While news and education institutions may go on and on about the massive demand for software engineers and the enormous salaries, it may seem too good to be true. So what are the challenges around getting a career in software engineering?
It’s so hard to get a software engineering job because it requires qualifications and skills that go beyond getting a degree. The disconnect between employers and employees means it isn’t easy to know what skills to learn for the future and the dynamic nature of software engineering.
We’ll look at these factors in detail and consider some strategies to maximize your chances of getting an excellent software engineering job. We’ll also consider some common obstacles and misconceptions that you should avoid to get the best job you can find. Let’s get started, shall we?
What Are the Barriers to Software Engineering Careers?
The difficulties involved in getting a software engineering job are numerous. These include internal and external factors, and identifying the factors you can control or change are essential to give yourself the best chance of getting that dream job.
The barriers to software engineering careers are economic issues, lack of practice, unique interview processes, and the many topics that software engineering can cover. You’ll need to stand out from the pack and specialize in a specific area so that employers will hire you.
We’ll look at each of these factors and see why they can cause issues with getting a job in software engineering, as well as how to get around these barriers.
Supply and Demand Affects Job Prospects
Job markets are affected by supply and demand like any other market. While you may hear rumors or information that software engineering is an in-demand role, you are not getting the whole picture without considering the supply side of the equation.
The demand for these roles is high because of employer needs, but the last few years have seen an explosion in the numbers of software engineering graduates. This means that employers have a better choice and are more likely to pick experienced people over fresh graduates.
The amount of software engineering qualifications and related courses has risen exponentially in recent years. However, just because a university or college offers a course, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the career or qualification is wanted in the marketplace.
Indeed, the recent meteoric rise of the technology sector has left many businesses and educators scrambling to catch up. This has been common in many industries over the past few decades, including nanotechnology.
The breakthrough in technology creates a new career, but the product may not yet exist or depend on future yet unrealized technologies. This results in higher education trying to guess the direction that software engineering will take and create courses based on this. In the end, the statement that software engineers are in high demand has some hidden assumptions and unspoken aspects.
For example, experienced software engineers with project management experience and leadership qualities are in high demand.
Junior, trainee, or fresh graduates are unlikely to command the same amount of attention as a 30-year veteran who has been the CTO at many technology firms. This is further compounded by the need for software engineers in new or emerging fields.
These new positions are in novel areas such as blockchain software development, security, or data science.
Existing experienced engineers may not have the necessary skills to excel in this area.
These can be ripe for software engineers seeking a job to specialize in these new areas and establish themselves in a less saturated job sector.
Standing Out From the Pack
You may end up graduating with a software engineering degree, but it’s not in a common field, or you know nothing about the latest areas and trends. This makes you seem less desirable to hire as you don’t have the relevant knowledge or experience that your potential employer is looking for.
While there may be massive demand for software engineering broadly in the market, what is actually in demand is a skill set that you may not have.
To stand out from the crowd, you need to:
- Market yourself.
- Show that you have the skills, experience, and ability to perform in the role to get picked over the next person.
Part of this will come down to building up your resume with relevant projects, skills, and qualifications. At a minimum, you will want to mention your proficiency in coding languages, your education journey, previous employment in the field, and any leadership experience.
More than many other fields, talk is cheap in software engineering, and you want to have solid proof of your accomplishments.
Resumes alone can be skimmed or ignored, but projects will stand out.
Interview Process Is Unique and Challenging
Interviews for software engineering positions are going to require some demonstration of your technical abilities and knowledge. Generally referred to as a whiteboard interview, they will be a timed problem-solving technique usually revolving around technical and non-technical skill demonstration.
The practicalities involving computers meant that when technical interviews were conducted with engineers in the late 20th-century, it was impossible to bring a computer with you.
Demonstration of knowledge was done via the tried and trusted pen and paper route.
The move to whiteboards meant that solutions were easier to see and allowed collaboration, great for an interview process that requires an interviewer to see and talk about the issue that the job seeker is being asked to solve.
It also has the benefit of avoiding asking someone to code in a particular language to be assessed on.
The choices are:
- The interviewer sets the coding language.
- The interviewee instead sets the language.
- There is a commonly agreed-upon coding language enforced.
Option one isn’t great as the interviewee may not be familiar with the language if it is niche. The second option means the interviewer may have no idea about the language you want to use.
The third option may seem reasonable on the surface.
Still, specific languages are used for industries, tasks, or otherwise because they suit that application. So it’s hard to say what a common language would be for software engineers given the wide variety of roles the job encompasses.
This means that the interview itself is unique and challenging, which can be a barrier for many people who have the right qualifications to get the job.
However, to overcome this, you need to realize that this test is not what you will be doing in the job.
These interviews should test your ability to think, not produce a sample code or working program. It should demonstrate how the candidate thinks, how they respond to critiques, and the path to get to something resembling an answer.
If you’re finding that there are many rounds of interviews and hours of work producing projects to be assessed on without a job offer, it may be a good idea to try elsewhere. A technical interview also doesn’t highlight one of the most important aspects, which is your ability to learn and adapt to new systems.
To overcome this hurdle, you need to:
- Attempt these problems through workshops and coding boot camps with recruiters who can give you feedback.
- Be aware of how these tests are being used to understand your abilities.
- Practice your troubleshooting skills in the same type of environment. This is a timed test typically between 30 minutes to an hour to answer questions about data structures, algorithms, and writing functions, mainly if you are a new or junior developer.
One final set of hurdles that seems to have become more popular recently is the sheer number of interviews that a company wants you to go through. This is thought to have sprung from the realization that a trial and error approach to finding engineers is much too costly.
This has resulted in the hiring process becoming more in-depth, more extended, and technically challenging. While the intentions behind this may be good, it merely serves to frustrate candidates and is not even proven to get you the best fit for the job. This is compounded as you move into more significant enterprises, as many stakeholders have to give a candidate the green tick of approval.
This may be the human resources staff, middle and executive management, technical officers, and a whole cast of others.
While not particularly a problem just in software engineering, the requirements to be technically proficient and have the soft skills to navigate this process means many can’t get their dream job.
This is shown by the various solutions offered to try and bridge this gap between an interviewer, the candidate, and the role itself. Interviewing is a skill and requires that the interviewers know what their company needs and how to spot it amongst a sea of candidates.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case, so you can’t depend on an interviewer to see your particular skills and attributes.
You have to make it so obvious they can’t ignore you.
Software Engineering Is a Big Field
One of the many definitions of software engineering states that it is the “management of the entire process of development of computer systems to solve problems.”
The other aspect of software engineering is the “developing [of] applications, features, and functionality for end-users.”
When the phrase “software engineering is in high demand” is uttered, it needs to be considered that specific skill sets are in huge demand and others not so much. It’s mistaken to think that any software engineering qualification is a guarantee of a job.
Software engineers are needed for any industry that uses the software. This is such a broad field that you will find software engineers working in all kinds of roles and industries.
There is inherently an opportunity cost if you specialize too much.
You won’t be considered for roles you are perceived to be unfamiliar with. However, if you are too generalist, you may find that you don’t appeal to anybody.
The analogy would be similar to when considering hiring other experts.
- Do you want to call just any doctor to deal with your hormone levels? Probably not.
- Do you want to call every lawyer to help with your corporate filings? Probably not.
The same is true of software engineering. Specialization and competence in narrow or practical fields can be one way to distinguish yourself.
Picking what to specialize in is not easy because the study and experience-gaining portion of your education will take years. By the time you’re an expert, the industry has completely changed and morphed into something new.
You’ll also need project management experience, strong analytical skills, and soft skills. As a software engineer, you will be presented with a problem to solve, and the answer will not be immediately apparent.
You need to develop problem-solving skills and leadership to get the project up and running.
This means you want broad, analytical thinking skills to deal with a large variety of problems, as well as soft skills like people management and communication to help get your point across.
If you can’t get the correct information out of stakeholders or communicate your ideas, then your projects will not be very successful or fit for purpose.
It is hard to get a software engineering job due to the following factors:
- Supply and demand in the job market mean competition is high, and not all software engineers are the same.
- A mismatch of skills taught in higher education but a different reality to the workplace.
- An interview process can be technically demanding, but irrelevant to the role.
- The broadness of the software field,
These factors overlap, but you need to be well-versed in soft engineering skills, have a talent stack that appeals to employers and their needs, and specialize in fields that are sought by employers.