Summary

software developers image
Software developers design computer programs.
Quick Facts: Software Developers
2012 Median Pay $93,350 per year
$44.88 per hour
Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 1,018,000
Job Outlook, 2012-22 22% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 222,600

What Software Developers Do

Software developers are the creative minds behind computer programs. Some develop the applications that allow people to do specific tasks on a computer or other device. Others develop the underlying systems that run the devices or control networks.

Work Environment

Many software developers work for computer systems design and related services firms or software publishers.

How to Become a Software Developer

Software developers usually have a bachelor’s degree in computer science and strong computer programming skills.

Pay

In May 2012, the median annual wage for applications software developers was $90,060. The median annual wage for systems software developers was $99,000 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of software developers is projected to grow 22 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. The main reason for the rapid growth is a large increase in the demand for computer software.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of software developers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about software developers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Software Developers Do About this section

Software developers
Developers create flow charts that help programmers write computer code.

Software developers are the creative minds behind computer programs. Some develop the applications that allow people to do specific tasks on a computer or other device. Others develop the underlying systems that run the devices or control networks.

Duties

Software developers typically do the following:

  • Analyze users’ needs, then design, test, and develop software to meet those needs
  • Recommend software upgrades for customers’ existing programs and systems
  • Design each piece of the application or system and plan how the pieces will work together
  • Create a variety of models and diagrams (such as flowcharts) that instruct programmers how to write the software code
  • Ensure that the software continues to function normally through software maintenance and testing
  • Document every aspect of the application or system as a reference for future maintenance and upgrades
  • Collaborate with other computer specialists to create optimum software

Software developers are in charge of the entire development process for a software program. They begin by asking how the customer plans to use the software. They design the program and then give instructions to programmers, who write computer code and test it. If the program does not work as expected or people find it too difficult to use, software developers go back to the design process to fix the problems or improve the program. After the program is released to the customer, a developer may perform upgrades and maintenance.

Developers usually work closely with computer programmers. However, in some companies, developers write code themselves instead of giving instructions to computer programmers.

Developers who supervise a software project from the planning stages through implementation sometimes are called information technology (IT) project managers. These workers monitor the project’s progress to ensure that it meets deadlines, standards, and cost targets. IT project managers who plan and direct an organization’s IT department or IT policies are included in the profile on computer and information systems managers.

The following are types of software developers:

Applications software developers design computer applications, such as word processors and games, for consumers. They may create custom software for a specific customer or commercial software to be sold to the general public. Some applications software developers create complex databases for organizations. They also create programs that people use over the Internet and within a company’s intranet.

Systems software developers create the systems that keep computers functioning properly. These could be operating systems that are part of computers the general public buys or systems built specifically for an organization. Often, systems software developers also build the system’s interface, which is what allows users to interact with the computer. Systems software developers create the operating systems that control most of the consumer electronics in use today, including those in phones or cars.

Work Environment About this section

Software developers
Developers may oversee a team of people during the software development process.

Software developers held about 1 million jobs in 2012.

Many software developers work for computer systems design and related services firms or software publishers. Some systems developers work in computer and electronic product manufacturing industries. Applications developers work in office environments, such as for insurance carriers or corporate headquarters.

In general, software development is a collaborative process and developers work on teams with others, who contribute to designing, developing, and programming successful software. However, some developers telecommute (work away from the office).

The industries that employed the most software developers in 2012 were as follows:

Computer systems design and related services32%
Computer and electronic product manufacturing9
Finance and insurance8
Software publishers7

Work Schedules

Most software developers work full time, and long hours are common. More than a quarter worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012.

How to Become a Software Developer About this section

Software developers
Software developers usually have a bachelor’s degree in computer science and strong computer-programming skills.

Software developers usually have a bachelor’s degree in computer science and strong computer programming skills.

Education

Software developers usually have a bachelor’s degree, typically in computer science, software engineering, or a related field. A degree in mathematics is also acceptable. Computer science degree programs are the most common, because they tend to cover a broad range of topics. Students should focus on classes related to building software in order to better prepare themselves for work in the occupation. For some positions, employers may prefer a master’s degree.

Although writing code is not their first priority, developers must have a strong background in computer programming. They usually gain this experience in school. Throughout their career, developers must keep up to date on new tools and computer languages.

Software developers also need skills related to the industry in which they work. Developers working in a bank, for example, should have knowledge of finance so that they can understand a bank’s computing needs.

Other Experience

Many students gain experience in software development by completing an internship at a software company while in college.

Some software developers first work as computer programmers, and as they gain more experience they are given more responsibility and eventually become a developer.

Advancement

Software developers can advance to become information technology (IT) project managers, also called computer and information systems managers, and oversee the software development process.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Developers must analyze users’ needs and then design software to meet those needs.

Communication skills. Developers must be able to give clear instructions to others working on a project.

Computer skills. Developers must understand computer capabilities and languages in order to design effective software.

Creativity. Developers are the creative minds behind new computer software.

Customer-service skills. Some developers must be able to explain to their customers how the software works and answer any questions that arise.

Detail oriented. Developers often work on many parts of an application or system at the same time and must be able to concentrate and pay attention to detail.

Interpersonal skills. Software developers must be able to work well with others who contribute to designing, developing, and programming successful software.

Problem-solving skills. Because developers are in charge of the software from beginning to end, they must be able to solve problems that arise throughout the design process.

Pay About this section

Software Developers

Median annual wages, May 2012

Software developers, systems software

$99,000

Software developers

$93,350

Software developers, applications

$90,060

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for applications software developers was $90,060 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $55,190, and the top 10 percent earned more than $138,880.

The median annual wage for systems software developers was $99,000 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $62,800, and the top 10 percent earned more than $148,850.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for applications software developers in the top four industries in which these developers worked were as follows:

Computer and electronic product manufacturing $97,960
Software publishers96,920
Finance and insurance91,970
Computer systems design and related services88,500

In May 2012, the median annual wages for systems software developers in the top four industries in which these developers worked were as follows: 

Computer and electronic product manufacturing $105,030
Finance and insurance99,940
Software publishers99,750
Computer systems design and related services98,500

Most software developers work full time, and long hours are common. More than a quarter worked more than 40 hours per week in 2012.

Job Outlook About this section

Software Developers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Software developers, applications

23%

Software developers

22%

Software developers, systems software

20%

Total, all occupations

11%

 

Employment of software developers is projected to grow 22 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of applications developers is projected to grow 23 percent, and employment of systems developers is projected to grow 20 percent.

The main reason for the rapid growth is a large increase in the demand for computer software. Mobile technology requires new applications. The healthcare industry is greatly increasing its use of computer systems and applications. Also, concerns over threats to computer security could result in more investment in security software to protect computer networks and electronic infrastructure.

Systems developers are likely to see new opportunities because of an increase in the number of products that use software. For example, computer systems are built into consumer electronics, such as cell phones, and into other products that are becoming computerized, such as appliances. In addition, an increase in software offered over the Internet should lower costs and allow more customization for businesses, also increasing demand for software developers.

Some outsourcing to foreign countries with lower wages may occur. However, because software developers should be close to their customers, the offshoring of this occupation is expected to be limited.

Job Prospects

Job prospects will be best for applicants with knowledge of the most up-to-date programming tools and languages.

Employment projections data for software developers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Software developers

1,018,000 1,240,600 22 222,600

Software developers, applications

15-1132 613,000 752,900 23 139,900 [XLS]

Software developers, systems software

15-1133 405,000 487,800 20 82,800 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of software developers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Computer and information research scientists

Computer and Information Research Scientists

Computer and information research scientists invent and design new approaches to computing technology and find innovative uses for existing technology. They study and solve complex problems in computing for business, medicine, science, and other fields.

Doctoral or professional degree $102,190
Computer and information systems managers

Computer and Information Systems Managers

Computer and information systems managers, often called information technology (IT) managers or IT project managers, plan, coordinate, and direct computer-related activities in an organization. They help determine the information technology goals of an organization and are responsible for implementing computer systems to meet those goals.

Bachelor’s degree $120,950
Computer hardware engineers

Computer Hardware Engineers

Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test computer systems and components such as processors, circuit boards, memory devices, networks, and routers. By creating new directions in computer hardware, these engineers create rapid advances in computer technology.

Bachelor’s degree $100,920
computer network architects image

Computer Network Architects

Computer network architects design and build data communication networks, including local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and intranets. These networks range from a small connection between two offices to a multinational series of globally distributed communications systems.

Bachelor’s degree $91,000
Computer programmers

Computer Programmers

Computer programmers write code to create software programs. They turn the program designs created by software developers and engineers into instructions that a computer can follow.

Bachelor’s degree $74,280
Computer support specialists

Computer Support Specialists

Computer support specialists provide help and advice to people and organizations using computer software or equipment. Some, called computer network support specialists, support information technology (IT) employees within their organization. Others, called computer user support specialists, assist non-IT users who are having computer problems.

See How to Become One $48,900
Computer systems analysts

Computer Systems Analysts

Computer systems analysts study an organization’s current computer systems and procedures and design information systems solutions to help the organization operate more efficiently and effectively. They bring business and information technology (IT) together by understanding the needs and limitations of both.

Bachelor’s degree $79,680
Database administrators

Database Administrators

Database administrators (DBAs) use specialized software to store and organize data, such as financial information and customer shipping records. They make sure that data are available to users and are secure from unauthorized access.

Bachelor’s degree $77,080
Information security analysts

Information Security Analysts

Information security analysts plan and carry out security measures to protect an organization's computer networks and systems. Their responsibilities are continually expanding as the number of cyberattacks increase.

Bachelor’s degree $86,170
Mathematicians

Mathematicians

Mathematicians use advanced mathematics to develop and understand mathematical principles, analyze data, and solve real-world problems.

Master’s degree $101,360
Postsecondary teachers

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and vocational subjects beyond the high school level. They also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.

See How to Become One $68,970
Web developers

Web Developers

Web developers design and create websites. They are responsible for the look of the site. They are also responsible for the site’s technical aspects, such as performance and capacity, which are measures of a website’s speed and how much traffic the site can handle. They also may create content for the site.

Associate’s degree $62,500
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Software Developers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm (visited August 20, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014