Technology is inescapable these days. And for anyone looking to make a career out of the ever-expanding world of computer lingo and gadgetry, a job in software development might be perfect.
According to Alice Hill, managing director of technology and engineering career site Dice.com, technology is everywhere. “Today, there are cars that have millions of lines of code. Businesses are using their data to get closer to customers. And it all takes software developers,” she says.
And don’t worry about relocating to a flashy city to get a career in software developing. Not all software-based jobs are concentrated solely in Silicon Valley. Just ask Susan K. Land, who works for the U.S. Department of Defense supporting the Missile Defense Agency Command, Control, Battle Management and Communications as technical lead for Spiral 8.2 – in Hunstville, Ala. And Hill says Dice.com has openings posted in 45 states and Washington, D.C.
The Routine: Not every software developer works on missile systems like Land, but they help design applications and systems that run all sorts of critical functions, including many we probably take for granted. It’s hard to think of an industry that doesn’t require software or software developers. We rely on software to run simple mobile apps to complex defense systems. Developers analyze what we need for the functions the software is expected to perform, and then design, test and develop the software to meet our needs. They also check ongoing function and recommend or design software upgrades. Land is more of a program manager now, but previously used C++, Java languages and developed various database management software.
Training: Most software developers have a bachelor’s degree in computer science. “I would recommend taking college courses that support an understanding of computing fundamentals even if only to supplement another degree,” says Land. The IEEE Computer Society offers certifications for entry-level and mid-career professionals. Though the certifications aren’t required, they can validate career readiness. Land, a former president of the society, holds the mid-career certification and has authored several books on software engineering standards. She is adamant about the importance of the second component of training and education for software developers: continuing education. “It is most important to stay technically current; this field is challenging and the challenges evolve as technology develops,” Land says.
Tool Kit: It’s also helpful to have education and skills that bring in analytics and engineering system design. Developers also should have good problem-solving skills and be detail oriented. The ability to communicate well and work in teams helps software developers succeed. “Employers want developers who have strong opinions on what makes for high-quality code, and a passion to create excellent user experiences and business solutions,” says Hill.
Ups and Downs: Land has the passion. “I love being able to make a difference,” she says. “What I developed, or helped to develop, is being used.” Job variety and constant challenges are other pluses, as are pay and opportunities. Downsides could be long hours, especially in the throes of new project deadlines, and being the entry-level developers working on tight budgets or timelines.
The Outlook: Name your state and industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports projected job growth of 30 percent from 2010 through 2020 for software developers because of increased demand for software products. Leading products are healthcare systems, mobile applications and cybersecurity systems.
The Pay: The training will be well worth the effort. Nationally, the average salary for a software developer was slightly more than $93,000 per year in Dice’s 2011-2012 salary survey, according to Hill. That’s just slightly above the 2010 amount reported by the BLS. And Hill says the salary has risen in their survey 4 percent per year. What’s more, most software developers receive bonuses. “For those software developers who received a bonus, the payout averaged a bit more than $7,200 in 2011,” says Hill.
The Way There: “It’s important to have a basic understanding of computer science fundamentals,” says Land. The BS in computer science is almost a prerequisite today, but combined computer skills and coursework might get your foot in the door. Once you do, you’ll find software development a rewarding career. As Hill says, “Bottom line: software development is a good gig.”
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