculum, that teaches key aspects of front-end web development, back-end web development, databases, and data structures and algorithms. For students looking to gain more foundational knowledge, Springboard’s Software Engineering Prep course offers guidance in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript — all via a curriculum specifically designed to help pass the admissions technical skills survey for the Software Engineering Career Track.
  • Software engineers demonstrate their foundational knowledge to employers through portfolio work and hands-on projects. A software engineer’s ability to use storytelling to showcase their skills in a portfolio often goes even farther as a testament to the engineers’ skills than a degree might.

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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