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:
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:
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.
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.
As a software developer, you should:
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.
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