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How to become a Software Developer

software developer careers

What does a Software Developer do?

Software developers, also known as applications/systems programmers or software engineers, are responsible for writing specifications, designing, developing, installing, testing and maintaining software applications. They may work on generic products, which can be used by a range of organisations or they may develop bespoke packages, tailored to individual client requirements. The end product should meet the necessary functionality by fulfilling four key requirements:

  1. Usability – it has to be fit for purpose and practical for end users
  2. Efficiency – software must optimise performance and be cost-effective
  3. Reliability – the product must be dependable, not prone to faults and be easily maintained
  4. Flexibility – software should be able to evolve in response to changing demands.

Developers work in a wide range of sectors including business and finance, engineering and manufacturing, IT, telecommunications, local and central government, health and education. Work may involve replacing an entire system, but more commonly, it incorporates integrating ‘off-the-shelf’ software packages into an existing system by adding modifications to programming code. Examples of software applications use include: industrial machinery automation, manufacturing process controls, administrative and financial databases and reporting systems, web-enabled e-commerce solutions and embedded controls, for example, software found inside home entertainment equipment.

There are differing methodologies used in this field including iterative development, agile processes and extreme programming. The list of steps below roughly detail a developer's duties based on one of the best known models - the waterfall process:

  • working with the client, developers analyse existing procedures, document client needs and draw up detailed test specifications
  • a working version is built (or existing version is modified), using programming code
  • test data is used to carry out version checks
  • installation and integration tests are done
  • results are evaluated and technical problems (bugs) resolved
  • full installation is implemented and final validation checks are carried out before going live
  • maintenance and support routines are put into place.

Developers work closely with other IT professionals such as systems analysts, systems architects and systems engineers. They also work with technical authors to produce support documentation, such as design manuals and training notes.

It is essential for software developers to maintain up-to-date knowledge of the available software packages and programming languages. They should also have an understanding of Computer Aided (Assisted) Software Engineering (CASE) tools, which are used to help during the development phases.

Lead or senior developers are also involved in the supervision of development teams, strategic planning and product research.

What's the working environment like working as a Software Developer?

Software developers normally work between 37 and 40 hours a week. Overtime and weekend work may be necessary as deadlines approach.

Work is office-based with much of the time spent at clients' premises. This may involve some travel and sometimes being away from home for lengthy periods.

What does it take to become a Software Developer?

As a software developer, you should:

  • have expert knowledge of current hardware, software and programming languages
  • have excellent analytical skills
  • have excellent communication skills
  • be able to work with people at all levels including non-technical staff
  • be able to pay attention to detail
  • have project management skills
  • be able to work under pressure and to deadlines
  • be able to work as part of team
  • be customer focused and have an appreciation of wider business demands
  • respect the confidentiality of a client's processes and information.

Software Developer Career Opportunities

Software developers are now employed across the whole range of commerce and industry, public services, utilities, defence and research.

Many opportunities occur overseas, either with UK-based companies, with companies based in the Middle East or the USA, or with international organisations such as the EU. Skills in database, multimedia and artificial intelligence programming are particularly sought after.

Promotion to senior or lead developer and then to project manager is a common way forward. Movement into related areas such as systems design and architecture are also possible. Experienced professionals can become self-employed and work on a contract or consultancy basis.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Software Developer that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

e-skills UK
1 Castle Lane

British Computer Society
1 Sanford Street

Institute for the Management of Information Systems
5 Kingfisher House
New Mill Road
Tel: 0700 002 3456

Institution of Analysts and Programmers
Charles House
36 Culmington Road
W13 9NH
Tel: 020 8567 2118

Skills Framework for the Information Age

Microsoft UK

Sun Microsystems


Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW)


Facts and Stats:

  • There are 76.5m Internet users in the USA.
  • The Apple iMac holds the record for the shortest instruction manual, which amounts to only 36 words and 6 pictures.
  • Computer software and hardware are the items bought most often over the Internet, followed by books and CDs.