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How to become a software developer

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This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
Read more about our editorial process.

Kathryn Uhles, MIS, MSP, Dean, College of Business and IT

Reviewed by Kathryn Uhles, MIS, MSP,  Dean, College of Business and IT

This article was updated 3/8/2024.

Are you thinking of becoming a software developer? If so, you’re not alone. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects faster-than-average job growth in this sector between 2022 and 2032.

We spoke with J.L. Graff, an associate dean in the College of Business and Information Technology at University of Phoenix, about what can make software

Graff shares: “Software development can be fun and exciting. You will have ample opportunities to create, design, deploy and support software on the back-end that can improve the user experience. The learning opportunities and creativity you can exercise are endless.”

But before you dust off your resumé to pursue a job in software development, know that there are programming languages and other essential skills you’ll need to learn first.

Let’s look at what it takes to become a professional software developer. We’ll explore what software developers do and the jobs they may compete for, as well as how much they typically earn and the degree programs and other skills employers may seek when hiring.

Career-focused tech degrees aligned to the skills employers want.

What does a software developer do? 

Software developers design, code, test and maintain computer software or applications based on users' or businesses' needs. They also often troubleshoot software issues, implement updates and work on improving existing software’s performance and efficiency. Typical daily job duties include:

  • Analyzing user needs and developing software to address them
  • Recommending upgrades for customers’ existing systems
  • Designing pieces of an application or system to work together
  • Creating models and diagrams that show programmers software code necessary for applications
  • Ensuring normal function through software maintenance and testing
  • Documenting each aspect of the application or system as references for future upgrades or maintenance

Developers can perform these duties with a variety of software, including word processors; music and sound recording programs; video games; web browsers; and email software.

Software developers might have different job titles depending on the company they work for, such as:

  • Computer consultant
  • Technical consultant
  • Developer
  • Application developer
  • Software engineer*

What does it mean to be a software engineer or to work on a “web dev team?” Is there a difference?

While there can be overlap or similarities between what developers and engineers do, and the two are often confused, the roles are different. Some companies, however, use these terms interchangeably.

Graff explains: “I see software developers as those responsible for software creation, design, deployment and maintenance to deliver a quality user experience. Software engineers, on the other hand, are often looking at the entire software development life cycle. They are usually more involved in the architecture and performance of software systems and are tasked with making critical decisions that can impact those systems.”

*University of Phoenix does not specifically prepare students to become software engineers but does offer software developer programs.

How to become a software developer

If a career in software development is right for you, you can do as many aspiring software developers do and follow one of two paths:

  • Traditional education via a bachelor’s degree in a field like computer science, engineering or mathematics
  • Self-driven learning via online resources, including GitHub and Stack Overflow

Whichever path you take, the process of becoming a software developer usually requires:

1.     Fulfilling education requirements

2.     Learning necessary skills

3.     Gaining on-the-job experience to develop a portfolio

Software developer education requirements 

Many employers require (or prefer) software developers to have a bachelor’s degree in fields like computer science or engineering. In addition, it’s a good idea to enhance your math skills. A working knowledge of algebra and basic math certainly doesn’t hurt. Online math courses can help you brush up on those skills.

Maybe you instead want to learn how to become an app developer. The process is similar but more niche — you only work with creating, troubleshooting and updating applications for various devices. For this role, you’ll likely want to pursue formal education. An IT degree such as computer science can prepare students with skills and knowledge to pursue this career path. “In addition to a degree, employers are looking for employees who have relevant industry certifications,” Graff says.

In some cases, an associate degree can open pathways to a career in software development, but most of the time, you’ll need additional experience.

Graff explains: “If you are pursuing a career in software development, a degree in computer science or a related field will prepare you with foundational knowledge, skills and experience to demonstrate to employers that you are prepared for this career path. Additionally, the degree will open up more career opportunities for you as it is a minimum qualification for many organizations.”

Skills needed for software developers 

  • Programming languages: Most developers have proficiency in one or more computer programming languages, including Java, SQL, Python, C++, C# and JavaScript.
  • Data structures and algorithms: Knowing how data structures, like arrays, trees and graphs, relate to one another is essential, as is an understanding of algorithms.
  • Databases: Software developers need an understanding of database management, SQL and experience with rational databases, like MySQL.
  • Web development: Because so many applications have web-based aspects, understanding front-end technologies, such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript, is critical.
  • Software testing and debugging: Developers need the ability to write test cases and debug code to ensure it works as expected.
  • Version control systems: Developers must be able to track changes in source code during development.

Software developer soft skills

Hard skills are just the beginning of a career in software development. You’ll also need to be able to work in a team environment and collaborate, often using the following common soft skills:

  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Adaptability
  • Attention to detail
  • Time management
  • Creativity

Can I become a software developer without a degree? 

Over the past decade, it’s become increasingly possible to transition to a software development career without a traditional degree. The rise of structured training programs like boot camps and online courses can equip professionals with the right skills for a career in software development.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea to get a degree. As Graff notes:

“It is becoming increasingly possible to transition to a software development career without a degree. While some make this claim, the truth is that the majority of software developers hold a bachelor's degree and many reputable businesses still require a degree in computer science or a related field. There are opportunities to get into software development jobs without a degree, but often those hired have experience in software development, which is helpful. However, if someone is looking into a career in software development, I would encourage them to look at the companies they are interested in to see if a degree is required. With more jobs opening up in software development, it is important to find ways to stand out from other job applicants. Even those employers who may not require a degree may look at those with a degree when making hiring decisions.”

Many companies also value practical experience with in-demand programming languages. Relevant certificates can help professionals spruce up such skills in a way that puts theory into practice and can even count toward credit to a degree program.

What’s the fastest way to become a software developer? 

The fastest way to become a software developer depends on your background, resources and commitment. Intensive coding programs can take three to nine months and offer the additional benefit of hands-on experience and job placement assistance.

Self-directed learning is another path. If you have the time and pick things up quickly, developing skills at your own pace is possible. However, you might miss out on the benefits of career services from your university, as well as having formal education on your resumé.

Formal education via a four-year bachelor’s program might take the longest, but it does provide a comprehensive understanding of the field. In addition, you can network with classmates and instructors. Using your school’s career services department can also help you navigate the world of job opportunities.

How do I become a software developer with an unrelated degree? 

If you already hold a degree but it’s in an unrelated field, you don’t necessarily have to start from square one. In fact, several paths are available to you.

For starters, you could use online resources to teach yourself the necessary skills in your free time. Plenty of tutorials exist for programming languages and the basics of development. You can use those skills to build relevant portfolio items that demonstrate your knowledge.

Earning certificates from recognized programs and platforms is another way to transition to your new software career. Don’t forget about the potential for bridge programs either, which can allow you to transition into software development with foundational computer science and programming concepts.

Careers as a software developer 

Several types of software development jobs exist. These include developers, computer consultants and application developers. According to BLS, as of May 2022, these were the estimated annual salary outcomes:

  • Web developers work on front-end and back-end projects for web-based applications and websites. As of May 2022, web developers earned between $43,100 and $166,180 a year, and can work in various settings, from private employers to government agencies.
  • Computer consultants study a company’s existing computer systems and design more efficient processes or systems. As of May 2022, they earned between $61,390 and $161,980 a year.
  • Application developers design applications or games for consumers. Many application developers focus on mobile platforms such as tablets and phones. As of May 2022, they earned between $71,280 and $198,100 a year.

Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

Software development and IT programs at University of Phoenix 

University of Phoenix offers several degree and course options to help you pursue a career in software development. From a bachelor’s degree program in computer science to information technology certificates, UOPX offers online programs that can help you learn essential skills. Online learning at UOPX allows busy professionals and transitioning students to enhance their skill set in a flexible and efficient way.

With the bachelor’s in computer science degree, students learn how to apply computer science theory and software development fundamentals to produce computing-based solutions, make informed judgments in computing practice based on legal and ethical principles and evaluate a computing-based solution to meet a given set of requirements.

They also learn:

  • Java programming
  • Software development
  • Computer architecture
  • Ethics in computer science
  • Computer application and theory

Additionally, students may pursue an IT certificate with the bachelor’s degree program to develop a professional specialty in one of the following areas:

  • Advanced cybersecurity
  • Cyber and network defense
  • Cloud computing
  • Scripted and compiled program languages
  • Advanced software development

Want to learn more? Discover more online courses and bachelor’s degree programs at University of Phoenix.

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Brian Fairbanks is a freelance writer with a background in SEO content creation and blog article development.

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