Software Engineer Career Path

Are you thinking of becoming a Software Engineer or already started your career and planning the next step? Learn how to become a Software Engineer, 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 Software Engineer job openings and options for career transitions into related roles.

How To Become a Software Engineer

Software engineers are responsible for creating software solutions to business problems. If you are detail-oriented and enjoy programming, a career as a software engineer may be right for you. In this article, we discuss the steps required to become a software engineer.


Get a Degree or Training

Traditionally, the career path of a software engineer required an undergraduate degree. However, now there are several options for attaining the training and education needed to become a software engineer. Software engineer education options include:

  • Associate degree: An associate degree provides many opportunities for entry-level jobs in software engineering. An associate degree program in software engineering typically takes two years to complete. An associate degree also allows you to work while completing coursework for a bachelor's degree.
  • Bachelor's degree: A bachelor's degree is the traditional path for a software engineer. A bachelor's program typically takes four years to complete and includes courses in mathematics, software architecture, networking, and programming languages.
  • Coding bootcamp: Participation in a coding bootcamp is becoming an increasingly popular way for aspiring software engineers to become job-ready. During bootcamp, students participate in a hands-on, intensive learning environment that emphasizes practical, real-world skills. Students who complete bootcamp are prepared for an entry-level job as a software engineer.
  • Self-taught: It is possible to become a self-taught software engineer. Most self-taught software engineers start studying programming languages at an early age. Driven and disciplined, self-taught software engineers can become quite successful, despite lacking any formal education.

What type of degree should you pursue to become a Software Engineer?

77% of people working as a Software Engineer earned a Bachelor's Degree

What skills do you need to be a Software Engineer?

  • Javascript
  • Node.js
  • Agile Software Development
  • Programming Languages
  • SQL Server
  • NoSQL
  • .NET
Based on resume data from Glassdoor users who reported working as a Software Engineer in the United States.


Participate in An Internship

Most bachelor's degree programs require the completion of an internship to graduate. Internships allow students to apply their skills to real-world situations, expanding their understanding of programming languages and engineering concepts. Students can find internships through their college, academic advisors, Glassdoor for Students, or job boards.


Find a Software Engineering Job

Software engineers can find entry-level employment through their college, job boards, and career fairs. Professional organizations, such as the Association of Software Professionals, can also offer career guidance and assistance on how to find your first job as a software engineer.


Earn a Certification

Although not generally required to begin work as an entry-level software engineer, specialty certification is an asset when looking for employment. Professional certifications demonstrate a high level of expertise in a specific area, such as a programming language. Certification usually requires the completion of a course and exam. Certifications are available through technology companies such as Oracle or Microsoft. You can also take certification courses through professional organizations, such as the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Popular options include software engineering certifications in the following:

  • Web design
  • Oracle
  • Cybersecurity
  • Cloud applications
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Agile
  • Amazon web services


Earn an Advanced Degree

A master's degree is usually required to work in a management or leadership role. Most master's degree programs take two years to complete, but many programs fit around the schedules of working professionals. Students in a software engineering master's program study mathematical modeling, software system architecture, software testing, and project management.

A doctorate in software engineering is useful for those interested in research or teaching at the collegiate level. A doctorate program usually takes four years to complete. Most Ph.D. studies are highly specialized, with emphasis on topics like robotics, research methods, and software security.

Seniority Levels


Software Engineer

2 - 4Years of Experience
$118,565 /yrTotal Pay
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78% advanced to


Senior Software Engineer

2 - 4Years of Experience
$138,875 /yrTotal Pay
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Software Engineer IV

5 - 7Years of Experience
$153,162 /yrTotal Pay
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Total Pay Trajectory

Software Engineer Career Path

Seniority Levels

Related Careers in the Engineering Industry

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