What Is Software Engineering?

Software engineering is about much more than just learning programming languages.

It’s about building, from the ground up, new software, mobile apps, and computer systems that meet users’ needs and expectations. A software engineer’s final product must be functional as well as aesthetic. It must be easy to navigate while still fulfilling all the requirements that the client or employer has set.

The first step to a job in software engineering is a strong education. Visit our rankings for the Best Online Bachelor’s in Software Engineering Degrees and Best Online Master’s in Software Engineering Degrees to find a school that can help you get started in this field.

A software engineer must consider many aspects for each project: Is the program or app safe from possible security breaches? Is it adaptable across different platforms and devices? Is it easily modifiable in case changes or updates need to be made?

A software engineer might oversee all of these aspects, or they may focus on one particular area. Each of these components of software—design, navigation, functionality, compatibility, security—are a potential niche or concentration within the field. (These aren’t the only concentrations out there, either. Visit our FAQ post “What are the specializations within software engineering?” to learn about even more options.)

Software engineering (SE) is part of the broader field of computer science. At one time, nearly all software engineers earned their degree in computer science. According to the Association of Computing Machinery, the majority of software engineers working in the U.S. hold a degree in computer science rather than a software engineering degree. This happened largely because degree programs in software engineering were rare in the past.

However, that’s no longer the case. A Bachelor of Science in Computer Science or a Bachelor of Computer Science is still an excellent choice for aspiring software engineers. But there are also specialized programs for students who are confident that software engineering is where they want to be.

These programs have the added benefit of addressing challenges and skills unique to the industry. A software engineering-specific program, for example, will allow students to focus on creating software that is both legitimately useful and highly usable. A professional software engineer will need to translate their client’s or employer’s requirements and goals into a functional final product. Undergraduate programs in SE typically reflect this by measuring student success through a set of defined goals that student-created software must meet.

Software engineering, more so than other computer science fields, relies heavily on teamwork and peer communication. These are key elements to a successful career in the industry. As a result, SE programs tend to provide more team-based collaborative experiences compared to other programs in computer science.

To get a better sense of all the academic programs that are available, from associate’s degrees through doctorates, head over to our “What kinds of degrees can I earn in software engineering?” FAQ.

Software engineering has been around as long as software itself. But it’s only within the last few decades that it’s truly come into its own as an academic discipline and as an industry.