March 20, 2023
min read

What is a Software Engineer?

Benedikt Bischof
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Your favourite websites, social media apps, and e-commerce stores are all built and maintained by software engineers. These tech-savvy professionals are part of an industry that is globally worth about $5.2 trillion — one of the biggest driving forces for the economy. And while companies are desperate to hire software engineers, their profession and what they do is poorly understood. 

So if you’re interested in a software engineering career or just want to learn more about this incredibly desirable skillset, keep reading as we explain the various aspects of this job from educational background to day-to-day skills to expected salary. After reading this you’ll have a strong understanding of what a software engineer is so that you can either start pursuing a career in development or attract and hire engineers to your company. 

💡 Learn more about tech roles in our DevLexicon

What is a Software Engineer?

A software engineer is a professional who knows how to design, code, and maintain websites and software applications, including but not limited to, video games, mobile and desktop applications, booking systems, AI programs, and so on. 

Software engineers create and build applications by writing code. Coding is a way to command a computer, a browser, or operating system to perform a series of tasks and functions. This can be as simple as displaying text on a webpage or as complex as booking an Uber from your iPhone.

Where do Software Engineers work?

You’ll find software engineers working at almost every company and in every industry. There are some exceptions, but on the whole, if a business has an online presence, whether that’s a website or online service, they most likely work or have worked with a type of software engineer. This includes industries such as healthcare, finance, entertainment, transport, and government. 

It’s not just large corporations or tech companies that employ engineers, startups, are also big on hiring developers – the first employees through the door are generally software engineers.   

Types of Software Engineer

It’s also important to understand that there are many different ‘types’ of software engineers. One of the biggest criticisms of recruiters is that they don’t understand the different skill sets and tend to waste everyone’s time by setting up interviews or making job offers that don’t make sense. 

A mobile developer is very different from a backend developer. And even within mobile or backend, there are different sub-specialisations based on programming languages or operating systems. A mobile developer skilled in Flutter isn’t going to be the right choice for your iOS app. 

Type Description
Frontend Creates and designs the visible parts of a website or application.
Backend Builds and maintains the behind-the-scenes functionality.
Full Stack Can do both front-end and back-end development.
QA Ensures software is functional and meets quality standards.
DevOps Handles the deployment and automation of software systems.
Security Identifies and mitigates security risks in software systems.
Data Designs, builds, and maintains data pipelines and databases.
Cloud Architect Designs and manages the architecture of cloud-based systems.

What does a Software Engineer do?

We’ve explained briefly what a software engineer is, now let’s explore what they actually do aside from writing code, which is only a part of the job. 

Like any position, the tasks, and responsibilities will depend on the size of the team—the bigger the team the fewer responsibilities and the more specialised the role. Your experience level as a software engineer will also determine what tasks and responsibilities you have. For example, a junior engineer will mostly be writing code, while a senior software engineer will be thinking about design, maintenance, efficiency, and reviewing code. 

1. Build

Generally speaking, a software engineer will collaborate with a designer and a product manager. The product manager understands what the application should be and how it should function, they then communicate that with the software engineer and designer. The designer will create blueprints of how the product will look, and the engineer will then write the software that follows the designs and functionality specs. In a small team, the software engineer might act as both the product manager and designer.  

2. Test

Since software is always being updated and changed, software engineers are required to test the new and old code to ensure everything is working smoothly with each update or change. Testing can get very complex when dealing with sensitive data. Bugs and poorly written code can cause outages, security threats, and loss of revenue. For example, it’s estimated that Amazon loses $200,000 every minute of downtime. 

3. Maintain

There is also a lot of behind-the-scenes work that is not visible. For example, working with a database, you might have to migrate data from one tool to another to save on costs, or create a system in which data can be stored safely and also be viewed and read by non-technical employees. Jobs like this won’t be apparent to a consumer from the outside but are very beneficial to the company. 

4. Collaborate

Aside from the technical aspects of software engineering, there’s a lot collaboration and communication that happens. You’ll be working with non-technical people, often at their direction, and so you’ll need to be able to explain technical issues and concepts in a way that can be understood.  

You’ll also need to be able to communicate and collaborate with other software engineers who are working on different parts of the product. For example, a frontend developer needs to ensure the new feature for the web application is connected and working on the backend and across the mobile applications. What might seem like a small change could actually involve three to four developers, and cross into multiple departments.   

What are the skills of a Software Engineer?

Software engineers create, test and maintain software. To accomplish these three tasks, software engineers need to be able to read and write in programming languages, and use development tools, understand data structures and algorithms plus employ collaborative skills. 

Hard skills

1. Programming languages: Software engineers will be proficient in one or more programming languages. These differ whether the engineer works on the front or back of an application as well as the device (iOS, Android, etc.,). The most popular programming languages are JavaScript, HTML/CSS, SQL, Python, TypeScript, Java, and C#. 

2. Data structures and algorithms: A developer will organise and manage data for retrieval and processing. Algorithms provide a set of instructions for completing a task, often used in conjunction with data structures to manipulate data for specific objectives. You’ll need a high level of proficiency in mathematics to specialise in data. 

3. Software security: To guarantee the protection of data, developers implement multi-layered security measures into applications and software, conduct rigorous testing and regularly conduct updates, and upgrades. This is certainly one of the areas where software engineers fall short, mostly due to budget and time constraints. 

Soft skills

1. Problem-solving skills: Software engineers need to be able to analyse complex problems and develop creative solutions to solve them. They also need to be able to troubleshoot and debug software when issues arise.

2. Communication skills: Software engineers need to be able to explain technical concepts to non-technical team members, collaborate effectively with other professionals, and write clear and concise documentation.

3. Teamwork: A software Engineer needs to be able to work well in a team environment. They need to be able to collaborate with designers, project managers, and other team members to complete projects on time and within budget.

READ MORE: Characteristics of a Software Engineer

Software Engineer tools

There are many tools that assist with software development which a software engineer must use and be proficient with. Here are some examples of the types of software development tools:  

Integrated Development Environments (IDEs): These are software applications that provide a comprehensive environment for writing, testing, and debugging code. Examples include Visual Studio, Eclipse, and IntelliJ IDEA.

Version Control Systems (VCS): VCS tools enable Software Engineers to track changes to their code and collaborate with other team members on a project. Examples of VCS tools include Git, and Mercurial.

Text editors: Text editors are software applications that enable Software Engineers to write and edit code. Examples of popular text editors include Sublime Text and Visual Studio Code.

Package managers: Package managers are tools that help Software Engineers manage dependencies in their code. Examples of package managers include npm, pip, and RubyGems.

Debugging tools: Debugging tools are essential for identifying and fixing errors in software code. Examples of popular debugging tools include GDB, Valgrind, and Xdebug.

Testing frameworks: Testing frameworks enable Software Engineers to write and run automated tests to ensure that their code is working as intended. Examples include JUnit, NUnit, and Pytest.

Virtualisation software: Virtualisation software enables Software Engineers to create and manage virtual machines that can be used for development and testing purposes. Examples include VirtualBox and VMware.

Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) tools: CI/CD tools automate the process of building, testing, and deploying software applications. Examples include Jenkins, Travis CI, and CircleCI

How to become a Software Engineer

The path to becoming a software engineer is not concrete. Some engineers are self-taught, some have degrees, and some only have boot camp certifications. There are many ways to do it. But on the whole, engineers start with education, get a degree or certification, then build a portfolio and start getting work experience. 

Here’s a quick overview of the steps toward a career in software engineering: 

  1. Learn about software engineering: before you spend any money on education, make sure you know what you’re getting into. Software engineering is not for everyone. So take a free course and build some projects so you understand what you like and don’t like.

  2. Get a degree or certification: With the internet and YouTube, you can learn everything about software engineering for free. A degree or a boot camp is just an easier way to go about this learning process. If you need a structured learning environment maybe this is the best option for you. Bootcamps and university courses will also provide opportunities for real-life experience. 
  1. Learn a language and skill: Learn a language and skill very well. A good place to start would be to learn JavaScript and start building and designing web pages. From there you can start moving in the direction you like the most whether that’s towards design (i.e. UI Developer) or data (i.e. Data engineer) 
  1. Build a portfolio: These days it’s basically a requirement to have a portfolio of your work even as an entry-level developer. There are plenty of great examples of developer portfolios out there to take inspiration from. The most important thing is getting involved and getting project experience so you can add to your portfolio.   
  1. Experience: If you’re confident at this point, it might be time to apply for an entry-level software role. If you need a bit more experience, then seek out an internship or work experience role. 

If you’re serious about becoming a software engineer then read Career Path Guide for Developers in 2023. For those who don’t want to get a computer science degree, we’ve got a separate guide on becoming a Software Developer Without a Degree.  

Software Engineer job description

If you are looking for a job or recruiting, you might be wondering what a typical job description for a software engineering position looks like. Unfortunately, engineer job descriptions are often over-the-top and unrealistic since they are written by HR professionals. Don’t worry if descriptions on LinkedIn or Indeed seem insane, apply anyway and just hope that the hiring manager is also reading CVs🤞

Here’s an example of an entry-level software engineer job description: 

We are seeking an enthusiastic and talented entry-level software engineer to join our team at a fast-paced tech company. As a software engineer, you will be responsible for designing, developing, and maintaining software applications and systems that meet the needs of our clients and users. You will work closely with other engineers, project managers, and stakeholders to ensure that our software meets our high standards of quality, functionality, and usability.


  • Design and develop software applications and systems
  • Write clean, efficient, and well-documented code in Java, Python, or C++
  • Debug and troubleshoot software issues, and implement fixes
  • Participate in code reviews and help improve team processes and practices
  • Work with project managers and stakeholders to understand project requirements and user needs
  • Test and verify software functionality
  • Participate in software release activities and provide support as needed


  • Degree in Computer Science, Software Engineering, or relevant work experience
  • Strong programming skills in at least ONE programming language (Java, Python, or C++)
  • Understanding of software development principles and practices
  • Experience with software development tools such as version control, bug tracking, and integrated development environments (IDEs)
  • Good problem-solving skills and ability to work collaboratively in a team environment
  • Excellent communication skills, both verbal and written

Salary of a Software Engineer

Let’s take a look at the salary software engineers earn based on the country they are working in and the type of developer they are. The average salary of a software engineer in the U.S. is $91,000 while the average salary in the United Kingdom and Germany is £49,000 ($60,000) and €62,000 ($66,000). 

The average salary of a software engineer by country (USD):

Salary tends to increase based on how complex the engineering role is and how much experience the developer has. We’ve taken the top engineering roles and compared their median salaries based on data from StackOverflow. DevOps and Data engineers earn top salaries compared to frontend, backend, and fullstack engineers. Mobile developers earn the least on average. 

The median salary by developer type (USD):

Type Median Salary (USD)
Engineering manager $112,000
Data engineer $80,000
DevOps $79,000
Backend $68,000
Fullstack $66,000
Frontend $60,000
Mobile $56,000

What is the future outlook for Software Engineer jobs?

According to Eurostat, between 2010 and 2020, employment in the EU's IT sector increased by over 40%, and the demand for software engineers continues to grow. There is a significant skill shortage gap for IT professionals in the European Union. A study from the European Commission found that around 37% of employers in the EU had difficulty filling vacancies for ICT-related jobs due to a lack of skilled workers.

In 2019, there were over 8 million people employed in the EU's ICT sector, with the majority of jobs located in Germany, the United Kingdom, and France. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated the demand for digital technologies and has highlighted the importance of software engineering skills in supporting remote work, e-commerce, and online communication. 

Find a software engineer Job

It’s time to search and apply for jobs, as doing something for a living might be the best exercise and essential in becoming a pro in this field. A great place to start your journey is on our developer job platform. We partnered with some of Europe’s top tech companies, and you can expect to find some interesting positions right there. Creating a profile takes minutes; afterward, you have access to one of the most sophisticated job platforms in the world.


How do I stay up to date with new software development trends and technologies?
You can stay up to date by reading industry blogs, attending conferences and meetups, following experts on social media, and taking online courses or tutorials. It's also essential to continue learning and exploring new technologies in your spare time.
What is the work environment like for software engineers?
Software engineers typically work in an office environment, either individually or as part of a team. They may work standard business hours or have flexible schedules, depending on the company's policies. Remote work options are becoming increasingly common as well.
What qualifications do I need to become a software engineer?
Typically, a bachelor's degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related field is required to become a software engineer. However, some employers may accept relevant experience in lieu of formal education.
What does a software engineer CV look like?
A software engineer CV typically includes the following sections: Personal Information, Objective or Summary, Education, Technical Skills, Work Experience, Projects, Certifications, Awards and Honours, and References. Follow the Guide to a Software Developer CV for a detailed overview of developer CVs.
What are the highest-paying jobs in software engineering?
Software engineers working in big tech companies, fintechs, and cloud software earn the highest salaries. These are engineers with several years of experience and in a senior role. The highest reported salary in Europe was €605,000—this included bonuses and equity.
What are the best sites to find a software engineer job?
WeAreDevelopers is our platform where we match developers with top companies in Europe. There are a bunch of great sites that cater exclusively to developers, learn more about this at: Best Sites to Find a Developer Job.


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