Software Developer/Programmer

The Job and What's Involved

Software developers/programmers are responsible for designing, developing, testing and implementing software for their clients in order to improve business efficiency and productivity. They may also develop and improve existing programs by analysing and identifying areas for modification.

After initial briefing from a client a software developer will work closely with analysts, designers and commercial staff to discuss the problems and requirements. These will then be translated into detailed technical specifications for presentation to the client. Once agreement has been reached the developer will:

  • Either write the new programming code from scratch or adapt existing software to meet the requirements.
  • Develop user interfaces.
  • Carry out any necessary tests to the system to identify bugs in the software.
  • Ensure that staff and operators are familiar with the new or revised system.
  • Make sure that the work is fully documented.
  • Write operational documentation with technical authors.
  • Follow company standards for software development work.

Software developers usually work as part of a team of IT professionals. On small projects they may work on their own.

In recent years the role of a software developer has gradually evolved with changes in technology. Developers must be comfortable using new web-based technologies. Typically they will use Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) to help produce and visualise the syntax (grammar) of a range of modern programming languages (e.g. Java, .NET), although traditional programming languages such as C++ and Visual Basic (VB) are still used extensively. They must also become skilled at combining existing software products and getting incompatible platforms to work together.

Most projects now involve detailed interaction with databases to store and manage a wide variety of data. Most websites now combine databases and programming to produce effective systems, enabling them to be accessed remotely, or merging several databases into a more efficient system.

Software developers/programmers usually work normal office hours of between 37 and 40 hours a week. They may work extra hours to meet deadlines, including weekends and evenings.

They usually work in an open plan office. Some traveling may be required.

The average starting salary for a Software developer/programmer may be around £23,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The IT industry is rapidly expanding. Software developers/programmers are employed across all industry sectors, from finance and retail to engineering, transport and public organisations. Many sectors are undergoing widespread computerisation.

Jobs are available throughout the UK, with a higher concentration in the South East. There are also overseas opportunities. There is an increasing demand for people with relevant web-based programming skills.

Vacancies are advertised on company and recruitment websites and in trade publications, such as Computer Weekly and Computing. The local and national press also advertise positions.

Education and Training

Software developers are usually educated to degree level. It is essential to have relevant work experience which some people gain as part of a sandwich course. Another option is vocational training combined with professional certification such as Microsoft's Certified Solution Developer Programme.

There are qualifications at different levels which provide a good grounding in IT. These include:

NVQ's in IT at Levels 2 and 4.

BTEC National Diploma in computer studies or IT. Applicants need four GCSE's (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications. These courses normally last two years full time.

BTEC Higher National Diploma in computing. Applicants normally need one A level and four GCSE's (A*-C) or a BTEC National Certificate/Diploma. Courses can be full or part time or sometimes sandwich courses with one year of work experience.

Degrees in IT, computing, programming, software engineering and other relevant subjects. Applicants need at least two A levels or equivalent qualifications. Employers consider applicants from other academic degree courses such as computer science, maths and physics, as well as those with business and arts/humanities degrees who have a flair for problem solving in a logical manner.

The information technology management for business (ITMB) degree. This new degree has been designed by universities in partnership with businesses. The course combines business, project management, personal skills and technical skills. Details of the universities currently involved are to be found on the e-skills website.

Vendor training certifications such as Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) or Sun Certified Java Developer (SCJD).

Degree courses usually last three years full time or four years for sandwich courses. Applicants should check with individual universities for entry requirements. Access courses are available for people with no formal qualifications who want to study for a degree.

The Diploma in IT may be relevant for this area of work.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most training is on the job and includes in-house training courses and qualifications.

Professional bodies, such as the British Computer Society (BCS) offer a range of qualifications through the Information Systems Examination Board (ISEB) some of which can be studied online.

Courses are also available through private sector suppliers.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A software developer should:

  • Have excellent IT skills.
  • Be adaptable and able to pick up new IT packages and techniques quickly.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Be able to work on their own or in a team.
  • Be able to work to tight deadlines.
  • Be thorough and precise in their work.
  • Be able to pay attention to detail.
  • Have a logical and enquiring mind.

Your Long Term Prospects

It is possible to specialise in a technical hands-on role or move into team management. The career structure will vary from one organisation to another.

Experienced programmers can also use their business experience and knowledge to find work as IT consultants. They can move into lecturing, training, or become self-employed and work as contractors.

Get Further Information

British Computer Society (BCS),
1st Floor, Block D, North Star House,
North Star Avenue, Swindon,
Wiltshire SN2 1FA
Tel: 01793 417424
Websites: www.bcs.org/careers

e-skills UK,
1 Castle Lane, London SW1E 6DR
Tel: 020 7963 8920
Website: www.e-skills.com

Institute for the Management of Information Systems (IMIS),
5 Kingfisher House, New Mill House,
Orpington, Kent BR5 3QG
Tel: 0700 002 3456
Website: www.imis.org.uk

Institution of Analysts and Programmers,
Suite 307, Boundary House,
Boston Road, Hanwell,
London W7 2QE
Tel: 020 8567 2118
Website: www.iap.org.uk

The National Computing Centre (NCC),
Oxford House, Oxford Road,
Manchester M1 7ED
Tel: 0161 228 6333
Website: www.ncc.co.uk

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