Becoming a software engineer: the options

Emma Portman, Test and Training Manager at Renishaw explains what candidates can do to achieve their career aspirations in software engineering

A common misconception of the software engineering industry is that the main component of any job in the sector is writing code. While this is an integral skill for many roles, many industries use sophisticated software systems that require engineers with a range of skills to work in roles such as project manager, software tester and business analyst. The variety of roles available in the engineering sector allows candidates to choose a career path based on their specific skill set.

The most common paths in software engineering are general recruitment, a degree apprenticeship after completing either A-Levels or a BTEC, or a graduate scheme after university. However, before they reach employment, candidates should carefully consider what subjects to study and personally research earlier in their academic or working life to extend their knowledge of the industry. A recent report from Engineering UK states that 65% of engineering and technology graduates were in full-time employment within six months of graduating.

Studies

When students first consider software engineering as a career path, it is important to choose courses that suit the preferred software roles. Choosing subjects based around science and maths can give students a good introduction to the sector. Awareness of the course content is also important as students should ensure they have a high exposure to coding, either during their course or by personal research alongside their studies.

To incorporate studies and work, students can choose an apprenticeship to focus on learning whilst employed, either during a placement year in their degree or studying during their career. This often involves a student choosing to split their degree into a sandwich course with an industrial placement in software engineering, enhancing their studies by incorporating real life experience.

Daniel Freeman, a software apprentice at Renishaw, chose a degree apprenticeship so that he could work towards a qualification while gaining experience at work four days a week. The skills an apprentice gains whilst working can help contextualise their studies, allowing them to apply what they have learned to the projects they are involved in. Apprentices also often have the opportunity to move around departments and work on a variety of projects to broaden their skills before they decide on a specific career path that best suits them.  

University leavers can choose to apply for graduate schemes after university to put them on the career ladder straight away. Companies within the sector offer different ways to gain work experience so students can decide what best suits them in the balance of studying and working.

An investment in apprentices and graduates benefits large companies as they can help the business grow as they learn. Companies like Renishaw have seen a high retention rate amongst graduates and apprentices as they see the reputation of the company and the types of jobs available to them.  

Providing different routes to enter the software engineering sector allows people the opportunity to study towards a qualification in a certain field while gaining experience in a business environment.

Soft skills

To be able to contribute personal experiences to projects, candidates must rely on personal knowledge and skills. It is difficult to define the exact technical skills needed in software engineering because of the wide range of jobs, however, there are many soft skills that are needed across the sector, such as communication and teamwork.

In international businesses, a team may comprise of members from different offices and even different countries. Employees must be able to communicate easily to complete tasks and projects efficiently to benefit the company and its clients.

Employers will expect software engineers to handle pressure caused by time constraints and a demanding workload. They will be expected to be self-motivated and to work to short deadlines, with problem solving being a key factor within the role. Challenges will arise on a daily basis and an employee with an inquisitive mind will be able to creatively think of a solution. It is likely that employees will often have to deal with code or software that they are not familiar with and they must be driven to proactively solve the issue.

Employers can identify a candidate with an enquiring mind by how proactive they have been about gaining experience outside of their studies. Most people use software every day and a lot of information is available on the internet. Potential candidates can practice their skills on the internet by using coding to make their own apps and websites. It is also useful to be aware of current industry trends. Anyone can easily find the opinions of the technology community online to stay up-to-date.

Potential to progress

Once a candidate has successfully joined a company they have many opportunities to progress.

Connor Goddard, who is currently part of the graduate scheme at Renishaw, has partaken in multiple schemes at Renishaw. He joined the company during an industrial placement and returned as a graduate. Graduates choose to apply to schemes at Renishaw as they have the opportunity to learn from both a business and a customer perspective by working closely with large projects where they are given the same responsibilities as other employees.

Providing different routes to enter the software engineering sector allows people the opportunity to study towards a qualification in a certain field while gaining experience in a business environment. This ultimately reduces the chances of candidates not being qualified as they can improve their chances of becoming employed by learning multiple roles through a scheme, rather than applying for one position with a CV.  

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