This continues our IT Career series. These are designed to introduce you to the variety of career options in information technology and how you can get started.
Individuals with software development skills often enjoy job security, but they also have the ability to leave a job and find work elsewhere at a time when other job seekers aren’t as likely to land work quickly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that over a million software development jobs were located in the United States as of 2014, and the career is expected to experience a 17 percent growth through 2024, which is much higher than the national average. Software development is also a global job, which means you might have a chance at international work if desired. Knowing how to become a software developer helps you break into this very lucrative career.
What Do Software Developers Do?
Software developers create and program the applications and coded infrastructure that let other people work on computers and devices. Software developers created the code that lets you access and read this page; they also wrote the programs that make Microsoft Word or Apple’s Siri function. The type of programs a software developer works on depends on his or her niche, employer, and coding language specialties. In addition to writing code, developers also make changes to software to enact business improvements and debug or troubleshoot programs as needed. Often, software developers are involved in quality assurance processes that involve testing new or modified programs before they are implemented in a live production environment.
Where Do Software Developers Work?
Software developer are obviously critical staff members at companies that provide software and computer products, such as Microsoft, Apple, IBM and HP. Many non-technical companies have proprietary software or need programmers who can integrate multiple pieces of software or design bridges for functionality across an organization. Users on PayScale.com report working as software developers for companies such as General Motors, Amazon, Epic Systems, USAA Insurance, Bloomberg, JP Morgan Chase and Booz, Allen, Hamilton. Almost any medium-to-large company with a fully functional IT department is likely to need at least one software developer, and software developers who contract as freelancers often find a steady stream of work.
How Much Do Software Developers Make?
Those reporting on PayScale.com report salaries between $46,300 and $100,501 per year. The BLS reports that the median pay for software developers in the United States is $100,690 per year, though the self-reported numbers on PayScale.com indicate that the median is probably a little lower. Either way, software developers at any level make more than the national average, and the earnings potential for a software developer with a few years of experience is quite high.
Some software developers work for other companies for several years to gain experience and then start their own companies. The tech community is full of software developers who have come up with an app idea, implemented that idea, and later sold a small startup company for a few million dollars. While this isn’t a guaranteed career path for a developer, it is an illustration of the versatility afforded you by software development skills.
How to Become a Software Developer: Multiple Paths
Two major paths exist to a software development career. The first is an associate or four-year degree in computer science or a closely related subject. Most software developers who are able to land higher-paying jobs out of the box have a bachelor’s degree in computer science and know several coding languages. Some companies do require a degree before they will hire a software developer, and many companies require a bachelor’s degree for development management positions.
While a degree is important to many companies, there are many software developers working in the field without degrees. A second path to software development can be found through experience and self-education. Coders are a very supportive, tight-knit community, and many coding languages, such as PHP, are highly supported online. If you are persistent and have strong computer and logic skills, you can find all the information to learn such languages online. If you can get an entry-level job within an IT organization, then you might be able to work yourself into a software development position.
With either path, a portfolio of work is important for enhancing your career. If you go to school for development, you’ll likely work on projects in classes or internships that you can include in your portfolio. If you take the self-taught route, you might need to create your own projects to start your portfolio and then build it over time as you work for an employer.