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According to research by CompTIA, the United States represents 31percent of the global tech market — approximately $1.5 trillion — making it the largest tech market in the world in 2018. Software engineers are an important part of this market. As technology develops, the scope of a software developer's expertise has expanded beyond computers to include other forms of technology that need software like smartphones, robotics, and gaming and virtual reality devices.
According to the College Board, computer software engineers need to be able think abstractly and be puzzle solvers. Being able to work well in a team is important as most software is developed by a team with each individual contributing different parts of the program.
For high school graduates and working professionals who want to keep their jobs and study, an online software engineering degree offers a major benefit: the convenience and flexibility that a self-directed, hands-on distance learning program can give.
What is the difference between computer science and software engineering degree programs?
Computer science and software engineering are terms often used interchangeably. There can also be an overlap between the coursework in a computer science degree program and that of a software engineering degree program.
- Computer science degree programs tend to have a broader focus that includes theoretical and practical areas of computer science as a whole. They include topics that give students a wide variety of skillsets from algorithms to programming languages.
- Software engineering programs tend to focus more on the development and testing of different software systems. They typically include topics that build leadership skills like entrepreneurship and management.
What do computer software engineers do?
Software engineers design, develop, maintain and test software that computers use to perform different operations using code and other elements of computer engineering. Apart from designing and developing software, the most skilled developers are not only able to identify when a piece of software has an issue; they also have the technical know-how to diagnose, repair and test the issue. Typically, the duties of a software engineers include:
- Analyzing client needs in order to design and develop software to meet them
- Instructing computer programmers on the code required for a particular software
- Designing the flow of an application and creating models and diagrams for computer programmers to follow
- Testing software to ensure it is bug free
- Recommending upgrades to existing software and systems to clients
- Documenting every aspect of an application for future maintenance and upgrades
In some cases, software engineers also take on the role of computer programmers and write the code for the programs they have designed themselves.
Occupations and Career Outlook
CompTIA reports software and services account for nearly half of spending in the US Information Technology (IT) market. Software development skills are highly in demand, making software engineering one of the fastest-growing occupations in the IT sector. A 2016 College Board report shows that computer science and related bachelor's degree holders had the highest median earnings during their early careers amongst all bachelor's degree recipients surveyed.
The table below lists the occupations related to this field along with job openings, average salary, total employment and job outlook for 2016 to 2026 using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Projected Job Growth
(2016 - 26)
|Software Developers, Applications||849,230||$106,710||30.5%|
|Computer and Information Systems Managers||365,690||$149,730||11.9%|
|Software Developers, Systems Software||394,590||$111,780||10.8%|
|Network and Computer Systems Administrators||375,040||$86,340||6.1%|
Choose a degree that can help you meet your career goals
Online degree programs in software engineering give students a chance to network with peers and professors across the country, which could build a greater potential understanding of the job climate. Being able to work with remote colleagues is often an important skill in high-tech settings. Take a look at the different degree levels, typical coursework and the professions related to each degree level.
Online Associate Programs in Computer Software Engineering
What can I expect to learn in an online associate program?
Online associate software development degree programs introduce students to the basic concepts of software development including software design and programming languages.
Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: Apart from general education courses, students may learn the fundamentals of different types of program design, including computer, web and mobile software development, database applications and security concepts. Typical courses may include:
- Programming logic
- Introduction to networking
- Programming fundamentals
- Database concepts and applications
- Computer architecture and troubleshooting
Possible electives: Introduction to operating systems; Linux administration; web scripting; discrete structures for computer science
What can I do after earning an associate degree?
An online associate computer software engineer degree can prepare you for entry-level roles in the software development and computer science industry. Potential jobs you may be able to apply for include:
- Web developer
- Systems developer
- Junior applications developer
- Computer systems analyst
- Software developer
- Software engineer
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Software Engineering
What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor's degree program?
Bachelor's degrees are the most common requirement for entry-level jobs in software engineering, according to the BLS. These degree programs are typically designed to give students a well-rounded education with an emphasis in software construction, testing design patterns and more.
Typical duration: Two to four years of full-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: You may need to take general education courses along with a comprehensive overview of different software engineering mechanisms and techniques. Students can also expect to learn one or more programming languages. Typical courses may include:
- Introduction to digital systems and their design
- Intermediate programming
- Mobile architecture and programming
- User experience design
- Software quality assurance
Students may also need to complete a capstone project.
Possible electives: Software reverse engineering; secure coding; web services
What can I do after earning a bachelor's degree?
An online bachelor's degree in software engineering may provide opportunities for employment across a host of industries like healthcare, manufacturing, architectural, engineering, mobile application development, finance, video games and more. Potential occupations include:
- Software developer
- Application developer
- User interface designer
- Software testing engineer
- Video game designer
You may also be able to specialize in a particular aspect of computer software engineering through online undergraduate certificate programs.
Online Master's Degrees in Computer Software Engineering
What can I expect to learn in an online master's degree program?
A master's degree may be the minimum requirement for high-level positions or for careers at companies that are highly competitive. At the master's level, the coursework is typically designed to allow students to focus on core components of applications or system software engineering.
Typical duration: Two years of full-time study
General prerequisites: Bachelor's degree
Typical coursework: Students may learn to work with complex software systems and be prepared for leadership roles in the industry. Students may find courses such as:
- Agile software development
- Software verification and validation, and testing
- Software project, process and quality management
- Software requirements engineering
- Information systems analysis and design
You may also be required to complete a capstone project as a part of your master's degree program.
Possible electives: Server-side web development; mobile application development; machine learning
What can I do after earning a master's degree?
A master's degree can prepare students for high-level job roles in a variety of different industries like finance or cybersecurity requiring software development expertise. Some potential job titles are:
- Senior software engineer
- Senior software developer
- Software architect
- Computer and information systems manager
- Computer and information research scientist
Online Doctoral Degrees in Computer Software Engineering
What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?
Online doctoral degrees in computer software engineering are rare and are normally included as a specialization within the scope of a Ph.D. program in computer sciences.
Students may learn to develop new techniques of software design and innovation and are encouraged to be at the forefront of cutting-edge technology.
Typical duration: Between four to seven years of full-time study
General prerequisites: Master's degree, GRE
Typical coursework: This may include advanced topics in software engineering and design along with research-based coursework. Examples of courses you may need to take are:
- Theory of computation
- Research methodology in computer science
- Object-oriented technologies
- Advanced topics in programming languages
- Current topics in software engineering
Additionally, students are required to write and defend doctoral dissertations based on original research within the field.
What can I do after earning a doctoral degree?
Earning a Ph.D. in software engineering may allow you to have a career in academia and research and lead the development of exciting new technology. They may also allow you to take high-level jobs in tech companies. Some potential occupations are:
- Computer and information systems manager/developer
- Computer and information research scientist
- Computer network support specialist
- Computer systems engineers/architect
- Geospatial information scientist
Accreditation is an important factor to consider while choosing an online software engineering degree program. It serves to show that the education you have received has met the high quality standards for technical education required to work in the software industry. It can also be a prerequisite for eligibility for scholarships, financial aid programs, loans and grants. Some employers may also require graduation from an accredited program. The Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the main accrediting body in the U.S. that accredits software engineering programs at the programmatic level for bachelor's and master's degrees.
Certifications and Licensures
Earning professional certifications for software developers can serve to demonstrate expertise in a particular aspect of software engineering.
Companies may require employees to be certified in the products or programming language they use; these are often offered by the companies that develop them.
Other professional certifications can be obtained from organizations like the IEEE Computer Society that offers the well regarded Certified Software Development Professional (CSDP) and Professional Software Engineering Master Certification. Other professional bodies offering certifications are: