In the past decade computers have invaded almost every aspect of daily life from high-speed internet to car navigation systems. Likewise software development has rapidly expanded both in size and specialty, making it one of the most interesting and lucrative fields of employment. Software developers can use their knowledge of computer science and mathematics to design programs and systems for any number of purposes including creating an appropriate program for data analysis of a scientific research project. They work both with hardware and software as well as the interface between them. The possibilities are endless for software developers because computers are an integral aspect of the work force. Furthermore, employment growth is expected with a growing demand for information technology and lowering prices of computers.
Who They Serve:
Software Developers can work for a computer or internet company, a specific business, or an individual depending upon the specialty of employment. Specific businesses may hire software developers to design useful computer applications, specific business applications, or assist with the computer and technical needs of the company. An increasing number of computer software engineers are being employed as consultants on a temporary or contract-basis. These consultants may work for a specific firm by assisting in the maintenance of their web sites and intranets. As businesses continue to upgrade their computer systems, jobs in this sector are expected to increase. There is also an endless need for technical assistance with personal computers. Furthermore, as the uses of the internet expand, the demand for new and improved software is constant. From online business-to-business commerce to online marketplaces to online security, the need for new software tools is expected to grow in the next few years.
What They Do:
Software developers can assist with the design, development, and testing of any kind of software including business applications, compilers, computer games, and operating systems. Software development is often divided into the two categories of applications software and systems software. Applications software developers work with programs for computer workers such as word processing, and systems software developers work with operating systems and programs that functionalize the computer. They often work in a team that can include engineers as well as marketing and design personnel. The specific tasks of a software developer depend upon their position and specialty.
In 2002, roughly 394,000 computer software engineers worked in computer applications and 281,000 worked in systems software. Within these numbers, almost one third of employees worked for computer systems design and related services.
Computer Software Engineers create software to fit the needs of a client through design, testing, and development. This process requires the construction of a working algorithm which instructs the computer how to fulfill various tasks.
Computer Programmers translate the algorithm into computer language through a process known as programming. Through this computer language, programmers instruct the computer how to function. Typically a computer programmer will be employed to update or change existing codes and programs rather than create new ones. In this field, applications software developers work on programs for specific purposes and systems programmers work on programs used in networks and operating systems.
Computer Applications Software Engineers assist users in the maintenance of general computer applications software with their knowledge of programming languages. They may also assist with the maintenance of specialized utility programs or develop customized applications for packaged systems.
Computer Systems Software Engineers work primarily with organizations’ computer systems which are often networked. This requires maintenance, construction, and networking of the computer systems as well as technical assistance for each department’s computer needs. Such technical assistance may include suggesting software for a certain task such as payroll recordkeeping.
What Employers Want:
Employers most often look for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer engineering, or information technology when hiring. Students with experience in the field through internships or research projects are favored, but inexperienced students may find employment at a large company that offers company-based training programs for new employees.
Solid understanding of programming languages, keen analytical skills, and teamwork capabilities are integral qualifications for employment in software development. Basic programming languages include C, C++ and Java, as well as COBOL and Fortran. Continued education is necessary in this quickly growing field, so enthusiasm for learning is appreciated. Different jobs will require specific skills such as utilizing natural language processing, data compression, artificial language, or machine learning. Employers also look for individuals with strong analytical skills, good communication skills, and the ability to work with team members.
When looking to fill a position for a computer engineer who works closely with another field an employer will look for specific skills that relate to the industry. For example, if a software developer is needed to create a program for a university library then understanding of the library cataloging system is necessary.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society currently offers professional certification for software developers with a bachelor’s degree and work experience. Such certification is developed because many training authorities strongly believe that certification alone is not sufficient when it is obtained in lieu of a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field.
As mentioned above, software development positions vary greatly. Many undergraduates move on to programming in the field of software development. They are also often employed to test and evaluate software programs and systems. Such positions may require research, brain-storming with a team, and collaboration to solve issues that arise on a specific project.
Advancement in the field is available with increased experience. An entry-level employee who begins by testing software can eventually assist in the design aspects of software development and eventually become project manager if they show enough innovation and advanced knowledge of the field.
Tim Train- President, Big Huge Games, THQ, International Studies major / Psychology minor, Class of 1991
- Describe what you do and how you got started in your current career. - I run a 130-person game development studio located in Hunt Valley, MD. I started as a play-tester right out of college, getting paid very little money for a lot of work with a local company. My first full project was the original Sid Meier’s Civilization; I went on to work on Civilization II, Alpha Centuari, and Civ III in various capacities. Although being a play-tester can be a difficult job, it’s a great introduction to the industry, and functions in a similar fashion to the “mail room” of a Hollywood studio in the good ol’ days—you find a lot of great talent there. Several JHU alumni followed me into the test lab.
- What is most rewarding about your job and/ or industry? What is most challenging? - I can’t imagine a better job in the world. I get to work with some of the most intelligent, funny, and creative people anywhere, all in the service to helping millions of people have more fun in their lives. The most challenging aspect is the time commitment. The games industry is part of the entertainment industry. Like music, movies, or television, working in this industry is a lifestyle choice as much as it is a job. Although things have gotten better since I joined the industry, where months of 80-hour workweeks were the norm, you still go through periods of crunch when you are trying to make a milestone or ship a game.
- Is your career the same or different from what you had envisioned your career would be when you started at Hopkins as an undergraduate? How is it similar and/or different? - I had no earthly idea that people even made videogames for a living. If I had that thought, I might have been much more focused in my undergraduate studies . I’d have taken more CS (even though I don’t deal much in tech).
- What advice do you have for a Hopkins student entering your career field / industry? - Pick something, and be great at it. There are four major disciplines in the game industry: art, design, programming, and production (project management). Pretty much any degree you might get could map onto one of those disciplines, so long as you excel at your chosen field. Take as many CS courses as you can stomach, whether that's one or a dozen. You don't have to have a technical background (unless you want to be a programmer), but every piece of tech knowledge helps you be a better game maker.
James Warner- Principal, Software Development, Structural Wealth Management Software Development,
Computer Science, Applied Mathematics & Statistics, Class of 2001
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - I became interested in Computer Science in high school, and intended to major in it when I came to JHU. I added the second major of Applied Math later.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I started as a software developer after college at a big company. After 6.5 years, I moved to a small company to head the development team.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - I was a software developer at Oracle.
- What advice do you have for current students? - Being in a quantitative field will open doors in your career. Also, developing software is not only a job for people who don't like working with people.
- What is your typical day like? - I go to a lot of meetings and do a lot of planning for future projects. I also consult with more junior developers when problems arise. When I get a few hours to sit and write code, I find it very relaxing.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - I find building and mentoring a team of great developers to be very rewarding. I also love the feeling of launching a great new software project - it's very tangible and satisfying. The strategy part is very challenging.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - There are lots of entry level software development jobs. Just keep in mind that writing software professionally isn't like writing software in college. Be ready to learn.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - The need for top-end development talent will continue to grow as technology becomes a bigger and bigger part of our economy.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Anything that gets you writing code in a more professional, formal environment is very valuable.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - There are a lot of different paths for a software developer - it depends what you're best at and what is right for you. You can become an architect, a manager, a product manager, etc.
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - I would really just recommend talking with people who write software for a living in a variety of settings and finding out what is right for you.
Senior Planner, Retired from IBM High End Servers,
Mechanical Engineering, Physics, Class of 1957,
Master’s in Mechanics, 1961, Johns Hopkins University,
Masters, Eng Admin, 1965, George Washington University
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - It was just a matter of timing. I was looking for new opportunities and my brother told me I'd fit right in at IBM. It was not my original goal but rather the result of applying lessons and techniques learned at JHU and my different jobs.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - My career path was quite varied. I worked at everything from manufacturing engineering to the space program and always felt confident that my ability to analyze and solve problems could be applied anywhere. I reached my career high point by working hard, listening to others and by trying very hard not to make mistakes.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - My first job after college was in defense industries in a highly classified project. It was in the field in which I got my first masters degree, and it had nothing at all to do with my last job.
- What advice do you have for current students? - I'd advise them to learn the basics. The most important thing that I got out of my Hopkins education was a framework for solving problems. And, in the numerous jobs that I held, I was always able to apply that knowledge effectively. I'd also strongly advise them to learn how to communicate clearly and concisely, both in writing and orally.
- What is your typical day like? - As a senior planner, most of my time was spent pulling together the many aspects of announcing a new computer product. I had to create specifications for my product that met market requirements but would also result in a profitable product. So, I spent a lot of time meeting with the various organizations in the laboratory and with outside organizations like marketing and systems assurance. I also had to fold in worldwide (i.e. country specific) requirements and that sometimes required travel outside of the United States. So, my days consisted of lots of meetings plus time spent recording the facts and creating the necessary documents that would eventually result in announcement materials for the new product.
- 6 What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Most rewarding: bringing a product to market that's successful. Most challenging: dealing with people who resist change.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Product planning is a job that you have to grow into based on knowledge acquired on the job and in the classroom. You have to be flexible. Seek out new challenges and don't be afraid to accept new responsibilities.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - At the rate that new discoveries are appearing, I cannot imagine where the field is going. But, for sure, we'll see more powerful computing devices in smaller and smaller packages.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences are ideal for entering your industry / career field? Everything that allows you to gain new skills and undergo new experiences is going to be useful. Eventually, you will latch on to something that you will recognize as your career field. Embrace change.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - In today's engineering environment, my crystal ball does not see that far into the future. When I started out, one could project a path to higher positions with confidence within the company. That's not so today. It's more a matter of being at the right place at the right time.
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - Join and become active in your engineering societies (ASME, IEEE, etc.). If appropriate, take the EIT exam and go for your PE license. Take advantage of networking opportunities (JHU Alumni Assn, SEA, Facebook, etc.)
- What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - I would not recommend anything. I found that I took something away from every job that I ever had, and the sum of those experiences led to my career field.
Toan Le- Project Manager, General Dynamics Information Technology, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Class of 1998, PhD in Mental Health/Psychiatric Epidemiology
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - It's a natural progression from my previous job. I wanted to go to Hopkins since it's the only SPH with a Mental Health Department and that I would be supported in my interest.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - After graduating from college, I had an excellent job that exposed me to mental health and research. My previous boss was also instrumental in helping me along.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - My first job had nothing to do with what I am doing today. It was the second that catapulted me to my current field.
- What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - Try to get into doing something that you might enjoy even if you didn't have any thing specific in mind. Stay broad and then be more focused as you progress through your work.
- What is your typical day like? - Busy. I oversee a team of analysts to provide important health information to clients to satisfy contractual obligations.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? -
Rewarding: The indirect impact my work has on our nation's health policies and people's life.
Challenging: Managing expectations - from clients and staff, and my own.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? -To be strong programmers and statistics. Have to be interested in public health and contributing to the improvement of people's life.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Demands for quality health data and analyses will stay strong.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - A public health education and related work experience.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? -
2 years - better analyst
5 years - Senior to lead analyst
10 years - expert to managerial position
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - APHA. JHU Alumni events. JHU Career Service.
- What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Any thing related to health. Government and non-government opportunities.
Additional Alumni Profiles
Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.
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LinkedIn.com - a professional networking site where you can identify Hopkins alumni. Join the LinkedIn Johns Hopkins University Alumni Group to add over 4000+ alumni to your network.
Industry /Professional Organizations:
Networking with professionals who work in this field can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family can be very helpful. You may also explore career opportunities by talking with employers at career fairs, and company presentations.
Internships - research positions and summer employment are highly effective ways for you to try out a field, gain experience and skills and make professional contacts.
If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.