Software Developers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Software Developers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Software developers are the creative minds behind computer programs. Some develop the applications that allow people to do specific tasks on a computer or another device. Others develop the underlying systems that run the devices or that control networks.

Duties of Software Developers

Software developers typically do the following:

  • Analyze users’ needs and then design, test, and develop software to meet those needs
  • Recommend software upgrades for customers’ existing programs and systems
  • Design each piece of an application or a system and plan how the pieces will work together
  • Create a variety of models and diagrams (such as flowcharts) that instruct programmers how to write software code
  • Ensure that a program continues to function normally through software maintenance and testing
  • Document every aspect of an application or a system as a reference for future maintenance and upgrades
  • Collaborate with other computer specialists to create optimum software

Software developers are in charge of the entire development process for a software program. They may begin by asking how the customer plans to use the software. They must identify the core functionality that users need from software programs. Software developers must also determine user requirements that are unrelated to the functionality of software, such as the level of security and performance needs. They design the program and then give instructions to programmers, who write computer code and test it.

If the program does not work as expected or if testers find it too difficult to use, software developers go back to the design process to fix the problems or improve the program. After the program is released to the customer, a developer may perform upgrades and maintenance.

Developers usually work closely with computer programmers. However, in some companies, developers write code themselves instead of giving instructions to the programmers.

Developers who supervise a software project from the planning stages through implementation sometimes are called information technology (IT) project managers. These workers monitor the project’s progress to ensure that it meets deadlines, standards, and cost targets. IT project managers who plan and direct an organization’s IT department or IT policies are included in the profile on computer and information systems managers.

The following are examples of types of software developers:

Applications software developers design computer applications, such as word processors and games, for consumers. They may create custom software for a specific customer or commercial software to be sold to the general public. Some applications software developers create complex databases for organizations. They also create programs that people use over the Internet and within a company’s intranet.

Systems software developers create the systems that keep computers functioning properly. These could be operating systems for computers that the general public buys or systems built specifically for an organization. Often, systems software developers also build the system’s interface, which is what allows users to interact with the computer. Systems software developers are creating the operating systems that control most of the consumer electronics in use today, including the systems in phones or cars.

Work Environment for Software Developers[About this section] [To Top]

Software developers held about 1.1 million jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most software developers were as follows:

Computer systems design and related services 33%
Software publishers 8
Finance and insurance 8
Computer and electronic product manufacturing 8
Management of companies and enterprises 4

Many software developers work for firms that deal in computer systems design and related services firms or for software publishers. Some systems developers work in computer- and electronic product–manufacturing industries. Applications developers work in office environments, such as offices of insurance carriers or corporate headquarters.

In general, software development is a collaborative process, and developers work on teams with others who also contribute to designing, developing, and programming successful software. However, some developers telecommute (work away from the office).

Software Developer Work Schedules

Most software developers work full time, and long hours are common.

How to Become a Software Developer[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Software Developers near you!

Software developers usually have a bachelor’s degree in computer science and strong computer programming skills.

Software Developer Education

Software developers usually have a bachelor’s degree, typically in computer science, software engineering, or a related field. A degree in mathematics is also acceptable. Computer science degree programs are the most common, because they tend to cover a broad range of topics. Students should focus on classes related to building software in order to better prepare themselves for work in the occupation. For some positions, employers may prefer a master’s degree.

Although writing code is not their first priority, developers must have a strong background in computer programming. They usually gain this experience in school. Throughout their career, developers must keep up to date on new tools and computer languages.

Software developers also need skills related to the industry in which they work. Developers working in a bank, for example, should have knowledge of finance so that they can understand a bank’s computing needs.

Other Experience

Many students gain experience in software development by completing an internship at a software company while in college.

Some software developers first work as computer programmers and then are given more responsibility as they gain experience. Eventually, they become developers.

Advancement for Software Developers

Software developers can advance to become information technology (IT) project managers, also called computer and information systems managers, a position in which they oversee the software development process.

Important Qualities for Software Developers

Analytical skills. Developers must analyze users’ needs and then design software to meet those needs.

Communication skills. Developers must be able to give clear instructions to others working on a project. They must also explain to their customers how the software works and answer any questions that arise.

Computer skills. Developers must understand computer capabilities and programming languages in order to design effective software.

Creativity. Developers are the creative minds behind new computer software.

Detail oriented. Developers often work on many parts of an application or system at the same time and must therefore be able to concentrate and pay attention to detail.

Interpersonal skills. Software developers must be able to work well with others who contribute to designing, developing, and programming successful software.

Problem-solving skills. Because developers are in charge of software from beginning to end, they must be able to solve problems that arise throughout the design process.


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Software Developer Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for software developers, applications was $95,510 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $56,310, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $149,480.

The median annual wage for software developers, systems software was $102,880 in May 2014. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $63,250, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $154,800.

In May 2014, the median annual wages for software developers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Computer and electronic product manufacturing $109,810
Software publishers 106,580
Finance and insurance 98,060
Computer systems design and related services 95,270
Management of companies and enterprises 94,890

Most software developers work full time, and long hours are common.

Job Outlook for Software Developers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of software developers is projected to grow 17 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of applications developers is projected to grow 19 percent, and employment of systems developers is projected to grow 13 percent. The main reason for the rapid growth in both applications developers and systems developers is a large increase in the demand for computer software.

The need for new applications on mobile devices and tablets will help increase the demand for application software developers.

The health and medical insurance and reinsurance carriers industry will need innovative software to manage new healthcare policy enrollments and administer existing policies digitally. As the number of people who use this digital platform increases over time, demand for software developers will grow.

Systems developers are likely to see new opportunities because of an increase in the number of products that use software. For example, more computer systems are being built into consumer electronics and other products, such as cell phones and appliances.

Concerns over threats to computer security could result in more investment in security software to protect computer networks and electronic infrastructure. In addition, an increase in software offered over the Internet should lower costs and allow more customization for businesses, also increasing demand for software developers.

Some outsourcing to foreign countries that offer lower wages may occur. However, because software developers should be close to their customers, the offshoring of this occupation is expected to be limited.

Software Developers Job Prospects

Job prospects will be best for applicants with knowledge of the most up-to-date programming tools and for those who are proficient in one or more programming languages.

Employment projections data for Software Developers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Software developers 1,114,000 1,300,600 17 186,600
Software developers, applications 718,400 853,700 19 135,300
Software developers, systems software 395,600 447,000 13 51,300


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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