Learning Software Engineering could open the door to many job opportunities, but how do you know which ones are right for you? When you're deciding which roles to pursue, it can help to know what the Software Engineer career path looks like.
There are many directions your Software Engineer career path could take. Let's take a closer look at different paths, job titles, and tactics to help you advance your career.
Software engineering job titles
In addition to your Software Engineer career path, you’ll want to consider what types of roles to pursue. Software engineering is broad, but you can narrow it down by looking at common job titles, their responsibilities, and average salaries.
Front End Engineer
According to Indeed, Front End Engineers can earn anywhere from $84,000 to $160,000, with an average salary of around $102,549.
Back End Engineer
Back End Engineers cover everything behind the scenes that makes an application work. It’s known as the back end. Back End Engineers use a mix of programming languages that may include Java, Golang, Elixir, Python, C++, and more.
Their responsibilities may include developing, testing, and maintaining APIs, algorithms, databases, or new features. Strengthening soft skills like collaboration and problem-solving can help junior-level Back End Engineers advance to senior roles.
The salary for a Back End Engineer ranges from a low of $80,000 to $190,000, with the average falling around $127,000.
Full Stack Developer
A Full Stack Developer combines the skills of a Front End and Back End Engineer into one role. It is more of a generalist role that requires a combination of front and back end experience. Full Stack Engineers might design, build, or maintain user interfaces and UX features or APIs and databases.
They are responsible for developing and maintaining an application. Full Stack Developers earn $103,408 on average and around $161,000 on the high-end.
Mobile App Developer
Mobile App Developers are similar to Full Stack Developers since they need to cover both the front and back ends within an app. They usually learn languages like Java and Swift to create applications that will work on a range of systems (iOS and Android) and devices (phones and tablets).
Mobile App Developers earn anywhere from $55,000 to over $131,000. The average salary is around $85,451.
Data Engineers design, build, and optimize how companies gather, store, and serve data. The role combines data science with development. The salary range for a Data Engineer starts around $83,000 to $218,000, with an average salary of $135,139.
Security Engineers keep a company’s data and systems safe. They plan network and hardware updates, implement and monitor an application’s security, test for exploits, and respond to security incidents when they happen. According to Salary.com estimates, the salary for Cyber Security Engineers ranges from around $132,000 to $161,000. The average salary is $145,000.
Game Developers build games that people can access and play from multiple devices—computers, game consoles, smartphones, tablets, etc. Due to its flexibility, most game developers learn C++, but it depends on the specific role and requirements. Game Developers may design characters and levels, create engaging game mechanics, write a story, and even test the game. The average salary for Game Developers is $92,816, but it can range between $56,000 to $151,000.
3 types of Software Engineer career paths
There are three types of Software Engineer career paths to consider—Individual Contributor (IC), Management or Team Lead, and Freelance. Let’s look at these paths and how they all fit together.
Most Software Engineers start their careers as individual contributors (IC). However, IC roles aren’t always entry-level. Those that thrive as individual contributors love to dive into hands-on projects. They prefer writing code, building the nuts and bolts of projects, and improving technical processes, rather than managing people.
Experience: 0-5+ years
Management or team leader
As Software Engineers gain more experience, they may move to a people management role. As a manager, Software Engineers spend less time writing code. Rather than focusing on completing individual tasks or building their own expertise, they foster growth in others. They lead teams of engineers, collaborate with other departments, and oversee projects from end to end.
Experience: 5+ years
Freelancers don’t have a traditional Software Engineer career path because they aren’t employees of an organization. Instead, they work with companies on a per-project basis.
Freelancers have a lot of freedom in how they work but they don’t have traditional advancement opportunities like promotions and raises. Software Engineers can freelance at any point in their careers. However, if they have a portfolio of clients that can vouch for their experience and quality, it may be easier to land projects. It can also help to attract higher-paying clients.
What does the typical Software Engineer career path look like?
Most Software Engineers start their career as an Individual Contributor, writing code in an entry-level role. Then, after building about three to five years of experience, they move up to a more senior-level or management position. Yet, everyone’s path may vary, so don’t fret if yours differs from what’s listed here. Let’s dive into what a Software Engineer career path may look like.
Junior Software Engineer
Junior Software Engineers are entry-level roles. They write code, build systems, and perform other hands-on engineering tasks. Honing soft skills like communication and collaboration can also open up opportunities to move from a junior to a senior-level, management role.
Junior Developers' responsibilities may include:
- Automating workflows
- Testing software and running quality assurance
- Handling errors and responses
- Building infrastructure
- Taking user stories and turning them into features
- Building APIs and back-end systems
- Creating front-end visuals and UIs
Experience: 0-4 years
Senior Software Engineer
Those that have been in the industry for more than four or five years may transition to a Senior Software Engineer role. Senior Software Engineers work on more complex problems. They usually fall in the Individual Contributor category, but they may mentor other engineers or lead development projects.
Senior Software Engineer responsibilities include:
- Working with DevOps teams to ensure a smooth software development life cycle
- Mentoring junior developers to help them grow
- Working with data structures and algorithms
- Creating and iterating on projects and applications
- Guiding software architecture
Experience: 3-6 years
Some believe that career advancement means moving into a people management role. However, moving up in the Software Engineer career path doesn’t always require people management.
Many companies offer Software Engineers two options to advance—managing people or building their technical expertise.
Principal Engineers fall into the latter category. They are Software Engineers that have extensive on-the-job experience. They usually have deep, technical expertise in one or two areas. Although they may not manage people, they still need to have soft skills and collaborate with others within an organization. They may also train and mentor junior engineers on their team.
Examples of job responsibilities for Principal Engineers include:
- Mentoring and guiding other members of the engineering team
- Collaborating with design and product teams during the concept and discovery phases of new feature development
- Analyzing and translating business needs into technology solutions
- Taking part in the full software development life cycle including development, testing, delivery, and support
Experience: 6+ years
Engineering Managers fall into the people management category more than Principal Engineers. Although Engineering Managers also need technical experience, they focus more on managing a team of engineers day-to-day.
They help build big-picture roadmaps and strategies for projects and lead their engineering team to execute deliverables on time.
Because they focus more on people management, Engineering Managers also have direct reports. These are junior to senior-level engineers that report directly to Engineering Managers for performance reviews and career development.
Examples of Engineering Manager responsibilities include:
- Building, coaching, and managing a team of high-performing engineers
- Creating and collaborating on long-term technical roadmaps for teams
- Partnering with Engineers, Product Managers, Marketers, and other stakeholders to identify problems, experiments, and creative technical solutions
- Collaborating on product and organization objectives, and coordinating with cross-functional teams to deliver key results
- Maintaining regular performance management processes and helping direct reports with career development
Experience: 6+ years
VP of Engineering
The VP of Engineering is a senior-level, management position. They don’t write much code for projects but they lead and grow several teams that do.
A VP of engineering is responsible for multiple teams and projects and their progress. Their technical skills help them properly manage and supervise projects from a high level. They also have a direct hand in the hiring process.
VP of engineering responsibilities may include:
- Overseeing project preparation and approval
- Organizing budgets for projects
- Overseeing hiring, development, and organization within teams
- Translating business and product goals into a technology strategy
- Actively seeking opportunities for innovation and creative problem-solving
- Communicate plans, strategies, roadblocks, results, and updates to other leadership
Experience: 10+ years
Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) are in charge of everything technical in a company, including engineering and many other departments. They may oversee engineers, technical project management, data science, Development Operations (DevOps), and research and development (R&D) teams.
As C-suite executives, CTOs also have a mind for business. They map technical initiatives back to business goals, identifying opportunities to improve KPIs with technology solutions.
In addition to technical skills, CTOs need communication and leadership soft skills. They regularly meet with other C-level executives, company stakeholders, and senior members of various departments.
CTO responsibilities vary depending on the size of an organization. Early startup CTOs are more hands-on than enterprise CTOs, especially when it comes to product development.
Some CTO job responsibilities may include:
- Collaborating with the executive team to identify technical initiatives that support a company’s growth and financial goals
- Developing and leading the strategy for all technical initiatives
- Researching and implementing new technology systems, processes, and infrastructure
- Establishing and reporting on KPIs and budgets
Experience: 15+ years
How to start (and advance) your Software Engineering career
Moving up in the Software Engineer career path takes more than honing coding skills or stacking up years of work experience. If you’re an aspiring or current Software Engineer, these tips can help you advance your career.
About 80% of open roles are filled through connections(opens new window) or employee referrals. If you’re not networking, then you’re missing out on career opportunities that you won’t find online. This is even more true for senior and executive roles where companies are looking for particular skills and experiences. Networking with others in your field can also help you learn more about the companies and roles you want to pursue.
There are many communities for Software Engineers to connect. Multiverse’s Software Engineering apprentices get access to our online community where they connect and learn from their peers. We also host events to facilitate networking among apprentices, alumni, and thought leaders.
Other examples of communities and networking events include:
- IndieHackers(opens new window) - an online community of over 30,000 people that are building products and sharing their experiences
- Girls in Tech(opens new window) - a membership group that hosts in-person and virtual networking events, workshops, and conferences
- CodeNewbie - an online community and discussion forum for people that are learning how to code
Upskilling and continuous learning
Upskilling, or learning new skills, can help you gain the skills you need to move up in your career. However, be intentional about what you learn.
Look at the job description for roles you want to advance to. They will list the skills, experiences, and qualifications that you’ll need to know, so build your learning around it. Broadening your horizons opens more doors to you, and targeting the skills of the job you want can be a big help when interviewing later.
Software Engineer interviews usually have a question-and-answer part and a technical assessment that may include coding tests, quizzes, or projects. To help prepare for interviews, research the company and practice your answers.
Multiverse apprentices can schedule coaching or interview preparation before they interview for job placements. Big Interview(opens new window) is another resource that has mock interviews with sample questions and answers organized by industry.
Collaborate and take initiative
If you want to take more of a management role in the future, show your soft skills by finding opportunities to collaborate within the engineering team and other departments. Showing initiative and eagerness to take on more can paint you in a good light among your peers and help you develop hard and soft skills.
It’s never too late to start your Software Engineering career. Multiverse’s Software Engineering program is completely free and you can get a paid job placement. Unlike traditional college, you don’t miss anytime out of the workforce. Instead, you get to build up your years of work experience (and advancement potential) while getting paid to learn on the job. Learn how Multiverse can help you start and advance in your career(opens new window) with interview prep, on-the-job learning, and coaching.