Software Engineer Career Path

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The software engineer career path involves many transitions and responsibilities that are fueled by an engineer’s professional development over the years.

But it’s not only up to engineers to move up the job ladder.

Managers should take an active role in supporting the career development of software engineers within their organization.

Advancing software engineers in their careers is key to future growth and retaining talent on your team.

Investing in potential now can lead to a gainful return on investment down the line for your business.

Keep reading to learn more about the software engineer career path!

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What Is a Software Engineer?

A software engineer is someone who creates programs, software, and/or applications using code.

Software engineers, alternatively called software developers, wield programming languages to relay information to machines, namely computers.

Machines interpret this information, or code, as a set of instructions to follow.

Virtually every digital tool you work with on a daily basis owes due credit to software engineers, from the games on your phone to your Slack channel. 

Becoming a Software Engineer

While the fundamentals of computer science often start with, “Hello World”, the software engineer career path is a bit more complex.

Hiring a software engineer is the first moment where the software engineer career path and your business intertwines.

But becoming a software engineer is in itself composed of several different enterprises.

While many high-paying occupations usually require formal education, software engineering is first and foremost a technical skill.

Some developers choose to seek out a computer science degree in a higher education institution.

But a fair amount of software engineers also take numerous online courses, dive deep into every available resource, and fully dedicate themselves to self-study.

Monochrome workspace with laptop, lamp, and stacked papers on desk.

Likewise, a big chunk of software engineers learned to code at coding bootcamps — intensive, largely short-term software development programs for skills training.

The reality is that being a good coder is less about a paper certificate and more about practicing and refining hard-earned skills.

Problem-solving and critical thinking are some of the most important soft skills that a software developer can have. And they can’t be acquired through memorization.

This is why the hiring process for software engineers may look a lot different than in other fields.

Typically, a job applicant must complete a technical interview where they show their technical expertise in all things computer science, and particularly that of the technology they specialize in.

Then, the applicant must demonstrate their skills in a coding challenge, where recruiters watch the applicant program in real-time.

In short, becoming a software engineer is as much a part of the software engineer career path as the professional roles an engineer goes on to fill.

Software Engineering Roles

While the central role of a software engineer is to build software, there are many different titles a software engineer can take.

Front-End Engineer

A front-end engineer uses tools and technologies like JavaScript, CSS, and HTML to build user interfaces (UI). 

UIs encompass the visual elements a user sees when they visit a website or open an app. This includes the font, layout, buttons, and the overall look of any given software.

Developers refer to these components and any graphical interface as being client-side, because the user sees the software they’re interacting with directly.

Back-End Engineer

Back-end engineers work on the server-side. Unsurprisingly, this is where developers handle any server-related tasks, including database management.

The front-end and back-end go hand-in-hand.

If you shop online, for example, there are probably some helpful logos and pictures that indicate what certain items are and how to check them out from your shopping cart.

These graphics are a result of front-end development. But the database that takes stock of the items in your cart does its work behind the scenes on the back-end.

Back-end development generally entails the use of specific back-end programming languages such as Python, Ruby, or Java. 

Full Stack Engineer

Full-stack engineers are responsible for both front-end and back-end development.

They have a wide range of skills on either end, making them great assets if you need somebody who can do it all, or in this case, full stack development.

Hiring full stack engineers for your business means having a software development team where everyone on board knows what’s up.

Mobile App Developer

Mobile app developers make software for mobile devices, ranging from smartphones, tablets, and even gaming consoles, e-readers, and any other device with a treasured app store.

Mobile app development depends on domain-specific knowledge and parameters.

For instance, Android and iOS have domain-specific programming languages. Android uses Kotlin and Java. While iOS uses Swift.

For optimal performance, mobile app developers have to stick within these parameters to develop apps.

Though hybrid and cross-platform development do exist, it’s a relatively new area that doesn’t always guarantee the best results.

Not to mention, mobile app developers also have to account for varying form factors like screen size limitations as well as the reduced memory and processing power in a mobile phone versus a computer.

Game Engineer

Game engineers build games. Development from this angle is pretty niche and goes beyond the standard tools of software development.

Open-source frameworks and tools like Unity and Blender allow game engineers to model physics, manipulate game mechanics, and create intricate 2D and 3D graphics.

With over three billion gamers across the globe, the gaming industry isn’t going anywhere.

Data Engineer

Data engineering is a lesser-known field, but undoubtedly important.

Essentially, data engineers not only make sure that you’re collecting data for your business but that the data is accurate and sound for use.

Data is a crucial part of any business. You can use data to find best practices to optimize revenue, enhance your software development life cycle, and heighten your security protocols. 

Data engineers have a large knowledge base.

A data engineer will likely have one or two back-end programming languages in their arsenal such as Python or Java. And they’ll be familiar with query languages like SQL.

DevOps Engineer

‘DevOps’ stems from development and operations. DevOps engineers specialize in delivering software at a high velocity. 

They are caped crusaders on Agile development teams, where delivering software fast is always the end goal.

But to achieve such a goal, DevOps engineers have to combine their knowledge of software development with cultural strategies and systems methodologies towards rapid code release and deployment.

Embedded Systems Engineer

Embedded systems reference software that exists inside another mechanical system.

Sound vague? Well, truth be told, embedded systems are all around you.

A camera, for one, has a rather limited scope. Its purpose is to take and save pictures.

However, even these simple tasks require an embedded system with programming that permits you to use the camera with ease.

Another example is a GPS. The functionality of a GPS is relatively narrow. All it does is give directions.

Yet, this task still needs a digital system and deliberate programming to be fully functional.

Embedded systems engineers have to put up with unique challenges like the constraints of hard memory for a device.

Security Engineer

Security engineers have a fitting name. These engineers secure your networks and systems from cyber attacks and data loss.

Software Engineer Career Path

Career progression for software engineers is somewhat linear. The more experience a software engineer has, the better able they are to move up in the software engineer career path.

Admittedly, some software engineers choose to stray from a bottom-to-top path. Once they have enough experience and trust the quality of their work, they go on to become freelancers.

As a freelancer, they can work on their own schedule and have some flexibility in the projects they choose to work on.

On the other hand, software engineers who decide to work within a company structure, follow a path mirroring the following:

Flowchart of Software Engineer Career Path with titles and numbers on blue and yellow background.

1. Junior Software Engineer

Junior software engineers have the basic skills of any software engineer to build, launch and debug applications.

Their skillset should involve practical knowledge of and experience with programming languages, operating systems, algorithms, and databases.

A junior software engineer will only have between zero and three years of experience.

2. Senior Software Engineer

After three to six years of experience in the software industry, an engineer may evolve into a senior software engineer.

At this level, they have advanced knowledge of code design and can comfortably coach and train other software engineers.

Their responsibilities might include overseeing software development projects and coaching engineers.

3. Tech Lead /  Team Manager

Someone with more than six years of experience in software engineering has a plethora of job opportunities.

With this experience, they can become a tech lead or team manager.

In these roles, a software engineer manages a team in building complex software solutions.

A tech lead and/or team manager reports directly to company stakeholders with project updates and asks for input in decision-making.

Skills for this role include system design, project management, and advanced software architecture.

4. Engineering Manager

Around the nine-year mark, or 10 for some, software engineers are well-able to take on a leadership role.

This might come in the form of an engineering manager or a vice president of engineering.

With the skills of advanced software architecture and system design, engineering managers are in charge of much of the technical processes behind product development.

Product thinking and process management are the primary responsibilities of this technical leadership role.

5. Chief Technology Officer (CTO) / Chief Information Officer (CIO)

CTOs and CIOs have at least 13 years of experience in the software engineering field.

Both roles are executive and nature and imply the management of the entire organization’s technological needs.

CTOs and CIOs are equipped with both strategic skills and people skills to oversee research and development (R&D) along with employing and improving technology and software products for the organization and its clients.

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Hire a Software Engineer

Before you hire a software engineer, remember there are broader implications to putting new developers on your team.

Software engineers are known to be passionate about their work and it’s up to you to support their development in the broader engineering career matrix.

Don’t think you’re up to the task just yet? Luckily, there are other options.

If you don’t have the means to sponsor the professional development of a new hire, but you still need software engineers, consider using Trio.

Trio lends quality, experienced software engineers to your business so you can complete your project without any administrative noise.

Interested? Talk to Trio now to get started!

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With over 10 years of experience in software outsourcing, Alex has assisted in building high-performance teams before co-founding Trio with his partner Daniel. Today he enjoys helping people hire the best software developers from Latin America and writing great content on how to do that!
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