Software Development Engineer Careers: Salary & Job Description

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Software development engineers can earn up to $121,000 annually, but is it really worth the education and training requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a software development engineer is right for you.
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Software Development Engineer Pros and Cons

Software development engineers create applications and systems software for the general public and individual clients. They may create computer games and word processors for a computer development company, or they may create individualized software programs for businesses and organizations. Software development engineers can earn a high salary, but the education required could be costly. Take a look below to learn some of the pros and cons of becoming a software development engineer.

Pros of Becoming a Software Development Engineer
Expanding job opportunities (17% employment growth expected from 2014-2024)*
Higher than average salary ($97,262 median salary in 2014)*
Work settings are generally comfortable and indoors*
New developments in technology can enhance the job experience*

Cons of Becoming a Software Development Engineer
A bachelor's degree is usually required, and a master's degree is often preferred*
Long hours are a possibility*
Potential health risks such as vision problems and wrist issues from working with computers for long periods*
Secondary knowledge outside your main field can be necessary for higher-level software development engineer jobs*
Previous work experience is sometimes preferred*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

Job Description and Salary Information

Software development engineers use mathematics and computer science principles and theories to create computer software and applications, including games, systems interfaces, databases, operating systems and productivity programs. Depending on the specialty you choose, could develop a new application for mobile phones, or you could design the next operation systems for Microsoft or Macintosh computers. Many software development engineers are involved in project management, so you could be in involved in the project cycle from the stages of designing the software to testing and releasing the software. There are normally production deadlines, so software development engineers need to manage their time and work carefully in order to ensure a product is rolled out on time.

Salary and Job Outlook

Salaries for software development engineers vary based on their specialty, with systems software developers earning a higher salary than applications developers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that applications software developers earned a median salary of about $95,000 in 2014 ( Per the BLS, the top paying states for this applications software developers were California, Washington, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York. Systems software developers made a median yearly income of about $102,000 in 2014. The top-paying industries included petroleum manufacturing, computer manufacturing, securities and commodity exchanges and aerospace manufacturing.

Additionally, in January 2016, reported a median salary of $97,262 for software development engineers. The BLS expects healthy job growth for all software developers; a 17% increase was expected from 2014-2024.


The BLS reports that a bachelor's degree in computer science or software engineering is generally the minimum requirement for entry into this field. In certain circumstances, a 2-year associate degree might be acceptable for an entry-level position. A master's degree may be required for some positions. Programming skills are key to this position, so you should see that your bachelor's degree program includes appropriate training in various computer programming languages.

Internship and Training Programs

Besides obtaining a degree, you can take steps to build up your skills and work experience prior to finding a full-time career. An internship can help give you an idea what the field is like along with some real hands-on experience at the business. Additionally, some larger consulting and computer firms offer training programs for new hires.

What Employers Are Searching For

Employers are looking for software development engineers with strong programming skills and experience with business management and management information systems. Additionally, most employers are seeking applicants who hold a bachelor's degree. Take a look at real job postings from and from February 2012.

  • A workforce solutions company in California was seeking a software development engineer familiar with user interface design, medical devices, networking, XML, UML and TCP/IP. Applicants needed 2 years of experience with software development and 5-7 years of experience with Microsoft applications development.
  • A software solutions company in California was hiring a senior software engineer with a bachelor's degree or equivalent experience in software development engineering. The position involved providing technical leadership and guidance, ensuring proper software coding and overseeing the quality of design documents.
  • A computer software company in Colorado advertised for a senior software development engineer who could apply strategic thinking, build a strong team and execute work tasks effectively.
  • An engineering company in Idaho needed a software development engineer with experience in software scaling and software life cycles. Applicants needed 5-10 years of software development experience and experience with C++Java, Windows and Linux. A bachelor's degree related to computer science was required, and a master's degree was preferred.
  • An information security company in Rhode Island was seeking a software development engineer with knowledge of the life cycle for systems development and an understanding of relational databases. Applicants needed a bachelor's degree, 2-3 years of experience with Java development and knowledge of Linux fundamentals and networking.

How to Stand Out in the Crowd

A master's degree can set you apart from many applicants who possess only a bachelor's degree or an associate's degree. There are certain classes that you can take to help build on your computer science foundation. For example, taking courses in business, management and communication helps to prepare to work in an office environment.

An alternative route is to research the latest computer science trends and developments in software. Software development engineers work in a rapidly changing field, so keeping updated about new technology shows a dedication and passion for this industry. By remaining current on the field, you can discuss how your employer can implement the latest techniques and devices.

Alternative Careers

If you're more into working with hardware than software, you could consider becoming a computer hardware engineer. In this position, you would create and test new hardware, such as keyboards, routers, printers, circuit boards and computer chips. The median salary for computer hardware engineers was around $99,000 in 2011, but jobs were expected to grow only 9% from 2010-2020, according to the BLS.

If you still want to work in systems and applications development, but you'd like to be less involved in the business aspects of the job, you might consider working as a computer programmer. You would still be involved in design and development, but you'd be less involved in project management and other managerial concerns. An associate's degree could qualify you for a job as a computer programmer, but you may need to become certified in programming languages to find employment. According to the BLS, jobs for computer programmers are expected to grow about as fast as average, with a 12% increase expected from 2010-2020. In 2011, computer programmers earned a median salary of $73,000.

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