Software Developer

    If you are wondering how to become a software developer, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of computing and the information technology industry, as well as IT job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Software developers, also known as systems programmers or software engineers, are responsible for designing and developing computer programs to make companies’ procedures more efficient and reliable, and flexible enough to meet future business demands.

    Examples of their work include:

    programming computer controls used in industrial and manufacturing machinery
    building administrative and financial databases and reporting systems
    developing software found inside home entertainment equipment (known as embedded controls).
    Certain jobs may involve replacing an entire system but more commonly, developers integrate ‘off-the-shelf’ programs into an existing system by adding modifications to programming code.

    Software developers use different methods in their work, depending on the job but one of the most common – the ‘waterfall process’ – includes the following steps:

    analysing a company’s existing procedures and looking at their business needs
    drawing up detailed test plans
    building a working test version with programming code
    testing installation and compatibility issues
    evaluating test results and fixing technical problems (known as bugs)
    installing a full version and carrying out final checks before going ‘live’
    maintaining and supporting systems once they are in place.
    Developers work closely with other IT professionals, such as technical authors, to produce support documents like design manuals and training notes.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good computer software developers include:

    expert knowledge of current hardware, software and programming languages
    excellent problem-solving skills
    an understanding of Computer Aided (Assisted) Software Engineering (CASE) tools
    excellent communication skills
    an ability to work with people at all levels including non-technical staff
    good project management skills
    the ability to work under pressure and to deadlines
    good teamworking skills
    good customer care skills and appreciation of a client’s business demands
    an understanding of confidentiality issues around a client’s processes and information.

    How to become a software developer
    You will normally need a degree or BTEC HNC/HND to become a software developer. You can choose from a variety of subjects, including:

    computer science/studies
    information technology
    software development
    software engineering
    business information systems.
    If you hold a non-IT related degree you may still be able to apply for graduate trainee schemes with companies or take a postgraduate IT conversion course.

    Several universities are now offering the Information Technology Management for Business (ITMB) degree, developed by e-skills and employers to meet specific industry needs, for example project management and interpersonal skills, and business awareness. For more details, see the e-skills UK website in Further Information.

    As well as qualifications, you will need an understanding of some of the main programming languages and operating systems for this job. Common examples include:

    Java, C++, Smalltalk and Visual Basic
    Oracle, UML (Unified Modelling Language), Linux and Delphi
    .NET frameworks (such as C# (C-sharp), ASP and VB).

    Training and Development
    The majority of your training as a software developer will be done on the job through your employer, supplemented with external courses. You can also continue to develop your skills by taking professional development courses with industry bodies. These include:

    e-skills UK Graduate Professional Development Award, developed with higher education institutions and employers, covering key skills required by the IT industry
    British Computer Society Certificate, Diploma and Professional Graduate Diploma with options in software development and engineering
    Institute for the Management of Information Systems programmes, including options in Contemporary IS Development
    Institution of Analysts and Programmers (IAP) offers membership grades and professional development courses.
    You can also take certification awards offered by software development companies. Some examples include:

    Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) and Certified Applications Developer (MCAD)
    Sun Microsystems Java Certified Programmer (SCJP) and Developer (SCJD)
    Oracle PL/SQL Developer (databases)
    Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW) Master Enterprise Specialist, Web Developer and Applications Developer.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Starting salaries for graduate software developers are between £19,500 and £24,000 a year.
    Experienced developers can earn between £25,000 and £38,000.
    Software developers with management responsibilities can earn up to £45,000.

    Job Prospects
    You can find work as a software developer across the whole range of commerce and industry, public services, utilities, defence and research.

    Prospects are very good, as this jobs falls into a field of IT that accounts for almost a third of all employment opportunities in the sector. E-skills predict this job area will grow between now and 2014. Database, multimedia and artificial intelligence software development skills are particularly sought after.

    With experience, you can become a senior or lead developer, with responsibility for supervising development teams, monitoring and reviewing colleague’s work, project management, strategic planning and product research. You can also move into related areas, such as systems design and IT architecture. Self-employment may be another option, working on a contract or consultancy basis.

    Useful IT resources:
    Institute for the Management of Information Systems
    5 Kingfisher House
    New Mill Road
    BR5 3QG
    Tel: 0700 002 3456

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