How to become a software developer in 5 steps
In this tech-driven era, software plays an integral role in making personal and professional life easier. If you are interested in creating software that improves the way society functions, learn how to become a software developer with edX.
What does a software developer do?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), software developers produce the computer applications that are used to perform specific tasks and the systems that run the devices or control networks. They typically analyze what users need and create software to meet those needs. Their work can be used in everything from gaming apps to tax preparation to medical patient web portals.
Software developer vs. software engineer
The primary difference between a software developer and software engineer is the scope of their work. Software developers can address specific project or user needs and are more hands-on, working directly with code and software applications. They might work under the direction of software engineers who have a more strategic focus, developing and implementing software solutions that can meet the needs of the business in a more general way.
Web developer vs. software developer
Web developers and software developers both create and maintain computer applications and systems, but web developers focus on websites, performance and capacity, and content creation. Software developers create applications and underlying systems that control networks and devices, such as smartphones.
Steps to become a software developer
Step 1: Enhance your software development skills
Technical skills are essential for software developers to perform their jobs. According to BLS, they need to be able to write code, debug code, and understand the principles of software development. However, they also rely on soft skills, such as the ability to communicate effectively with their team members and customers, in order to assess the needs of stakeholders and ensure that the software they create functions properly.
If you are interested in pursuing a career as a software developer, building proficiency in these technical and transferable skills can help you set yourself apart from other candidates.
Software Development Skills
Text editor: Notepad++, Brackets, etc.
Cloud computing: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, etc.
Application program interfaces (APIs)
Container orchestration tools: Docker, Kubernetes, Istio, etc.
Data warehouses: Kafka, Snowflake, etc.
Machine learning tools: Tensorflow, Pytorch, etc.
Attention to detail
Step 2: Pursue a software developer degree or course
If you want to learn software development, software developer training programs are available for professionals at all levels. BLS notes that software developers typically hold a bachelor’s degree in computer and information technology or a related field, such as engineering or mathematics. Those disciplines can provide the foundation to build a strong understanding of software development principles and practices. If you choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree or (for more advanced learners) a master's degree, there are different options for programs that are more general in scope or more specifically focused on different types of software development, such as web development or mobile development.
The rapidly evolving nature of the technology field also requires software developers to stay up to date with new tools and programming languages. Therefore, learners and professionals in this space may also benefit from specialized educational formats that build specific skills on an accelerated timeline. Whether you are an aspiring software developer seeking an undergraduate degree to begin your career, or an industry professional interested in expanding your knowledge with a boot camp, edX offers a variety of software development learning opportunities that can fit your needs.
Step 3: Obtain software developer certifications
Software developer certifications can be a valuable means of demonstrating your skills and knowledge to potential employers. However, they are optional unless specifically requested. There are many different software developer certifications available, so be certain to pursue certifications in a specialization that aligns with your professional goals.
Certifications include, but are not limited to:
Proficiency with using Adobe products
Proficiency with core AWS services, uses, and best practices
An understanding of scrum values, practices, and applications
An understanding of how to use Google Cloud technology
A broad understanding of how to use Microsoft products, ranging from Azure to Power Platform
Skilled in the use of Java products
An understanding of Agile principles and techniques
Skilled in the use of Red Hat products and services
Note: The list above is intended to be a helpful starting point for exploration and research. It is not meant to be a comprehensive compilation or to provide definitive criteria for certifications, which can vary by region.
Step 4: Meet software developer requirements
There are multiple pathways to becoming a software developer. Some employers may prefer candidates who have bachelor’s degrees and/or master’s degrees in computer science or related disciplines, but newcomers can enter the field with substantial training and hands-on experience.
Employers seeking to fill software developer roles may have different criteria that they expect candidates to meet depending on system and network requirements, and whether the position is at the individual-contributor level or in management. For example, if an organization uses Google Cloud technology to run its software and network systems, recruitment and hiring managers may be more interested in job candidates who have earned certification in Google Professional Cloud. Organizations that use Adobe, AWS, Microsoft, and Oracle may also be more likely to seek out candidates with experience and certifications in the specific systems and software that they use. Requirements for software developers who are supervisors may also include certification related to managing projects and teams.
Step 5: Start your software development career
BLS reports that employment of workers in the software development field is poised to grow at a comparatively fast pace to other industries in the United States, driven in part by the development of automation applications, and technology such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things devices, and robotics. Cybersecurity threats may also result in companies investing in software development in order to protect their networks and data. Top industries for software developers include: computer systems design, finance, software publishing, and manufacturing. If you are interested in this field, you can also seek out positions as software quality assurance analysts and software testers, who work in collaboration with developers to design, develop, and program software.
When you are ready to begin applying to jobs, careful planning and attention to detail will maximize your chances of success. To navigate the application process effectively, remember to:
Determine your career goals, including the type of software development role you are interested in, in order to target relevant job opportunities.
Tailor your résumé to highlight your technical skills, relevant experience, and projects. Emphasize your programming languages, frameworks, and tools proficiency.
Establish an online presence through platforms like LinkedIn in order to demonstrate your expertise, showcase your project portfolio, and network with professionals in your field.
Research potential employers that align with your interests and values. Familiarize yourself with their products, services, culture, and recent developments.
Prepare for interviews. Study common interview topics and practice coding problems. Review any specific technologies relevant to the role you're applying for and think about how you can showcase your problem-solving, communication, and teamwork skills.
Apply strategically, using connections in your network, job boards, and recruitment platforms to find suitable openings. Customize your application for each job, emphasizing how your skills and experience align with the specific requirements.
Browse online software developer programs and courses New
Stand out in your fieldUse the knowledge and skills you have gained to drive impact at work and grow your career.
Learn at your own paceOn your computer, tablet or phone, online courses make learning flexible to fit your busy life.
Earn a valuable credentialShowcase your key skills and valuable knowledge.
Browse online coding boot camps
Results-driven curriculumLed by industry experts, our boot camp programs equip you with in-demand skills, a portfolio and a university-backed certification.
Flexible learning experienceWith full- and part-time options, night and weekend classes, and self-guided coursework, you’ll earn your certificate in 12, 18 or 24 weeks.
Dedicated career supportWork with a career coach, leverage professional resources, attend events and access job referrals from our network of 250+ employers.
Frequently asked questions
Software developers create computer applications and systems for digital devices, desktop computers, and more. They identify a user's needs and then design software solutions, sometimes working with programmers. Software developers typically have strong problem-solving and analytical skills, as well as the ability to work both independently and as part of a team.
The time it takes to become a software developer can vary depending on the role and the individual's experience. Someone with a bachelor's degree in computer science may be able to start working as a software developer after graduation, while someone who is self-taught may need to spend more time learning the skills necessary for the job. In general, it can take multiple years to build the knowledge needed to become a senior software developer.
While it can be helpful to have a degree in computer science to become a software developer, it is not the only pathway. If you choose to forgo a degree, you can instead: learn the basics of coding through online courses and boot camps; build experience with a job in IT or tech support; join networking communities of coders and engineers; and study other developers’ projects and code. It is important to remember that software developers typically hold at least a bachelor’s degree.
A bachelor's degree in computer and information technology (or a related field) is the most common path to becoming a software developer. However, it is not the only way. Some developers have earned associate degrees or even had no degree at all. What matters most is that you have the skills and experience that employers are looking for. Earning certifications related to software development can also help you qualify for certain positions. Some employers may also require a graduate degree for more senior positions in an organization.
If you excel in mathematics and computer science, you may be able to learn the skills and concepts needed to become a software developer more easily, but it will still require hard work and dedication. Software development is a complex and ever-changing field, so you need to be devoted to continuous learning in order to remain up to date on emerging trends, tools, and techniques.
Software developers have the opportunity to work on cutting-edge technology that can solve complex problems for nearly every industry. In a digital world, organizations, governments, and societies demand new solutions that can make their lives easier and their work more efficient. If you have a problem-solving mindset, then software development may be both a challenging and rewarding field for you.
Last updated: July 2023