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Software engineering is the process of designing, developing, testing and maintaining software applications or systems. At the most basic level, software engineers develop, deploy, update and debug software. In this article, we will break down what a software engineer does, the types of skills software engineers regularly use, and the careers you might get with a software engineering education.

What is Software Engineering?

Today’s job market and business world is run by software. That means that there is a tremendous – and growing – demand for software engineers. You can think of software engineers as the conductors of software, in charge of controlling how any kind of software is used.

When we talk about software in this sense, it refers to the data, instructions and programs that are used to operate computers and do specific tasks. You can almost think of software as the “brains” of a computer that helps it know how to do specific tasks. This goes hand-in-hand with hardware, the physical components of a computer that are necessary for the software to run.

At its core, engineering refers to the use of scientific and mathematical solutions to solve problems. It also implies a sense of innovation, as engineers often think of creative solutions to difficult problems.

Software engineering, then, is all about using maths and science to solve problems that help computers run in specific ways for specific purposes. You’ll often find software engineers use skills like project planning, requirement analysis, design, coding, testing and maintenance to produce high-quality software to meet the needs of users.

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

A software engineer is a tech professional who is responsible for designing, developing, testing and maintaining software applications and systems. You would typically find software engineers working in computer systems design firms or for electronic product manufacturers, but can also find them employed by software publishers or in app development too.

The overall process of software engineering is full of repetition and feedback loops that are constantly making sure that software meets the ever-changing needs of its users. There are various tools and technologies used to support this process, including integrated development environments (IDEs), version control systems, testing frameworks and deployment tools. These kinds of tools help engineers develop code efficiently and manage and maintain changes to code over time.

At the end of the day, a software engineer works to create software that is reliable, efficient and easy to maintain. This helps business processes or marketing schemes run smoothly to increase efficiency, and ultimately, profit. As a result, software engineers intensely focus on quality, utilising testing and quality assurance techniques to ensure that software is good to go.

If you are interested in becoming a software engineer, the ALX Software Engineering programme provides the perfect first step.

What Types of Software Require Engineering?

Software engineering is a skill that can be applied to a wide variety of software applications and computer systems. Virtually any software application that is designed to be used by humans can benefit from the principles of software engineering. Below, we will describe some common types of software that require engineering:

  • Enterprise software: This is software that businesses typically use to manage their operations. This could include anything from accounting software, customer relationship management (CRM) systems and human resource management (HRM) software.
  • Web applications: This includes software applications that are accessed through a web browser for various different purposes. You might find software like this in e-commerce, social networking and online collaboration.
  • Mobile applications: These refer to apps that are used on mobile devices like smartphones or tablets. You’re probably most familiar with these, as they include gaming, social networking, and productivity apps you use daily. The software for these apps need constant attention from an engineer.
  • Embedded systems: These are computer systems that are embedded in devices like automobiles, appliances and medical devices. They often require specialised software engineering skills due to the unique hardware and software constraints of these systems.
  • Gaming software: Engineering a game is tough! Complex graphics, physics and artificial intelligence are needed to run modern games, and they require specialised software engineering skills to master.

The Software Engineering Process

There is a specific process that software engineers follow to do their jobs properly. This rigorous and structured approach to software development ensures that the systems engineers create are reliable, efficient and maintainable. It’s important to understand this process to understand more about what a software engineer does. Here are those steps:

  • Requirements gathering and analysis: This is the first and most important step in software engineering. It is where the engineer understands the constraints and goals of the software they are meant to produce. In this step, engineers work with their client to understand their needs, the business objectives and the technical requirements of the software.
  • Design: The next step finds software engineers creating a detailed design for the software application or system they are building. In order to do this step properly, the software engineer must identify the software components, define the software’s architecture and create a plan for its implementation.
  • Implementation: After the design step comes the creation step. This involves writing the code for the software application or system using programming languages like Java, Python or C++. In this step, the engineer will often develop databases and user interfaces alongside other software components in order to get this started.
  • Testing: Once the architecture is built, it must be tested. In this step, software engineers test the software they’ve created to ensure that it works properly and meets the needs of the client. This involves checking for bugs, errors and other issues that might prevent the software from working properly.
  • Deployment: After the software is implemented, tested, and validated, it is then opened up to users or customers for practical testing. This involves installing the software on the target hardware and making it available for customers to use.
  • Maintenance: This is the final step in the software engineering process. In this phase of the process, engineers will update software to keep up with changing user needs and other technological advancements, fixing bugs and issues that arise and ensuring that the software is doing what it’s supposed to do.

Find out how our SE graduates in Ethiopia are applying the knowledge they gained.

ALX SE learners in Ethiopia building a paper tower

Key Skills Required For Software Engineers

Software engineers are equipped with a broad range of technical and non-technical skills that they use to solve the complex problems they get presented with. Some of these key skills include:

  • Programming: A programmer is someone that deals with the design, development, testing and maintenance of software. Software engineers must have strong programming skills and must know at least one programming language in order to write clean and efficient code to build the software their users need.
  • Technical knowledge: Software engineers must have a deep understanding of computer science principles like algorithms, data structures and software architecture. They must also be familiar and comfortable using databases, networks and different operating systems.
  • Problem-solving: A key skill software engineers need is the ability to analyse complex problems in order to come up with innovative solutions. They must be able to break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts, and then develop strategies to solve them.
  • Communication: As a software engineer, you’ll rarely work alone. Communication skills are crucial if you want to communicate effectively with other members of your team, and to work well with stakeholders and customers. Most importantly, a software engineer must be able to explain technical concepts clearly, simply, and concisely.
  • Project management: Software engineers must be able to manage projects effectively. This means they must be able to plan, schedule and track the progress of their work and manage their time and deadlines effectively.
  • Continuous learning: Your education as a software engineer will never end. It is a technical field that is constantly evolving, and software engineers must be willing to learn about new technologies, programming languages and development methodologies as they go about their careers.

Why is Software Engineering Popular Today?

As technology continues to evolve and become more integrated into our daily lives, the demand for skilled software engineers has skyrocketed. From mobile apps to cloud-based software systems, software engineers are needed to design, develop and maintain the software that powers the modern world.

Software engineering as a career also offers a lot of flexibility and job security. They can work remotely from anywhere in the world and their high demand across a range of industries supports this. This means that a software engineer typically enjoys a high degree of job security and a comfortable income, even in uncertain economic times.

Finally, software engineering is popular because it offers the opportunity to make a real difference in the world. This intellectually challenging field attracts talented and innovative people that are constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Software engineers are often involved in developing software applications that have a positive impact on society, from healthcare systems to education software to social networking platforms.

Types of Software Engineers

There are many different types of software engineers that you will come across. It is one of the most diverse careers, as it encompasses many different specialisations. Each type of software engineer focuses on a different aspect of application or software development. Some of the different types of software engineers include:

  • Front-end engineer: This type of engineer focuses on the “front-end” part of software, which is the part that users or clients see. They use HTML, CSS and JavaScript to write the code to create visually appealing and user-friendly interfaces of software applications that are easy to use.
  • Back-end engineer: They focus on the “back-end” side of software, or the servers that help make the software run smoothly. As a back-end engineer, you’ll use programming languages like Java, Python and Ruby to build the logic and functionality that power the software you build.
  • Full-stack engineer: As you might have guessed, a full-stack engineer works on both the front-end and back-end of software application development. This role requires a much broader understanding of software engineering, as full-stack engineers can work on all aspects of application development.
  • Mobile app developer: You’re probably most familiar with the mobile apps on your smartphone or tablet. These types of software engineers work with programming languages like Swift and Kotlin to create apps for iOS and Android platforms.
  • DevOps engineer: A DevOps engineer focuses on the operation of software applications in order to bring them to effective action. They use tools like Docker and Kubernetes to automate processes that ensure an application runs smoothly in production.
  • Data engineer: These data engineers focus on the development of software applications that work with data. They use tools like Hadoop and Spark to build data processing pipelines and to ensure the data they collect is accurate and secure.
  • Quality assurance engineer: The main goal of a quality assurance engineer is to ensure the software application that has been created is of high quality and meets the demands of end-users. With tools like Selenium and JMeter, they can automate testing and ensure the application is free of bugs and errors.
Alexandria Mizero | ALX SE learner

Meet the Software Engineers in the ALX community.

Software Engineering Careers

Software engineering careers are in high demand and offer excellent opportunities for career stability and growth. A big perk of working in this field is that you can work remotely or in an office, giving you even more flexibility to find a work style that suits your needs. There are also many opportunities for career advancement and personal growth as you continue to learn and develop new skills.

Here are some examples of the most popular software engineering careers:

  • Software developer: They design, develop and maintain software applications for a variety of industries. This is a great career option for someone who is creative and innovative.
  • Software architect: A software architect is responsible for designing the overall structure of software applications. They work with developers to make sure the application is designed to be scalable, efficient and easy to maintain. This career works for someone who is good at seeing the big picture.
  • Quality assurance engineer: In this career, you need attention to detail. A quality assurance engineer looks out for bugs or errors in an application and ensures that it meets the needs of users.
  • Data scientist: Data scientists use large datasets to extract insights and create predictive models. If you’ve got a keen eye for patterns and are good at analysing data, this might be right for you.
  • Mobile developer: You’ll mostly be working to develop software applications for mobile devices in this role. There is a wide variety of the types of apps that get developed, so if a dynamic career is something you’re looking for, this might be right for you. 
  • DevOps engineer: They focus on automating the deployment and operation of software applications. This career involves a lot of creative problem-solving.
  • Machine learning engineer: Machine learning engineers build systems that can learn from data and make predictions or decisions based on what they learn. If you’re into AI, this might be the right career for you.

Become a Software Engineer with ALX

According to a report from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, Africa is on course to add $180 billion by 2025 thanks to the rapid growth of its internet economy. This growth is made possible in developing the talent of skilled developers and software engineers who build the products and engines that power various industries. These industries include banks, fintech, agritech, e-health, and venture capital to name a few.

The mission of ALX speaks directly to this need for tech talent by providing access to tech training programmes for anyone who is interested. The 12-month ALX Software Engineering Programme is the perfect introduction to the field that trains the next generation of technology professionals, innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. By taking this course, you can learn the skills necessary to have a long and successful career as a software engineer.

David Mutune, an AWS Proserve Associate Consultant and ALX Software Engineering programme graduate, had this to say about this course:

David Mutune | ALX SE graduate

“What differentiates the ALX Software Engineering programme from any programme I have taken or heard of is its unique non-traditional approach to learning. I can testify that within 3 months I learned more than I did in one full year of my university with the traditional education model.

The project-based approach to learning makes it possible to grasp every concept in detail. You will also develop the soft skills that are required for your career in software engineering, learning from your peers and learning about professional growth constantly. This is the best decision that I have made so far. I would honestly recommend this to any serious student who wants to learn and understand every concept in software engineering deeply.”


A career in software engineering is far-reaching, varied and dynamic. It is a field of study that is expected to continue to grow for the foreseeable future, providing with it opportunities for job stability and growth down the line. By understanding what a software engineer does and the career paths available, you can decide for yourself if becoming one is something you aspire to.

If you’re looking to become a software engineer to put your creativity, innovation, and brain-power to use, consider enrolling in the ALX Software Engineering programme to get started. You won’t regret it!


1. What skills do you need to become a software engineer?

Becoming a successful software engineer requires a combination of technical expertise, such as proficiency in programming, and non-technical skills, such as creativity, problem-solving, teamwork, adaptability and communication.

2. How much will I make as a software engineer?

The average annual salary of a software engineer in the USA is $96,817, along with a $4,600 cash bonus, as reported by Indeed. However, these figures can vary depending on the level of experience and the software engineer’s location. A junior front-end software engineer can earn anywhere between $38,000 to $108,000 annually, while a senior back-end software engineer’s software salary can range from $61,000 to $165,000 per annum.

3. What subjects do software engineers study?

Computing and IT are the most important subjects to study, but other technical subjects like physics and design technology may also be useful.

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