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Computer Software Engineer

What is this job like?

Because computers are so important to our lives, there is a constant need to develop new software. Computer software engineers apply computer science, engineering, and math to design, develop, and test software. (Computer hardware engineers design computer chips, boards, systems, modems, and printers.)

Software engineers first analyze users' needs. Then they design, construct, test, and maintain the needed software or systems. In programming, or coding, they tell a computer, line by line, how to function. They also solve any problems that arise. They must possess strong coding skills, but are more likely to develop algorithms and solve problems than write code.

Software engineers often work as part of a team that designs new hardware, software, and systems. A core team may have engineering, marketing, factory, and design people who work together until the product is done.

Computer applications software engineers design, construct, and maintain computer programs based on what people need. They can develop a program for just one person or for many people to use separately.

Computer systems software engineers construct and maintain computer programs for companies. For example, they might develop programs that do recordkeeping and payroll. They might also set up an "intranet"—an internal and secure computer network—for a company. Many software engineers work for companies that make or install new and more advanced computer systems.

Software engineers normally work in well-lighted offices or labs. Most work at least 40 hours a week. If a big project is due, they may have to work nights or weekends to meet deadlines. Like other workers who sit for hours at a computer, they are susceptible to eyestrain, back ache, and hand and wrist pain.

Software engineers who are employed by vendors and consulting firms spend time away from their offices to meet with customers. As networks expand, they may be able to use modems, laptops, e-mail, and the Internet to identify and fix problems from their own office.


How do you get ready?

Most employers prefer to hire people who have at least a college degree and experience with a variety of computer systems. Students seeking software engineering jobs can improve their chances by signing up as interns to get some experience. Large firms that can train new hires may take new grads with no experience.

Persons looking at jobs in this field must have strong problem-solving skills. They also must be able to work with team members, other staff, and customers. Because they often deal with many tasks at the same time, they must be able to focus and pay close attention to detail.

As technology advances in the computer field, employers want workers to keep up. Software engineers must learn new skills if they wish to remain in this advancing field. To help them keep up, employers, vendors, private training schools, and others offer a large number of courses.

How many jobs are there?

Computer applications software engineers held about 514,800 jobs in 2008, while computer systems software engineers held about 394,800. Although they have jobs in most industries, many computer software engineers work in computer systems design and related services. Employers range from startups to well-known industry leaders. A growing number of these workers get jobs on a temporary basis, or work as consultants.What about the future?

Both computer applications software engineers and computer systems software engineers are projected to be among the fastest growing occupations from 2008 to 2018. Rapid growth in the computer systems design industry should mean good opportunities for college grads with a degree and some experience. Employers will look for software engineers with a strong background in programming and systems analysis, along with business and people skills.

The number of computer software engineers is expected to rise much faster than the average, as businesses are looking for new ways to get ahead of competition and make their computer systems the fastest. Also, growing concerns over "cyber security"—making sure only certain people can see private information—will mean more jobs for these engineers. Job growth will not be as fast as during the last decade because some work is outsourced to foreign countries.


How much does this job pay?

Average yearly wages for computer applications software engineers were $87,900 in May 2008. Average yearly wages for computer systems software engineers were $94,520.

Are there other jobs like this?

Computer hardware engineers

Computer support specialists

Computer scientists

Database administrators

Systems analysts

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