If you’ve ever considered a career in tech, then you’ve probably come across three job titles that are quite similar sounding: “software engineer,” “software developer,” and “computer programmer.” These titles, though they refer to vastly different roles, are often used interchangeably, which can lead to a great deal of confusion. And if you’re serious about pursuing a career in one of these fields, then it’s important to know and understand the differences between the three.

Below, we’ll tell you all about the field of software engineering, what a software engineer does, and how you can launch your career as a software engineer today.

What Is Software Engineering?

A software engineer is someone who uses software programming languages to design software or analyze and modify existing software while applying the principles of engineering. They create web and mobile apps, operating and network systems, and they develop software solutions that meet clients’ requirements.

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

A normal job description for a software engineer might read as follows:

  • Analyze the needs of users. Design and develop software to meet those needs.

  • Design each piece of an application. Create a plan for how the pieces will work together.

  • Create diagrams and models that tell programmers how to write the code.

  • Ensure that applications continue to function normally through software maintenance and testing.

  • Document every aspect of an application or system as a reference for future maintenance and upgrades.

  • Recommend software upgrades for customers’ existing programs and systems.

Software Engineering Soft Skills

In addition to education and technical skills, soft skills that are needed to be successful in a software engineering job include:

Analytical Skills

Software engineers need to be able to recognize the needs of a customer or client and be able to find a solution in a timely manner.

A Problem-Solving Mentality

Working through problems for a project to move forward is a normal part of a software developer’s day.


Engineers need to be able to clearly communicate their ideas to coders, teammates, and project managers.

Team Work

Engineers typically work in development teams for projects, so employers look for people who work well with others.


Engineers need to have flexible, outside-the-box thinking to solve problems.

Attention to Detail

For an application to run properly, all parts of it must work. Attention to detail means fewer mistakes to track down in the future. In fact, a small error can even cause a program to collapse.

A Day in the Life of a Software Engineer

While duties might vary based on job title, a typical day for a software engineer includes working on coding projects, documenting program functions, attending meetings, communicating with team members on shared projects, and checking emails. Many software engineers set aside certain parts of their day to focus exclusively on their coding projects so they can get into a flow. Again, depending on their job title, this could entail writing code for a brand new program, responding to user problem tickets, designing an outline for a product so someone else can write the code, or writing maintenance or update codes for a program.

According to this 2020 survey by Stack Overflow, 51.7% percent of respondents reported that they work 40-44 hours per week. An additional 13.5% reported working 35-39 hours per week, and 11.2% said they work just above the industry standard at 45-49 hours per week. While 1.2% of respondents said they work more than 70 hours per week, that is definitely not the norm.

Software Engineering Career Paths

Software engineers are split up into two main types: application software engineers and system software engineers.

An applications software engineer (you’ll also see them referred to as app developers) create, program, and test applications for computers, phones, and tablets based on the end-user's needs. App developers also maintain programs by releasing updates after the product has been launched. They usually specialize in specific operating systems, such as iOS, Android, Windows, etc.

Systems software engineers, on the other hand, create computer programs based on the specific needs of a client (which is usually a company). This includes analyzing the day-to-day needs of a company, its existing hardware, and its security requirements, then synthesizing this information to create a program that is appropriate for the client.

How To Become a Software Engineer

It used to be that a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field, such as engineering or mathematics, was a prerequisite for a career as a software engineer. But that’s not the case anymore. If you don’t have a related degree but want to become a software engineer, you should strongly consider a software engineering bootcamp. Bootcamps are designed to give you all the skills you need to begin a career in less than a year without having to go back to college for a four-year degree.