How to become a software engineer: A cheat sheet


If you are looking to pursue a career in software engineering and aren’t sure where to begin, here’s your guide to salaries, job markets, skills and common interview questions in the field.


Image: iStockphoto/SeventyFour

With the economy suffering serious damage due to the volatility of 2020, workers are looking to find the best jobs with the most stability. The job market is recovering, and employers are either hiring or planning to, thanks to widespread vaccinations.

One of the better options is software engineering. Software engineer applications accounted for 19% of all job applications from Gen Z applicants in the U.S., making it the most in-demand job among that generation, according to a recent Glassdoor report.

To help those interested in the industry figure out how to launch a career in software engineering, we compiled the most important details and resources. We’ll show you how to be a computer software engineer. For a free PDF version of this software engineering career guide, download this ebook. This article will be updated on a regular basis. 

(Note: This article about how to become a software engineer is available as a free PDF download.)

SEE: How iRobot used data science, cloud, and DevOps to design its next-gen smart home robots (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

Why is there an increased demand for software engineers?

Software engineer is No. 9 on Glassdoor’s list, the 50 Best Jobs in America in 2021, along with mobile engineer at No. 8, front-end engineer at No. 11 and back-end engineer at No. 16. As of January 2021, there were more than 40,000 job openings for software engineers, the report said. Java software developer was listed No. 1.

Backend, full stack and frontend engineers are in highest demand, landing more than half of all interview requests for software engineering roles, said Hired’s 2021 State of Software Engineers report.

The demand for software engineers correlates with the ebbs and flows of new technology. For example, the explosion of blockchain in the past year has resulted in a need for software engineers with blockchain skills, the report found.

SEE: All of TechRepublic’s cheat sheets and smart person’s guides

Most companies are trying to stay competitive, resulting in a greater investment in technology, across all sectors, according to Glassdoor’s Economic Research Blog. As more companies are trying to transform into tech companies, software engineers are needed in those industries (retail, finance, manufacturing, etc.) to plan, manage and launch the software.

Demand for engineering talent still far exceeds supply, and 64% of engineers say there’s a computer software engineer shortage in their companies with concerning consequences on innovation and growth, according to a 2021 report by Terminal

Additional resources

What does a software engineer do?

Software engineers are responsible for building, developing, launching and maintaining software products and systems, according to Indeed’s career guide. Software systems include operating systems, business applications, connected hardware, networking systems and mobile and web applications.

Software engineers and software developers are interconnected, but mutually exclusive. Software developers help maintain existing software performance, recommend improvements and develop updates or new software programs in code. The key difference is in the word “engineer,” because engineers are involved in the development of software, but software developers don’t necessarily have the engineering background to be involved in that part of the process.

Additional resources

What are some software engineer job roles?

Computer software engineers can choose from a number of different career paths. Here are the nine most in-demand software engineering jobs and their growth rates year over year, according to the Hired report. Mobile and embedded engineers were some of the few roles that saw slight demand growth compared with 2019, the report said. This is likely a result of people spending more time on their mobile devices amid lockdowns in 2020, with mobile web traffic being 11.4% higher in April 2020 compared with 2019.

Highest-demand jobs in 2021 by interview request, according to Hired:

  • Backend engineer: 58%
  • Full stack: 57% (down 1%)
  • Front end: 30% (down 2%)
  • Data: 9% (down 1%)
  • Mobile: 8% (same as 2020)
  • Machine learning: (4% down 2%)
  • Search: 2% (down 1%)
  • Security: 2% (same as 2020)
  • Natural language processing: 1% (down 1%)
  • Computer vision, gaming, embedded, AR/VR, blockchain engineer and manager all were at 1% with no change.

Additional resources

What programming languages or other skills are best to learn to become a software engineer?

Software engineers typically have at least a bachelor’s degree in software engineering or information technology. Those in the field are often well-versed in software development and have extensive experience working with various programming languages such as Python, Java, and C++, along with great technical skills.

The fastest-growing skills in 2019 for software engineers include experience with Flutter, Android design, NUXT.JS, continuous integration and software development, and angular material, according to a LinkedIn report.

SEE: Programming languages and software developer career resources coverage (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

For software engineers in management positions, or those trying to reach management level, soft skills are becoming increasingly important. To fuel high-performing teams, software engineering managers’ skill sets must include people management, leadership, team management, team building and strategic planning, the LinkedIn report found.

Additional resources

What is the average salary for a software engineer?

Software engineers are one of the highest-paying tech jobs of 2021. As of April 2019, software engineers in the U.S. earn an average base salary of $103,984 per year, according to Indeed. Software engineers just starting out in the U.S. have a median base salary of $110,245 with more than 40,000 job openings, according to data from Glassdoor. ZipRecruiter says the national average salary for software engineers is $99,729

The highest-paying companies for software engineers, according to Indeed, were:

  • Citi: $184,513
  • Apple: $170,536
  • Facebook:
  • Octo Consulting Group: $153,511
  • Capital One: $151,009

Additional resources

What are the hottest markets for software engineer jobs?

The 10 highest paying cities in the U.S. for software engineers in 2021 and their average salaries, according to ZipRecruiter, are as follows (as of this writing):

  1. San Jose, California ($123,178)
  2. Oakland, California ($121,760)
  3. Tanaina, Alaska ($121,208)
  4. Wasila, Alaska ($121, 206)
  5. Hayward, California ($119,210)
  6. Seattle ($118,406)
  7. Concord, California ($118,110)
  8. Sunnyvale, California ($117,435)
  9. Santa Cruz, California ($116,076)
  10. Redmond, Washington ($115,862)

Additional resources

What are typical software engineer interview questions?

Some questions that a software engineer can expect during a job interview, according to Indeed, include:

  • What programming languages have you used in the past? What are your top two coding languages?
  • How much are you coding on a daily basis? If you do not code on a daily basis, what is typical in your role?
  • How comfortable are you in a startup environment, or do you prefer working in a more established company?
  • What distinguishes a great software engineer from a good one? Do you feel you have those qualities?
  • What’s the most important thing to look for or check when reviewing another team member’s code?
  • In your opinion, what are the principles of good software engineering? What are some basic principles everyone should follow?
  • If needed, how would you go about designing scalable applications? Walk us through your process.

Additional resources

Where can I find resources for a career in software engineering?

There are many different paths to becoming a software engineer, and most take the one less traveled, according to Hired’s previously mentioned 2019 State of Software Engineering report (the 2021 report did not update these statistics). While 46% of respondents start their software engineering careers by earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science, one in five said they are instead self-taught. While…


Read More:How to become a software engineer: A cheat sheet