What Type of Degree Do I Need to be a Software Developer?

The modern world works because of computers. They run power plants, help grow crops, and organize information for governments, companies, and individuals. But the hardware only functions because of the instructions, or programs, that run it. The creative force behind these programs are the software developers. While these professionals can write programs, they typically focus on planning, designing, maintenance and testing. Actual coding is usually delegated to programmers.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), software developers need at least a bachelor’s degree, primarily in computer science or engineering. Such courses of study usually cover the wide range of topics associated with the creation of software. They include computer forensics (or determining legal evidence from information technology), digital security, artificial intelligence, database concepts, and Internet applications. Students also develop proficiency with several programming languages, so they can clearly communicate their concepts to programmers.
Another acceptable degree is mathematics if the curriculum includes programming and information topics. Many developers also focus on skills related to the industry in which they want to work. For example, those who want to work in a bank may study accounting and finance while those going into aeronautics take engineering classes.
Some employers demand a master’s degree, especially for higher-level positions. Graduate programs often demand specialization in one or more areas such as software theory, human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, network security, or systems.


Software developers need several qualities to succeed at their professions. Creativity is paramount because they must develop new ways of solving problems. They must be detail-oriented so they can focus on several different parts of a system at the same time and have the technical skills to understand both hardware and software. They must also be able to communicate their ideas both verbally and in writing to managers and co-workers, and have the customer-service skills to explain to their customers how their systems work.


The earnings of software developers depend on their specialties.
Those who specialize in systems create the operating systems that enable applications to communicate with the hardware. They earn a mean $102,550 per year, or $49.30 per hour. The lowest-paid 10 percent make less than $62,800 yearly, or $30.19 hourly, while the top earners make over $148,850 per year, or $71.56 per hour. Most work for computer systems design and related services to average an annual $103,280, or $49.65 hourly. They receive the highest salaries at information services with mean at $118,040 per year, or $56.75 per hour.
Those who focus on applications, which are programs that perform specific tasks such as word-processing or database organization, average $93,280 per year, or $44.85 per hour, as of May 2012, according to the BLS. The lowest earners make less than an annual $55,190, or $26.54 hourly while the best-paid receive over $138,880 yearly, or $66.67 per hour. Most application developers work for computer systems design and related services, where they earn a mean $93,340 per year, or $44.87 per hour. They make their highest wages at securities brokers, averaging $107,330 annually, or $51.59 hourly.


Jobs for software developers are expected to grow by 30 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the BLS. This is more than double the 14 percent growth expected for all jobs in the country. Behind the increase is the growing demand of industry and individuals for computer software. Individuals who have the latest technical knowledge in languages, methods, and tools will find the best opportunities.