What Does a Software Developer Do? Career Overview

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Interested in a career as a software developer? Use this guide to find out what they earn, how long it takes, and compare and contrast responsibilities with related roles.

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

Software systems are an integral part of nearly every modern industry. As a result, you can pursue a software development career in almost any field that aligns with your interests or passions. If you are a creative thinker, have analytical skills, and enjoy problem-solving, you could be a great fit for a software developer job. You can learn more about the career path, responsibilities, and job outlook for software developers in the following article. 

What do software developers do?

Software developers use their programming skills to create new software and improve existing software applications. They design and write the code used to build everything from operating systems to mobile apps to video games. Often, project managers provide software developers with an organisation's business goals, and they translate those needs into software requirements. 

In this role, you may be involved with every stage of the software development life cycle (SDLC), from defining user needs and anticipating user behavior to releasing a complete application. You will likely work on a team with other software developers, engineers, or computer programmers. 

What is software development?

Day-to-day tasks related to the development of software include:

  • Analysing 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 develop software and applications

  • Performing maintenance and testing to keep software functioning 

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

Software developer vs. software engineer: What’s the difference?

Software developers and engineers are sometimes used interchangeably since they perform many of the same functions using  similiar skills. But you’ll find 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). On the other hand, software engineers take a big-picture approach that might include data analytics, testing, and scaling in addition to programming.


How to get into software development 

Here are a few tips that can help you advance toward your goals if you plan to pursue a career in software development. Overall, you'll need to gain hands-on experience, sharpen your analytical skills, and learn more about the software development process.

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. Python is widely considered one of the easier languages to learn, which makes 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.

2. Find your niche.

Whether you opt for formal education or take a self-taught track, you need to devote time to trying your hand at development. If you have a passion for app design, you could choose to develop your skills by practicing building mobile apps. If you'd rather work on the infrastructure of computers and servers, you might specialise 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!"


3. Practise. 

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

Take the next step toward your career

If you’re considering a career as a software developer, the Courses, Professional Certificates, and other options on Coursera can help you get started. For example, you can 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.

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