What is software engineering, and what does a software engineer do?

Posted by

We’ve all seen the headlines and reports: if you’re looking for a career space that pays extremely high salaries and will always have a job for you, software engineering is the industry for you. With billions of people on the internet and using technology to connect, work, and relax, and hundreds of thousands of businesses going online and remote to adapt to the changing economic landscape, software engineers are in high demand and paid very well for what they do.

But what is software engineering, what does a software engineer do, what is the industry really like, and how does one get into the field? We will be answering all of those questions below.


What does a software engineer do?

Software engineers use programming languages, databases, servers, frameworks,  and other technologies to turn an idea into an app, a game, a robot, an operating system, and many, many other useful computer products. 

Software Engineer

  • The typical work routine of a software engineer is quite varied, but it usually involves most of the following:
  • Interacting with clients or users to figure out what they want from a piece of software or product
  • Designing, developing, and testing the software that their client wants. 
  • Creating documentation of the system and how it works so that the clients and users can understand it and make better use of it
  • Keeping the system or software running in good order, with regular maintenance, testing, and updates.

In general, a software engineer figures out what problem their client is having, figures out a solution to it, and works with their team to create a piece of software that solves that problem (with additional work to keep that software usable and stable in the long term). 


How do you start out in becoming a software engineer?

Every software engineer starts with the basics: they develop their fundamental skills in programming by learning one or more computer programming languages. 

There are thousands to choose from, with the most popular ones being widely recognised languages like Python, Java, Ruby, Go, Swift, C#, and many more, which power your computer’s operating system and programs, the games you play, the apps you use, and the device you’re reading this on. 

Traditionally, you’d need to study computer science for years at a university to get into the software engineering field. This can be a challenge because of the barriers of entry, high cost, and time commitment of a university degree; however, in recent years an increasing amount of focus is being placed on your abilities rather than your qualifications. 

More and more, companies are realising that skilled software engineers don’t need to have gone to university for fours years, leaving online courses and coding bootcamps as accessible, affordable ways to learn the skills you need to build a portfolio of software that’ll get you hired. 


What skills does a software engineer need?

To be a good software engineer, you should be methodological, able to solve problems in efficient ways, and able to think logically and abstractly. 

Here’s a short list of the skills you should have as a software engineer

  • Problem solving – A curiosity for understanding a problem and trying to fix it through trial and error is a must-have for programmers. 
  • A quick learner – The ability to grasp structure and logic quickly makes learning new techniques and ways to solve difficult problems that much easier
  • An attitude of constant self-learning – A good programmer needs to remain aware of the latest coding practices and tools to ensure their code is lean, efficient, and up-to-date
  • High-level of abstraction – figuring out a problem is tough, but finding ways to turn your solution into written code that works is a whole other challenge. A good programmer should be able to imagine real-world implementations of his solution. 
  • Objectivity and refinement – there’s no space to get touchy about the programs you write, as they can always be improved. A good programmer knows there are always quicker, faster, more efficient, less resource-hungry ways of writing a piece of code. 


What is the career path for a software engineer?

Once you’ve developed a good baseline of professional software engineer skills, there are three major branches of software engineering that you can pursue.

Software Engineer

  • Software developer/programmer – this is the person at the heart of the software. A software developer writes all the code that makes the system of software work. WIthout them, there would be no working application or piece of software. 

Software Engineer

  • Systems engineers – systems engineers still write code and create software applications, but take on a more strategic role. They develop code and do hands-on programming work, but the majority of their efforts are spent on how to design, integrate, and manage complex systems over their life cycles.

Software Engineer

  • Developer operations (DevOps) – this is perhaps the most strategic, high-level kind of software engineer work you can pursue. It is the most strategic of the three, and it combines IT, software engineering, and business management to decide what kinds of technology a business needs and the process for implementing those technologies. 

Of course, being a software engineer has nearly limited potential outside of just these three broad roles, simply because of how in-demand developer skills have become. The fundamental skills that you learn as a software engineer translate to almost any tech job, even if that organisation uses different programming languages and technology stacks. 

Perhaps the best thing about software engineering is that you can work anywhere in the world, since nearly every country in the world is hungry for skilled developers. In the past decade, almost every country has added developer jobs to their critical skills lists, which will get you a priority visa to work in their country.


How much does a software engineer earn?

According to PayScale, the average annual salary of a software engineer is R366,532.

This pay level depends on various factors, such as the number of years you’ve spent on the job. Here’s what PayScale says the average data scientist’s pay looks like over the course of their career:

  • Beginner pay: R178,000 – R483,000 per year
  • Middle pay: R337,000 – R912,000 per year
  • Senior pay: R397,000 – R1,000,000+ per year

Software EngineerIn fact, software engineering routinely dominates the global rankings for best and highest-paying careers, with skilled senior developers taking home six- or even seven-figure salaries for the work they do. 

Software engineering is, simply put, one of the best careers to get into, for a variety of reasons:

  • It pays extremely well. 
  • It has low barriers for entry, as anyone can learn to code.
  • Software engineering relies on learning skills that are in greater demand than ever before, and which are highly transferable. 
  • It has a high potential for international and fully-remote work, meaning you can work for any company in the world without ever having to commute again. 



Are you thinking about becoming a software developer so that you can benefit from amazing salaries, fulfilling work, incredible career opportunities at home and overseas, and some of the best job security around? Our specialised 1-on-1 mentor-led coding bootcamps will help you to learn practical software development skills to build a portfolio of real software apps and become job-ready for your new career in tech in months and not years. Best of all, they can be taken online or part-time to suit your schedule, so that you can fit a tech future into your spare time. 

Sign up for our free trial, or contact an admissions consultant to discover your personalised plan. 

You can also check out our list of other essential tech bootcamps in web development and data science if you think that software engineering is not for you.