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Is Software Engineering Saturated? Still Worth Studying?

Software Engineering Origins

It is widely held that software engineering was named and defined as a discipline by mathematician Margaret Hamilton. She first coined the term back in 1965. Who is Margaret Hamilton? She served as the scientist and principal programmer for the earliest Apollo space program. Yes, software engineering was pioneered by a woman over 50 years ago to take humans to the moon and back for the first time. No small feat, right?

Margaret Hamilton and her software engineering made Apollo navigation systems work then, and software makes nearly everything we touch work today. As a result, the software engineering field has rocketed as a career option with the rise of computing in every facet of life. Software development and engineering job opportunities show no sign of slowing down.

Definition and Characteristics

Since the earliest days of software engineering, we’ve all come to take the term for granted and it is used broadly. But just what is software engineering, by today’s definition? How does it differ from programming and coding?

Let’s first turn to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) as a formal reference:

"The systematic application of scientific and technological knowledge, methods, and experience to the design, implementation, testing, and documentation of software"

Key points? Systematic (meaning encompassing a broad scope and repeatable). Scientific, requiring a specific mindset and learned methodology. Breadth: Software engineering covers the entire spectrum of software production from design through testing strategies and documentation. This gives us our first set of hints at how software engineering differs from programming and coding.

With software development, or coding, the focus is on implementation and often testing, for the most part. Programming and coding work is more focused than software engineering, and more typically done as a solitary effort. In career terms, software engineering generally requires a deeper set of skills, and is often a more senior and highly-compensated position.


Salary information across related roles reveals the difference. Average software engineer salaries, according to Glassdoor (where software engineering salaries are broken out separately), are about 20% higher than that of individual programmers or developers. This is due to broader responsibilities, typical degree of education, and required skills-sets. For an authoritative and broader review of statistics on work in a range of software disciplines we suggest consulting the US Bureau of Labor Statistics as well.

Most software engineers start their IT careers as developers or coders, emphasizing the value of learning to code for anyone attracted to the software engineering profession. If you are new on the path to software engineering, perhaps thinking about learning coding as a start, you'll be in good company and on the right track.

No matter the source of information, do some digging and it is clear that demand in the field is high and that's clearly reflected in pay.

Supply and Demand

There are over 100,000 open software engineering jobs listed in the US on Glassdoor as this post is written. For comparison, there are about 12,000 open jobs for senior accountants. And the number for software engineering doesn’t even include other related software development positions. When they’re included, the number pushes past 1,000,000.

Clearly, demand is high and continues to grow. Yet, in some circles you may hear talk of a surplus of software engineering talent, given the huge numbers of people pursuing the career through college, bootcamps, and self-study. There’s a likely explanation. Since software engineering is a relatively new category of work, even today, it is often not clearly defined. It is often blurred with computer science, computer programming, software development, and coding, among others.

Unlike those related but different positions, software engineering jobs are less likely to be outsourced, or “commodified.” That is, the demands of software engineering positions are often closely bound to the mission and operations of critical business functions and whole organizations. And well-qualified applicants are simply harder to find. So the job outlook remains strong.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that “...employment of software developers is projected to grow 22 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.” Though they don’t include the term software engineering specifically, they do call out many of the jobs within and related to the field. Certainly, the demand outlook for software developers and software engineers is plentiful, and projections reflect that.

So, is Software Engineering Still Worth Studying?

We’re pretty sure you’d agree that the demand and the historic growth for software engineers and developers indicates a field of study worth pursuing now. And you don’t have to worry much about employment “dips”, as is the case for many other fields. Since statistics have been tracked, there has not been a dip in demand for software engineers and other related professionals. Other jobs simply can not make the same claim. Once you decide it is worth it, there is only the question of how to get started. Whether that is through free online options, a bootcamp program, college degree, or some combination of them, there is a high-growth market for software engineers waiting for you to tap in and build a great career.

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This post was written by contributor Marc Tramonte.

Marc Tramonte Marc Tramonte Contributing Author