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Software Engineering

You can have it all

By Robert Kallick

software engineering


If you're soon to graduate as a software engineer, we have good news for you. Even in our rocky economic times, the future continues to look bright for those in the field. And there is no shortage of job opportunities coming your way.

"We have (software engineering) alums employed in everything from the circus to NASA," says Professor Linda Ott, chair of the Department of Computer Science at Michigan Technological University, when asked what you can do these days with a degree in software engineering.

"The interesting thing about software engineering is that graduates can work in so many different fields. Software engineering is part of virtually every industry.

"Obviously, there are commonalities," she says, "but if you are a software engineer working for an organization that develops software, you'll be working with other software engineers and be specialized - in testing, quality assurance, etc. But if you're a software engineer working in a start-up business, you could be developing software yourself from the ground up, as well as answering the phones and developing a marketing strategy."

And Ott continues with the good news: "Right now the career outlook is excellent. Our graduates don't have trouble finding jobs. In fact, because of the economic squeeze, people are trying to automate. They do that with software, and that demands software engineers."

Your Future Looks Bright

Sounds pretty good, right? And if you're about to graduate into this booming field of software engineering, you should know you have something in common with your new area of expertise.

Both you and your field of study are still pretty young. Even though the phrase "software engineering" was occasionally used as early as the late 1950s, it wasn't until the 1968 NATO Software Engineering Conference that it became popular.

Today computer software engineers are one of the occupations projected to grow the fastest and add the most new jobs over the 2006-2016 decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, employment of computer software engineers is projected to increase by 38% over the 2006-2016 period, which is far faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is thanks to our increasing dependence on new technologies, as well as business's increasing desire to intragrate more technologies to streamline the efficiency of their computer systems. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for computer software engineers will also increase as computer networking continues to grow.

Lucky for you, all this growth and demand leads to improving salaries, as well. According to Robert Half Technology, starting salaries for software engineers in software development ranged from $66,500-$99,750 in 2007. For network engineers, starting salaries ranged from $65,750-$90,250.

How Are Things Changing?

Greg Smith, chief technology officer at George Fox University says that the field of computer software is in flux. At George Fox University they have modified their computer software program to add an Information Systems curriculum. They have also recently launched a new Center for Mobile Computing, which will focus on developing applications for mobile devices with emphasis on Apple's iPod Touch and iPhone. Several corporate partners, including Oracle and Apple, are supporting the center's work in an effort to help the university leverage the computing innovations they provide.

"This center represents the university's commitment to using technology to enhance our learning community and to provide new opportunities for students to gain real-world experience in the mobile computing market," says Robin Baker, the school's president.

One of the center's first projects will be the migration of its existing iPhone portal to Oracle's PeopleSoft system, which will allow students, faculty, and staff the ability to access the university's network for grades, reports, and other data using their cell phones. The Apple connection comes as a natural outcome of the university's transition to an all-Apple campus - promoting iPhones and the iPod Touch for enhanced communication and learning.

A new curriculum also has been developed by the university's Computer and Information Science program to aid the center. Brian McLaughlin, author of Groundspeak's Geocaching application for the iPhone, will be the center's lead application developer. McLaughlin will collaborate with CIS students to move projects through alpha and beta development to the end user - providing students with real-world experience in application development and delivery.

The university believes the center will offer new and valuable opportunities for CIS graduates and presents opportunities for the school's engineering and business students to collaborate on mobile computing projects designed for the marketplace.

Now's the Time

With a changing economic climate and a changing professional landscape, now is a great time to be launching your software engineering career.

As you navigate your career, remember to always communicate with your higher-ups - something that those in engineering are often notoriously noted for avoiding.

Keep in mind that your generation is part of a new crop of students trained in actual degree programs for software engineering, which is something relatively new. In fact, according to the Association for Computing Machinery, "most people who now function in the U.S. as serious software engineers have degrees in computer science, not in software engineering."

Due to it's relative newness as a field of study, formal education in software engineering was often taught as part of a computer science curriculum, and as a result many software engineers working in the field hold computer science degrees. Therefore, there may be a bit of a gap between you and your coworkers and bosses, but communication goes far in dealing with this issue. And it's helpful to recognize that a degree is just one way of learning about software engineering; on the job training is also key.

Robert Kallick is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles.

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