Software engineers design, develop, test, maintain, and document software. Like other engineering fields, software engineers aim to create cost-effective solutions for their clients. Creating high-quality software requires a systemic approach. Being able to break down big ideas into smaller tasks and thinking in the abstract are valuable skills for software engineers.
You may be considering a career as a software engineer or building the ultimate team for your next big project. Either way, read on for more details about the critical role of software engineers.
What Is Software Engineering?
People often use the terms software engineer, software developer, and software programmer to mean the same thing. But they describe separate roles in the field of computer science. Software engineers — the broadest role — meet with clients to determine what they need from a computer program. They design the program's structure, write the code that makes it work, and ensure everything runs smoothly.
Developers have a more limited role but can be involved in designing, planning, testing, and maintaining a software system. Software programmers usually just write code for software so that it does what the engineer or developer wants it to do.
Because these terms or roles are often used interchangeably, you may see a job listing for a software programmer where the job description more accurately fits a software developer.
Software Engineering Principles
Building software is like building other things — you need a methodical approach and a set of rules to help create it. Below are the main principles of software engineering.
Breaking Up Big Projects
Software engineers break down extensive software programs into separate modules. Different people or teams can develop and test individual modules simultaneously. These smaller modules can be reused in other projects, which saves time and effort. As a software engineer, you oversee this modularity to ensure each module functions separately and together for the best software program.
Simplifying the Design
Software engineers use the concept of abstraction to make a complicated system easier to understand. Software programs are complex, from how they're built to the language they use. A simple user interface lets the user interact with the program without needing to know everything that went into creating it.
Separating distinct software functions into layers or sections makes the program more stable and easier to maintain. For instance, you will be concerned with functionality and data integrity within a data structure component. By separating these concerns, you optimize both of them independently. Modularity is part of this concept.
Bundling data and the functions or methods that use that data into a distinct class is vital for software development. This encapsulation hides the details of how a process works from view. Encapsulation is a basic rule of object-oriented programming. It protects the class from unwanted changes or access.
Software engineering is an iterative process. Each cycle, or ‘sprint’, involves planning, designing, building, testing, and getting feedback. Engineers make changes based on the feedback they get. Frequent testing and feedback are crucial for finding and fixing problems throughout development.
Testing is vital in software engineering and is done throughout the development process. As a software engineer, you’ll use various testing methods to ensure your software works well and is safe. These can include unit testing, integration testing, and penetration testing.
Good documentation helps developers use, take care of, and update software. It includes code comments and other internal documentation for developers. It also provides application programming interfaces (APIs) documentation and user manuals.
Types of Software Engineering
The types of software engineering range from specific engineers, including user side, server side, and data, to general roles, including full-stack and DevOps.
Front-end engineers work closely with back-end engineers. This ensures their programs work well with server-side logic and data storage systems. This coordination lets programs and apps operate efficiently on computers, tablets, or phones.
Back-end software engineers develop and maintain the server-side elements of an application. This includes the infrastructure and logic that allows a website or app to function. Back-end engineers use languages such as Python, Ruby, and Java to deal with a software system’s server, database, and application logic.
The front-end and back-end engineering coordination optimizes software performance, scalability, and security.
Full-stack software engineers are the jack-of-all-trades in the software engineering world. They work on both front-end and back-end components of software applications. They can design databases and configure servers. They can also create interactive user interfaces and attractive web pages.
Full-stack engineers are proficient in multiple programming languages, frameworks, and libraries. You might be responsible for creating the entire software stack, which might lead to quicker application deployment. Full-stack engineers have an understanding of how all components work together and are valuable members of any project team.
More companies use a software development and operations (DevOps) or a software development, security, and operations (DevSecOps) approach to build software. DevOps makes building software faster and easier. It does this by letting the software development and IT operations teams work together and communicate better.
DevOps eliminates the traditional siloes, where development and operation work separately. It also puts security in the software right from the start and makes everyone on the team responsible for all parts of making the software.
Data engineers oversee the lifecycle of data handling. This includes collecting, modeling, processing, storing, and proper destruction of data. As a data engineer, you’ll also create tools and workflows for analyzing and using data for jobs such as machine learning.
An immense amount of data is created every day. Data engineers must create a strong, efficient, and adaptable system to manage all this information. They do this with technologies such as databases, data warehouses, and extract, transform, and load (ETL) tools. Common processing frameworks include Spark and Hadoop.
Coding in Software Engineering
Coding is an essential part of software engineering. Coding translates commands into language the computers can understand and execute. Coders use programming languages to break complex tasks into simple commands using specific words and symbols that the computer can read. Of course, software engineers do much more than code, but coding is the language of computer science, so they have to “speak” it.
There are many programming languages. They all have their own rules and syntax. Some are better for certain types of programs than others. Software engineers must understand many languages to choose the best language for an application.
Some of the most popular programming languages include:
- Python: Python is easy to learn, versatile, and simple to understand. Artificial intelligence, data science, web development, scientific computing, and many other applications use Python.
- Java: Java is a back-end language engineers use in enterprise software, distributed systems, and web applications. It’s also popular for developing Android applications.
- C/C++: C and C++ are low-level programming languages, meaning they are closer to the computer’s language than human language. They can be harder to learn than high-level languages such as Python. Operating systems, game development, and other performance-critical applications are often created with C or C++.
- Ruby: Ruby, usually paired with the Ruby on Rails framework, is a high-level language used to build web applications and APIs. Ruby’s syntax is more like English, so it’s easier to learn than other programming languages.
Challenges of Software Engineering
Software engineers face many challenges in our digital world s because so much of our society depends on software. They must deal with threats such as cyberattacks and full system failures. These challenges include growing system complexity, changing requirements, keeping technical debt in check, maintaining software quality, and keeping up with new technology.
When software systems become more extensive and do more things for more people, they become more complex. Software engineers must consider many things when designing and managing these growing systems. The many parts of a system, how they interact, their requirements, and their constraints add to the complexity, and the software engineer must consider them all. With increased complexity, there are more chances for things to go wrong or for hackers to break into the system and do harm.
After a software system is developed, it must be updated and maintained. But requirements for software can change. Your company may identify new customer needs, jurisdictions may pass new regulations, or you need to incorporate new technology. Changing the software to fit the new requirement can be hard when this happens. Software engineers must work with stakeholders and others involved to make sure they can manage the changes.
Technical debt occurs when developers implement a fast but limited solution instead of a more comprehensive, time-consuming fix. The technical debt is the cost of reworking the solution later. Technical debt builds when developers focus on speed over long-term maintainability and quality.
Engineers may struggle to make sure software is high-quality in a competitive, fast-paced environment. They must ensure their software works as designed and can resist malicious attacks. Many software systems store sensitive and confidential data that could cause harm if exposed. Software engineers are in an escalating arms race with hackers to protect their software and prevent cyberattacks.
Software development evolves quickly. Innovative technologies, tools, and best practices are released daily. If you want to succeed in this field, you must embrace an attitude of lifelong learning, or your skills will quickly become outdated.
Software engineers should be curious and enjoy learning new programming languages and technical skills. You need to keep up with technology to ensure your software is safe from hackers.
Is Software Engineering Hard?
Software engineering is a broad and complex field that requires technical expertise. It’s hard to learn, but the difficulty level depends on several factors, such as your prior knowledge, temperament, and the topics you’re studying.
Software engineers need to understand and apply concepts such as:
- Software design
- Software testing
- Software maintenance
- Project management
- Configuration management
- Process improvement
Future of Software Engineering
As a field, software engineering is growing, with no signs of slowing down. According to a new study, by 2030, the tech talent shortage could climb to 85 million lost jobs.
Software engineers will also help develop emerging technologies such as:
- Artificial intelligence: From chatbots that write term papers to self-driving cars, AI applications are growing exponentially.
- Blockchain technology: According to many, Web 3.0 is just over the horizon and will take advantage of blockchain technology. It is finding many uses beyond cryptocurrency.
- Edge computing: Edge computing brings computation and data storage closer to the physical location where it’s used, reducing the lag associated with centralized cloud computing models. Edge computing improves performance and security.
Hire a Software Engineer With Revelo
Hiring a software engineer can be an expensive and time-consuming process. They need a wide range of technical and soft skills. At Revelo, we understand the obstacles to hiring software engineers in a competitive market, and our system can help you overcome them.
We prescreen software engineers to ensure they have the skills you need, then we match you with top candidates. You choose your ideal candidate, and we handle onboarding and other administrative tasks. All you have to focus on is building your business with your amazing team.