By the Numbers: Software Engineering Careers and Salaries

future of software engineering
future of software engineering

The programs that run everything from mobile apps to heavy machinery depend on seamless functionality. Software programs aren’t just collections of code; they are the connective tissue for a technological ecosystem used by billions of people. This complexity creates a consistent demand for software engineers who can solve evolving challenges.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers defines software engineering as “the application of a systematic, disciplined, quantifiable approach to the development, operation, and maintenance of software.” Software engineers consider how programs interact with users and hardware now and in the future. An engineering mindset scrutinizes every aspect of software until the end product meets expectations.

The future of software engineering will require practitioners who are as skilled with team management as they are with coding and testing. Prospective engineers must consider where the profession started to properly navigate its present and chart its future.

Software Engineering Origins and Solutions

Initial forays into computing technology used mechanical processes rather than software to complete mathematical functions. Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine used gears and wheels to add and subtract numbers in the 1820s. James Thomson incorporated wheels and discs in his Differential Analyzer to complete differential equations in the 1870s.

Computers moved from mechanics to software following World War II. One of the earliest computers, the Small-Scale Experimental Machine built in 1948 by Tom Kilburn and Freddy Williams, used machine code for mathematical functions. Engineers moved from basic code to the first higher-level programming language called Fortran in 1957. A variation of this language is still in use today.

The field of software engineering focused on government, military, and corporate needs for the following three decades. Personal computing advancements starting in the 1970s accelerated software development as hardware moved beyond routine functions. The Apple II in 1977 and the IBM Personal Computer in 1981 brought computers to office desks in large numbers.

Modern software leverages the power of rapidly improving hardware to solve problems foreign to Babbage and Thomson. Without software engineers, the following innovations would not have reached the market:

The future of software engineering will expand exponentially on the work done by generations of engineers. Innovation isn’t restricted to office equipment and consumer electronics. Software engineers have solved real-world challenges that are models for future initiatives.

Solving Problems through Software Engineering

The potential of modern software is only limited by its accompanying hardware. Engineers should think big about the large-scale challenges that can be solved through innovative software. MIT Technology Review identified the following problems that may be solved by technology in the future:

  • Natural disaster prediction and preparedness
  • Producing and allocating life-saving vaccines around the world
  • Understanding the human brain to mitigate aging and mental disorders

Software engineering is essential to solving transportation issues facing cities across the world. Smart Columbus is an example of how cutting-edge software can make mobility a lot easier for city residents. The city’s smart technology initiative shows the future of software engineering through components like: 

  • A connected vehicle environment allowing cars to communicate about road conditions
  • Autonomous shuttles that navigate traffic jams without human guidance
  • An operating system for the city that analyzes Internet of Things data in real-time

Hospitals and clinics also benefit from software engineers who can navigate the healthcare industry’s interconnectedness. Diagnostic and surgical tools are increasingly reliant on software to help improve patient outcomes. Innovations like heart-monitoring apps and VR training tools are integrated into larger systems by software engineers.

The Day-to-Day Work of a Software Engineer

Software engineers typically work in teams as they work on products and updates. Experienced engineers or engineers with specialized knowledge are assigned as project leads. The average day for a software engineer varies significantly based on their current projects.

Interviews with software engineers reveal a common checklist of tasks no matter the project. These tasks include:

  • Virtual or in-person meetings that organize daily tasks
  • Review of scrum boards for tasks underway and in need of completion
  • Communication with team members about progress and project notes
  • Coding and developing tests for code before advancing to the next task

A sample job description for a software engineer outlines larger project goals met through diligent daily work. These goals include:

  • Defining problems to be solved via software solutions
  • Producing visual and written documentation for every step of the development process
  • Working with vendors and consultants to acquire resources necessary for project completion

Advancements in productivity technology have increased the number of engineers who work remotely. This geographical flexibility means teams can be spread across the globe. Software teams often establish Results-Only Work Environments (ROWE) that allow flexible schedules in exchange for better performance. 

Tips for Software Engineering Success

Experienced engineers know that their work can be occasionally stressful due to time constraints and client needs. A review of software engineer experiences produces helpful tips for managing this stress. Newcomers to the software development lifecycle should consider:

  • Setting timers to look away from computer screens to support eye health
  • Taking walks and establishing regular meal times to step away from projects
  • Establishing a healthy balance between work and personal time, especially when working remotely.

Another common thread in software engineer experiences is the need to continue learning new things every day. After all, early software creators found their calling through a natural curiosity and an interest in building new products. A new engineer should plan to set aside time each day to read about industry developments, work on personal projects, or chat with colleagues about their perspectives.

Madison Schott, a software engineer for Capital One, wrote about why “learning how to learn” is critical for other engineers. In addition to personal fulfillment, Schott also writes that:

“...constantly growing and evolving as an engineer will help prevent you from staying stuck in the past and being left behind as roles and technologies change.”

Software Engineer Job Outlook in the 21st Century

The future of software engineering looks bright for newcomers and experienced hands alike. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated a 22 percent growth in software developer and engineer jobs from 2019 to 2029. These fields are among the fastest-growing in the country given the 4 percent estimated growth average for all occupations.

Software engineers have little difficulty finding work after graduation or temporary periods of unemployment. SmartAsset calculated a 3.6 percent unemployment rate for engineers in 2018 compared to an overall rate of 7.3 percent for the United States. Continual growth and low unemployment are ingredients for a good future in software engineering. 

Skilled engineers fill important gaps in the software industry. The 2021 Technology Salary Guide from Robert Half found 67 percent of IT managers wanted to add engineers to their teams. This survey also concluded that 89 percent of managers faced challenges finding the right mix of skills for their projects.

Staying Prepared for the Future of Software Engineering

Hired reviewed 400,000 job interview requests and surveyed 1,600 engineers to evaluate the field’s future. The aforementioned demand was driven by new ventures in retail and telecommunications. Software engineers have proven essential to advancements in mobile phone technology and e-commerce.

As a profession, software engineering requires intellectual agility to meet present demands while anticipating future trends. In 2018, Hired found a 517 percent growth in blockchain engineering positions from the previous year. The 2019 report recorded a 9 percent growth in the same specialty, far eclipsed by the following growth areas: 

  • AR/VR Engineer (1,400 percent growth)
  • Gaming Engineer (146 percent growth)
  • Computer Vision Engineer (146 percent growth)

Blockchain and AR/VR technology are only tapping into their potentials across multiple industries. Software engineers need to stay current on coding, programming languages, and hardware trends that might inform future innovations. An engineer who stays flexible not only taps into general demand in their field but unlocks high-salary niches.

The Impact of Demand on Software Engineering Salaries

A rosy outlook and high demand mean great salaries for software engineers. The BLS found an average annual salary of $107,510 for software developers and engineers. This salary far exceeded the $39,180 median salary for all occupations studied by the BLS.

Indeed disentangles engineers from developers in its October 2020 review of the profession. The average engineer made $107,181 per year based on this analysis. Practitioners who reach senior software engineer status earn $132,200 on average. 

We can return to the 2021 State of Software Engineers for location-specific salary examples. Hired evaluated engineer salaries in four major cities to determine salary ceilings. This analysis found top salaries in U.S. dollars for the following specialties:

  • Search Engineer in San Francisco: $165,000
  • Backend Engineer in New York City: $145,000
  • AR/VR Engineer in London: $112,612
  • Machine Learning Engineer in Toronto: $90,808

You don’t need to work in a major city to earn an above-average software engineering salary. Engineers in Battle Creek, Michigan - a city with a population just above 50,000 - earn $121,160 on average. 

High Job Satisfaction Among Software Engineers

An engineer’s investment of time, money, and energy into their career results in a good living. Software engineers also enjoy their work because they find outlets for their creativity and concerns about the world. The 2021 State of Software Engineers reveals a high level of enjoyment from engineers around the globe.

The future of software engineering will be paved by experienced leaders who are driven to help the world. Eighty-five percent of Hired respondents expressed happiness at their career choice. This survey also found 53 percent pursued new languages and methods out of enjoyment rather than nudges from their employers.

Software engineer salaries allow practitioners to pursue larger changes in the world without worrying about finances. Respondents wanted to solve the following problems with their software skills:

  • Climate change (21 percent)
  • Lack of economic opportunity (21 percent)
  • Lack of educational access (18 percent)

Prospective engineers need the vision to see the future of software engineering while solving today’s problems. Hired survey participants listed building interesting things, becoming tech leaders, and starting their own companies among their 10-year goals. You can find the intersection of fulfillment, financial gain, and innovation opportunities as a software engineer.

Preparing for the Future of Software Engineering at Baylor University

A graduate degree in computer science helps you join these satisfied engineers as they change the world. Baylor University’s Online Masters in Computer Science includes a software engineering track designed for an evolving field. This 100 percent online degree features courses on subjects like: 

  • Advanced Object-Oriented Development
  • Distributed Systems Development
  • Software Verification and Validation

Baylor University’s national reputation means that a computer science degree is a passport to career success. In Spring 2019, 91% of Baylor University Engineering and Computer Science grads secured job placements within 90 days of graduation. U.S. News & World Report recognized Baylor’s leading-edge approach to higher education in 2020 with rankings like:

  • #25 in Most Innovative Schools
  • #47 in Best Colleges for Veterans
  • #76 Best National Universities
  • #118 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs

Connect with Baylor University today to learn how an Online Masters in Computer Science - Software Engineering degree can help you to shape the future of software engineering.