The Ultimate Guide to Software Engineering


Software engineering involves designing, developing, testing, and maintaining software applications or systems. Generally, software engineers are responsible for developing, deploying, updating, and debugging software. This article will explore exactly what a software engineer does, the types of skills software engineers regularly use, and the careers you can get with a software engineering education.


What is Software Engineering?

Software engineers are like systems controllers for all the technology and modern applications we use every day. Our smartphones, TVs, financial services, healthcare systems – they are all run by software. Today, there is a tremendous – and growing – demand for software engineers across many lucrative industries.

When we refer to software, this is the data, instructions, and programs that operate computers and automate them to do specific tasks. Software, in this context, acts as the “brains” of a computer. All of the inputs are like neurons that software engineers can program to fire in specific ways to complete specific tasks.

This goes hand-in-hand with hardware. Hardware is the physical components of a computer – including things like the motherboard or modem – that are necessary for the software to run.

Engineering, on the other hand, refers to the use of scientific and mathematical solutions to solve complex problems. When we talk about engineering, it often implies a sense of innovation, as engineers often come up with creative solutions to solve tricky problems.

When we put this together, software engineering is a mathematical and scientific process used to solve problems that help computers run in specific ways for specific purposes. Software engineers typically use skills like project planning, requirement analysis, design, coding, testing, and maintenance to produce high-quality software that meets the needs of users.

A software engineer at work with 2 screens and a laptop
Image: Unsplash


What Does a Software Engineer Do?

The daily process of software engineering is full of repetitious feedback loops. At a high-level, a software engineer is constantly making sure that software meets the needs of its users, which are constantly changing.

Software engineers use a wide range of tools and technologies to accomplish these goals. These include integrated development environments (IDEs), version control systems, testing frameworks, and deployment tools. These tools are used to help develop code efficiently and manage changes to code over time.

The end goal of a software engineer is to create software that is efficient, reliable, and easy to maintain. Businesses often use software to help their processes or marketing schemes run smoothly, to increase efficiency, and, ultimately, to profit. 

Typically, you find software engineers working in computer systems design firms or electronics products manufacturers. They might also be employed by software publishers or work in app development, too.

If you are interested in becoming a software engineer, ALX Global offers an online Intro to Software Engineering course to get you ready for a junior position in just 4 months.


Types of Software that Engineers Work With

Virtually any software application that people use are the product of software engineering. There are a wide variety of computer systems and software that software engineers typically work with. Let’s briefly explore some of the common types of software that require engineering:

  • Enterprise software: Businesses use this type of software to manage their overall operations. This includes finance, customer relations, and employee operations. Anything from accounting software to customer relationship management (CRM) systems and human resource management (HRM) software are used here.

  • Web applications: When you log on to your computer, there are myriad software applications that you access through your web browser for different purposes. You might find software like this in e-commerce, social networking, and online collaboration. Software needs to be built by engineers for these applications to function properly.

  • Mobile applications: Our smartphones and tablets are software machines. All of the apps that you use on a daily basis – like games, social networking apps, productivity apps – need constant attention from an engineer to meet your consumer needs.

  • Embedded systems: Devices like automobiles, home appliances, and medical devices have software embedded in them that tells them how to function. Each system is unique and they often require specialized software engineering skills.

  • Gaming software: Engineering video games or mobile games is tough! The complex graphics, complicated physics, and AI needed to run modern games is very high-level. Expert software engineers take years to master these skills and will always be required to build these games.
An edited photo of 2 boys gaming in front of their laptops with neon colours highlighted
Image: Unsplash


The Engineering Process

Those learning software engineering are introduced to a specific and structured approach to software development that helps keep systems in check. It is designed to help software engineers create reliable, efficient, and maintainable systems. Here are those steps:

  1. Requirements gathering & analysis: This first step is where the software engineer takes stock to understand the constraints and goals of the software they are meant to produce. They typically work with their client to understand their needs, business objectives, and technical requirements of the software.
  2. Design: In this next step, software engineers create a detailed design for the software application or system they are building. Importantly, the software engineer identifies the software components, defines the software’s architecture, and creates a plan to implement it.
  3. Implementation: From design, comes creation. In this step, the code for the software application or system needs to be written. Programming languages like Java, Python, or C++ are typically used to do this. This step is where software engineers also develop databases and user interfaces alongside other software components.
  4. Testing: Next, engineers must test the software they’ve created in order to make sure that it works properly and meets the client’s needs. This involves checking for bugs, errors, and other issues that might prevent the software from working properly.
  5. Deployment: Following implementation, testing, and validation of the software, it must then be opened up to users or customers for practical testing in situ. In order to do so, the software is installed on the target hardware, making it available for customers to use.
  6. Maintenance: In this final step, engineers will have to constantly update the software they built to keep up with the changing needs of its users and other technological advancements. You’ll often be fixing bugs and tending to issues that arise to ensure that the software is doing what it is supposed to do.
Lines of code written in different colours depicting programming languages that software engineers typically use
Image: Unsplash


Key Skills Used in Software Engineering

A broad range of technical and non-technical skills help software engineers solve the complex problems they encounter. By learning to become a software engineer, these are some of the key skills you will become proficient in:

  • Programming: A programmer deals with the design, development, testing, and maintenance of software. Programming skills, including knowledge of at least one programming language, are expected of any software engineer. This helps them write clean and efficient code to properly build the software users need.

  • Technical knowledge: A software engineering professional has a deep understanding of various computer science principles, including algorithms, data structures, and software architecture. They are also comfortable working with databases, networks, and different operating systems, too.

  • Problem-solving: Any engineer can analyze complex problems to come up with innovative solutions. Software engineers are no different. They are able to break these problems down into smaller, more manageable parts, to then develop strategies to solve them.

  • Communication: Software engineers are the brains of a team. Communication skills are crucial to work well with team members, stakeholders, and customers. They are constantly explaining technical concepts to those without technical knowledge in clear, simple, concise language.

  • Project management: A good software engineer has good time management skills. They can plan, schedule, and track the progress of their work in order to manage their deadlines effectively.

  • Continuous learning: Your education as a software engineer is never-ending. With tech that constantly evolves, you’ll have to stay up-to-date with new technologies, programming languages, and development methodologies as they are developed.


Types of Software Engineers

This diverse career can take on many different specializations. Each type of software engineer focuses on a different aspect of application or software development. Here are some examples:

  1. Front-end engineer: The “front-end” of software is the part that users or clients see. This type of engineer uses HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to write code to create visually-appealing and user-friendly interfaces, like websites.
  2. Back-end engineer: The “back-end” of software involves the servers that make sure the software runs smoothly. Back-end engineers use programming languages like Java, Python, and Ruby to build the logic and functionality that power the software.
  3. Full-stack engineer: A software engineer that works on both the front- and back-end is a full-stack engineer. This role requires a much broader and more well-rounded understanding of software engineering.
  4. Mobile app developer: Apps on smartphones and tablets that we interact with daily need software engineers to develop them. Mobile app developers work with programming languages like Swift and Kotlin to build and maintain apps for iOS and Android platforms.
  5. Data engineer: Many software applications are developed to work directly with datasets. A data engineer uses tools like Hadoop and Spark to build data processing pipelines and to ensure the data collected is accurate and secure.
  6. Quality assurance engineer: Using tools like Selenium and JMeter, a quality assurance engineer can automate testing to ensure the created application is free of bugs and contains no errors.


Careers in Software Engineering

Software engineering as a career offers a lot of flexibility and job security. Due to the nature of this career, you can work remotely from anywhere in the world, in an office or from home. As technology continues to become more integrated into our daily lives, the demand for this career will continue to grow. From mobile apps to cloud computing, software engineers are needed to design, develop, and maintain the software that powers the modern world.

Here are some examples of the most popular software engineering careers:

  • Software developer: This career is perfect for someone who is creative and innovative. A software developer will use engineering principles to design, develop, and maintain software applications for a variety of industries.

  • Software architect: Architects work with developers to design the overall structure of a software application. They ensure that the application is designed to be scalable, efficient, and easy to maintain. If you are good at seeing the big picture, this career is right for you.

  • Quality assurance engineer: This career requires keen attention to detail. Quality assurance engineers look out for bugs and pinpoint errors in software to make sure it runs properly.

  • Mobile developer: This is a wide and varied career that is perfect for someone who enjoys dynamic and cutting-edge work. A mobile developer develops software applications for mobile devices, like smartphones, smartwatches, and tablets.

  • DevOps Engineer: A career filled with creative problem-solving, a devops engineer focuses on automating the deployment and operation of software applications.

  • Machine learning engineer: This type of software engineer builds systems that learn from data or make predictions based on past actions. If you’re into artificial intelligence (AI), this might be the right career path for you.


Become a Software Engineer with ALX Global

Becoming a software engineer can seem daunting at first, but the truth is, the path is simple. In fact, it’s even possible to do it from the comfort of your own home. ALX Global makes preparing for the future of work simple.

Our philosophy is simple: create innovative online courses that exist on the cutting-edge of technology. Our Intro to Software Engineering program if a 4-month course that is 100% remote. It will prepare you with the skills you need to break into an emerging and lucrative global industry.

With a commitment of just 20 hours per week, you can learn to write code and analyze data, no matter your previous experience. Reserve your seat today to propel your skills into the future.

Two people sitting at their laptops and taking notes, as if they are learning about software engineering
Image: Unsplash



A career in software engineering is far-reaching, varied and dynamic. It is a field of study that is expected to continue to grow for the foreseeable future, providing with it opportunities for job stability and growth down the line. By understanding what a software engineer does and the career paths available, you can decide for yourself if becoming one is something you aspire to.

If you’re looking to become a software engineer to put your creativity, innovation, and brain-power to use, consider enrolling in with ALX Global to our Intro to Software Engineering program.




What skills do you need to become a software engineer?

Becoming a successful software engineer requires a combination of technical expertise, such as proficiency in programming, and non-technical skills, such as creativity, problem-solving, teamwork, adaptability and communication.

How much will I make as a software engineer?

The average annual salary of a software engineer in the USA is $96,817, along with a $4,600 cash bonus, as reported by Indeed. However, these figures can vary depending on the level of experience and the software engineer’s location. A junior front-end software engineer can earn anywhere between $38,000 to $108,000 annually, while a senior back-end software engineer’s software salary can range from $61,000 to $165,000 per annum.

What subjects do software engineers study?

Computing and IT are the most important subjects to study, but other technical subjects like physics and design technology may also be useful.