How to transform your future on the software engineer career path

9 minutes

Globally, roughly 27 million software developers are working today, which is expected to ris...

Globally, roughly 27 million software developers are working today, which is expected to rise to over 28 million by 2024. That's quite a lot of people, to put it mildly. But for an aspiring person debating what career path they should follow, you may be asking, "What's all the fuss about? Is a software engineering role a viable career for me, and does it provide the scope I need to fully invest in it?"

These are all relevant questions to ask and something we intend to answer in this guide. Throughout this blog, you'll discover the following:

  • What is software engineering?
  • What does a software engineer do?
  • What software engineer jobs can you progress to?

What is software engineering?

Software engineering plays an essential part in making our daily lives that tad bit simpler, wriggling its way into the devices we use for work, communication and social activities. Even the device you’re reading this guide on will have been touched by the magic of software engineering. 

This dynamic field within the IT engineering space goes hand in hand with computer science and focuses on creating, testing and deploying computer applications to tackle real-world challenges. Software engineering operates on a foundation of engineering principles and best practices to ensure the development of innovative and efficient software for companies and people in need of software solutions. 

You may or may not know that the origins of software engineering can be traced back to the late 1960s when NATO hosted the first software engineering conference. At this pivotal event, the primary focus was addressing the inherent inconsistencies and unreliabilities in software development. 

It became clear that similar to physical engineering, software development required a systematic approach to achieve better quality assurance and reliability. International experts at the conference reached a consensus that the principles and practices applied in traditional physical engineering could be effectively adapted to the realm of software development.

Software engineering has since evolved and grown significantly, playing a critical role in revolutionising the technology landscape we experience today. It empowers unorthodox developers to create cutting-edge, user-friendly software solutions for diverse industries. These days, software engineering continues to be an unconventional driving force behind the evolution of innovative applications that address the weird and wonderful demands of our digital society.

Since we’ve given you some context of what software engineering is, it’s probably best if we answer the question: What does a software engineer do? Makes sense, right?

What does a software engineer do?

Software engineers get called different names, but don't worry; none are nasty or offensive. Within the IT engineering industry, these engineers can otherwise be referred to as software developers or software programmers, whatever floats your boat. These creative minds and industry disruptors are the people behind our digital world. 

A software engineer (we'll stick to this title to avoid confusion if that's alright) will utilise their analytical thinking and problem-solving skills to design, develop, test and maintain the latest software applications and solutions. They will also harness engineering principles and programming languages to optimise existing solutions to make them more efficient and secure to cater to the end users' needs. 

Software engineering careers go against the grain, offering exciting and challenging opportunities that make the job far from dull. As a software engineer, you have the freedom to take your pick of working for small, medium or large companies. What's more, software engineers tailor their expertise to a broad range of industries, from IT firms, financial institutions and public utilities to manufacturing companies, nonprofit organisations and gaming brands.

Successful software engineers must come equipped with a range of technical and soft skills to overcome the challenges of the gig and deliver solutions that match the user's demands. 

Some of the more technical skills a software engineer should have include a deep understanding of programming languages such as Javascript, Python and or C++, to name a few. On the soft skills side of things, engineers should have an analytical mindset with an ability to problem-solving skills and collaborate with various departments, from development teams, systems architects and data scientists.

Now you've got the gist of what a software engineer does, you're probably wondering what software engineering jobs you can progress to. Whether you've been working in the world of software engineering for a while or are interested in kickstarting your career in this space, you should scroll below to discover the software engineer career progression.

What software engineer jobs can you progress to?

Software engineer jobs are vast, from the level of the role and the size of the business to the type of industry you support. Generally speaking, software engineer career progression follows two main paths: specialising in technical expertise or people management. Whichever route you take, you will meet a wealth of opportunities that inspire growth and align with your interests and career aspirations. 

Whatever opportunity you aim for, your software engineer career path will be unique to anyone else’s. However, to give you a general idea of what you could expect to see, we’ve outlined the various opportunities you could progress to. From junior software engineering jobs all the way up to chief technology officer jobs, let’s highlight the typical software engineer career progression. 

Junior software engineer jobs

You can expect to kickstart your software engineer career path by applying for junior software engineer jobs. These entry-level positions require anywhere between 0-4 years of experience with a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a basic understanding of programming languages as a bonus. Junior software engineer jobs allow you to get hands-on experience whilst working under the guidance of a senior engineer or tech manager. 

Responsibilities of a junior software engineer

Have a gander at the responsibilities of a junior software engineer:

  • Design, develop and test software systems
  • Write code for various systems, such as automated workflows
  • Help create API systems 
  • Design front-end visuals, keeping user experience at the forefront 
  • Finding seamless solutions for problem-solving errors within the system

Junior software engineer jobs are a great way of getting your foot in the door while allowing you to enhance your career prospects by developing soft skills like communication, teamwork and collaboration. Within a few years, you’ll have gained the fundamental software engineering skills to progress to a more senior position. 

Senior software engineer jobs

As you embark on your software engineer career path and gain anywhere from 3-6 years of experience, you could move into the role of a senior software engineer. By this point, you’d have developed a deep understanding of various programming languages, enabling you to work on more challenging and complex projects. You may also begin leading technical assignments and support the up-and-comers in junior positions who are taking their first steps in their software engineer career path.

Responsibilities of a senior software engineer

Your role as a senior software engineer could see you responsible for the following:

  • Collaborating with engineering and DevOps teams to create and implement various software solutions
  • Help mentor junior software engineers and developers 
  • Take the lead on development initiatives and major software projects
  • Outlining software architectures for the business and its clients
  • Lean heavily on utilising data structures and algorithms when developing systems

Principal software engineer jobs

If you’re leaning towards becoming a technical expert within software engineering, as opposed to advancing in management, then next on your software engineer career progression could be the role of a principal software engineer. Principal software engineers typically have 6-10+ years of experience and possess deep technical expertise in multiple areas of engineering. 

As one of the most experienced members of a development team, principal engineers won’t necessarily manage a team but will be expected to act as a mentor or role models within the business. Principal software engineers take on similar responsibilities to senior engineers. However, as they ultimately spearhead the day-to-day operations of the software development division, they have added accountability and greater expectations from their employers.

Responsibilities of a principal software engineer

Check out the common responsibilities of a principal software engineer:

  • Oversee and lend expertise to the complete software development life cycle
  • Analyse the needs of the business and deliver technical solutions aligned with these needs
  • Develop multi-platform business strategies with the goals of the company front and centre and with software at the forefront 
  • Collaborate with internal design and product departments to develop new and existing systems
  • Help guide and mentor the software engineers within the team, from junior and senior positions to other principal engineers

Software engineering manager jobs

On the flip side, strolling down the managerial route might be the software engineer career path you’re most interested in pursuing. In that case, once you’ve reached the heights of a senior software engineer and have gained 6-10+ years of experience under your belt, you could see your software engineer career progression lead you to the role of a software engineering manager.

Within this people management role, you could be responsible for establishing, building, mentoring and managing a diverse team of high-value engineers from junior to principal levels. 

Combining technical know-how with an ability to manage people, software engineering managers take carefully crafted measures to ensure their team works effectively to complete their daily tasks and projects. They also report on the team's performance to upper management whilst assisting with technology-driven business strategies. Overall, they ensure work is aligned with the company goals. 

Responsibilities of a software engineering manager

Take a look at the typical responsibilities of a software engineering manager:

  • Oversee the performance management and career development of the software engineers within the team
  • Take accountability to grow the engineering team alongside helping the business grow
  • Project manage software projects, supporting members of the team along the way and addressing any problems that occur along the way
  • Liaise with internal stakeholders to develop technical roadmaps for the business
  • Partner on business strategies with cross-functional teams, from engineering, management and marketing

Vice president of software engineering jobs

Sticking with the management side of software engineer career progression, once you’ve built a portfolio of 10-15+ years of experience, you could make the jump into the role of vice president of software engineering for medium to large global organisations. As the VP of engineering, you would find yourself managing multiple teams and projects simultaneously whilst also having a significant influence on project budgets and hiring strategies. 

Within this executive-level role, you won’t find yourself doing as much of the nitty-gritty elements of a project, such as writing code. Instead, you’ll lend your wealth of expertise from a more supervisory standpoint. Overall, you’ll play a vital role in growing multiple engineering teams and translating business and product goals into an innovative technology strategy.

Responsibilities of a vice president of software engineering

Here are the typical responsibilities of a vice president of software engineering:

  • Managing multiple engineering teams within a business
  • Overseeing the delivery of and lending supervisory expertise to projects
  • Managing project budgets for multiple projects
  • Translating company goals into innovative tech-driven strategies
  • Providing significant input on the hiring strategies of the engineering teams

Chief technology officer jobs

The final role we’ll cover in our guide on how to transform your future on the software engineer career path is a chief technology officer (CTO). CTOs are executive-level experts at the top of their game. They typically have 15-20+ years of experience and are at the forefront of all the technical aspects of a company, including divisions such as engineering, data science, DevOps, and research and development (R&D).

CTOs collaborate with the executive team to align technical initiatives with the financial and business goals of the organisation. Typically reporting to the company's chief executive officer (CEO), they lead the strategy for all technical initiatives, implement new technology systems, and establish KPIs and budgets for various projects. 

Responsibilities of a chief technology officer

Discover the common responsibilities of a chief technology officer:

  • Develop, implement and report on the organisation's technology strategy
  • Research and recommend new and developing technology systems that could be effective in helping the business reach its goals
  • Manage and report on the company’s budgets and KPIs
  • Translate the organisation's technology strategy to stakeholders, such as customers, investors, and employees
  • Support with the hiring and retention strategies within the engineering team

Let’s wrap up the software engineer career path

Embarking on your journey into software engineering should be a fun and exciting experience that breathes new life into your career. As you continue exploring the software engineer career progression and the opportunities available, don’t get too wrapped up in the number of years of experience needed to progress - we’ve only outlined this to give you a general overview. At the end of the day, your software engineer career path and rate of progression will be different from everyone else. 

Each stage of the software engineer career path comes with its own unique responsibilities and challenges. Whether you're coding at the junior level, mentoring and leading at the senior level, managing teams as a software engineering manager, overseeing multiple projects as a VP of engineering, or shaping the technology strategy as a CTO, your journey in software engineering can be a fulfilling and transformative one. 

If you’re looking to take the next steps in your software engineer career path, scroll below to see how we can help you get started. Alternatively, if you fancy having a gander at some of the other roles you could progress to in the world of IT engineering, check out our guide on 10 of the most cutting-edge jobs in engineering.

Ready to kickstart your software engineer career path?

If you’re ready to kickstart your software engineer career path, look no further. As software engineering recruitment experts, we have the industry know-how to help you get your career off the ground. Whether you’re a go-getter looking to land your first junior role or an established industry innovator seeking a new opportunity at an executive level, we’ll match you with the software engineer jobs high up on your radar. 

Fancy a chat about how we can help you take the next steps on your software engineer career path? We’d be happy to help. Get in touch with one of our IT engineering recruitment specialists today and see how we can power your job search.