What is a software developer and what do they do?

If you’re an inventive, tech-savvy person with a knack for solving problems, then a career in software development could be the perfect fit. But what does this job look like?

A group of people brainstorming a software application concept

Without software developers, we couldn’t perform a lot of the tasks we do every day, from booking a doctor’s appointment online to completing a bank transfer. They’re the invisible creators who make our favourite websites, mobile apps and programs possible.

Given everything you can achieve, software development can be a very exciting field to get into. Let’s find out if it’s the right path for you.

What is a software developer, exactly?

Software developers design the computer programs that we rely on. They do this by writing computer code in different programming languages. They then test the software that they’ve developed for issues, release it for use, and update it based on user feedback.   

Software development specialties 

Most software developers will specialise in one or two areas, such as:

  • Web development – where you work exclusively on building websites. Web developers tend to focus on front-end development (the visual part of a website that users see), back-end development (the structural part of a website that users can’t see), or full-stack development (which covers both). 
  • Desktop development – where you work exclusively on desktop applications that don’t require an internet connection. You’re usually an expert in one operating system, Windows, macOS or Linux. 
  • Mobile development – where you build apps for smartphones, tablets and smartwatches. You will usually further specialise in either iOS or Android development.
  • Database development – where you develop and maintain complex database systems so that businesses can organise their information.
  • Cloud development – where you build applications designed to run only in a web-based environment. An example of a cloud computing application is Dropbox. 

Where do software developers work?

Software developers are needed in just about every industry, so they have the freedom to work in a setting that interests them.  

Some prefer to work with start-ups or as independent contractors, helping clients develop new websites and apps. Others work in the engineering departments of large corporations that have constant, complex software design needs. In Australia, most software developers are employed by the tech, science, finance and insurance, telecommunications and manufacturing sectors.  

The good news is that job opportunities grow every year. The Australian Government predicts that 42,000 new software and applications programmers will be needed by 2026, just to keep up with our technology needs. So if you’re looking for a field that offers job security, room to move, and the flexibility to strike out on your own, software development is a great choice. 

What does a software developer do day-to-day?

Software developers do different things depending on where they work and what their speciality is. But in this role, you can generally expect to:

  • Discuss software development project requirements with business clients and other developers
  • Plan, design, test and deploy new programs and applications 
  • Write and modify code to improve existing software
  • Monitor programs and applications for bugs and issues 
  • Release software updates that resolve those bugs and issues

What skills do you need to be a software developer?

There’s no doubt software development is a collaborative field, so you’ll need a combination of technical and personal skills to really thrive in the role. Here are just a few of the skills you should gain before entering the industry. 

Technical software developer skills to learn

Programming languages

Since you’ll spend most of your time reading and writing computer code, you’ll be expected to know at least one of the main programming languages, such as: 

  • Python
  • JavaScript
  • Java
  • C#
  • Structured Query Language (SQL) 
  • HyperText markup language (HTML)

You can study an individual programming language through a short course, though you’ll cover all the essential ones in a computer science degree. Remember that different types of developers rely on different programming languages, so it’s worth researching what your dream role uses before choosing a course.  

Data structures and algorithms 

As a programmer, you must know how to organise and retrieve data efficiently, using data structures and algorithms. It’s best to learn about these concepts after you learn how to code. You may find them easier to grasp if you have an aptitude for maths. 

Source control management

Software developers are part of teams that continuously write code. It’s important that you know how to track any updates and changes you make to that code, so you can fix a mistake if something goes wrong. You’ll do this through a source control management program like Git or GitHub. Try to study a course that teaches you how to use one of these industry standard tools.

Text editing programs

Developers use text editing programs to create and edit their code. You should become an expert in one of the more common text editors, like Sublime Text, Atom or Notepad++, to show employers you mean business.  

Other areas to learn about: Databases, testing and debugging methods, computer networking basics, encryption and cryptography, and the software development lifecycle. 

Interpersonal software developer skills to learn

Collaboration 

While software development involves plenty of solo work, you’ll need to team up with other developers, UX experts, content experts and more to get your projects done. You’ll also work with people who aren’t as well-versed in technology, like clients requesting your help. If you know how to cooperate with different groups and respond to feedback in an even-handed way, you’ll find it easier to get ahead. 

Communication 

Software developers need management to approve their suggestions before they can get to work. You should learn how to articulate technical concepts in simple terms, both in person and via email, so you can sell in your ideas. 

Attention to detail

A big part of your role will involve combing through code and figuring out where things have gone wrong. Start paying attention to the little things now so you have the patience to find and resolve problems.  

A thirst to learn

The best software developers know their education doesn’t stop after they graduate! They’re willing to upskill and stay on top of constant changes in the technology world. They also don’t get lost trying to fix everything on their own, but ask questions and request help from their teammates.   

What should you study to become a software developer?

Most employers will hire you as a graduate software developer if you have a bachelor degree in computer science, software engineering or information technology.  

But you don’t always need a long software development qualification to get into the industry. Students with a prior degree or work experience may find it faster to take a postgraduate bootcamp course. The Graduate Certificate of Programming and Development with Swinburne University, for example, covers the most essential industry skills, including programming languages and the software development lifecycle.  

Some employers are even willing to accept candidates from a non-STEM related background because they will train you on the job. Check out the opportunities listed on SEEK and LinkedIn to see what’s realistic. 

What is the average software developer salary?

There are different factors that influence a software developer’s salary, like the size of their employer, the field they specialise in, and their level of experience. 

Here’s a general guide that was correct as of October 2022. You can check PayScale for the most up-to-date figures. 

Level of experience   Average salary
Junior software developer
1-4 years’ experience
$59,000 to $68,000 per year
Intermediate software developer
5-9 years’ experience
$84,000 per year
Senior software developer
10+ years’ experience
$98,000 to $111,000 per year

With thousands of software developer roles currently advertised across Australia, the possibilities for your career are exciting—and seemingly endless. You could work anywhere from a tech start-up to the local space sector, on projects that let your imagination fly. All you have to do is take the first step. 


Does this sound like the career for you? Compare software development courses that you can study online with leading universities.