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Computer Software Engineer


It would be hard to imagine living in a world without computers. Over the last few decades, they have entered our lives, homes and offices and become an imperative part of our technological culture. Without the innovative work of computer software engineers, we would not have intelligent and user-friendly computer software systems. Computer software engineers design, develop, maintain and evaluate software, including business applications, process control systems and operating systems. In some cases, they develop special purpose software for inclusion in products such as washing machine controls and automobile engines.

Computer software engineers apply the principles and techniques of computer science, mathematics and engineering to design the software systems that enable computers to perform their many applications. Software engineers working in applications or systems development analyze users' needs and design, create, and modify general computer applications software or systems. They can be involved in the design and development of many types of software including operating systems, utility software, network distribution and compilers, which convert programs for faster processing. For example, operating systems, such as Windows, manage computer and company information and schedule the hardwares memory, computer processing time, hard drives and disk drives. Operating systems functions speak to each other in computer language within the software program and maintain file and program organization. Utility software, such as Microsoft Word or Excel, allows users to perform general tasks, such as word processing or database management.

Computer software engineers also solve technical problems that arise. They must possess strong programming skills, but they are more concerned with developing algorithms and analyzing and solving programming problems than with actually writing code. They also debug new software programs for system operation and may develop new special effects technology for animated or live action films. This work can become extremely creative for those with artistic inclinations. Creative software can give a computer cool and complex graphics systems, which makes computing so much more fun and opens the possibility for graphic design. Nowadays, there is no limit to what will be possible for a computer engineer to create. Since the Internet exploded into the marketplace and email became the dominant form of message communication, it is hard to imagine what will be next.

Using high-tech tools such as computer-aided design (CAD), computer software engineers create realistic geometric models of objects which can simulate and analyze the effects and potential problems of designs such as machine malfunctions and breakdowns. They research and evaluate each project to find the most cost-effective solutions to problems while still maintaining recognized engineering standards. They are required to constantly update their skills and knowledge in order to keep up with technological advancements in this quickly changing field.
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  Interests and Skills  
Computer software engineers should have a natural curiosity and affinity for mechanics, mathematics and electronics. Since imprecise calculations could cause major disasters and expensive mistakes, they must be 100 percent accurate in their calculations. They should be organized, logical and methodical in their working habits. They must be good problem solvers and be able to come up with innovative and creative solutions to potential problems and design work. Computer software engineers will also understand the high-tech market and be able to recognize the public and business demand for new products.

Computer software engineers must be personable and have strong communication skills. They constantly deal with people from both sides of the professional spectrum therefore they must be able to communicate ideas and give orders in a clear, concise fashion. Experts recommend that computer software engineers be culturally sensitive and have the ability to operate within a global context. Since computers are now an international phenomenon, it is important to sell products overseas and deal with foreign people. Finally, determination, patience and observance are three important characteristics.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Plan, design and coordinate the development of computers and related equipment
  • Analyze product and client requirements
  • Design and coordinate the development, testing and implementation of computer languages and computer software packages
  • Develop design specifications, including performance expectations and materials to be used
  • Build prototypes of a product, including the development of logic and digital circuit designs, and test and modify the prototype before moving to large-scale manufacturing
  • Analyze operating problems and make necessary modifications
  • Install programs and analyze their performance
  • Determine system performance standards and write product documentation
  • Modify existing hardware to meet specialized needs
  • Supervise and inspect the installation, modification and testing of computers and related equipment
  • Supervise drafters, technicians, technologists and other engineers
  • May sell computer technology
  • Since the computer industry is highly competitive and there is a relative computer monopoly already existing in the market, there may be a great deal of stress and pressure involved in designing software because engineers are vying to be the first ones to sell a new product on the marketplace. Many other software engineers are probably working on the same project, so it can sometimes be a race to see who produces faster and more efficiently. Therefore, there are usually long working hours involved in this career; anywhere from nine to thirteen hours a day, possibly including weekend work when deadlines are looming. A typical day is spent in front of a computer however; there may also be a bit of travelling involved to client's offices for meetings.
  • A new trend becoming very common amongst computer software engineers is working from home. If an engineer has the proper equipment, it is possible to telecommute to an office.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Computer software engineers work in both the public and private sectors. They are employed in any industry in which computers are used and especially within companies that require complex computer networks. More particularly, they work for computer software manufacturers, telecommunications companies, consulting firms that advise on and provide software-related services, software research firms, consumer electronics companies and process control agencies. In the public sector, computer software engineers work for different government departments, educational institutions, hospitals and research facilities.

  Long Term Career Potential  
There are many advancement possibilities for computer software engineers. They could become computer programmers and specialize in developing hardware applications or work as computer support people.

They could also become salespeople for software packages since they are so knowledgeable about the design and makeup of software systems. Some may decide to branch out and open up their own computer engineering consulting firm. This way, they can build a client base and even work on a freelance basis. Those working in larger organizations and companies, could also become managers and supervisors of junior engineers. Those who wish to advance in management may need additional training in business administration. Finally, computer software engineers with PhDs could also teach at the university level.

  Educational Paths  
While still in high school, if this is the career path you are interested in taking, make sure you take courses in mathematics and physics. Most university programs will require these subject areas as prerequisites.

Computer software engineers require a bachelor's degree in computer engineering or in a related engineering field. Then, they must also become registered as a Professional Engineer (PEng) within an association of professional engineers to secure employment and practice in their field. Some engineers also get master's degrees in their specific area, or in related fields such as business (MBA). A doctoral degree is generally required for a career in research and development, or teaching.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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