Software engineers are those that make IT systems ‘tick’. Essentially, they write and code both computer operating systems and the software that runs within them. The job title actually covers a multitude of roles, from systems developer to software architect. It’s highly specialised work that requires a good technical background, a thorough understanding of software and hardware, and a strong grasp of mathematical reasoning and coding languages.
Alternative job titles for this role
- Computer engineer
- Software engineer
- Application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) design engineer
- Computer hardware engineer
- Microprocessor designer and application engineer
- Microelectronics engineer
What the role involves
Depending on the organisation, typical activities include writing and modifying programmes; testing code; diagnosing faults in software; and designing programmes to solve those faults. All of these tasks typically involve a detailed and meticulous problem-solving process. As a result, working hours can be long, particularly when faults need to be diagnosed and fixed by a deadline. However, software engineering is rarely a solitary activity. It’s usually a team effort, with individual engineers often focused on a small aspect of a more complicated whole, with input required from both colleagues and clients.
What skills do you need?
This means that as well as having a very high level of technical competence and problem-solving ability, software engineers also need to be good communicators. Typically, the first year of a software engineering job could be spent writing the code for a programme or formulating the objectives of a programme under supervision. An average of three years’ experience is normally required before an engineer has a high enough level of technical competence to prepare the detailed specifications from which the actual programmes are written. Over time many engineers get involved in this writing and design process. After five or ten years, they often move into management.
Current opportunities and how your career can develop
Opportunities to travel are good, with many IT operations located in Asia, where overheads are cheaper. There is also a continuous demand for seasoned professionals throughout Europe and the US. Wherever they choose to work, however, a good software engineer needs to be motivated, creative and continuously willing to learn.