How to Become a Software Developer | 9 Tips

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Interested in a career as a software developer? Read on for tips on how to land your first job, including degree and certification recommendations.

[Featured image] A software developer is wearing headphones and working on her laptop from home.

Software developers use their programming skills to create new software and update existing applications. If you’re a creative thinker who enjoys problem-solving, a career as a software developer could be a good fit.

Software is essential in nearly every industry so you can pursue a career that aligns with your passions and interests. Learn more about this rapidly growing career, discover course recommendations to build skills, and nine tips to get a job as a software developer.

What does a software developer do?

Software developers are the creative force behind computer programs of all kinds. They design and write the code used to build everything from operating systems to apps to video games. 

In this role, you may be involved with every stage of the software development process, from figuring out what users need and how they'll use the software to roll out a completed application. You may sometimes work with computer programmers, although many developers complete all the coding themselves. 

Day-to-day tasks might include:

  • Analyzing the needs of software users

  • Designing, testing, and building software programs to meet user needs

  • Creating models and diagrams that outline the code needed to create software and applications

  • Performing maintenance and testing to keep software functioning 

  • Documenting the process to provide the information needed for upgrades and maintenance

Software developers and engineers perform many of the same functions with many of the same skills. The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. But there are typically slight differences between the two roles. Software developers tend to work on a smaller scale than engineers, often focusing on a niche like mobile applications or Internet of Things (IoT). Software engineers, on the other hand, take a big-picture approach that might include data analytics, testing, and scaling in addition to programming.


9 tips for getting a job as a software developer

If you plan to pursue a career in software development, here are nine tips that can help you advance toward your goals.

1. Learn a programming language.

For a career in software development, you'll need a solid foundation in programming languages. Four you might consider mastering include Java, Python, C++, and Scala. 

  • Java is an all-purpose programming language used for developing server-side applications. It works on various platforms, including the internet and Android smartphone applications.

  • Python is widely considered an easier language to learn, making it a great place to start if you’re new to programming. This object-oriented language is also known for its versatility, with applications in scripting, development, and data analysis.

  • C and C++ are popular languages for system programming. C++, which is based on C, is also a common option among game developers. The two languages are quite similar, so it’s possible to learn both.

  • Scala is a high-level programming language that combines functional and object-oriented programming concepts. It was developed to address some of the shortcomings of Java.

2. Figure out your end goals.

Where do you want to work? What is your vision for your career? Software developers work in various industries, including software publishers, finance companies, insurance carriers, and computer systems design organizations. 

You might work in health care, engineering, manufacturing, or elsewhere. Many software developers work in a traditional office, while others leverage opportunities to work for an agency or work remotely. Having a good sense of what you want from your job can help you successfully navigate your path forward.

For example, if you want to work in health care, you may need to build industry knowledge and skills around issues like data privacy laws and how patient records are stored and accessed.

Expert tip

"Always be thinking about what project you'd be most passionate about a year from now," says Eric Hartzog, a software engineer at Meta. "This helps keep consideration on longer term professional goals beyond the immediate tasks on hand."


3. Pursue a degree or take courses.

More than 65 per cent of developers surveyed in the Stack Overflow 2021 Developers Survey hold a bachelor’s degree or higher [1]. While you don’t always need a degree to find a job in software development, earning one can help you build technical skills and open more job opportunities. As you research majors, consider those emphasizing development skills, like software engineering, computer science, or information technology.

If you have an idea of the industry you’d like to work in, consider earning a minor in that field to start building industry expertise.

Experience what earning your degree online with Introduction to Computer Programming from the University of London is like. This open course gives you an idea of what the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science is all about. Plus, the degree program allows you to specialize in web and mobile development.

4. Start practicing in your developer niche.

Whether you opt for formal education or take a self-taught track, you need to devote time to working with programming languages and developing. This is the key to thoroughly understanding the development process, which will help you become a more productive, efficient, and accurate professional.

If you have a passion for app design, you could choose to develop your skills by building mobile apps. If you'd prefer to work on the infrastructure of computers and servers, you might specialize as a DevOps engineer instead. There are many areas in which you can use your skills as a software developer.

Expert tip

"If you're interested in starting a side project, think about an application that relates to your hobbies and passions—it's easiest to motivate yourself to work on things that you enjoy," says Katie Van Dyk, a software engineer at Meta. "I also recommend outlining what specific tech or skills you want to learn and designing your project around these."

To practice her skills, Van Dyk created a central place to house all of the menus for eateries around her college campus. "This project was relevant to my daily routine and it involved building a UI in React, which I was aiming to learn more about before my full-time role," she recalls. "It was a great experience to put on my resume and talk about in interviews!"


Need some guidance as you practice? You can complete these Guided Projects in two hours or less (no software downloads required) while completing projects for your developer portfolio:

5. Make a portfolio of your software development work.

As you practice programming and build applications, compile them into a portfolio. Having a portfolio of your best work demonstrates to potential employers that you can use the skills on your resume in the real world. At a minimum, your portfolio should contain:

  • Short biography

  • Contact information

  • Relevant skills

  • Link to your resume

  • Accolades or awards

  • Professional and personal projects

As you gain more experience, curate your portfolio to show off only your best work. Be sure to include projects where you’ve used technologies that align with the jobs you’re applying for. 

You can host your portfolio on your domain (a way to show off your web development skills) or on a free hosting site like GitHub or GitLab

6. Develop your technical skills.

Beyond programming languages, it helps to have experience working with other tools that software developers commonly use. Examples include:

  • SQL, a language used to power database engines

  • Tools like Git and Mercurial SCM, two source control systems often used in software development

  • Integrated development environments, which enable the writing, modification, running, and debugging of development code

7. Build your non-technical skills.

As a software developer, you'll give others instructions while working on projects. You'll also have to explain how things work and answer questions clients and supervisors may have.

"Communication is the most important skill in this role. We work with many different people to build features," says Laila Rizvi, a Meta software engineer. "And even when we build features alone, we need to build for a diverse audience."

In addition to excellent communication skills, developers should be creative, detail-oriented, and have stellar problem-solving skills.

8. Certify your skills.

Certifications can help validate your skills for potential employers and demonstrate your proficiency, which can be helpful if you don’t have much work experience. For example, the CompTIA IT Fundamentals+ certification is a good starting point to help you determine whether a career in information technology (IT) is right for you. From there, consider certifications in data security, cloud computing, or data management.

Check out some job listings for positions you’d like to apply for to see what certifications are commonly required or requested.

9. Apply with confidence.

If you don't already have one, now's the time to create a quality resume. It should clearly demonstrate your career progression and the experience that fits the role you're trying to land. Customize it to highlight the projects and experiences that best fit what each employer is looking for, and be sure to review it to make sure it’s typo-free. 

Take the next step toward your career.

If you’re considering a career as a software developer, you can get started on Coursera in several ways. Develop in-demand skills and learn from industry professionals at your own pace with a Professional Certificate like IBM Full Stack Software Developer Professional Certificate.

Article sources

  1. Stack Overflow. "2021 Developer Survey," Accessed April 18, 2024.

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