Computer Software Engineer
A computer software engineer could...
|Write the software that controls the movement of assembly-line robots.||Create the artificial intelligence that controls characters in video games like The SimsTM.|
|Develop software for a portable global positioning system (GPS) so drivers don't get lost.||Write software that allows people to communicate over great distances.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Are you interested in developing cool video game software for computers? Would you like to learn how to make software run faster and more reliably on different kinds of computers and operating systems? Do you like to apply your computer science skills to solve problems? If so, then you might be interested in the career of a computer software engineer.|
|Key Requirements||Deductive and inductive reasoning, mathematical reasoning, original thinking, and an understanding of what people want from their computers|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Physics, chemistry, computer science, geometry, algebra, algebra II, calculus, English|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||Much Faster than Average (21% or more) In Demand!|
Training, Other Qualifications
Most employers prefer applicants who have at least a bachelor's degree and experience with a variety of computer systems and technologies. In order to remain competitive, computer software engineers must continually strive to acquire the latest technical skills. Advancement opportunities are good for those with relevant experience.
As technology advances, employers will need workers with the latest skills. Computer software engineers must continually strive to acquire new skills if they wish to remain in this dynamic field. To help keep up with changing technology, workers might take continuing education and professional development seminars offered by employers, software vendors, colleges and universities, private training institutions, and professional computing societies. Computer software engineers also need skills related to the industry in which they work. Engineers working for a bank, for example, should have some expertise in finance so that they understand banks' computer needs.
Education and Training
A bachelor of science in computer software engineering is a requirement for entry-level positions. Most employers prefer applicants who have at least a bachelor's degree and broad knowledge of, and experience with, a variety of computer systems and technologies. The usual college major for computer software engineers is computer science or software engineering. Systems software engineers often study computer science or computer information systems. Graduate degrees are preferred for some of the more complex jobs and are required for faculty positions. In 2006, about 80 percent of computer software engineers had a bachelor's degree or higher.
Academic programs in computer software engineering may offer the program as a degree option or in conjunction with computer science degrees. Because of increasing emphasis on computer security, software engineers with advanced degrees in areas such as mathematics and systems design will be sought after by software developers, government agencies, and consulting firms.
Students seeking software engineering jobs enhance their employment opportunities by participating in internships or co-ops. These experiences provide students with broad knowledge and experience, making them more attractive to employers. Inexperienced college graduates might be hired by large computer and consulting firms that train new employees in intensive, company-based programs.
People interested in jobs as computer software engineers must have strong problem-solving and analytical skills. They also must be able to communicate effectively with team members, other staff, and the customers they meet. Because they often deal with a number of tasks simultaneously, they must be able to concentrate and pay close attention to detail.
Nature of the Work
Computer software engineers apply the principles of computer science and mathematical analysis to the design, development, testing, and evaluation of the software and systems that make computers work. The tasks performed by these workers evolve quickly, reflecting new areas of specialization or changes in technology, as well as the preferences and practices of employers.
Software engineers can be involved in the design and development of many types of software, including computer games, word processing and business applications, operating systems and network distribution, and compilers, which convert programs to machine language for execution on a computer.
Computer software engineers begin by analyzing users' needs, and then design, test, and develop software to meet those needs. During this process, they create the detailed sets of instructions, called algorithms, that tell the computer what to do. They also may be responsible for converting these instructions into a computer language, a process called programming or coding, but this is usually the responsibility of computer programmers. Computer software engineers must be experts in operating systems and middleware to ensure that the underlying systems will work properly.
Computer applications software engineers analyze users' needs and design, construct, and maintain general computer applications software or specialized utility programs. These workers use different programming languages, depending on the purpose of the program. The programming languages most often used are C, C++, and Java, with Fortran and COBOL used less commonly. Some software engineers develop both packaged systems and systems software or create customized applications.
Computer systems software engineers coordinate the construction, maintenance, and expansion of an organization's computer systems. Working with the organization, they coordinate each department's computer needs—ordering, inventory, billing, and payroll record keeping, for example—and make suggestions about its technical direction. They also might set up the organization's intranets—networks that link computers within the organization and ease communication among various departments.
Systems software engineers also work for companies that configure, implement, and install the computer systems of other organizations. These workers may be members of the marketing or sales staff, serving as the primary technical resource for sales workers. They also may help with sales and provide customers with technical support. Since the selling of complex computer systems often requires substantial customization to meet the needs of the purchaser, software engineers help identify and explain needed changes. In addition, systems software engineers are responsible for ensuring security across the systems they are configuring.
Computer software engineers often work as part of a team that designs new hardware, software, and systems. A core team may comprise engineering, marketing, manufacturing, and design people, who work together to release a product.
Computer software engineers normally work in clean, comfortable offices, or in laboratories in which computer equipment is located. Software engineers who work for software vendors and consulting firms frequently travel overnight to meet with customers. Telecommuting is also becoming more common, allowing workers to do their jobs from remote locations.
Most computer software engineers work at least 40 hours a week, but about 17 percent work more than 50 hours a week. Software engineers also may have to work evenings or weekends to meet deadlines or to solve unexpected technical problems.
Like other workers who spend long hours typing at a computer, computer software engineers are susceptible to eyestrain, back discomfort, and hand and wrist problems, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
On the Job
- Modify existing software to correct errors, to adapt it to new hardware or to upgrade interfaces and improve performance.
- Design and develop software systems, using scientific analysis and mathematical models to predict and measure outcome and consequences of design.
- Consult with engineering staff to evaluate interface between hardware and software, develop specifications and performance requirements, and resolve customer problems.
- Analyze information to determine, recommend and plan installation of a new system or modification of an existing system.
- Develop and direct software system testing and validation procedures.
- Direct software programming and development of documentation.
- Consult with customers or other departments on project status, proposals and technical issues, such as software system design and maintenance.
- Advise customer about, or perform, maintenance of software system.
- Coordinate installation of software system.
- Monitor functioning of equipment to ensure system operates in conformance with specifications.
- Store, retrieve, and manipulate data for analysis of system capabilities and requirements.
- Confer with data processing and project managers to obtain information on limitations and capabilities for data processing projects.
- Prepare reports and correspondence concerning project specifications, activities and status.
- Evaluate factors such as reporting formats required, cost constraints, and need for security restrictions to determine hardware configuration.
- Supervise and assign work to programmers, designers, technologists and technicians and other engineering and scientific personnel.
- Train users to use new or modified equipment.
- Utilize microcontrollers to develop control signals, implement control algorithms and measure process variables such as temperatures, pressures and positions.
- Recommend purchase of equipment to control dust, temperature, and humidity in area of system installation.
- Specify power supply requirements and configuration.
Companies That Hire Computer Software Engineers
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- Artificial Intelligence: Teaching the Computer to Play Tic-Tac-Toe
- Creating a Video Game for the Blind
- Devising an Algorithm for Solving Rubik's Cube
- Digital Image Processing
- Do People Use Different Passwords for Different Accounts?
- Eco-Friendly Robots: Design the Most Energy-Efficient Racing Robot Using VoxCAD
- Go Fish! Creating an Ocean-Friendly Fishing Video Game
- Green Your PC: Help Your Computer Save Power
- Hard, Soft, or in Between? Changing Material Properties in Robot Design with VoxCAD
- Hit Boxes: How Size Affects Score
- Make a Greeting Card Come to Life!
- Making It Real: Incorporating Physics in Video Games
- Password Security: How Easily Can Your Password Be Hacked?
- Pinwheel Magic: Take a Spin with Animation
- Playing Along with Video Games: Investigating the Role of Procedural Music
- Robot Race! Use a Computer to Design, Simulate, & Race Robots with VoxCAD
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Computer Software Engineer that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- BLS. (2009). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2008-09 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- Electronic Arts, Inc. (2008). Profiles: Robert Griffiths—Mobile Software Engineer. Retrieved September 28, 2009, from https://jobs.ea.com/why/profiles.aspx?where=1_1&who=1_1_16
- Jobing Foundation. (2009). Video Game Associate Software Engineer. Retrieved September 28, 2009, from http://www.pursuethepassion.com/interviews/2009/02/09/career-interview-associate-software-engineer/
Additional SupportWe'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:
- Motorola Solutions