What Is a Software Developer?

Software developers are highly sought-after tech professionals, and the demand for their skills is continually increasing. In this Life in Tech article, we’ll provide a general look at the various duties and requirements associated with the role of software developer.

Let’s start with a basic description before getting into the nuances and specifics. Briefly, then, software developers conceive, design, and build computer programs, says ComputerScience.org. To accomplish this, they identify user needs, write and test new software, and maintain and improve it as needed. Software developers occupy crucial roles in a variety of industries, including tech, entertainment, manufacturing, finance, and government.

Developer or Engineer?

Before we go further, it’s important to note that the terms software developer and software engineer are often used interchangeably, and the duties described for these job titles often overlap. The difference between the terms may be meaningful or not depending on many factors, including the industry, the organization, and the team in which you work.  

Career Karma notes that, although there is not an official distinction between these two roles, the positions often have different requirements. Common differences may include the level of experience, education, or industry-specific knowledge required.

“Software developers are responsible for writing code and building software for a development team. They’ll also be involved with reviewing the software development process and making changes to optimize the process. Software engineers will work with other members of a development team—designers, engineers, analysts—to understand the specifications of a project, then create an application in line with those specifications,” Career Karma says.

There’s a lot of debate and strong opinions around this topic, but here we will focus on software development and will cover the role of software engineering in a future article. If you are job hunting, be sure to look at openings under both titles to find the most opportunities.

Skills and Requirements

Software developers generally work as part of a development team to create software within a company. They make sure the software works by testing it and making any required changes before production to ensure that the application is fully functional, according to CareerKarma.

GlassDoor’s description states that, “a software developer works on both technical and design aspects of software projects. A proactive approach to problem-solving as well as a detailed understanding of coding is essential. Additionally, employers may seek to hire those with specialized certifications in computer languages such as Java or PHP. The most desirable software developer candidates will possess a positive teamwork approach and seek to continually improve their skill-set.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes the following important skills as well:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Many companies will require job candidates to have a bachelor’s degree (e.g., in software development, computer programming, information technology, or computer science) or a certain number of years of experience in the field, or both. These days, however, according to Forbes, a significant number of software developers are self-taught or attribute at least part of their skills to self-teaching:

Traditional education apparently isn't the most common way to learn to code, as 73.7% of developers report being at least partially self-taught. With so many free coding resources online, it's not surprising that some devs have opted to skip the pricey college classes and learn on their own. The most popular learning method across all ages is through Stack Overflow, but the #2 favorite depends on age; millennials head to YouTube while Gen Xers pick up books.

Duties and Responsibilities

The specific duties of a software developer will vary widely by organization and industry.  Generally, however, according to TechnoJobs UK, the daily tasks may include:

  • Talking through requirements with clients
  • Producing efficient code
  • Testing software and fixing problems
  • Maintaining systems once they’re up and running
  • Integrating software components
  • Writing documentation

Typically, according to Career Karma, software developers are expected to have:

  • Familiarity with at least one development methodology
  • Experience in software design and development 
  • Ability to write test-driven code
  • Knowledge of at least one programming language, such as Ruby, Java, or Python
  • Knowledge of a version control system (Git, GitHub, Bitbucket, etc.)
  • Experience working with databases
  • Ability to learn new technologies and languages

Software developers can take many different career paths, notes TechRepublic, each of which requires specific skills. Here are a few roles to consider:

  • Mobile developer: Builds apps for mobile devices, including iOS and Android. A mobile developer might use Java, Swift, and Objective-C.
  • Full stack developer: Is able to work on both the front-end and back-end portions of an application or website. A full stack developer has specialized knowledge of all stages of software development, including server, network, and hosting environment; relational and nonrelational databases; interacting with APIs; user interface and user experience; quality assurance; security; and customer and business needs.
  • Front-end developer: Builds websites by converting data to a graphical interface for the user to view and interact with, using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
  • Back-end developer: Builds the functionality and interactivity of a website, including the elements that allow users to carry out actions like logging in, creating an account, and liking posts. Depending on what you want your web app to do, you might learn languages including Java, Python, Ruby, and PHP.

Regardless of which career path you choose, the resources found in this article and below will help you understand the requirements and determine the next steps on your journey.

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