If you’re considering a career path in software engineering, you’ll probably have some questions.
These may include: “Is software engineering a good career?” “Do I need a computer science degree?” “How about math?” “Do I have what it takes?” or “is software engineering only for some people?”
Our short answer to these would go: Yes, no, some but not as much as you think, yes, and definitely not.
In this article, we’ll explore why you might want to pursue a career in software engineering, as well as some coding languages to get started with.
Maybe say it helps to have a degree in STEM, as it will teach you the art of problem-solving and analysis. However, do you really need a degree to learn to solve problems, though?
Let’s delve into just what software engineering is, as well as the courses that you can take to begin your journey toward this exciting career path.
- What is software engineering?
- What is a software engineering course?
- How to choose a software engineering course
- Seven of the best software engineering courses
- Final thoughts
Are you ready? Then let’s get into it!
1. What is software engineering?
Software engineering can be defined as applying engineering principles to software design, testing, and management.
This ensures optimal use of resources in order to avoid something referred to as technical debt (code that is really hard to maintain, resulting in later costs; that’s why it’s a “debt”).
Differentiating between various programming roles
To put things in perspective, we need to differentiate between software engineering and software development. Oh yes, and web development.
In software engineering, the software engineer focuses on things like software design and architecture. They are able to advise on whether using a particular combination of software and tools (called a “tech stack”) is better than using another and why. You’ll hear them talk about things like latency, infrastructure, and scaling. If you want to learn more, check out our full article on what a software engineer does.
On the other hand, in software development, the software developer’s aim is to build software that meets certain requirements, usually user and customer requirements.
And yes, web development is essentially building software applications that can run on the web—like on your favorite browser. You can shop on Amazon on your personal computer, for example. However, with progressive web apps (PWAs), web applications can be accessed on any device.
If you build applications that can run on the web, you’re a web developer. But why not a web engineer? A web engineer is a less “hands-on” approach and is more theoretical.
We’ve created a more in-depth article that differentiates the different roles—software engineer, software developer, web developer, and web engineer.
It’s also important to differentiate between computer engineering and software engineering. Computer engineering focuses on computer hardware, while, of course, software engineering focuses on software.
In this article, we’ll use the terms “software engineering,” “software development,” and “web development” interchangeably, as the technologies you’re taught in courses are often the same.
A great place to get started on your software engineering journey is by taking a software engineering course. Let’s explore what one of these courses entails.
2. What is a software engineering course?
A software engineering course is a more structured way to learn to code.
While you could learn from many sources, ranging from YouTube videos to books, for example, following a structure is quite beneficial.
This way, you’re able to learn the simpler concepts first and incrementally learn more complex ones, making learning coding easier.
What does a software engineering course consist of?
As you’ll learn later on, software engineering courses come in all shapes and sizes. However, if you’re comparing courses online, there are a number of factors which you’ll see that good courses will have in common. Let’s look at some of them:
Software development methodologies
These are processes that determine how software is developed and delivered. They include Agile and Waterfall.
In the Agile methodology, for example, the software development process is divided into “sprints,” or short periods of time within which to build features and give updates to the rest of the software team and stakeholders, such as customers and the product owner.
If you’ve worked in tech before in other positions, from UX design to digital marketing, it’s likely that you’ve come across one or both of these methodologies, but they are key to development.
This is basically a skeleton or blueprint of how your software should look or function.
Typically coming from the UX or UI designers, these models can be as simple as a drawing on paper or a design on a tool where you can showcase the software interface. In frontend development in particular, you might learn about wireframes, for example.
How to track the changes you make to your code. The most common version control system is Git. If you want to learn more about this crucial element, we’ve created a guide to why version control systems are so important.
A coding language
The software engineering path you want to pursue will determine the coding language that you learn.
If you want to become a mobile application developer, then you’ll need to learn Java or Kotlin (for Android development), Swift (for iOS development), or Objective-C (for both Android and iOS development).
Essential computing concepts
While you do not need to know every aspect of computing, a “good” software engineering course should introduce you to basic computing concepts, especially those that are closely related to software engineering.
If a software engineering course incorporates coding best practices, then it’s a winner.
Simple things like refactoring your code (writing it in a more efficient way without repeating yourself or changing its functionality), the DRY principle (Don’t Repeat Yourself), and KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) will go a long way, even when you start working as a software engineer.
3. How to choose a software engineering course
Now that we know what a software engineering course entails, let’s explore how you can go about selecting one. What other factors should you keep in mind?
It goes without saying that you should look out for all the things we discussed in the previous section—software development methodologies, modeling, version control, a coding language, essential computing concepts, and best practices.
In addition, you need to consider:
What do you intend to do with your software engineering skills after the training? Do you want to build games, build web apps, or work for a tech giant or start-up?
Be very specific about your goal, as it will help you push through when the going gets tough. It will help you revisit a concept over and over and try different approaches to understand it if you are finding it difficult to grasp.
The language you want to learn vs what is being offered
For example, if you want to become a data analyst and learn Python, a software engineering course that teaches Ruby will definitely not be a great choice for you.
That said, the most important thing is not the language you learn. You can easily transfer the knowledge garnered in one programming language to another.
Note that you need to choose one language and focus on it. It helps, though, to choose a language that is closer to your goal and area of interest.
A peek into resources like the 2023 StackOverflow Developer Survey will give you a hint of the most popular programming languages, as well as those that are growing the fastest.
Is the course offered full-time online, via in-person bootcamps, or conventional college courses? Is it a university-affiliated course? Self-paced online course? In-person part-time courses with morning or evening classes, or even weekend courses?
Coding bootcamps tend to have a specific time or period, usually not more than two years (24 months).
In addition to the course material, some courses might have assignments and projects to build throughout your learning. These are usually time-bound and will have a mentor or teacher look at them and give feedback.
You might also learn through pair programming, where you and a fellow learner write code on the same computer.
The roles switch between driver and navigator, where the driver is the one writing the code, and the navigator instructs them. It’s a fun way to learn, and you can learn for many hours when compared to learning by yourself.
Depending on your availability or things like the need for accountability, you will choose what works for you.
If you have a long school holiday, for example, or a sabbatical or career break, a bootcamp might be the judicious way forward. However, if you are working a full-time job, or have family commitments, a self-paced course might be the best way forward.
The last aspect to consider when it comes to the learning format might be whether you prefer videos for learning or text.
Does the software engineering course use tools that developers use in the real world? This comes in handy during your job search. You are likely to be a preferred candidate as you already have experience working with the tools.
You’re also going to have an easier time during your initial working days, as you’ll have a less steep learning curve when compared to someone who has never worked with the tools before.
You might want to enroll in the best software engineering course in the world, but the cost might be inhibiting. You might want to go for courses that you can afford.
There are free coding courses or schools that allow for partial payments or payments in installments. Others might have an Income Share Agreement (ISA) model, where you learn for free and pay back after you get a job.
Terms and conditions
It’s important to pay attention to the terms and conditions, though. Some might require you to pay back within a year of graduation, pay an upfront deposit, or be a resident of a particular country or city.
Choosing a software engineering course which is transparent about its payment options is a step that will give you peace of mind.
There are also scholarship options that you can apply for, and if successful, you can learn for free or get a partial scholarship. The scholarship slots are usually very few and therefore quite competitive.
Access to course content
Another cost facet to think about is access to the content. There are courses that give you lifetime access to the content. You pay once for the content and you can revisit it at any time.
Others have a one-year access period, for example, while others only give you access for the time period that you are enrolled in the course.
Some software engineering courses will have instructors, mentors, and coaches, as well as active student discussion groups on Slack.
Some courses might also help with job placement, for example by having access to a network of employers who would be interested in hiring learners who have gone through the course.
Many have career days, mock developer job interviews, or even career portals where students can create software engineering portfolios that can help them get hired.
The best way to learn to code is by doing. Go for a course that will allow you to constantly build projects and do coding challenges. The projects can be part of the coursework.
Passion projects are also a great way to learn, as you are building something that you are actually interested in, and you can always add them to your software engineer portfolio.
When you have to solve a problem, you will go to a great extent to find solutions, ranging from finding solutions on the popular software Q&A forum StackOverflow; watching and reading tutorials, and even reading code on big code repositories like GitHub.
You will also start to discover communities that you can be part of that can help you hone your skills.
You might also get a chance to participate in hackathons (where you solve coding problems or build solutions for a prize), which will make you more confident and help you meet and network with more experienced people in the tech industry.
A course that encourages you to contribute to open source (code that is accessible by developers and that allows for contribution), for example, can help you build your confidence, skills, and network.
4. Seven of the best software engineering courses
In this section, we look at seven top software engineering courses that meet most of the above criteria.
Note that you’re not likely to find one particular course that meets all of them—each will have its own strengths.
Tuition fee: $15,950 USD
Duration: 12 weeks full-time and 24 weeks part-time
This course trains people from all over the world. General Assembly also offer courses in data science, digital marketing, and design.
The training is offered full-time (12 weeks) and part-time (24 weeks). There is an ISA (Income Share Agreement) option for payments. Other features of the coding bootcamp include connections to employers and one-to-one career coaching.
Tuition fee: $8,500 USD
Duration: 5 months (30-40 hours per week) and 10 months (15-20 hours per week)
One of the things that makes CareerFoundry’s Full-Stack Web Development course unique is its high placement rate–96%, including big tech companies. This results from a combination of one-one mentoring from mentors and tutors and tailored coaching to help with interview preparation.
CareerFoundry’s offering comes in at $8,500 for the entire program, but the cost of the tuition is dependent on your location and is competitively priced.
A range of flexible payment options include paying upfront, or getting a small course discount. Contact one of our program advisors to find out your local pricing and if there are any partial scholarships available.
You also get to build a software engineering portfolio via the projects you create throughout your learning journey.
Tuition fee: between $159 and $779 yearly depending on chosen paths, individual vs team, and tiers. There are also monthly packages.
Pluralsight offers a wide range of self-paced software engineering courses and certifications, ranging from language and framework-based courses like Angular and Node.js, to “best practices” courses like Agile.
The access you get depends on the tier that you choose, whether you are an individual or a team, and whether you pay monthly or annually.
There are occasional discounts and free weekends where you get to learn as much as you can for free.
Once in a while, Pluralsight will partner with coding bootcamps or job placement networks to offer free access to software engineering learning content for a period of time.
Tuition fee: between $20 and $90 per course (it is dependent on the courses you choose). This price range is for Python courses.
Like Pluralsight, Udemy is a self-paced learning platform with lots of courses to choose from. Udemy contains over 200,000 courses, with over 1,000 of them under the term “software engineering”. Broaden that out to the term “coding”, and that number expands to over 10,000 courses! So you won’t be short of choice.
Payment is per course, and you get lifetime access. There are usually offers on the courses themselves, too.
Tuition fee: $16,900 with a $500 deposit
Duration: 15 weeks full-time and 20 to 60 weeks part-time
One of the pricier software engineering bootcamps out there, Flatiron offers both in-person and online courses in software engineering, data science, product design, and cybersecurity.
Expect lots of support from coursemates, career coaches, and access to a network of employers.
Tuition fee: $17,980
Duration: 12 weeks or 19 weeks full-time or 36 weeks part-time
The courses are offered online and are composed of a coding and computer science curriculum. There are lots of coding challenges to help you prepare for work as a software engineer and pass technical interviews.
You learn through pair programming and get support for your job search and online profile creation.
Conventional college software engineering courses
Most conventional college software courses are offered as part of an undergraduate Computer Science or Electronic Engineering degree. This means that the learning is full-time, in most cases.
Depending on where in the world the university you choose is located, you might need to learn a different language. This is because it could be the primary language of instruction, especially during the first year.
Conventional colleges also offer free courses that are accessible online; for example, MIT’s “Missing Semester” (advanced topics within Computer Science) or Harvard’s CS50 (an introduction to Computer Science). They are best used to gain a deeper understanding of a topic.
It’s also important to look out for programs that are sponsored by companies in partnership with learning institutions or bootcamps.
5. Final thoughts
We’ve explored some of the top software engineering courses that can get you started on a career in software engineering, or help you switch from another field.
We’ve considered what a comprehensive software course should consist of, as well as some of the factors to consider when choosing one, and eventually some options to get you started.
A simple way to see if software engineering and coding is for you is, unsurprisingly, to get coding.
CareerFoundry’s free 5-day video short course will launch you into creating your first website. You can get a preview of it with this video lesson, where Abhishek Nagekar, an engineer at Mozilla, walks you through coding with HTML:
The most important thing to know when choosing a course is your goal. It will help you choose the kind of software course that best suits you.
It’s also important to be honest about the time commitment and cost, as they will determine the courses that you can do.
Armed with all the above knowledge, you are well on your way to choosing the course that’s best for you.
If you’d like to read more about software engineering and the world of programming in general, check out these articles: