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Software Engineer

How to Become a Software Engineer: 4 Soft Skills to Develop to Excel

Are you looking for a career path that will see 25% job growth over the next decade1? How about one in which more than 85% of professionals work fully or partially from home2? If so, software engineering might be the right option for you. Glassdoor's "50 Best Jobs in America" list features many positions related to a career in software engineering3. The profession itself ranks #8 in 2022. But plenty of related career paths also find themselves in the top 15 such as full stack engineer (#2), machine learning engineer (#6), back end engineer (#7), and cloud engineer (#12). Becoming a software engineer demands significant technical skills. But even more importantly, you'll need soft skills for a successful career. Fingerprint for Success can help you develop the soft skills required to excel. Read on!

Illustration of a man designing and developing software applications showing how to learn to be a software engineer

What do software engineers do?

In this role, you'll design and develop software applications. You'll use common programming languages such as Python and Java. You'll create the engine beyond mobile applications, computer games, and more.

Software engineers are similar to software developers. Both use programming skills to create digital applications. But there are a few important differences:

  • Software engineers use discrete mathematics and engineering skills to oversee app development.
  • Software engineers are part of the entire software development lifecycle.
  • Software engineers connect to and often oversee the development team.
  • Software engineers are familiar with both programming languages and concepts such as pattern design, cloud architecture, algorithmic thinking, and more.
  • Software engineers focus on strategy in their client interactions, not just individual code.

Think of software engineers as the architects of software development projects. They oversee the entire process, from mapping out initial requirements to evaluating success. Compare that with software developers, who focus more specifically on the coding skills to create the software.

Software engineering jobs can be either general or you can specialize in a few more unique roles:

  • Cloud engineers
  • Network systems engineers
  • Artificial intelligence or machine learning engineers
  • Computer game engineers
  • Mobile application engineers
  • Geographic information systems (GIS) engineers
  • Cybersecurity engineers
  • DevOps engineers

You can also focus on either front-end or back-end development and engineering.

All industries need software engineers. Tech companies in San Francisco, London, Melbourne, and other bastions of the tech industry might be your best bet. But you'll also have job opportunities throughout the public and private sectors.

What are the skills needed to become a software engineer?

Every software engineer needs technical skills. But those are not the only core skills required to succeed. In addition to basic programming skills in common coding languages, soft skills can make all the difference to your likelihood of career success.

Companies looking for software engineering skills also look for professionals who can succeed at the human part of the job. For your job hunt, you'll need more general career skills such as:

  • A desire to solve real-world problems
  • Systems thinking and critical thinking skills
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Empathy

Desire to solve real-world problems

Success in a software engineering career means having a problem-solving mindset. You need to be curious about the nature of software and how it can solve problems.

An engineering mindset means looking at the world through a problem-solution lens. As a software engineer, you'll regularly use models such as:

  • Cause and effect diagrams
  • Hypothesis testing
  • Force-field analysis
  • Pareto analysis
  • And more

But more than the right tools, successful software engineers embrace the entire process. If you love finding solutions to real-world challenges, this is the right career path for you.

Systems thinking and critical thinking skills

As a software engineer, you cannot miss the forest for the trees. You always have to keep the bigger picture in mind. Through your systems thinking approach, you understand the connections between individual items and their impact on a greater ecosystem.

Many software engineering courses focus on this soft skill in particular. It's about big-picture thinking, combined with critical thinking skills. It's knowing that even small coding changes can impact the greater ecosystem of the software.

This is what distinguishes software engineers from even experienced developers and straight programming jobs. A more strategic overview helps you to remain goal-oriented, without losing your attention to detail.

Communication and interpersonal skills

No software engineering role exists in isolation. Working with others is core to success in this career. Daily communications needs include:

  • Working with clients in defining and understanding project goals
  • Communicating goals and mapping out the product build with the internal team
  • Leading regular team update meetings
  • Reporting progress on the software development to other stakeholders
  • And more

Working within your team will require an affective communication style. But you'll also need neutral communications abilities that help you communicate complex concepts in clear, simple terms.


You might not think about it as a core skill for a career in software development or engineering. But empathy is vital in every part of the software engineering career path.

Yes, this role has a foundation in mathematics. But your role will begin and end with understanding things from another's perspective. You'll need to understand client needs and see problems from their end. You'll have to assess how your team might look to solve those problems. And you'll need to communicate technical communications with an understanding of how your non-technical audience will receive it.

Getting there means increasing your emotional intelligence. It's about building on a sense of belonging and open-mindedness toward others. Learn to see the issue from your audience's perspective, and you'll set yourself up for success.

Develop these important software engineering skills

Effective career management means not just taking foundational courses in approximation algorithms or other software engineer skills. If you truly want to have a successful career in software engineering, you'll need to focus on your soft skills as well.

These soft skills cover the basics across industries. From project management skills to communicating with your team, they'll provide you with a solid foundation from your first to your fifth job.

Of course, learning your strengths and blind spots tends to be among the biggest challenges to get started. That's where we come in. F4S’ free assessment can help you better understand your motivations related to the soft skills you need. Learn what motivates you, and the blind spots you'll want to improve on.

Once you've completed the assessment, you can set a goal to work towards. Our AI Coach Marlee will give you the personalized insights you need for any next steps. Get feedback on your motivations, and insights related to your knowledge gaps.

Problem and risk aversion

Your level of energy for motivating yourself and others to identify, avoid and overcome problems, issues and challenges.

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Systems and strategic thinking

Strategic thinking involves understanding how things are connected, setting targets, identifying priorities and having the resilience to follow through on your goals.

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You value verbal comms - in person meetings, phone calls, audio recordings, voice memos, podcasts etc.

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Placeholder (Do not edit) You value verbal comms - in person meetings, phone calls, audio recordings, voice memos, podcasts etc.

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How long does it take to become a software engineer?

Expect to take between two and six years to start your career as a software engineer. The exact time depends on whether you want a more or less direct route.

What higher education is required for this career?

About 75% of software engineers have graduated from a formal degree program2. Most likely, that means earning one of two degrees:

  • Software engineering
  • Computer science (typically with a software engineering specialization)

The global standard for a degree in software engineering is a bachelor of science. But you might also find associate degrees in software engineering, which have a more technical focus. A bachelor's engineering degree typically takes four years on average. An associate degree takes two years.

What licenses or certifications do you need?

Taking part in a certificate program can help you stand out in the job market. It shows both practical skills and a deeper understanding of relevant topics. 

Some of the most popular certifications include:

  • Certified software engineer, offered by the U.S.-based Institute for the Certification of Computing Professionals
  • Certified secure software lifecycle professional, offered by the international cybersecurity organization (ISC)²
  • Certified software development professional, offered by the IEEE Computer Society

You can also formalize your extensive knowledge by earning a more specialized certification. For example, you can become an AWS-certified developer through Amazon Web Services or get certified in a code environment such as Python.

What types of internships do you need?

Professional experience is essential to become a successful software engineer. Most job opportunities list at least some experience requirements, which an internship fulfills.

At your internships, you'll learn the basic concepts of software development. You'll be involved in hands-on projects that can look good in a portfolio.  

Most four-year software engineering degrees include an internship requirement of at least three months. You can also seek out internships on your own. They're typically paid, and many of them include an option to start at the company full-time contingent on a mutual fit in skill set and company culture.

What advancement or specialization opportunities do software engineers have?

Once you get your foot in the door, the field of software engineering opens up a wide range of opportunities. Fully-fledged software engineers have plenty of opportunities to specialize.

For example, you can enter the field of AI and machine learning. You can focus on cloud computing. You can move into the gaming world. Your career options will only continue to grow as you gain experience and both soft and technical skills.

Focusing on your soft skills is vital. It ensures that you can continue to advance into leadership positions. Over time, you'll lead bigger teams, moving to senior engineering positions and even as high as CIO for your organization.

Can you become a software engineer without a degree?

A majority of people earn their degrees to enter this career path. But about 20% of professional software engineers worldwide don't have a bachelor's degree2.

Going against the traditional route allows you to enter the field more quickly. Self-taught software engineers can get a job in as little as two years. The opportunities for learning range from enrolling in courses to attending a software engineering boot camp.

The boot camp is a type of online school, between six months and two years long, specifically designed to give you basic skills and certifications. Schools from the University of North Texas to Harvard University offer coding boot camps, often at a fraction of the cost compared to a college degree.

The benefits of enrolling in a coding boot camp include speed of completion and being able to match your preferred learning style. But some employers, especially internationally, will only consider applicants with a degree. You'll need to rely more on personal referrals and employee referrals to get your foot in the door.

Building an online portfolio to improve your job prospects

An online portfolio can help to showcase your skills to earn your first programming job and/or advance into engineering. Use it to showcase any professional school, and personal projects you've worked on, including:

  • Software applications
  • Mobile applications
  • Any source code you've developed
  • Project management of larger development projects
  • Processes and outcomes of software testing
  • Any successful code challenge

Think of it as the center of your professional online presence. It's where potential employers go early in the interview process to learn about you and to create more specific questions for your interview.

How to interact within the software engineering community

Especially compared to other fields, this professional community is relatively close-knit. Tapping into a professional network of like-minded people can reap enormous rewards long-term.

Forums in online communities such as GitHub and Stack Overflow offer countless opportunities to network. But you'll also find plenty of people using them to stay up-to-date on the latest technologies. Use coding challenges to test your skills and connect with like-minded professionals.

Over time, you will become mutual friends with other engineers in your line of work. From there, it's only a matter of time before connections turn into personal referrals and career advancement.

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What are the career opportunities and outlook for software engineers?

A career in software engineering comes with excellent job prospects. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 25% job growth by 20311. That's an increase of more than 400,000 jobs in the United States alone. And that doesn't even count closely related positions such as full-stack engineers and machine learning engineers, which are experiencing similar growth.

That growth translates to the global economy, too. Software development is the most in-demand profession in the world4. Outside of the U.S., the countries with the highest demand include:

  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Russia
  • Sweden
  • New Zealand

Career progression tends to be standard in most countries. Entry-level professionals start as junior engineers. They move up gradually to senior engineers, where their roles become more strategic. This same path is true for various specializations such as game design or AV/VR engineering.

Where can software engineers work?

Software engineers can work in every industry. The tech industry is the most natural choice, but industries hiring this type of role include:

  • Healthcare
  • Retail
  • Media and entertainment
  • Gaming
  • Financial services

You might also find yourself working in a research and development role at some of the world's largest corporations, from AT&T to Western Union.

Finally, the public sector has a constant need for software engineering roles. Municipal and state governments, federal agencies, and government contractors all benefit from software engineer skills. They're especially interested in professionals with a cybersecurity specialization.

How much can software engineers earn?

The average software engineer in the United States earns US$109,020 per year or US$52.41 per hour1. Globally, the average salary depends on the country in which you're working4:

  • Engineers in Switzerland earn an average of US$97,518
  • Engineers in Denmark earn an average of US$63,680
  • Engineers in Canada earn an average of US$61,680
  • Engineers in Australia earn an average of US$55,640
  • Engineers in Germany earn an average of US$52,275
  • Engineers in China earn an average of US$23,790
  • Engineers in India earn an average of US$7,725

Standards of living by country can skew these numbers. For example, India's salary for software engineers is significantly above the country's average across careers (around US$4,680).

Other than location, your experience is the biggest salary variable. Entry-level professionals make an average of US$78,260 in the United States. Senior engineers with more than 20 years of experience earn an average of US$116,5605.

Finally, different specializations can change your salary as well. A full stack engineer earns an average of US$56,038 per year, while a machine learning engineer can expect a US$63,216  average2.

Frequently asked questions

How hard is it to become a software engineer?

Software engineering can be a challenging career because of the mix of soft and technical skills you'll need. That's what makes the traditional path of a college degree preferable in most cases. Self-taught software engineers may miss out on learning those soft skills, as does anyone relying exclusively on coding bootcamps.

How to become a software engineer without a degree?

If you don't want to or can't earn a degree, you'll need to prove your technical skills to employers. That means earning certifications on your own or attending a software engineer bootcamp. Practical experience, such as internships or personal projects, can show off your skills.

How much does it cost to become a software engineer?

The cost to become a software engineer depends on your career path:

  • A four-year degree costs anywhere from US$10,000 to US$29,000 per year in the U.S6.
  • A coding boot camp ranges between US$7,000 and US$21,000 depending on lengths, topics, and certifications available
  • Individual certificate programs range between free and US$500 per certification.

How long does it take to become a senior software engineer at Google?

Google typically requires between seven and 10 years of software engineering experience for its senior engineers. Add your education, and you'll need between nine and 16 years to qualify for the position.

How long does it take to become a senior software engineer?

Most companies require at least five years of experience for senior software engineering positions. With two to six years in educational requirements, you can expect between seven and 11 years before you qualify.

How to become a principal software engineer?

The principal software engineer is the highest-ranking engineer on large development teams. Most companies require at least 10 years of experience to qualify for this type of position.

How to become a software engineer manager?

A software engineer manager occupies an operational role. You'll serve as the liaison between the development team and company management. Required skills lean more heavily toward project management and reporting, although some technical skills are still beneficial.

How to become a great software engineer?

Great software engineers are well-rounded professionals. To become one, you'll need to excel at technical skills such as coding. You'll need to be comfortable with mathematics and engineering principles. You'll need great human skills, from communication to leadership. And you'll need to be able to manage your team to become a cohesive unit in the development process.

How to become a software test engineer?

Software testing engineers have a more limited scope than full stack engineers. You'll need to familiarize yourself with common quality assurance principles. Familiarity with the programming language you're testing is a must. About 20% of software test engineers have a master's degree2.

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  1. ‘Occupational Outlook Handbook, Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers’. Available at: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor
  2. (2022) '2022 Developer Survey'. Available at: Stack Overflow
  3. (2022) ‘50 Best Jobs in America for 2022’. Available at: Glassdoor,20.htm
  4. Phillips, T. (2022) ‘Average Software Engineering Salaries by Country in 2022 (Comparison of 20+ Countries)’. Available at: CodeSubmit
  5. (2023) ‘Average Salary and Wage in India’. Available at: Jobted,or%20%E2%82%B932%2C840%20per%20month)
  6. Brogaard, B. (2022) ‘Software Engineer Career and Salary Outlook’. Available at:
  7. (2022) ‘Computer Software Engineering Program 2022 Tuition’. Available at: College Tuition Compare
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