Popular Career Paths For Software Engineers

Whether you are already a software engineer, or you looking to get started in software engineering, you have a lot of options when it comes to your career path. This article will provide some career path preparation and options to consider

Popular career paths for software engineers
Popular career paths for software engineers

Whether you are already a software engineer, or you looking to get started in software engineering, you have a lot of options when it comes to your career path. It's easy to get caught up in the fun technology, the latest programming languages, and the shiny objects that steal our techy attention away so quickly. But don't lose sight of the bigger picture- your overall career path that gets you to your goals.

This article will provide some career path preparation information and then jump into the current popular career paths both for you as the developer and also for employers looking to hire software engineers like you.

How to start a career in software engineering

How to Start a Career In Software Engineering

Software engineers continue to be increasingly in demand. Software developer job counts continue to increase and are predicted to increase by over 20% by 2030. To get into the field, many people are comparing multiple education options to break into the field. These options include:

  • training boot camps
  • computer science college degrees
  • self-directed learning

For more information on these specific training paths, read the article linked below:

How to Get a Job As a Software Engineer
With advances in technology, internet, and cloud, the time has never been better to enter the software engineering field - here’s how to do it

Software engineer career path - progression

Software Engineer Career Path - PROGRESSION

One way to envision and plan your software engineer career path is as a role progression. You may choose to remain in one discipline but progress through increasing roles over time. This progression will occur as you:

  • improve your technical and/or soft skills
  • increase your software engineering process experience
  • increase your domain knowledge for your specific organizations and/or industry

Improve technical skills

Your technical skills are your improving programming skills, your command of the toolsets you use, and the new technical ideas you bring to the organization.

Improve soft skills

Your soft skills include improved collaboration, communication, conflict resolution, teamwork, and prioritization to name a few.

Increase software engineering process experience

Software engineer process experience includes your overall understanding of the software development lifecycle process and how to effectively design, build, and release code agnostic of any particular programming language or tool.

Increase domain knowledge

Domain knowledge represents your increasing knowledge of your specific organization, its vertical market, its competitors, and the processes at play in each of these areas that can impact your role as a software engineer.

Software engineer roles

As you improve in those areas, you may have opportunities to advance in your software engineer role. Here are some general examples of roles that software engineers might advance through. Actual job titles and descriptions will vary across organizations but these are good representations of potential role stages in your progression as a software engineer.

#1 Junior Software Engineer

Junior software engineers should have some level of software engineering education or direct experience. For example, you may have a programming degree of some kind and/or 1-2 years of experience. You have a broad knowledge of software design and computer programming based on education or on hands-on experience.

For the most part, you will be given very specific work assignments and will have a mentor who works closely with you to review your work and to help you advance your skills and results quickly.

#2 Software Engineer

Software Engineers generally have at least 2 years of experience and serve in roles with increasing levels of responsibility and corresponding pay. For example, an organization may have Software Engineer I, then Software Engineer II, then Software Engineer III. Each advance comes with a corresponding increase in responsibility.

Areas of increased responsibility may include more junior software engineer mentoring, more direct ownership of certain technical systems or applications, or more direct ownership in certain programming disciplines within the organization (web programming, micro-services programming, subject matter expert in the accounting code, etc).

#3 Senior Software Engineer

a Senior software engineer typically gains additional responsibilities for involvement in technical design, architecture, and overall lifecycle review and improvement. This is where the years of experience and domain knowledge have now prepared you to make larger fundamental impacts on how code is designed and managed in addition to just how it is programmed.

Software engineer manager role(s)

#4 Tech Lead / Team Manager

Software engineer tech leads or team managers are still hands-on technical programmers, but they have the combined technical knowledge, business knowledge, and soft skills, to also work directly with stakeholders outside of IT when designing and delivering technical solutions.

This role is much more involved in actually designing and owning the technical aspects of business projects. A tech lead may report to an engineering manager, or even directly to specific business stakeholders depending on the organization's structure.

#5 Software Engineering Manager

The software engineering manager role, also called director depending on the organization, may typically require 9+ years of experience. This role often reports to the VP of IT. The director role manages all technical aspects of multiple products and their overall development process. This may include data engineering as well as software engineering.

The director role also often manages part of the IT budget and is involved in architecture and in IT roadmap and strategy creation and execution. The software engineer manager also often manages the overall software engineer hiring/firing process.

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The VP of IT role may typically require 10+ years of experience. The VP of IT often reports to the CTO/CIO. Some organizations are small enough or flat enough that there is no VP role or there is no CTO role- there is one or the other.

This C-level role oversees all technical aspects of the organization, or of a particular division depending on the overall organization size. This includes strategy, roadmaps, budgets, execution, and technology innovation.

Software engineer career path disciplines

Software Engineer Career Path - DISCIPLINES

Another way to envision and plan your software engineer career path is based on discipline. You may choose to focus on a particular discipline throughout your career. You may choose a progression of disciplines. Your choice should be based on the larger overall goals you set for yourself.

Here are some of the most common disciplines available to software engineers.

Front-end software enigneer

#1 Front-end software engineer

Front-end software engineers design the user interfaces for the web applications we use. This field is in high demand and isn't going away any time soon.

Example programming languages and technologies used here include JavaScript, HTML, CSS, jQuery, Angular, React, and many other tools and libraries built to support user interface development.

Back-end software engineer

#2 Back-end software engineer

Back-end software engineers develop scripts and APIs to assure website and application functionality. If you think of a traditional 3-tier architecture (interface layer, business layer, data layer), back-end software engineers focus on the business and data layers.

This programming typically includes writing business logic to perform actions based on business needs, accessing data, creating APIs (application programming interfaces) for other systems to use, implementing security, and providing the programming layers called by interfaces.

Example programming languages and technologies used here vary tremendously by architecture and platform. These solutions can exist on-premise or in the cloud. They can be running on physical machines, virtual machines, clusters, or in serverless cloud configurations. Example programming languages include pretty much all of them- Node, Python, PHP, Java, C#, Go, and many more.

Full-stack software developer

#3 Full-stack software developer

Full-stack software development manages the front-end and the back-end software engineering. This focus can be fun and challenging because it encompasses a wide range of technologies and problems to solve. But it also requires more expertise.

Oftentimes senior software engineers are more prepared to be successful in a full-stack software engineering role, but they had to build their skills up somewhere!

Choosing full-stack development as a discipline could be a great career choice. If you can build the skills necessary to be effective in this role, you really open yourself up to multiple role opportunities in many organizations. Engineering managers often like full-stack software development focus because those resources are skilled in multiple roles and can therefore be used in many situations. When it comes to software engineer career paths, this particular discipline is definitely worth looking at.

Example programming languages include all those listed under the front-end and back-end disciplines above. Pay particular attention to programming languages that can be used for both front-end and back-end development. These may include Node (JavaScript), C#, and Python.

Mobile application software engineer

#4 Mobile application software engineer

Mobile application software engineers build mobile apps. These can be Android, IOS, Windows, or other operating systems on handheld devices.

Example programming languages and technologies used here include Java, Kotlin, Swift, C#, JavaScript, Objective C, and many more.

Some approaches are very specific to a particular platform. For example, Kotlin is specific to Android and Swift is specific to IOS.

Other approaches support writing one codebase that can then compile to native platform-specific solutions. Examples here include React Native, Xamarin, Flutter, Phone Gap, Sencha, and more.

Game engineer

#5 Game engineer

Game engineers make games. They often use game engines like Unity or Unreal as the core rendering pipeline and write custom code to modify the behavior of specific objects in the various scenes of a game. The game software engineering career path can be challenging but rewarding too.

Game code is often written in C or C#. However, many games now also support embedded language development using programming languages like Lua.

DevOps software engineer

#6 DevOps software engineer

DevOps software engineers use their software engineering experience to develop software tools that improve an organization's technology. The roles of software engineering and infrastructure are blurring into new DevOps disciplines that combine software development and infrastructure together. Here are some examples of what DevOps do that pull more heavily now from the software development stack:

  • build and manage CI/CD (continuous integration / continuous deployment) pipelines
  • integrate IaC (infrastructure as code) more into the CI//CD process
  • write monitoring and alerting support more directly into the code
  • help ensure strong security, configuration, and scalability are part of the code

DevOps has grown so much lately due to technology improvements, that some are talking about a newer focus on NoOps- a reduced or non-existent need for any dedicated infrastructure staff. I don't necessarily agree with this, but this is still a good indicator of the strong growth in technical capabilities in this discipline.

Wrap-Up: plan your career path

Wrap-Up: Plan Your Career Path

Whether you are a new software engineer or already experienced, you have a number of career path options to consider. Start with a plan and a long-term goal for yourself. Then look at your career path from a role or a discipline perspective- or both.

If you create a plan, stick to it, and have fun along the way, there's a lot of opportunity out there for you to grow. So get out there!

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