How to Become a Principal Developer?

Are you thinking of becoming a Principal Developer or already started your career and planning the next step? Learn how to become a Principal Developer, what skills you need to succeed, how to advance your career and get promoted, and what levels of pay to expect at each step on your career path. Explore new Principal Developer job openings and options for career transitions into related roles.
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Steps to Become a Software Developer

As a software developer, you are responsible for designing and building computer programs for mobile apps, operating systems, or desktop applications. If you enjoy programming and problem-solving, a career as a software developer may be right for you. In this article, we discuss five steps required to become a software developer:

Receive a college degree or training.

In the past, a four-year degree was a requirement for all software developers. Today, prospective software developers can follow one of several paths to gain the training and educational requirements needed to become a software developer without the commitment to a four-year degree. Software developer education options include:

  • Bachelor's Degree: The traditional software developer career path starts with a bachelor's degree in software development, computer engineering, computer science, or another relevant field.
  • Coding Boot camp: Coding boot camps are fast-paced programs that train participants in the most sought-after programming skills, such as version control, coding languages, database management, and algorithms. Boot camps prioritize real-world, work-ready skills.
  • Self-Directed Study: Those unable to participate in a four-year program or training boot camp can study online courses, tutorials, and books to gain the skills needed to become a software engineer. To be successful as a self-taught software engineer requires careful planning and self-discipline.

What skills do you need to be a Software Developer?

  • Javascript
  • Cloud Architecture
  • Frameworks
  • SQL Server
  • Windows Applications
  • Debugging
  • Hadoop SPARK
  • API
Based on resume data from Glassdoor users who reported working as a Software Developer in the United States.

Participate in an internship.

Most four-year university programs require the completion of an internship before graduation. Internships allow prospective software developers to apply their classroom skills in a real-world environment. Internships also provide students with the opportunity to connect with other professionals, potentially leading to an entry-level position after graduation. Students can typically find software development internships through job boards, academic advisors, and college job fairs.


Find employment as a software developer.

Software developers can find entry-level employment through career fairs, college advisors, and job boards. Professional organizations can also provide job notifications, mentors, and career guidance. A few of the most common professional organizations for software developers include:

  • Association of Software Professionals.
  • Association for Women in Computing.
  • Association for Computing Machinery.
  • International Association of Privacy Professionals.
  • Society for Technical Communication.
  • Association of Information Technology Professionals.

Earn certifications.

Specialty certifications are not usually required for entry-level software developer jobs but can be important for career advancement. Certifications are available that focus on programming languages, infrastructure, networking, and management. Professional certifications generally require the completion of a course and exam. Software developers can take certification courses through software companies such as Microsoft or Oracle, colleges, training companies, or professional organizations. Some of the most valuable certifications for software developers include:

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS).
  • Oracle Java.
  • Oracle Application Express Developer Expert.
  • Microsoft MTA.
  • Microsoft Azure.
  • Cloudera.
  • Puppet.
  • Red Hat.
  • Salesforce.
  • Scrum.
  • Project Management.

Earn an advanced degree.

A master's degree is usually a requirement for work as a manager. Programs generally take two years to complete. Many universities offer evening and weekend programs that allow working professionals to work while earning a degree.

A doctorate in software development is only necessary for those interested in working as a college professor or in a research field. Doctorate programs typically take four years to complete.

Principal Developer Career Path

Principal Software Developer

8+Years of Experience
$156K - $252K /yrMost Likely Range
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Senior Principal Software Developer

8+Years of Experience
$180K - $292K /yrMost Likely Range
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Director of Software Development

8+Years of Experience
$204K - $342K /yrMost Likely Range
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Total Pay Trajectory

Principal Developer Career Path

Assistant Manager of Software Development
Software Developer Manager
Mid-level Software Developer
Senior Manager of Software Development
Team Lead Software Developer
Principal Software Developer
Senior Principal Software Developer
Associate Director of Software Development
Director of Software Development
Senior Director of Software Development
Vice President of Software Development
Senior Vice President of Software Development

Related Careers in the engineering Industry

Interested in other engineering careers? Below are occupations that have high affinity with Principal Developer skills. Discover some of the most common Principal Developer career transitions, along with skills overlap.

Software Engineer
25% skills overlap
47% transitioned to Software Engineer