Software development is the area of computer science focused on designing, building, implementing, and supporting computer software. Software is what enables systems and applications to operate and perform tasks, which means that software development is an essential role in the technology sector and other digital industries.
According to IBM, software development is typically done by programmers, software engineers, and software developers, with plenty of interaction and overlap between these roles.
Programmers, often referred to as coders, write code and typically receive instructions from software developers and engineers.
Software developers are more actively involved than programmers in steering software development. While they may assist in writing code, they can also assist in turning requirements into features, managing development processes, and testing and maintaining developed software.
Software engineers are solutions-focused and apply scientific engineering principles to build software and systems that solve problems.
It’s worth noting, however, that the essential skills needed for successful software development remain constant regardless of who is doing the development work. So whether a person is a programmer, software developer, or software engineer, they will still need to develop a number of important technical and interpersonal abilities.
Technical knowledge needed for software development
Software development links to several important areas of computer science, so it’s important that software developers have technical skills or knowledge in these core areas.
Computer programming skills and coding are among the most vital for software development, because they are what allow developers to write the source code for software. Software development typically requires knowledge in programming languages or coding languages such as:
Programmers aren’t expected to know all programming languages, but should definitely specialise in a few of them.
Operating system software controls computer hardware, and enables things such as applications and programmes to run. The most commonly used operating systems include:
Operating systems on mobile devices, meanwhile, are typically either iOS or Android.
Also known as source control or source control management (SCM), version control ensures that code revisions during software development – both front-end and back-end development, as well as other types of development work, such as web development – are tracked. This means that multiple developers can work on a project simultaneously, and that changes can be shared, merged, or rolled back as needed.
The most commonly used version control system is Git, a free and open-source tool used to manage and track source code history. Git repositories can be managed through cloud-based hosting services such as GitHub, GitLab, and Apache Subversion (SVN).
Algorithms and data structures
Software is often optimised through algorithms and data structures. Data structures provide organisational frameworks for storing information, and algorithms are commonly used to sort data. Together, they can ensure software performs efficiently and effectively.
Software development will inevitably require interaction with an organisation’s database, which means software developers must be able to insert, alter, update, delete, secure, and retrieve data from within a database. This typically requires familiarity with structured query language (SQL) databases, such as MySQL or Oracle.
Integrated development environments (IDEs)
An integrated development environment, or IDE, is a user-friendly environment for software development. An IDE typically includes a source code editor, debug tool, and compiler, among other useful tools. Popular examples include Eclipse and Visual Studio.
Knowing how to use development containers, such as Docker, is becoming one of the fundamentals among software engineer skills. Containers package up software code and all dependencies so that the application can be deployed efficiently and reliably.
Current and emerging tech trends
As technology continues to rapidly evolve, so too must software engineers and developers. There are a number of growing areas within software development, such as the following.
- Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning: AI and machine learning have grown significantly in the past decade, and this trend is expected to continue as organisations and businesses continue to expand their use in areas such as automation and personalisation.
- Cloud computing: Cloud-based platforms offer computer resources – particularly data storage – remotely. Commonly used cloud platforms include Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure.
- Blockchain: Blockchain is the technology that supports cryptocurrencies, but its applications across all sectors and industries are virtually limitless.
Interpersonal skills needed for software development
There are several non-technical but still essential software developer skills. These interpersonal skills can help ensure that business requirements are clearly understood and met, that project management runs smoothly and seamlessly, and that issues are quickly identified and resolved.
Professional software development is rarely, if ever, done in true isolation. The development process usually requires a development team to support everything from initial design ideas to testing and maintaining the software. Team members may be called upon to collaborate together, so it’s important that developers understand how to interact respectfully and productively with one another, with a focus on cooperation and problem-solving.
Communication skills are among the most important interpersonal abilities or soft skills a software developer needs. Good communication ensures that requirements are fully understood, and that challenges can be clearly articulated and addressed. This is particularly important in fields such as software development, where ideas and information are often complex, and clear feedback is required at most stages of the process.
Attention to detail
A software development project typically has several moving pieces, so it’s important that software engineers and developers can keep a close eye on small details that could create large issues if not addressed early on.
Start your career in software development
Deepen your understanding of software development as well as computer science more widely with the 100% online MSc Computer Science from the University of York. This Masters degree includes a module in software engineering, allowing you to focus on designing and building software systems. You will look at principles and patterns in software design, where to apply them, and how they inform design choices, and learn techniques for ensuring the systems you build behave correctly.
You will also study other key areas required for software development, such as advanced programming, computer architecture and operating systems, algorithms and data structures, and artificial intelligence and machine learning.
This flexible degree has been designed for working professionals and graduates who may not currently have a computer science background but want to launch a career in the cutting-edge field. You can learn part-time around your current work and home commitments, and because the degree is taught exclusively online, you can study whenever and wherever you want.