Career Advice

What is Software Engineering?

Wondering how to breach into tech? Interested in a software engineering role at a FAANG company like Meta? Keep reading to learn more!

Michael Yan
Published: (Updated: ) - 5 min read
Michael Yan is the co-founder & CEO of Simplify. Previously a software engineer at Meta, Michael dropped out of Stanford to found Simplify. He is a part-time career coach & Y Combinator alum.

Every time you visit a website or use an app, you’re interacting with something a software engineer helped make. Software engineers are computer science experts, often using their specialized knowledge of programming and engineering to create original software solutions.

As of today, software engineering is one of the fastest-growing, highest-earning jobs in the world. The average software engineer in the U.S. currently earns $95,000 a year, but many are earning well-over $100,000.

With no shortage of growth potential, there’s no surprise more people are becoming interested in the field.

If you’re considering a career in tech, here are some software engineering jobs that might be perfect for you!

Types of Software Engineers

Although there are many different roles you can hold as a software engineer, three of the most popular are in back-end development, front-end development and full-stack development.

Let’s look at each position, the responsibilities that go along with it and the average salary you can expect to earn in one of these roles.

Back-end Development

All the heavy-lifting that goes on behind-the-scenes falls to the back-end software developer—these data-driven engineers are responsible for handling all the functional aspects of a product.

Back-end developers are responsible for the systems that support all of the actions a user can take on a site or app. From banking to renting a car on a mobile device, the back-end developer makes sure everything works the way users intend it to.

Back-end developers also play a key role in cybersecurity. Through data encryption and protective systems, the back-end developer ensures that both a company and its customers are always protected from attacks and breaches on the web. From data storage to security and server-side functionality, back-end developers are the foundation of a good engineering team.

What does a back-end developer do?

While their work may not be visible to the end-user, back-end devs are the bread and butter of any software product. Without back-end development, sites and apps wouldn’t be able to perform many of the essential tasks they must do every day.

A back-end developer’s main responsibility is to use various tools, frameworks, and languages to determine how best to develop intuitive, user-friendly prototypes and turn them into websites. This requires an understanding of cross-platform functionality and compatibility—they are often tasked with creating cross-compatible systems that allow for a seamless transition between web and mobile to optimize user experience. They can do this by writing high quality code that's easy to track, edit, and update.

Quality assurance and testing are routine for back-end developers as well. They will quickly debug and troubleshoot any errors while optimizing their code for performance regularly.

Back-end Skills

Any back-end developer needs to be well-versed in back-end programming languages such as Python, Java, and PHP. These make the website function when used alongside databases, frameworks, and servers. Python is one of the most popular programming languages because it is compatible with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, and works well for writing clear and logical code. Basic knowledge of front-end languages HTML, CSS, and JavaScript is a bonus.

According to Indeed, the average back-end developer in the U.S. earns $95,117 annually.

Interested in Back-end roles at companies like Meta, Reddit, or Netflix? Click the links to learn more!

Front-end Development

Front-end developers control all of the visual and interactive elements of a website. From design to user interface, they are responsible for crafting the entire experience a person has with an app.

Think of front-end developers as the “face makers” for any software. Many front-end developers draw from psychology, user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) principles to make their products. This allows them to optimize navigation and layout to provide the most meaningful, valuable experience to their users.

What does a front-end developer do?

While the back-end developer concentrates on behind-the-scenes operations, the front-end developer handles the design and layout of a product. They are the ones who build the "faces" of websites and mobile apps.

Everything that you see on a web page or app is made by a front-end developer. They determine the interface design and layout to make all of their products user-friendly. Developing sites with a variety of markup languages helps front-end developers customize their appearance. They can also optimize pages and apps through their code to load faster and perform better for users.

Front-end skills

There's a great Coursera article that details this in depth, but here are a few skills most successful front-end engineers have!

  • HTML, CSS, and JavaScript
  • Frameworks: Frameworks are tools required for JavaScript and CSS to perform the way you want them to. Having a solid understanding of them is crucial for creating page structures.
  • Developer tools and software: Software like version control, which tracks and controls changes in your source code, is critical to allow you to make changes without starting over. Understanding how to use many different software development tools is a building block to a successful career.

According to Indeed, the average front-end developer in the U.S. earns $92,815 annually.

Find front-end roles at exciting companies like Figma on Simplify!

Full-stack Development

Full-stack development is an all-in-one software engineering solution. It combines both front-end and back-end development into one field. Developers who are full-stack qualified can perform all the responsibilities of a front-end and back-end developer. They may oversee the entire development cycle of a product or run a startup.

Full-stack developers' exact roles can vary by company. They are highly sought-after due to the flexibility of their diverse skill set.

What does a full-stack developer do?

Because of their broad and refined skill set, the full-stack developer can oversee the entire development lifecycle from design to deployment. They collaborate with both front-end and back-end developers to streamline the development process. They may guide and assist with both front and back-end components depending on their team's needs.

A full-stack developer will often conduct routine, automated testing and deliver analytic reports to their clients and company. They also debug and correct issues with their clients' software, whether it's a website malfunction or mobile app error. Full-stack developers can optimize the front-end and back-end elements of a product to improve its functionality and the user experience.

Full-stack skills

  • Above front+ back-end skills.
  • Web design includes using software such as Photoshop to create and design graphics and themes. It’ll be helpful to familiarize yourself with basic UI (user interface) design principles to help you create navigational elements, backgrounds, and audio and video elements.
  • Database management. A full-stack developer should be able to design, understand, and manipulate database queries and web storage.

According to Indeed, the average front-end developer in the U.S. earns $100,890 annually.

Explore hundreds of full-stack roles with our job matching quiz!

Skills Required to Become an Engineer

The biggest question students have is, “What skills do I need to become a developer?” The answer will vary depending on your career goals. Someone who wants to be a back-end developer will focus on respective languages, like Python and Ruby. If you’re interested in the front-end side of software engineering, then focus on markup languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. For the ambitious full-stack students, then a combination of both back-end and front-end languages will form the bulk of your education.

However, software engineers are often parts of engineering teams, and so, there is more that goes into being successful in this setting. Some additional skills include ingenuity, problem solving, critical thinking, interpersonal communication, flexibility, and creativity.

Next Steps

Start by assessing your current skill level and go from there. If you currently have zero programming experience, no worries. There are tons of free resources as well as paid options to get your career started. And if you’re curious what employers are looking for, we’ve got you covered.

Skip job-board-hopping and get everything in one place with us at Simplify.