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What does a software engineer do?

Interested in learning more about what software engineers do? By definition, software engineers build digital products, database programs, and computer systems for businesses by applying different kinds of programming languages to user-focused applications.

But to give you a better picture of what it's like to work as a software engineer, we spoke with Xavier, a Senior Software Engineer here at Codecademy. Xavier works on our Conversion team, which is responsible for improving the experience for learners that visit the Codecademy site for the first time.

In our interview, Xavier talks about some of the common misconceptions about working as a software engineer, and the difference between programmers, developers, and engineers. Plus, he shares what he loves most about his job in software engineering. Check out the video interview below and then read on to learn more.

What do software engineers do?

Many people believe that software engineers just sit in front of a computer and write lines of code for eight hours every day. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Xavier tells us:

Most developers create applications with the user experience in mind. Behind the scenes, they have to juggle multiple software projects and consult with their coworkers on how things should be done instead of just coding the entire time.

Software engineers work in collaboration with designers, data scientists, and project managers to figure out how to best create and support their processes and projects. They're also generally in charge of reviewing other people's code, meeting with team members, and doing a healthy amount of research.

Another important part of the job is identifying what the client needs, designing a prototype of the product, and developing a functional piece of software. After that, they have to run tests on the software to see if there are any existing bugs to remove. The final product is then released and made available to end-users.

You could say it’s a group effort — software engineers collaborate with project managers, UI/UX designers, data scientists, and subject-matter experts every step of the way. Of course, we can’t overlook the interpersonal aspects, either, such as training developers to debug software or asking users to test apps for them.

What is the difference between a software engineer, programmer, and web developer?

If you're thinking about a job in coding, you've likely seen a variety of titles for roles in the field — software engineer, programmer, web developer. There's definitely a lot of overlap between these roles.

As Xavier mentions, you may find, during your job search and throughout your career journey, that some companies will use different names to refer to the same roles. For instance, some companies will refer to their programmers as web developers or front-end engineers, while others prefer to call them software or UI engineers.

There are a few ways to spot the differences among software engineer, web developer, and programmer roles.

Web developers are focused on creating browser apps with a combination of client-side and server-side programming languages. Generally speaking, they are involved in designing interactive websites and building user-facing applications.

Software engineers are more likely to work on computer systems as a whole. They develop standalone programs and apps to help users perform various activities. For the most part, they program, document, test, and maintain software by utilizing the best practices in DevOps.

Although their job descriptions may slightly differ, they do still fall under the same development umbrella.

The only real distinction you have to make is the one between front-end and back-end programming — whether you’re designing surface-level UI and user-centric applications or running hidden processes inside a database server.

But no matter what your title, Xavier says, "At the end of the day, we're all trying to solve business problems with code." Software engineers, programmers, and web developers are all solving challenging, real-world problems using programming languages.

Why being a software engineer is rewarding

We asked Xavier about what he loves about his job as a software engineer and about coding. He shared three things — the flow state he gets into when coding, the way that code helps to solve real-world problems, and fact that there's a lot of demand for software engineers.

The flow state

Xavier shared that one of his favorite things is the flow state he gets into while coding. "When you're coding, you're thinking of very abstract, hard problems and you don't have time to think about other things. You become hyper-focused on the task at hand, and it's just a very empowering, very creative pursuit."

You're improving the world

"By writing code, you're actually solving real problems in the world," says Xavier.

It's hard to see when you're in the code — you're just in that flow state, having fun. But as soon as you're done, you're putting that code out there and you're solving a very complicated business problem for millions of people. There's a lot you can do with tech, and code in particular, when it comes to having an impact on the world.

There's a ton of demand for it

Finally, Xavier shares that he likes that there's a lot of demand for software. "I can support myself and my family for years to come, based on the skills that I've learned."

The job outlook for software engineers is quite promising, due to an increasing demand for technology solutions. They are highly sought after by companies for their systematic approach to software development, where every product must fulfill the needs of the client.

Advice for budding software engineers

Considering a career in software engineering? We asked Xavier if he had any advice for those that are just starting out. His biggest piece of advice is to take initiative:

In school you learn to do things the way your teacher might tell you how to do them. But, in business, there's no one telling you how to do things.
I would encourage people to take initiative in finding solutions to problems they're not even asked to find; to take initiative in reaching out to people; to feel confident in asking a lot of questions. Try to take initiative in everything you do. The opportunities will find you if you reach out and try to solve different problems for different people.

Xavier offers up even more tips and advice on his website in an article on How to Stand Out as an Entry-Level Software Engineer.

Learn more

If Xavier's interview was inspiring to you, a career in software engineering may be in your future! Our Web Development Career Path is designed to give you all the skills you need to get started. Learn more and get started here.

Get more practice, more projects, and more guidance.

What does a software engineer do?
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