Software Engineer Career Path 2024: Overview, Jobs, and Pay

Written by Jessica Schulze • Updated on

Use this article to follow the timeline of a software engineer career path and learn about specializations within the field.

[Featured Image] A software engineer smiles in front of a computer monitor with code on the screen.

What is the career path for a software engineer?

Nearly every modern business relies on applications and software to manage data. As a result, the field of software engineering is vast. You’ll encounter many different job titles and expertise levels that vary depending on the company, industry, and the programming languages and tools you specialize in. The sections below follow the timeline of a common software engineer career path. 

Education and experience

A typical software engineering career path begins with a background in computer science, information technology (IT), electrical engineering, or computer engineering. Seventy-three percent of software engineers have a bachelor’s degree, 20 percent have a master’s degree, and 4 percent have an associate degree, according to Zippia [1]. Although a college degree can be an excellent way to begin your career, try not to feel discouraged if it’s not in your plans. 

According to TestGorilla’s The State of Skills-Based Hiring 2022 Report, 76 percent of employers use some skill-based hiring to recruit employees, with 55 percent using skills tests to gauge expertise for specific roles [2]. Additionally, 45 percent of hiring organizations on LinkedIn relied on skills data to fill open roles in the past year, up 12 percent from the previous year, according to LinkedIn’s 2023 Skills-First report [3]. This suggests that, in some instances, the skills you possess may be more important than the degree you have.

Alternative methods of earning credentials for a career in software engineering include Professional Certificate and certification programs, coding boot camps, and online courses.

Read more: Get Started as a Software Engineer

Linked image with text "See how your Coursera Learning can turn into bachelor's degree credit at University of London"

Entry-level positions

Entry-level positions require the least technical knowledge and experience, typically 0-1 year. Most early career professionals and recent graduates begin in an entry-level role. Examples of entry-level software engineer jobs include:

  • Entry-level software engineer. Many job postings for engineering roles that require fewer skills or less experience will be listed under entry-level or, sometimes, junior software engineer. Generally, these roles require you to work with a team of other engineers, designers, and developers. You’ll take direction from more senior engineers and assist with bug fixes, testing, troubleshooting, and writing code. 

  • Technical support specialist. Technical support specialists are sometimes referred to as help desk technicians. They are responsible for helping users set up, maintain, navigate, and troubleshoot hardware and software. Users may be internal members of the organization or customers. Technical support specialists often train users in cybersecurity measures and maintain documentation of issues. 

Read more: The Job Seeker’s Guide to Entry-Level Software Engineer Jobs

Average salary for entry-level software engineers

Glassdoor reports an average base pay of $95,071 per year for entry-level software engineers in the US as of February 2024 [4]. The estimated additional annual pay for these roles is $15,493. Additional pay insights may include profit-sharing, bonuses, or commissions. 

Required technical skills for entry-level software engineers

  • Knowledge of programming languages such as Python, Java, or C++

  • Familiarity with version control

  • Ability to test and troubleshoot software

Read more: What Programming Language Should I Learn?

Junior software engineer jobs

Junior-level software engineering roles usually require 1-3 years of experience. As a junior software engineer, you'll likely work more closely with senior engineers.

You may work independently or with less supervision to write new code, test and troubleshoot existing code, and fix bugs. Independent work can be a significant part of software engineering, so workplace skills (sometimes referred to as "soft skills") like analytical thinking and problem-solving are crucial. Examples of job titles for intermediate or junior engineers include:

  • Junior software engineer. Although some entry-level engineering positions may also be listed under the same title, many junior software engineer roles require between 1 and 3 years of experience. Similar to entry-level roles, you’ll spend time supporting the design and engineering teams. Your responsibilities will be more complex, require you to be familiar with specific technologies, or include less guidance than an entry-level role. 

  • Quality assurance tester. A quality assurance tester or QA tester is responsible for ensuring that faulty or buggy software products don’t make their way to the consumer. They play an integral role in the software development life cycle (SDLC), evaluating the efficiency of code by conducting tests to measure its performance, functionality, and integration with other components.

Average salary for junior-level software engineers

Glassdoor reports an average base pay of $99,423 per year for junior-level software engineers in the US as of February 2024 [4]. The estimated additional annual pay for these roles is $16,646. Additional pay insights may include profit-sharing, bonuses, or commissions. 

Required technical skills for junior-level software engineers

  • Familiarity with vendor-specific tools, platforms, and services such as Kubernetes, React Native, or Oracle 

  • Understanding of database architecture and data structures and algorithms

  • Familiarity with software engineering methodologies such as Agile and DevOps 


Required technologies can depend on the industry you want to work in, so consider researching job titles to get an idea of which tools are most commonly used.


Mid-level software engineering

Mid-level or intermediate software engineers have 4-6 years of experience. These roles can be more specialized, requiring experience with certain types of tasks and tools.

As an experienced software engineer, you’re likely to assist with feature development throughout the entirety of the software development life cycle (SDLC). You might work with the team to define the specifications of a project, participate in deployment, and review code for your peers or less experienced engineers on your team. Examples of mid-level software engineer positions include:

  • Mid-level software engineer. Job postings for mid-level or intermediate software engineers may be listed under levels such as "software engineer III" or "engineer 3." They typically request four to six years of experience. Sometimes, these years can be divided into categories. For example, you may need only two years of experience with a specific programming language like Java, but four years of experience with cloud computing. You may be required to take on team leadership roles or come up with suggestions for improving performance and quality in regard to both the product and internal processes.

  • Systems engineer. Systems engineers are responsible for managing the systems related to software engineering products and processes as a whole. Core aspects of systems engineering include hardware installation, network troubleshooting, cross-functional team collaboration, and system security. 

Read more: What Does a DevOps Engineer Do? A Career Guide

Average salary for mid-level software engineers

Glassdoor reports an average base pay of $105,225 per year for mid-level software engineers in the US as of February 2024 [4]. The estimated additional annual pay for these roles is $18,440. Additional pay insights may include profit-sharing, bonuses, or commissions. 

Required technical skills for mid-level software engineers

  • Strong understanding of software engineering methodologies and processes

  • Familiarity with vendor-specific software, platforms, tools, and operating systems such as Azure, Windows Server platforms, RESTful APIs, or Linux

  • Ability to execute and document software research and development (R&D) independently and with a team 

  • Ability to meaningfully participate in planning for development sprints and releases

  • Collaboration skills to ensure design team specifications can be seamlessly technically implemented by the development team

  • Familiarity with process and testing automation


Senior software engineer roles

Software engineers with 7+ years of experience are considered to be senior or advanced-level. Often, these roles require leadership or managerial responsibilities. Certifications or security clearances may also be required for these roles.

As a senior software engineer, you’re likely to own entire projects or sub-projects, meaning you’re responsible for overseeing the entire development process, from planning to release to continued maintenance. Senior engineers also often provide mentorship or guidance to junior or entry-level engineers. Examples of senior engineering positions include:

  • Senior software engineer. Many advanced-level engineering roles will be listed under the senior software engineer job title. Some include levels such as "senior engineer (L2)" or "senior software engineer II." In addition to the common responsibilities that software engineers of all levels share, senior engineers may also establish deadlines for projects, meet with stakeholders to determine technical requirements, and handle documentation of best practices for troubleshooting and specifications. They must have excellent communication skills to effectively explain aspects of projects to people with varying levels of technical expertise. 

  • Controls engineer. Controls engineers are sometimes referred to as control systems engineers. They design and optimize the set of devices that determines the behavior of systems, such as computers and machinery. These roles are more heavily involved with hardware, although software configuration and development are key aspects of a control system. 

Average salary for senior software engineers

Glassdoor reports an average base pay of $134,021 per year for senior software engineers in the US as of February 2024 [4]. The estimated additional annual pay for these roles is $21,074. Additional pay insights may include profit-sharing, bonuses, or commissions. 

Required technical skills for senior software engineers

  • Strong understanding of risk management and established technology standards, procedures, and protocols

  • Ability to delegate tasks and manage software projects end-to-end

  • Experience with microservice architecture and tools

  • Strong understanding of methodologies such as DevOps, Agile, test-driven-development (TTD), Scrum, and Behavior-driven-development (BDD), Continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD)

  • Proficient in solutions design and development

5 industries and specializations for software engineers

As you advance past entry-level and junior engineering roles, you may notice that job postings become more specialized. They may request experience in a broad area of expertise, such as cloud computing, or with specific tools, such as SQL. Once you’ve mastered the foundational software engineering skill set, you may benefit from choosing a specialization to pursue. The list below includes five examples. 

1. Data

Data engineers design and develop systems and frameworks to analyze data. Commonly used coding languages among data engineers include SQL, Python, Java, and Scala. They are well-versed in database architecture, automation, scripting, and cloud computing. 

Read more: Learning Data Engineer Skills: Career Paths and Courses

2. FinTech

FinTech is a short name used to describe the financial technology industry. Job postings for software engineers in this industry often request knowledge of JavaScript, HTML, CSS, data integration techniques, and virtualization technologies. One example of a job title in this field is a blockchain developer. Blockchain developers develop and maintain the architecture of blockchain technologies. Some focus on building applications for existing blockchain platforms. 

Read more: What is a Blockchain Developer (and How Do I Become One?)

3. Gaming

If you’re a software engineer who loves video games, you might consider pursuing a career in the game industry. Video game developers translate ideas, stories, and designs into playable software. Relevant tools and languages for game developers to familiarize themselves with include C#, C++, Unreal Engine, and Unity. Artificial intelligence (AI) skills are also highly valuable in this field. 

Read more: What is a Game Developer? (and How Do I Become One?)

4. Systems engineering

Those who are interested in how devices work together to power computer systems may enjoy a career in systems engineering.

Solutions architect is an example of a job title in this field. They focus on translating an organization’s needs into technical solutions. They are leaders who plan, organize, and communicate technical projects to solve problems. Solutions architects also have a strong understanding of software development processes, tools, and technologies. Experience with network administration, IT, and information systems (IS) can be highly beneficial for this role. 

Read more: What is a Solutions Architect (and How Do I Become One?)

5. Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity can be an exciting field for software engineers. You might work as a penetration tester, performing simulated cyberattacks to help organizations identify weak points in their defenses. Or, you could become a cybersecurity engineer, designing and implementing security measures to protect sensitive information from cyber threats. Cybersecurity engineers must be able to write secure code in languages like Python, C++, Ruby, and Bash. Network security is a core competency, as you’ll work with firewalls, encryption technologies, and virtual private networks (VPNs). 

Read more: What is a Security Engineer? 2023 Career Guide

Build your software engineering skill set with Coursera

If you’re new to the field of software engineering, consider honing your skills and enhancing your resume by earning a certificate from an industry leader.

For example, you can build a foundational knowledge of the SDLC, master basic programming concepts, and learn more about core methodologies like Agile, Scrum, and DevOps by earning IBM’s DevOps and Software Engineering Professional Certificate.

Intermediate learners looking to supplement their experience may benefit from a more challenging specialization, such as Software Testing and Automation from the University of Minnesota

Article sources


Zippia. “What education do you need to become a software engineer?” Accessed February 23, 2024. 

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Jessica is a technical writer who specializes in computer science and information technology. Equipp...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.