The career path for a software developer

January 10, 2022
Hot topics 🔥
Tech Insights
Dmitry Ermakov
The career path for a software developer

As businesses in almost all global sectors begin to fully embrace digitisation, so grows the demand for software developers to power the digital world. 

Software development is an exciting and unique field as it is constantly adapting to society’s ever-changing needs. If you’re just starting out or have already established yourself in the field, one thing is for certain: great software developers never really stop learning. A developer must keep up to date with current skills or risk losing their competitive edge. 

For many, a significant contributing factor in pursuing this career path is the high demand and above-average starting salary. As you gain experience and develop your technical skills, you will have regular opportunities to progress your career. 

As an aspiring software developer, you can choose a career path that either involves managing people and projects or, if that doesn’t butter your bread, you can choose the systems and services route. It all depends on personality and career goals: some developers like to manage teams while others prefer to get their hands dirty with code. The former will most likely aspire to be a CTO and the latter a Head of Engineering position.


  1. Getting started
  2. Specialise
  3. The typical career path of a software developer
  4. Managing people vs managing systems
  5. How to optimise career opportunities
  6. Key takeaways

1. Getting started

Whichever route you choose, how you get started remains roughly the same…

Get qualified

The traditional way to become a software engineer is to obtain a qualification like a bachelor’s degree in software engineering or information technology. Although a degree in software engineering or computer science is common, the rise of tuition fees and duration of a bachelor’s course has most would-be devs seeking alternative forms of education. Boot camps like freeCodeCamp are becoming a popular route for those looking to save time and money. Most online courses focus on the specific skills required to fast-tracking your way into a well-paid position.

Get your resume on point

After getting the relevant qualification or completing your online learning course, you will need to focus on your resume. You’ll need to master three things: outline of education and skills, cover letter, and your online presence (i.e. a portfolio). 

Check out these 9 key things to consider when compiling your resume. 

Consider internships

Many jobs you apply for will require relevant work experience. The catch-22 is that gaining experience requires landing a job. In this case, opt for internship positions to help you gain real-world experience. If the company sees potential they may offer you a permanent position. If they don’t, ask them for a referral to add to your resume. 

Consider freelancing

Software development was one of the first major fields that embraced the remote working model as it is not necessary to keep devs locked up in an office to get the job done. Freelancing is a great way to gain experience across various project types and organisations while building your portfolio. 

Once you have fine-tuned your skills and gained enough experience, you can either choose to continue freelancing or settle into a company that suits your career goals. 

2. Specialise

Once you have gained enough experience and sharpened your skills, a good way to break into the industry is to specialise. There are many different roles a software developer can consider, and having a good idea of what area you want to specialise in will make your career path clear.

Here is a list of the different types of development and engineering career options that will help you decide if embarking on a career as a software developer is right for you.

Game developer

The video game industry is big business and growing rapidly, making game development a highly sought-after profession. Game developers take the game designer’s concepts and turn them into fully fleshed out, playable video games. The role typically involves modelling physics, 2D and 3D graphics, and game mechanics.

Mobile app developer

The mobile app industry is already highly lucrative and showing no signs of slowing down. Mobile app developers primarily work on iOS and Android apps and are responsible for creating the features and functionalities of your favourite apps. You’ll need to know how to develop web, native, progressive, and hybrid applications. There’s no shortage of career opportunities in this field, that’s for sure.

Front-end developer

A front-end developer is responsible for building the user interface of a website or application. They are in charge of creating the look and feel of a website and handle anything a user interacts with. A general rule is to ensure the user has a seamless and engaging experience. This route requires an understanding of user behaviour and the latest frontend design trends.

Back-end developer

Back-end developers are responsible for building and maintaining the system architecture that powers an application, server, and database. Without this side of software engineering, a website or app wouldn’t exist. The role includes integrating data feeds, database design, and web services. 

Full-stack developer

If you combine front-end and back-end development, you get full-stack development. Full-stack engineers have a wide range of skills and are like the Swiss Army knives of the development industry. They can handle all the work of databases, servers, systems engineering, and front-end operations.

Graphics engineer

A graphics engineer utilises 2D and 3D platforms for gaming and video production. Graphics engineers usually require expertise in maths and computer science as you need to be able to understand how to turn 2D objects into 3D. With the rise of VR and AR, graphics engineers are being highly sought-after.

Security engineer

These engineers design solutions to safeguard software or networks from hackers or cyber threats. The rise of the fin-tech industry is seeing a rapid demand for security engineers. Guard the bank to get bank, son.

DevOps engineer

DevOps engineers introduce processes, tools, and methodologies to balance needs throughout the software development life cycle, from coding and deployment to maintenance and updates.

Embedded systems engineer

These engineers are responsible for the design, development, production, testing, and maintenance of embedded systems. Embedded software is used to control machines and programs that run on embedded software systems (cars, appliances, etc.). 

QA engineer

A Quality Assurance (QA) engineer focuses on improving software development processes and performs testing to ensure things run seamlessly without any defects. They plan tests, run risk assessments, and analyse test results to improve systems. 

3. The typical career path of a software developer 

The career path you follow will depend on how you start and navigate your career, but here is the most common route you can expect.

Junior software developer 

With limited experience, you can expect to start with an entry-level position. You’ll be expected to develop basic software according to client briefs on a deadline. You will report to the team lead who will likely serve as your mentor, so listen up and learn as much as you can.

Senior software developer

Once you have gained more experience and a greater skill set, you’ll progress into a senior software engineer. This role requires learning new programming languages and the ability to handle software development cycles in your sleep (almost). You may also be required to mentor juniors in your team but not necessarily lead them. This stage will see you being more exposed to project budgets and certain business strategies.

Tech lead

As a tech lead, you’ll be responsible for the entire software development process. This involves leading a team, reporting progress to stakeholders, and providing input in decision-making processes. 

Team manager

Team manager roles for those with strong leadership skills and a keen eye for getting the best out of people. You will be responsible for the wellbeing of your entire team, managing issues relating to their work, and overseeing their career progression.

Technical architect 

Technical architects specialise in logistical software systems. They design, implement and maintain IT systems and inspect the structure of new technology systems. They are also responsible for collaborating with the software development team to create and maintain these systems.

Chief Technology Officer

For most, the CTO position is the ultimate career goal. As a CTO, you will have real clout in a company as you will be responsible for guiding your company to reach its objectives through tech. Your main responsibility will be to predict the types of technology your company will need to adapt to the changing landscapes of the future. 

4. Managing people vs managing systems

Depending on which area of software development you choose to specialise in, your career path will likely lead to a crossroads where you will have to decide whether you want to pursue a people management or a systems management role.

Some choose a career in software development primarily to work less with people and more with systems engineering. These people rarely want to progress into people management, instead preferring to manage systems rather than people. Positions such as a staff engineer, senior staff engineer, and eventually principal staff engineer are excellent career zeniths to pursue.

Others want to implement their agile programming methodologies into team management positions that oversee development teams without too much focus on systems engineering. Although becoming a manager is seen as “climbing the career ladder”, it isn’t always the best fit for everyone. If you want to migrate from systems management to engage with people, becoming a technical lead or engineering manager is a great career option, with the ultimate goal to become a CTO. 

The route you choose depends on your personality and career goals. One path is just as important as the other, so don’t think leaning one side is more favourable than the other.

So, if managing a team of humans with all their personalities and varying approaches to work and dealing with clients gives you the heebie-jeebies, that doesn’t spell the end of your software development career. 

5. How to optimise career opportunities

Software engineers have extensive career growth opportunities as the world rapidly adopts digitisation. As competition increases, it is important to continue to upskill and stay on top of the latest trends and innovations to remain competitive.

Set out career goals depending on which route of software development you want to embark on. Sharpening both your hard and soft skills is necessary to stay ahead of the game. If you are wanting to become a CTO one day, then developing your team management and communications skills is crucial, over and above the hard skills required to lead a team. 

Alternatively, if systems management is more aligned with your career objectives then focussing more on your hard skills is important. 

As you gain more experience and build your career, you could also consider alternative options as a software developer if you decide to branch out. 

Whichever path you choose, the benefits of a career in software development are the same.

Benefits of a Career as a Software Developer 

  • The rate of pay is excellent
  • Skills are transferable
  • Creative outlet
  • Remote work
  • Easy access to supplemental education and skills building
  • Increase your chance of travel 
  • Future-proof job security

6. Key takeaway 

Software engineering can be a highly rewarding career option, both financially and professionally. What software developers do is create digital products and services that ultimately aim to make people’s lives better. It is a skill that is in high demand as the world kicks its digital transformation efforts into overdrive. It is a future-proof job field that will only see tremendous demand increase in the years to come. 

If you dream of managing teams and clients, there is a clearly defined career path in software engineering for you. If, on the other hand, you prefer to focus on managing systems and code, there is also a path for you. No matter your preference, you will work toward the same objective: to build a better world.

The future of our society will be built by binary architects and visionaries such as software developers, are you ready to make your mark?

Dmitry Ermakov

Dmitry is our our Head of Engineering. He's been with WeAreBrain since the inception of the company, bringing solid experience in software development as well as project management.

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