Becoming a Software Architect: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a software architect career? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming a software architect is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Software Architect

Software architects, also known as software developers, create and engineer software for computers and other types of devices; many are employed by companies that perform system design services. Consider the pros and cons of becoming a software architect to determine if this position is a good fit for you.

PROS of a Career as a Software Architect
Very rapid job growth is expected for software developers (22% increase in jobs between 2012 and 2022)*
High salary potential (median $102,880 for systems software developers as of May of 2014)*
Opportunity to work remotely*
Creativity is a valued asset*

CONS of a Career as a Software Architect
Long hours are often necessary*
Some companies outsource their software architecture work*
Software needs to be updated consistently to keep up with technological developments *
Some positions may require a master's degree*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties and Career Information

Software architects design, implement and test software for computer systems and individual applications. If you work as a software developer in applications you will work with software, or applications, for other types of computerized devices, including mobile phones and automobiles.

Architects oversee the majority of the software development process and offer guidance to computer programmers who write code to enable the software's functionality. Architects will also troubleshoot faulty software and develop updated software for new technology.

Career Path and Education

Software architects typically hold a bachelor's degree in computer science, computer programming or computer engineering. Some advanced positions may require an architect to hold a master's degree in a computer field. If you would like to work in a specific type of industry, such as banking, you may also need an educational or professional background in that field.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May of 2014 applications software developers earned a median annual salary of approximately $95,510, while systems software developers earned about $102,880. The BLS also projected a rapid increase in employment for all developers at 22% between 2012 and 2022. The BLS noted that this growth may be due to an increase in products that utilize software, specifically mobile devices and applications for the heath care industry.

What Are the Requirements?

Most employers prefer software architects with a minimum of a bachelor's degree in computer science or computer programming. Many companies also like architects with professional experience, particularly in analysis and design. Employers also tend to value creativity, sharp analytical skills, customer service skills and excellent problem-solving abilities.

What Employers Are Looking for

Below are just a few of the job postings for this position in April 2012. You will find that most employers are looking for experienced architects with a professional background in a technology field, as well as a bachelor's degree in a technical discipline. Employers also prefer architects with strong communication skills and the ability to work on a team.

  • A company in Los Angeles is interested in hiring a software architect with at least seven years of professional experience. The successful candidate should also be able to develop applications, understand architectural concepts and have a background in mobile technology.
  • A mobile technology company with a location in California is seeking a software architect that can review architecture and design software solutions. The company prefers architects with a background in algorithms and data structures. The successful applicant will also have a bachelor's degree in computer science.
  • A New York-area company is in search of a part-time software architect to enhance products and implement advanced functionality. The company prefers an architect with at least ten years of experience with Java and object oriented programming. Additionally, the candidate should have experience with SQL and databases.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Software architecture can be a competitive field, but there are ways to stand out from other developers and architects. For example, you may look into becoming a certified developer. Some software manufacturers, such as Microsoft, offer certification programs for different types of software development. Although many employers do not require these types of credentials, you may find that they can help you in a competitive job market.

Alternative Careers

On the other hand, you may find that a career in software architecture is not a great fit for you. In this case, you have career path options that incorporate a similar skill set.

Information System Manager

If you are more interested in working within an established information system instead of developing software, you may look into working as an information system manager. Information system managers coordinate all of the computer-related tasks for an organization. Most managers hold a bachelor's degree in computer science and have at least five years of professional experience in a computer-related field.

In 2011, the BLS determined that these managers earned a median salary of around $118,000. The BLS predicted an 18% increase in employment for computer and information system management positions between 2010 and 2020.

Computer Hardware Engineer

Perhaps you are more interested in designing and working with computer hardware rather than software. If this is the case, you will find many companies looking for computer hardware engineers that can design, develop and test computer equipment of all types. The BLS projected a 9% job growth for hardware engineers between 2010 and 2020. The BLS also noted that hardware engineers earned a median annual salary of approximately $99,000 in 2011.

Computer Programmer

If you find that you are more interested in writing the code that makes software applications come to life, you may enjoy a career as a computer programmer. Programmers take the ideas of an architect or developer and construct the code that will allow the software to function within a system's environment. In 2011, the BLS reported that the median salary for these programmers was around $72,000.

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