Software Developer Career Overview


Updated October 31, 2023

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Software developers create software to meet user needs by employing diagrams and models, writing code, and ensuring overall functionality. These professionals design, build, and implement computer programs and applications.

Applications software developers focus on applications used on mobile devices and computer desktops. Systems software developers create and oversee software used in network distribution, along with database, game, and web development.

Software developers typically have bachelor's degrees in software development, computer science, or other related fields. Developing experience, earning certifications, and completing training programs like bootcamps allows individuals to pursue employment in the field.

Software transcends industries, allowing software developers to design and build programs for companies and organizations in the private and public sectors. Discover the skills, duties, and opportunities associated with software development in this guide.

What Is a Software Developer?

Software developers design, create, and maintain software for applications and systems. There are two main types of software developers: application software developers and systems software developers.

Application software focuses on mobile or web applications for consumers, while systems software developers create enterprise system solutions.

Both types of developers analyze, test, and improve software to better meet user needs. They oversee the entire software lifecycle, including designing individual parts, performing maintenance, and deploying upgrades.

Developers work closely with other IT professionals, such as programmers and quality assurance analysts. They also share many responsibilities with software engineers. However, software engineers take a broader approach and apply engineering principles to the entire system. Software developers focus more on finding specific solutions to users' software needs.

Software developers typically work in the computer systems design industry. Other common employers include financial and insurance institutions, software publishers, and manufacturers.

History of Software Developers

Software development has its roots in the early 19th century, although the predecessors of modern programming languages and software design came to fruition during the mid-20th century. Alongside the growth of computers in the 1970s and 1980s, the need for software developers grew.

Technological innovation drove the expansion of software development. The creation of the internet, mobile devices, and increasingly advanced computers all led to the need for subsets within the field of software development. By the 2010s, software transitioned from a niche discipline into a widespread, commonplace industry.

In the contemporary landscape, the duties and responsibilities of a software developer include designing, creating, testing, and monitoring software programs and applications. These professionals now perform their work across many industries.

What Is the Job Description of a Software Developer?

A job description for a software developer includes researching, designing, building, and managing computer and application software. They apply scientific and technological principles to user needs, write code, and ensure software functionality. These developers must know coding languages, have problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, and understand the software development process.

Software developers collaborate with coders, computer programmers, software engineers, and other team members or work independently through the development process. They test software, make changes as needed, and document their efforts.

Application software developers create mobile and desktop applications, while systems software engineers focus on operating systems. Game software developers, security software developers, database developers, and web developers are among the other specializations in the field.

Key Soft Skills for Software Developers

  • Communication: Software developers must communicate with customers, colleagues, managers, and employees in non-technical departments to perform their jobs effectively.
  • Teamwork: Software developers often work in teams to plan, design, and develop projects. They must collaborate effectively with others, receive feedback, and participate in meetings.
  • Problem-Solving: The responsibilities of a software developer include fixing problems found by computer programmers and users. These abilities ensure proper functionality.
  • Attention to Detail: Software developers must identify and track small coding issues. These professionals must also shift focus back and forth from the big picture to the minute details.

Key Hard Skills for Software Developers

  • Data Structures and Algorithms: Developers store, arrange, and organize data for processing and retrieving. Algorithms follow steps to complete a task. When used with data structures, algorithms make up the instructions needed to use data for different purposes.
  • Software Security: Developers ensure data safety by adding layers of security to applications and programs, performing tests, and making updates and upgrades.
  • Programming Languages: Software developers typically know at least one programming language, but knowledge of multiple programming languages enhances their experience and competition in the job market. These developers must know the syntax of languages like Python, Java, and HTML/CSS.

The list below provides more information about the best programming languages for software developers.

  • HTML/CSS: HTML is a markup language, and CSS is the style sheet language used to present the information written in HTML. Together, HTML and CSS create the look of web pages. HTML defines the structure, colors, and other visual elements, while CSS arranges their aesthetics visually.
  • JavaScript: JavaScript is a high-level programming language conforming to the ECMAScript specification. Alongside HTML and CSS, it ranks among the three core technologies of the internet.
  • Java: As a general-purpose programming language, Java features class-based, concurrent, object-oriented functions. Designed to minimize implementation dependencies, Java allows application developers to "write once, run anywhere." Java is one of the most popular programming languages, especially for client-server software applications.
  • C#: This general-purpose programming language comprises functional, declarative, object-oriented, component-oriented, and generic programming disciplines. Developed by Microsoft within the .NET initiative, C# received approval as a standard by ISO and ECMA.
  • Python: Python is an interpreted, general-purpose, high-level programming language. Python's design philosophy emphasizes readability by using significant whitespace and providing clear programming on large and small scales.

A Day in the Life of a Software Developer

A day in the life of a software developer includes using models and diagrams to design software based on user needs and client specifications. Software developers write code using programming languages, build software components, and test their designs. As a part of software testing, developers address issues or errors. After deploying an application, software developers perform maintenance, updates, and upgrades as needed.

Software developers may collaborate with coders, software engineers, graphic designers, and other colleagues to create applications. A day in the life of a software developer may also include independent work.

What Education Do Software Developers Need?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about half of existing occupations require a degree — including software developers.

Employers typically expect in-depth coding, testing, and development knowledge, which a bachelor's degree can deliver. Common majors include information technology, computer science, and software engineering. As technology advances and the field becomes more competitive, some software developers pursue master's degrees to stand out among the competition.

However, traditional degrees require a time investment: four years for a bachelor's and two years for a master's. Companies and organizations need software developers now, which is why many people enroll in coding bootcamps.

Software development bootcamps generally last less than two years, and some take only a few months. They teach individuals the basic skills to pursue entry-level positions.

Some software developers may even start with bootcamps before pursuing undergraduate degrees. Others might hold bachelor's degrees in other fields and complete bootcamps to pursue roles in the tech industry.

The BLS reports a direct correlation between education levels and salary. On average, people with bachelor's degrees earn $2,100 more monthly than those with high school diplomas.

Master's degree-holders generally earn even more, leading many software developers to pursue further education. This ongoing education helps developers keep up with new programming languages and technical advancements.

How Much Experience Do Software Developers Need?

With the appropriate education, people can pursue entry-level software development positions after graduation. However, employers often want candidates to have some experience.

Students can gain experience through internships or classes that allow them to build portfolios. Learners can also participate in workshops and hackathons. Many degrees and bootcamps include these opportunities as capstone projects.

Candidates can also demonstrate experience through certifications.

Certifications for Software Developers

Computer science certifications are extra credentials that prove an individual's expertise. Students and professionals can pursue credentials for each computer science specialization, including software development.

While generally not required, certifications can speak to a person's expertise. According to Dice's 2021 report, just under half the technologists surveyed held certifications. Most stated that their role did not require certification.

However, certifications can benefit any aspiring software developer. Self-taught individuals with no formal education might use certifications to demonstrate their expertise to employers. Bootcamp and college graduates may pursue certifications to stand out in a competitive hiring environment.

Midcareer and late-career developers can earn high-level certifications as their skills develop. They might also pursue certifications in new technologies or programming languages to maintain up-to-date skills.

Each certifying body has unique recertification requirements, but professionals can expect to renew their certifications about every three years.

Find a few common software development certifications below.

CompTIA IT Fundamentals: This pre-career certification offers a starting point for IT professionals. The exam covers the fundamentals of operating systems, software applications, security, and software development. Learners need no prior experience.

IEEE Professional Software Developer: Candidates must have completed two years of college education in computer science and two years of professional experience to qualify. The exam covers software requirements, design, construction, and testing.

CISCO DevNet Associate: Cisco offers four DevNet certification levels: associate, specialist, professional, and expert. Developers with at least one year of experience can pursue Devnet associate credentials.

Software Developer Salary and Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), software developers earn a median salary of $120,730 as of May 2021, far outpacing the national median salary of $45,760 for all occupations.

For comparison, the BLS reports that the median income for all computer occupations is $97,430. However, a software developer's salary depends on factors like industry, geographic location, and professional experience.

About 25% of software developers work in the computer systems design industry, and the top-paying industries for software developers include information services, computer equipment manufacturing, and independent artists and performers. The best states for software developers, in terms of salary, include California, Washington, and Maryland.


Annual Median Salary

Source: BLS

How to Get a Job as a Software Developer

Getting a job as a software developer typically starts with earning a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field. Most bachelor's degrees include four years of requirements.

Individuals with associate degrees in computer science or comparable disciplines can also pursue employment as software developers. However, becoming employed may depend on experience and additional training, including software development bootcamps.

Software developers benefit from knowing multiple programming languages and earning professional certifications. Technology industry companies and organizations like CompTIA, EC-Council, and the Information Systems Audit and Control Association offer programs to software professionals.

How to Become a Software Developer

How to Become a Software Developer

This page features a step-by-step guide about the education and experience you need to become a software developer.

Day in the Life of a Software Developer

Day in the Life of a Software Developer

Readers can explore a breakdown of the daily duties, responsibilities, and activities undertaken by software developers.

Computer Science Degree Programs

Computer Science Degree Programs

This page offers a general overview of computer science degree levels and the specializations of the field.

Software Development Bootcamps

Software Development Bootcamps

Discover software development bootcamps, which provide comprehensive training on an accelerated timeline.

Similar Specializations and Career Paths

Software development-focused education programs build the hard skills and knowledge that graduates need to pursue careers in the computer and information technology sectors. Professional opportunities typically depend on past work experience, preferred industry, geographic location, and education level.

Associate degree-holders can pursue jobs in web development, while someone with a bachelor's degree can explore opportunities as software developers or computer programmers. Additional higher education credentials can boost job opportunities — candidates with master's degrees can supervise teams of developers or become research scientists.

Whatever path they choose, graduates seeking software developer careers can expect relatively high salaries. The following list explores similar computer science specializations.

  • Systems Analyst: Systems analysts assess, identify, and implement steps to optimize the user's experience with computer programs. Systems analysts study existing processes, make recommendations for changes, and research new technologies to improve system efficiency and functionality.
  • Information Security Analyst: These professionals plan, implement, and monitor security measures within companies and organizations. Information security analysts check for vulnerabilities, investigate security breaches, research new technologies, and make recommendations for security enhancements.
  • Software Engineer: Software engineers oversee the development of operating systems and applications. They design software; collaborate with coders, programmers, and developers; and address issues as they arise. Software engineers keep the timeline of a project on track, report to supervisors and managers, and ensure overall software functionality.
  • Network Architect: These architects design and build local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and Intranets. These possess business knowledge and technical capabilities. Network architects analyze user needs, research appropriate technologies, and deploy networks once they are ready.
Career Required Education Required Experience Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2021-2031)

Systems Analyst

Bachelor's degree




Information Security Analyst

Bachelor's degree

Less than five years



Software Engineer

Bachelor's degree




Network Architects

Bachelor's Degree

Five years or more



Source: BLS

Resources for Software Developers

Professional resources offer information about the knowledge and skills needed to enter software development. Books, blogs, and periodicals offer updates about the world of software development. Industry leaders offer certification programs, and professional organizations can provide networking opportunities.

Professional Organizations for Software Developers

Computer science students, entry-level software developers, and senior developers alike should take advantage of the many available professional resources. Software developers should strongly consider joining professional associations to pursue continuing education opportunities, networking events, and professional development resources.

Some associations serve all IT professionals, while others focus on specific computing occupations. Professional associations can help you gain new skills and meet like-minded professionals.

  • IEEE Computer Society: This organization links students, professionals, and researchers in the computer science and technology fields. Member benefits include a magazine, access to the IEEE digital library, local networking events, and career development webinars.
  • CompTIA: CompTIA offers continuing education opportunities, including independent and instructor-led training courses. It also offers certifications, resources on trends in the IT industry, and membership benefits.
  • Association for Women in Computing: Established in 1978, AWC aims to advance women in technology professions. Members include programmers, consultants, and systems analysts. AWC offers professional networking meetings, continuing education programs, and mentorship opportunities.
  • The App Association: This association supports over 5,000 application development companies across the United States through advocacy and research.

How Much Does a Software Developer Make?

According to Payscale, software developers earned an average annual salary of $74,270 as of November 2022. This number represents respondents from all over the country, working in various settings.

Keep in mind that location, experience level, education, and employer can affect a software developer's salary. Payscale data shows that software developers' earning potential increases substantially with more experience.

Average Annual Salary of Software Developers, November 2022


Source: Payscale

Average Salary for Software Developers by Experience

Software developers' average salary tends to rise as they spend more time in the role. Payscale data shows that the field's top earners are those with 20 or more years of experience. These late-career professionals earned an average annual salary of $100,310 as of November 2022.

Software developers early in their careers typically earn less. Payscale notes as of November 2022 that developers in their first year earned an annual average of $64,910. Factors like bonuses, employers, and job roles may also affect how much a software developer makes.

Average Salary for Software Developers by Education

Education level has a strong impact on software developer salary potential. Many employers prefer candidates with at least a bachelor's degree. Others accept hands-on experience as a substitute. Earning a graduate degree may increase earning potential.

Not all software developers hold a degree in software development. Related majors such as computer science and information technology also teach applicable skills for the field.

Discover which education path is right for you

Degrees in Computer Science

Degrees in Computer Science

Degrees in Internet Technology

Degrees in Internet Technology

Software Development Bootcamps

Software Development Bootcamps

Degrees in Web Development

Degrees in Web Development

Average Salary for Software Developers by Location

Where software developers live and work can raise or lower their earnings. Different cities and states may host more or fewer tech employers. Rural locations often have fewer employers and fewer job openings, which may affect salary potential.

Metro areas often offer higher salaries than rural areas. However, software developers should consider cost of living, which can be more expensive in cities. For instance, the cost of living in Seattle — the top-paying city for software developers — is 53% higher than the national average.

Top-Paying Cities for Software Developers
State Average Annual Wage Percent Above the National Average

Seattle, WA



New York, NY



Chicago, IL



Source: Payscale, November 2022

Top-Paying States for Software Developers, May 2021
State Number of Software Developers Employed Annual Mean Wage










New York



Rhode Island



Source: BLS

FAQ About Software Developer Careers

  • What does a software developer do?

    Software developers plan, create, and deploy applications across platforms. They recommend upgrades, test functionality, and maintain software once it has been employed.

  • Is software developer a good career choice?

    Software development is a good career choice for individuals who like computers, are creative, and enjoy solving problems. The BLS projects a 26% job growth rate for the profession from 2021-2031, far outpacing the national rate for all occupations.

  • What languages do software developers use?

    Software developers use languages like Python, Java, and C#. Developers who work with online programs also benefit from knowing languages like HTML and CSS.

  • What are the main skills a software developer needs?

    Software developers need to know programming languages, data structures and algorithms, the software development process, and information security measures.

Page last reviewed on Nov 17, 2022

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