The rapid expansion of the IT industry has created a pressing demand for competent, creative workers. Anyone with the necessary education and a willingness to stay up to date within his or her field will find that software development is one of the most lucrative and rewarding careers on the market. These are the top six jobs in the software industry, as well as the required degree, average salary and daily responsibilities of each.

Video Game Designer

Video games are now recognized as a story-telling medium on the same level as books and television. They are a common part of mainstream culture and a multi-billion dollar industry. Games today have progressed far past Pong, and require complex programming to function at industry standards. Designers must create a compelling story, quests, characters and controls, but those are just the surface of a game. Programmers work behind the scenes to implement features such as collision detection and artificial intelligence to make a truly immersive experience.

Entry-level video game designers can expect to earn about $50,000 per year, with the potential to make over $100,000 in less than ten years. Senior positions include management, lead programmers and technical directors. Most gaming companies require a bachelor’s degree in software engineering, computer science, programming or a similar field. This job works closely with graphics designers, who create the actual objects manipulated on-screen.

Quality Assurance Tester

The problem with any program reliant on thousands or even millions of lines of code is that one tiny error can render the software unusable. Quality assurance testers are the people who explore every nook and cranny of a program and push it to its limits to find those problems and fix them prior to release. Quality assurance testers must have a thorough understanding of programming, a sharp eye and endless curiosity. Testers must also have good communication skills and be able to work as part of a team.

Many testers are transferred from or have experience in programming and software development, which means a four-year degree in these fields is preferred. It is possible, however, to take shorter, specialized courses that cover the unique job performance of a tester. Pay begins at about $45,000 a year, but senior testers can expect to make up to $80,000.

Graphic Designer

If programs were simply the product of programmers, they would in all likelihood be bland and difficult to navigate. Thankfully, however, there are graphic designers to improve user interfaces, logos and packaging. Graphic designers may work in either two dimensions or three and use various imaging programs depending on the project. They must be artistic, creative and well-versed in both design theory and all of the tools need to complete digital artwork.

It is possible for talented and motivated individuals to enter this career based solely on their skill and reputation, but they often work as freelancers for less pay. Most clients and employers want to see an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in graphic design or fine arts. Many technical colleges offer more specialized programs, such as computer animation or web design. Graphic designers with a four-year degree average $50,000 per year in salary and tend to peak at $75,000.

Database Administrator

Every business has important information that must be stored and organized safely for future use. Database administrators are the custodians of that critical data, protecting it from security threats and ensuring that the people who need it are able to access it. It may not be the most glamorous job in the industry, but it is becoming essential for every company to have at least one administrator on hand. Database administrators work with both software and hardware, and may even design customized systems for their employer. They must be able to communicate with other professionals to solve problems and explain the complexities of a database to employees with no prior knowledge.

This is a highly technical job, and so a four-year degree in computer science or computer engineering is required. Database administrators may be promoted to database managers and can expect to earn an average of $80,000 every year.

System Administrator

As database administrators run a company’s databases, system administrators handle the rest of the office’s computers. They may be in charge of all technical support but usually work more with software than hardware. The system administrator installs and uninstalls programs, controls web filtering, updates operating systems and monitors the flow of data between networked machines. They also find new ways to boost productivity and help employees who are having difficulty with a program. Basically, the system administrator is tasked with keeping a modern office running smoothly.

Most system administrators have a Bachelor’s degree in computer science or information systems. These areas give them a broad base of skills, which they will need to call upon every day at work. The average salary for a system administrator is $70,000. System administrators may also fall under the title of network administrators.

Software Engineer

While most of the jobs on this list work with software, it is the software engineer who builds it in the first place. These dedicated individuals spend years turning basic commands into sleek, sophisticated programs that will better serve their users. This job requires an in-depth knowledge of the standard coding languages, as well as innovative thinking and a detail-oriented mindset. Software engineers must be able to lay out a broad plan, and then be versatile enough to overcome logistical difficulties. They may need to work as a team or undertake solo assignments.

A Bachelor’s degree in computer science, programming or a specialized field is mandatory at most companies. Many also require additional certifications gained through rigorous testing. Due to the high demand for software, there is no potential limit to a software engineer’s salary. Some have made billions with a breakthrough piece of technology. Most, however, settle for an average salary of $90,000 per year.

Additional Resources

Career Profile: Programming Manager
Career Profile: IT Director