What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Software engineers design and create computer systems and applications to solve real-world problems.

[Featured Image] A software engineer works on his computer in an office.

Software engineers, also called software developers, create software for computers and applications. If you’re an analytical thinker who enjoys solving problems and making digital products easier, a career as a software engineer may be rewarding.

What is software engineering?

Software engineering is the branch of computer science that deals with the design, development, testing, and maintenance of software applications. Software engineers apply engineering principles and knowledge of programming languages to build software solutions for end users.


Software engineer tasks and responsibilities

Successful engineers know how to use suitable programming languages, platforms, and architectures to develop everything from computer games to network control systems. In addition to building their systems, software engineers also test, improve, and maintain software built by other engineers. 

“I get excited about anything that involves solving problems, whether it be figuring out how to optimise a certain part of an existing application or entirely coming up with new applications to solve certain needs,” says Murtadha Al-Tameemi, a software engineer at Meta. “Problems, in general, stimulate my brain and give me great satisfaction."

In this role, your day-to-day tasks might include:

  • Designing and maintaining software systems

  • Evaluating and testing new software programs

  • Optimising software for speed and scalability

  • Writing and testing code

  • Consulting with clients, engineers, security specialists, and other stakeholders

  • Presenting new features to stakeholders and internal customers

Systems developer vs application developer

Software engineers usually fall into one of two categories: systems developers or application developers. 

As a systems developer (sometimes called a backend engineer), you’ll build computer systems and networks that front-end (user-facing) applications will need. You can do this by:

  • Ensuring that different types of software programs communicate with each other on one platform

  • Creating and enforcing IT standards within an infrastructure 

  • Maintaining documentation of IT systems 

  • Updating to new technologies as needed

  • Collaborating with development teams, senior systems architects, and data science professionals 

Working as an application developer is more client-focused. You may work on either the front or back end of the system, designing software that the end user will interact with. Tasks might include:

  • Developing applications for iOS, Android, Windows, or other operating systems

  • Conducting an analysis of requirements and tweaking software as needed

  • Releasing software updates

  • Working with graphic designers, customer service staff, project managers, and other customer-facing departments 

Why should I pursue a career as a software engineer?

If you enjoy solving problems and have strong analytical skills, a career as a software engineer can be both fun and challenging. As the Government of India continues to prioritise the Digital India Programme, the availability of digital resources and the need for digitally literate professionals are projected to grow quickly [1]. For this reason, a career in software engineering has a high potential to be in demand in the coming years.

Choosing a career as a software engineer gives you opportunities to work in many different industries and fields, as nearly all businesses use software. Whether you enjoy finances, entertainment, sports, real estate, or some other industry, there’s a good chance there are jobs for software engineers. 

It’s also a career that allows flexibility in where you work. You may be able to work from home for companies in other states or even different countries. The important thing is that you can meet deadlines and deliver a project on time.

Software engineer salary

Working as a software engineer can be challenging and engaging and tends to pay well. The annual average salary for a software engineer in India is ₹7,55,000, according to Glassdoor as of April 2024 [2]. This yearly salary increases with experience, as senior software engineers earn ₹16,00,000 on average in India, and software engineer IVs can expect around ₹24,00,000 annually.

Career paths in software engineering

Once you become a software engineer, you can choose which path you want to take (applications or systems) and how far you want to progress with it. You can decide to advance toward a role as a senior software engineer, or you can continue gaining certifications and experience to advance to roles like project manager or systems manager. As a software engineer, you have both flexibility and mobility to create the career experience that is most appealing to you. 

How to become a software engineer 

Getting a job as a software engineer involves building the right technical and workplace skills. Some jobs also require specific qualifications or certifications to validate your skills. Software engineers and developers are typically expected to have an undergraduate (UG) or postgraduate (PG) qualification. Entering these programmes often requires relevant coursework and high marks in 12th class, including subjects such as maths, chemistry, and physics. 

Focus on engineering and technology coursework to show that you are building related professional skills in undergraduate studies. Diplomas, Bachelor of Engineering (BE), and Bachelor of Technology (BTech) coursework can be specialised in software engineering and development. They can set you up for an entry-level role or postgraduate coursework. Completing undergraduate coursework without any backlogs and scores over 65 percent is often desired to show potential employers you have strong subject matter knowledge. At the undergraduate level, many students must complete an entrance exam to enter a software engineer or software developer-related programme. Exams to consider include EAMCET, JEE Mains or Advanced, VITEE, SRMJEEE, MHTCET, or BITSAT.

Postgraduate qualifications, such as a master’s degree or PhD, can increase your earning potential and expand your professional opportunities. First, some programmes require you to take an entrance exam, such as GATE or PGECET. In the programme, you may choose to specialise in software engineering. Many software engineers become specialised engineers and developers and decide to work in areas such as mobile development, big data, web applications, or DevOps. When applying for a position after completing a master’s degree, employers may look to see that you scored marks above 70 per cent to be competitive for top positions.

While UG and PG education is typically required, there are many ways to enhance your skill set, such as through a certificate course or bootcamp. “Although I did have a formal education, taking online classes on how to build mobile apps, doing internships where I work on projects at a company, and trying to build my side projects was the most helpful,” says Laila Rizvi, a software engineer at Meta.

Taking a coding bootcamp or participating in a relevant internship is a popular way to build your skills and become ready to enter a job in this industry. When looking for an internship, continue looking through your academic institution, on Glassdoor for Students, on local job boards, or by connecting with professionals online.

Let’s look at some of the requirements for becoming a software engineer.

Software engineering skills

As a software developer, you design software to help solve problems real people face. This requires a combination of technical know-how and solid communication skills. To prepare yourself for a career in software engineering, here are some skills to build:

  • Coding languages like Python, Java, C, C++, or Scala

  • Object-oriented programming

  • Database architecture

  • Agile and Scrum project management

  • Operating systems

  • Cloud computing

  • Version control

  • Design testing and debugging

  • Attention to detail

  • Scripting languages such as Perl or Shell

  • Building automation technologies like Maven or Jenkins

  • API building services like REST or SOAP

Software engineering certifications

By earning a certification, you can build new skills and validate those skills to potential employers. Some jobs might require a specific certification, so it’s a good idea to research job listings of roles you’re interested in before preparing for a certification exam. Here are some common options:

  • Certified Software Development Professional (CSDP)

  • Certified Software Engineer

  • C Certified Professional Programmer (CLP)

  • C++ Certified Professional Programmer (CPP)

  • AWS Certified Developer

  • Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals

Get started with Coursera

Take the next step in your career as a software engineer by polishing up some essential skills with professional certificates from industry leader Meta. With the Meta Front-End Developer Professional Certificate and Meta Back-End Developer Professional Certificate, you can gain hands-on experience with industry tools.

Article sources


McKinsey Digital. "Digital India: Technology to transform a connected nation, https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/mckinsey-digital/our-insights/digital-india-technology-to-transform-a-connected-nation." Accessed April 5, 2024.

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