If you fancy a career in software development then you’ve chosen an extremely popular, rewarding and competitive industry. Demand for software developers has never been higher and job prospects for the right people are incredibly positive. It is a field that is constantly evolving as technology continues to progress apace and so making sure you have relevant, up to date qualifications is crucial. 

Get it right and you can look forward to a career that is both satisfying and financially well rewarded. With many areas of specialism on offer, you can work towards finding your own niche and achieve true career satisfaction.

What is a software developer?

Software developers are the creators behind computer programs of all kinds. From apps for your Smartphone and those highly addictive computer games to programs that help us do our daily work and that can even turn on the oven for our evening meal; the technology behind all these things has been created by software developers.

It isn’t hard to see why software development is such an in-demand career when you consider its ever-increasing impact on everyday life.

Software development is a huge field but can be broken down into a number of different categories, depending on where you see your skills best utilized or where your interests lie. Most people become more specialized as their experience grows and they have a greater understanding of the industry. 

Systems software developers develop and implement applications and programs for backend processing systems used in businesses and organizations, whilst a web developer specializes in the development of web applications using client-server models.

Mobile development involves creating software applications for mobile devices such as mobile phones and test automation developers design and write programs that run automated tests on new or existing software.

Other related jobs include technical author, information scientist, multimedia programmer, data visualization analyst, systems analyst, operational researcher and information technology / software trainer.

What does a software developer do?

The creation of software applications involves the writing of code and so its subsequent development would be overseen by a software engineer or developer. Their work could involve analyzing the needs of the end user whether for an individual or an organization, and then creating, testing and developing the software to satisfy that need.

These applications can range from providing software solutions to a specific problem, to offering some form of entertainment, or just making life easier for the client.

Once the developer has outlined the software, they would then create flowcharts to map out each step of the software development process. This offers clear instruction to the programmer on how to write the correct code for the program or app.

Related duties of a software developer, engineer or programmer involve future proofing the software for upgrades and enhancements which might become necessary in the future and collaborating with other specialists to guarantee best value and quality from the program.

What skills are needed?

A good balance of hard and soft skills is necessary to become a successful software developer. Don’t be fooled into thinking a software developer is simply sat in front of a computer working their magic. There is much more to the role than that and it is one that requires considerable collaboration, creativity and organization. 

Having a comprehensive selection of skills means the developer can take on the complete software development process which will put them in an extremely attractive position when it comes to their job search.

Soft skills: Problem solving & analytical skills

One of the most important skills required as a software developer is the ability to analyze and solve problems. Many programs exist purely to solve an issue or problem for the end user.

Software engineers also have to be able to identify and isolate problems and bugs within computer programs. Enjoying getting to grip with solving problems and seeing them through to the end are helpful attributes to possess as a software developer.


Coming up with new programs, games or apps can be key abilities to pursuing a career in software development. This requires the ability to come up with innovative and cutting-edge ideas so being open, creative and up to date with current trends can go a long way to help you in the tech industry. If you have a genuine interest in and a love of gadgets and technology, then you are all set for a lifelong career in software development.

Communication & teamwork

Working with clients, end users and other software experts, enables the developer to come up with the best product possible, and so the ability to communicate effectively can be extremely helpful to improving your career prospects. 

Successful collaboration can greatly help with your job prospects. Although jobs in the tech industry are often seen as being solitary, in order to be truly successful in this area, working and communicating with others is vital.

Time management

The ability to manage time efficiently is very important to being a successful software developer. Software applications have to go through various stages before completion, so there are often strict deadlines and targets to work to. It is good to be able to show that you can produce effective results on time and on budget.

Hard skills 

Software development is a complex and highly technical industry and so it goes without saying that in order to pursue a successful career in this field, you will need specific technical and theoretical knowledge. 

Computer programs are effectively written in another language and so in order to be able to develop programs for a living, you would be required to be fluent in one or more of these computer languages. Choosing the right language can feel like an impossible choice because there are so many out there. Unless you are looking to specialize in a particular area of software straight away, then there are a few more obvious languages which might be a good place for you to start. 

These include Java, JavaScript, Python, SQL, Go, Swift, Git, PHP and C++, but there are many, many more!

The best and most effective way into a career in software development is to get a degree in a software related subject such as computer science, data science, software engineering, information technology or some universities now even run their own software development degree courses. If you have a university degree with focus on software engineering principles with sufficient industry experience, then for sure you may be offered a job opportunity by an organization to run their software development process smoothly and deliver high quality applications.

It is possible to follow a career in software development without a degree, but you would definitely still need to undertake some kind of professional course in a related topic and gain practical experience, in order to progress up the career ladder.

A gateway into a career in software development is to take an online course in software development or computer programming, but with so many to choose from it can be hard to know where to begin.

What online platforms are there?

Just like when you’re buying a car – you wouldn’t buy the first car you see – you shop around. The same is true with providers of software training courses. The choice can seem positively overwhelming to begin with, but we’ve done the hard work for you and researched some of the top providers of courses on software development. This isn’t an exhaustive guide by any means, but it gives a useful overview of the different types and levels of courses available. 

It is possible to combine a number of different courses into one learning track to give yourself a more rounded selection of skills. The combination of courses you choose to take depends entirely on the area in which you are looking to work. Software development can be extremely specialized, so it is well worth doing your research into what exactly is required for your chosen field before you commit to any courses on any particular online platform.


This US based online learning platform offers free coding in 12 different programming languages. As well as the free courses, you have the option of paying a subscription to upgrade your course and you can receive a fully personalized learning plan. 

At the end of the course, you receive an individual certificate which although it isn’t recognized as a formal professional qualification, it would certainly offer a potential employer evidence that you have knowledge of a particular programming language. The courses are popular because of their easy to understand format and are great entry level courses for absolute beginners.

Because Codecademy specializes in offering technology-related online courses, it means it can offer a healthy selection of relevant learning options. In addition to the coding courses, Codecademy also provides courses in web development, data science, computer science, machine learning, code foundations and web design.


This works as what is known as an MOOC (massive open online course) and so offers access to a vast array of online courses, in partnership with leading educational organizations. Some courses are free and some are paid for and range from basic beginners’ courses to micro-bachelors and micro-masters degrees. Because courses are accredited, this means that the certificates of completion will go a long way to show potential employers on your resume that you know your stuff.

With more than 2,500 courses on offer the choice is great and includes computer science, software engineering and software development. 

The beauty of signing up with edX is that there are no prerequisite qualifications or experience needed, so unlike many universities and colleges, it offers access for everyone no matter what level they are at. Courses are self-paced so can be fitted in around other commitments, again adding to an overall sense of inclusion.

Courses are set up in unique blocks with students given weekly targets including videos and interactive learning exercises.


Offering literally thousands of online courses, Coursera is another MOOC like edX, but where it differs is in the sheer choice of courses it offers. From degree courses to professional qualifications to specialized Coursera courses, the possibilities are endless. The organization has joined forces with some of the most prestigious educational establishments from around the world, so a qualification from Coursera is going to pack a punch.

Coursera is able to offer a unique collection of courses which can last between four and 12 weeks. Most will involve a few hours of video lectures a week with other course content including assignments, projects, weekly exercises and quizzes.

Taking a course with Coursera means you have access to college-level guidance from professors based at some of the world’s most renowned and accredited educational organizations. With more than 4,000 courses available partnered with over 200 universities from 29 countries around the world, this really is the crème de la crème of online course providers.

Software development courses available on Coursera include Master of Computer Science, Master of Computing and IT, Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Certificate in Applied Data Science, IBM Full Stack Cloud Development and Python for Everybody, to name just a few.


One of the most popular learning platforms in the world with online presence, Udemy has more than 35m students who can choose from more than 1,000 courses. It is most well-known for its courses in IT and business, making it the perfect platform to choose if you are looking for an IT related course. 

Its top IT courses include Complete Java Masterclass, Complete Python Bootcamp, Web Developer Bootcamp, Beginning C++ Programming, Complete JavaScript Course, Complete Node.js Developer Course – the list goes on! Without doubt, Udemy has the largest marketplace of courses to select from.

Users talk about the benefits of its technical features, and the beauty of a course with Udemy, is that its content is available for life so you can go back and revisit information time and time again. You are also given the option of ‘trying before you buy’ which is a really good feature.

Course content includes a good combination of videos, text and audio lectures, giving students a well-balanced and user friendly courses.


Relatively new to the market, Treehouse has made quite an impact in just a few years. Offering technically-orientated learning this MOOC platform, provides professional courses and learning tracks aimed at people wanting to pursue a career in technically-focused fields. There are more than 300 individual courses covering 23 subjects. 

Learning tracks are a sequence of courses covering the same subject for people who want to progress and move through a specific field or industry. One of the most popular features of the Treehouse platform is the Treehouse ProTech degree. Unique to Treehouse, this program gives people the option of progressing from beginner to ‘job ready’ in a matter of months (between two and 12 depending on the subject). 

More than 50,000 students have chosen Treehouse to study with and it is known for being easy to navigate and highly user friendly. Another great feature of Treehouse is that you can take a free trial before committing which is a highly effective way of testing out a course before you have to pay for it. 

Offering a variety of video-based coding courses, all the most popular programming languages are available including Java, Ruby, Swift, HTML, CSS, Python and JavaScript. Software development courses include web design, web development, iOS development, PHP development and Android development.


One of the fastest growing learning platforms in the world, this award-winning online education company offers online and offline training. Its aim is to make learning and education accessible and available to all, regardless of age, background or location. It has partnered with a number of leading academic organizations and corporations to offer round the clock classes, support and even in-built messaging systems.

The platform boasts more than 40,000 students and there are thousands of hours of training available on Edureka. There are online lectures available in around 20 categories with plenty of choice for the keen software developer looking to improve their job prospects. Choose from software testing, frontend development, mobile development, Edureka data science courses, artificial intelligence, Edureka big data and Cloud computing.

Edureka prides itself on offering relevant and up-to-date training in emerging technologies such as machine learning and blockchain and offers courses suitable for everyone from graduates through to experienced professionals looking up to brush up on their skills and knowledge.


Offering a refreshingly different approach to the world of online learning, Alison has a good choice of software related courses. Its unique selling point is the fact that it generates its income from advertising so you can take free courses and certifications, making it completely democratic.

There are nine key areas in which you can take courses including information technology. Within this field there is a wide variety of courses available which include Introduction to Software Testing, Diploma in Software Testing, Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), IT Management Software and Databases and Software Defined Networking and Cloud Computing. 

You can choose from three main types of courses. Working towards a certificate allows you to focus on a specific subject and is a quick and easy way to gain knowledge on your chosen subject in just a few hours. Diploma courses take a little longer but will obviously carry more kudos at the end and a full learning path requires more of a commitment, but means that you will end up with a comprehensive knowledge in a particular area.


If you are looking for an accredited course that you can undertake at your own pace, then Simplilearn is the perfect choice. With more than 400 courses on offer and a team of over 2,000 professional experts, the aim of the platform is to help professionals improve their skill set, build their knowledge and progress towards their career goals.

Courses last on average a month, though some may be shorter and others longer. You need to fully commit when you sign up for a Simplilearn course, but the results are worth it.

The courses use a variety of learning tools ranging from videos and live discussions to quizzes, assignments, projects and final exams. With the help of provided guidelines one can work on personal projects as well.

The platform is considered to be easy to use and appeals to professionals who want to take accredited courses taught by industry experts. In the field of software development, Simplilearn offers a number of courses including a Professional Certificate Program in Blockchain, a Post Graduate Program in Cloud Computing and a Post Graduate Program in Data Science.


Specializing only in data science and analysis courses, DataCamp is ideal for seasoned professionals who want to enhance their skills and collaborate with fellow industry colleagues. This MOOC partners with more than 1,600 companies and 3,000 academic organizations, offering in excess of 350 courses to some 7m learners in 180 countries. That’s some impressive stats!

Course students can choose from stand-alone courses and learning tracks. Learning tracks are divided into two categories. Skill tracks are a combination of individual courses which combine to give all-round knowledge needed to master a specific skill or area, whilst career track courses are designed to help the student prepare for a particular career.

Courses are engaging and interactive and students can choose from programming courses in Python, R and SQL as well as data engineering, programming, machine learning, importing and cleaning data, data manipulation and data visualization.


One of the best known and longest established learning platforms, Pluralsight provides nearly 5,000 different courses primarily in the field of technology. Most courses have easily downloadable files so you can continue to practice when offline in your own time.

Attractive features include completion certificates, learning checks and quizzes and discussion forums. According to users, Pluralsight offers some of the best quality video content around and is considered to be extremely user-friendly.

Relevant software courses include End-to-End Software Development, Building Software, Software Systems Security, Java Path, Python Path, Cloud Computing and Machine Learning / Artificial Intelligence.


Founded in the UK, FutureLearn was one of Britain’s first online education providers. It offers a wide selection of British courses and also a number of universities in the US. Courses range from popular short courses through to micro-credential programs and certificates, and even full online degrees. It is unusual to be able to work towards a recognized and accredited degree from a fully online platform and this is what sets FutureLearn apart from many of its competitors.

The platform boasts more than 10m students and partners with over 175 universities from around the world.

Its courses are fully accredited and certificates are issued by the universities themselves rather than FutureLearn, meaning they carry a lot more weight.

FutureLearn uses a variety of learning tools from video content, audio tasks and reading articles through quizzes and assignments. There is a good selection of software related courses to choose from. Some examples include Software Development Fundamentals, Programming Language and HTML, Software Development with Java and Python and Collaborative Coding with Git.

LinkedIn Learning

One of the top providers of online learning courses, what makes LinkedIn Learning different is the sheer choice of courses on offer. With more than 16,000 available at any one time, more than 50 brand new courses are added to the platform each week and classes are uploaded constantly. 

Students can choose from learning by subject, to improve their experience in a particular skill set, or they can take a learning path which can help them transition into a completely new field.

The courses are easy to access and everyone receives a certificate of completion at the end of their course. Thanks to LinkedIn’s ubiquity, its courses are industry-recognized and are a great way to add to your existing skill set or even give you the option of choosing to take a completely different career path. 

If you are looking to switch to another career into software development, then LinkedIn Learning might be a good place to start. Relevant courses include Learning Python, Python Essential Training, SQL Essential Training and Blockchain Basics.

What are the essential skills for a software developer?

The tech industry is evolving constantly and so, implicit in the role as software developer, is the need to keep upgrading your knowledge and qualifications. Whether you are entry level or a seasoned professional, you will be required to make sure your career portfolio is up to date. 

The following list isn’t meant to be in any way comprehensive but gives a snapshot of the skills considered essential to be a successful software developer in 2021.

Cloud computing skills

Many businesses and organizations are currently shifting over to Cloud as it is more cost effective and offers greater capacity. Sooner or later as a software developer you are likely to have to work with cloud-native software applications as well as roles in data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence. 

Only Cloud can provide the power needed by these resource-hungry models, so it is recommended that you pick up working knowledge of AWS, GCP or Azure. Opinions vary on the best model to learn but AWS is generally considered to be the most popular and well-established.

DataCamp offers a course in Cloud Computing for Everyone, whilst edX offer training in AWS development. Pluralsight has a large selection of AWS related courses from beginner to professional level. Other providers of courses on AWS and Cloud are Udacity, FutureLearn, LinkedIn Learning, Alison, Simplilearn and Treehouse.

Data structure & algorithms

There is no getting away from the need to know about data structure and algorithms. Without knowledge in this area, it’s not possible to write a real-world software application. There are free algorithm courses easily available and most bootcamps teach the basics of data and algorithms.

Pluralsight have courses including Introduction to Algorithms and Algorithms and Data Structures, whilst Coursera runs training in Data Structure and Algorithms and Algorithms Part 1. LinkedIn Learning offers an Introduction to Data Structures and Algorithms in Java. You can also find great entry level courses on data structure and algorithms with DataCamp, edX and Udacity. Udemy provides a course on Algorithms and Data Structures in Python.

Source control

Source control is essential to be able to store code, so if you are looking to be a software developer or coder then you need to know version controls such as Git and SVN. More than 70% of organizations use Git and github open-source projects so knowledge in this area would be extremely pertinent for any resume. There are free entry level courses for Git and more detailed paid-for courses and qualifications so take your pick…

Introductory courses are offered by DataCamp, Treehouse, Pluralsight, Coursera, Edureka, Udemy, LinkedIn Learning and Code Academy with more complex training available via FutureLearn, Alison and Simplilearn.


To be able to say you are completely industry ready as a software developer, then a working knowledge of containers and tools such as Docker and Kubernetes is essential. 

Docker has been proven to help developers test software applications within a unified environment and helps to simplify the deployment process. Scalability can be an issue when it comes to expanding software applications and so awareness of containers such as Kubernetes is priceless as this tool scales up automatically. 

LinkedIn Learning has a number of courses in this area which include basic Learning Docker and Learning Kubernetes courses as well as Docker for Developers and Docker vs Kubernetes. Edureka provides a course in Docker Certification Training while Alison runs a Diploma in Development Operations Engineering – Kubernetes, Docker and Google Cloud. 

You can also choose from a Docker Certified Associate (DCA) Certification Training Course and a course as a Certified Kubernetes Administrator, both organized by Simplilearn. Treehouse’s offering is an Introduction to Docker course and Udemy runs a Docker and VS Code Master Class. Pluralsight has a number of Docker-related training courses.

Text editing

Anyone who wants to work with computers at whatever level has to be able to use a text editor. There are a number of choices, but NotePad is the most popular on Windows and there is also VIM on Linux and Sublime and NotePad++.

You can learn more about VIM with a simple LinkedIn Learning course such as Learning VIM or Introduction to VIM as well as Introduction to Linux and Learning Linux Command Line. Pluralsight offers an interestingly entitled ‘Smash into VIM’ course.

Integrated development environment (IDEs)

An IDE is a software application that combines common developer tools into a single entity. Another essential tool for the aspiring software engineer or coder. The choice of IDE is dependent upon which program you use, but the most popular ones include VS Code, Jupyter Notebook, Eclipse and IntelliJIDEA.

Udemy offers a Learn VS Code course and other providers of training on VS Code include LinkedIn Learning and Pluralsight.


As a software developer you need to be able to demonstrate an understanding of working with databases. You can’t create any kind of application without a database so knowledge in this area is useful.

SQL is considered to be the most popular. It’s been around for many years and looks set to stay, so this would be a good place to start with any database training. 

For pro database administrators, other databases include Oracle, PostgreSQL, Microsoft SQL Server and My SQL. You only need knowledge of one database, so it’s worth doing a bit of research to find which one is the most relevant for you.

Udemy offers a good beginner’s course Introduction to Databases which is free and other online training providers include FutureLearn, Pluralsight, Coursera and edX.

Operating system

Any software developer worth their salt should know the fundamentals and mechanisms of the operating system on which they work. Linux is the most well-known and has been around for more than 30 years.

Displaying a working knowledge of Linux is very useful for a programmer. It allows the operator to work effectively, search files and know exactly what is going on with the system and also means they can perform both basic and more advanced tasks.

There are a multitude of training courses in this area. Choose from Introduction to Linux from LinkedIn Learning, Linux Fundamentals Certification Training from Edureka, Unix/Linux and Shell Scripting Crash Course from Alison, though there are many more.

Computer networks

Most applications and programs are not stand-alone so will need to go through a network to a server where it can be accessed by clients anywhere in the world. In order to work in software design, you would need an understanding of how networks operate in order to develop and support your application or program.

Providers of training in this field include Udemy which offers a course in Complete Networking Fundamentals. Other training includes Bits and Bytes of Computer Networking from Coursera, Computer Networking from Udacity and Introduction to Networking from edX.


Before any software is released onto the market, it has to be thoroughly tested and pass a number of major milestones. Testing is a crucial step to finding any bugs or issues before it’s too late and to make sure that the software application or program is ready to go to market.

There are a number of testing methods but there are three main steps:

  • Unit testing: each module or class is tested individually
  • Integration testing: testing the interaction between modules or blocks
  • System testing: tests conducted on the complete and integrated software

Demonstrating a working knowledge of the testing process means you can offer the whole package as a developer, a real advantage when applying to take on any software project. It is also an area that you can pick up knowledge on relatively easily, so it is well worth adding to your portfolio of skills.

Alison offers both an Introduction to Software Testing and a Diploma in Software Testing whilst Simplilearn has a Masters Program in Automation Testing, CodeAcademy has a course called Learn Testing for Web Development and other providers of testing courses are CodeAcademy, DataCamp, Coursera and FutureLearning. LinkedIn Learning has training in Software Testing and Edureka offers a course in Software Fundamentals Testing.

What is the career path for a software developer?

An entry level position would be a junior developer. From here, you could progress to becoming a software developer with promotion to senior software developer. Executive positions for experienced software developers include lead developer, technical architect, and development team lead, software development manager with top positions including director, vice president and chief technical officer.

Where do software developers work?

Unlike many industries, software development is a rapidly expanding field so the number of job opportunities available is simply vast. Software is all-pervasive and is used within most industries so even though you could choose to specialize in a relatively narrow field of software, the choice of industries to work in is still wide and varied. 

Areas of particular growth are computer systems design and related services, the finance and insurance industries, software publishing, the manufacturing industry and the management of companies and enterprises.

What salary can you expect as a software developer?

Software development was recently declared the number 1 job in the US (this is according to a US News & World Report) with the Bureau of Labor predicting growth of 30% by 2026.

With the software industry being such a popular field in which to work, it is no surprise to learn that salaries can be very lucrative. As with all occupations, the level of salary is dependent on experience, knowledge and qualifications, but the average salary is generally considered to be very rewarding. 

The median salary for systems software developers in 2019 was $107,510 with the highest 10 per cent commanding in excess of $136,320. The lowest 10 per cent received in the region of $82,430.

Whether you are self-taught and are looking to launch a career in the software industry, or you already have a degree in software and are looking to make yourself industry-ready, there is no shortage of online training out there. The beauty of the training available to you is that it is easy to source for free and many courses can be fitted in around other commitments, so you can spend as little or as much time as you wish reaching your ultimate career goal.

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Anthony Cornell

Anthony Cornell is a freelance technology journalist. He reviews educational software and writes in-depth online course reviews from popular e-learning platforms. You can reach Anthony at anthony@learnacourseonline.com

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