We tend to imagine software developers as hermits sitting in a dark room coding all day, but the reality is actually very different.
“They are people, people — they’re not the geeks and nerds that it used to be, couldn’t communicate with human beings. At least, not the successful ones,” says Dick Wilkins, a professor of computer science at Thomas College in Maine.
In fact, the best software developers have strong communication skills and are well-equipped to interact with clients. After all, screen time is only one small part of the process.
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We spoke to Wilkins to find out more about the profession.
What does a software developer do?
In the simplest of terms, their main role is to solve problems, says Wilkins. “The slightly more expanded version of that is understanding the needs of customers and clients, and then producing high-quality, reliable computer programs that can facilitate the customer in being successful at whatever they’re trying to do.”
But knowing the syntax of a computer language, writing code and getting it to produce an executable program is only a minor part of the process.
“It turns out that a software developer actually spends only 10 to 20 percent of their time producing computer programs and probably 80 percent of their time understanding the problem, getting a design in place, figuring how it’s all going to work, testing it, and then working with the clients to make sure that it actually meets their needs once it’s been developed,” says Wilkins.
What schooling do you need?
A four-year college degree is not an absolute requirement but it is important, says Wilkins.
In fact, he suggests that anyone looking to enter the technology field acquire a bachelor’s degree in computer science. “It can carry into any kind of job, from information technology and dat-center management, to computer architecture and design — from one end of the gamut to the other,” he says.
Those who are looking to succeed as basic software developers, however, can learn a majority of these skills by taking technology-programming-style courses through adult-education programs, at a four-year-college or even online, says Wilkins.
What’s the typical salary?
The median annual salary for software developers was $106,860 in May 2016, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. The best-paid 10 percent in the profession made $163,220, while the lowest-paid 10 percent made $64,650.
Is it hard to find employment?
Not at all. “Programmers are in demand everywhere,” he says. “Were also in the process of entering one of those turnover periods where a lot of people who became programmers back in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s are all retiring, so a lot of jobs are opening up.”
Aside from that, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 17 percent employment growth between 2014 and 2024, during which an estimated 186,600 jobs will open up.
One of the biggest perks of the job is getting to be creative in the way that you design programs, says Wilkins. “And when you see that exciting new website or feature work or you see the robot do something really physically interesting, that gives you quite a strong feeling of satisfaction,” he says.
It’s also a stimulating job in that it’s not overly repetitive. “You’re not doing the same thing over and over again. It’s constantly new, exciting, and challenging— which helps keep your mind active.”
Getting a computer system to do what you want it to do can be challenging. “They seem to have a mind of their own at times, and just refuse to help you,” he says.
“There’s also an incredible pressure to deliver high-quality programs in shorter and shorter time periods,” Wilkins continues. “That pressure can get to you after a while and make it feel like there’s never enough time.”