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What does a computer software engineer do?

The impact of computers on our lives means there is a need to develop new software. Computer software engineers apply computer science, engineering, and math to design, develop, and test software. (Computer hardware engineers design computer chips, boards, systems, modems, and printers.)

Software engineers first analyze users' needs. Then they design, construct, test, and maintain the needed software or systems. In programming, or coding, they tell a computer, line by line, how to function. They also solve any problems that arise. They must possess strong coding skills, but are more likely to develop algorithms and solve problems than write code.

Software engineers often work as part of a team that designs new hardware, software, and systems. A core team may have engineering, marketing, factory, and design people who work together until the product is done.

Software engineers normally work in well-lighted offices or labs. Most work at least 40 hours a week. If a big project is due, they may have to work nights or weekends to meet deadlines. Like other workers who sit for hours at a computer, they are susceptible to eyestrain, back ache, and hand and wrist syndromes.

Software engineers who are employed by vendors and consulting firms spend time away from their offices to meet with customers. As networks expand, they may be able to use modems, laptops, e-mail, and the Internet to identify and fix problems from their own office.

How do you get ready to be a compugter software engineer?

Most employers prefer to hire people who have at least a bachelor's degree and experience with a variety of computer systems. The most common degrees are computer science, software engineering, or computer systems. Some of the more complex jobs require graduate degrees.

Students seeking software engineering jobs enhance their opportunities by signing up as interns to get some experience. Large firms that can train new hires may take new grads with no experience.

Persons looking at jobs in this field must have strong problem-solving and analytical skills. They also must be able to work effectively with team members, other staff, and customers. Because they often deal with many tasks at the same time, they must be able to focus and pay close attention to detail.

As technology advances in the computer field, employers want workers to keep up. Software engineers must learn new skills if they wish to remain in this very dynamic field. To help them keep up, employers, vendors, private training schools, and others offer a large number of courses.

How much does a computer software engineer make?

The middle 50 percent of computer applications software engineers earned between $55,510 and $88,660 in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $44,830, and the highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $109,800.

The middle 50 percent of computer systems software engineers earned between $58,500 and $91,160 in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $45,890, and the highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $111,600.

How many jobs are there?

Computer software engineers held about 675,000 jobs in 2002. Although they have jobs in most industries, about 30 percent work in computer systems design and related services. Employers range from startups to well-known industry leaders. A growing number of these workers get jobs on a temporary basis, or work as consultants.

What about the future?

Software engineers are projected to be one of the fastest growing occupations from 2002 to 2012. Rapid growth in the computer systems design industry should mean good opportunities for college grads with a degree and some experience.

Despite the recent downturn in information technology, the number of computer software engineers is expected to rise much faster than the average. Job growth will not be as rapid as during the last decade however, as the industry matures and some work is outsourced to foreign countries.

Are there other jobs like this?

  • Actuaries
  • Computer hardware engineers
  • Computer programmers
  • Computer support specialists
  • Computer scientists
  • Computer systems administrators
  • Database administrators
  • Financial analysts
  • Personal financial advisors
  • Management analysts
  • Mathematicians
  • Operations research analysts
  • Statisticians
  • Systems analysts
Where can you find more information?

More information about computer software engineers can be found in the Careers database.

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

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