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What Do I Need to Study in College to Be a Software Engineer?

by Kate Prudchenko, studioD

A career as a software engineer is one of the most versatile paths in the modern economy. Software and information technology have become integrated into the daily lives of hundreds of millions of people and businesses and there is always a need for novel software products and support for existing programs. Because of the complexity of the field and the highly developed standard practices, most employers look for applicants who have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field like computer engineering.

Degree Options

The most common degree option for people seeking to become software engineers is a Bachelor of Science in computer science. This program provides students with a broad background in computer architecture, operating systems, data structures and networking as well as in software design and programming languages. Some computer science programs offer specialized tracks in software engineering and include more programming and software design in the core curriculum. (Reference 2) Other universities offer software engineering as a separate degree option, though there is considerable overlap with the computer science curriculum. (Reference 3)

Math Prerequisites

Computer science degrees generally involve a substantial number of mathematics courses. Designing software solutions requires mathematical reasoning and a strong background in mathematics and engineering. Most computer science or software engineering degree programs require that students take Calculus I through at least Calculus III. (Reference 3) Students may also have to take differential equations and linear algebra along with a mathematics course specific to the major, like mathematical foundations of computer science. (Reference 1)

Software Design

Before a program can be written, it first has to go through a design process where software engineers can decide what features the program should have, determine the most efficient way to create those features and plan how the user will interact with those elements. Classes like individual software design and development, software engineering and user-centered interface design and development expose students to the design process of computer software. (Reference 2, 3) Other courses like software requirements engineering, introduction to operating systems and software deployment help students learn how to design within the constraints of hardware resources and operating system limitations.

Programming Languages

The central activity of a software engineer is in writing code to create software applications. Languages like C, C++, Java and Python are just some of the more popular languages that can be used to create computer programs. Courses like formal language theory and programming languages introduce students to the core languages and to structures like objects, syntax, classes and inheritance that are common to many programming languages. (Reference 2, 3)

About the Author

Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.

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