Software Engineer Career Path: What You Need to Know

There are a lot of reasons to love a career in software engineering. The pay is great, the job is in-demand, and the opportunities are boundless. However, the branching career path is what attracts many to a job like this. 

So, what about the software engineer career path makes it attractive? Keep reading to learn more about what you need to know regarding this unique job. 

Related: The Rise of Social Media Tech Jobs

Three Central Options

While many options are available for someone interested in software engineering, each of these options boils down to three central pathways. These are a career as an individual contributor, a management role, and the world of freelance and contract work.

Individual Contributor

The most basic career path in software engineering is a job as an individual contributor. This is where almost everyone starts when they enter this field and is what most people think of when they think of the average software engineer. Becoming a software engineer often starts here. 

An individual contributor works as a software engineer for a company. They do what the company needs them to do, which will vary from company to company. 

People in these positions often start out as junior engineers. In this role, they will have minimal responsibilities. They will typically be placed directly underneath a more senior engineer. 

Moving beyond being a junior engineer means moving to the role of a regular engineer. Here, the person will work a typical software engineering job. 

From this position, they can move on to become a senior engineer. This is someone within a company’s structure who has worked as a software engineer for a while. Because of this, they have the company’s trust and, thus, take on additional responsibilities and harder jobs. They may also take on a slightly advisory role and may help mentor junior engineers. 

Salary ranges in this pathway vary depending on the engineer’s experience level. At the lower end, one can expect to make around $100,000 per year, while at the higher end, one can expect to make around $145,000 per year. 

Interested in starting the path to becoming a software engineer but aren’t sure if a bootcamp is right for you? Attend an info session with Sabio and get all the information you need to make a decision.


Those who are able to prove themselves as individual contributors have the option to move onto the management pathway. This is typically only an option for engineers with refined technical and managerial skills. 

Most people in management end up as team leaders of some sort. In this position, they help manage a team of software engineers. They will be responsible for ensuring that the team finishes their required tasks and jobs. This means keeping everyone on task and using interpersonal skills to ensure everyone cooperates well. It also means double-checking any work that needs editing and performing other higher-level/managerial tasks. 

At the higher level of the management pathway is an executive position. For example, some companies open a position for software engineers as vice-president of engineering. An executive position like this requires a lot of experience and comes with a ton of responsibility. They will need to work with the company’s higher-ups on making important decisions and bringing their expertise to this process. 

The management career pathway requires more from workers than the individual contributor pathway. However, it also pays more. Team leaders can expect to make over $200,000 annually, while executives can expect to make over $250,000 annually. The exact number will vary depending on the company's size and the worker's position.

Freelance and Contract Work

Sometimes, workers who have proved themselves in other parts of the software engineering world will enter the world of freelancing. They will quit their job at their company and start working for themselves instead. To do so, they will reach out to clients or set up a way for potential clients to reach out to them. Then, they will do jobs for these clients on a case-by-case basis. 

The career progression for a freelance worker is very different than it is for other workers. Freelancers don’t move up in the company because they are the only person in their company. Instead, they build a reputation. This reputation allows them to gain more clients or to charge more for their services. An experienced freelancer with a good reputation may be able to easily obtain a client who pays as much as several clients would for a newer freelancer. 

Because of this, a freelance software engineer’s salary is hard to determine. On the lower end, they may make less than a junior engineer. On the higher end, they may make as much as someone on the management pathway. It all depends on how good the freelancer’s reputation is. 

In addition, some people choose to freelance as a side gig. This is a great way to earn a little extra money using some valuable skills. 

Related: Top Companies For Individuals Starting Out In Tech

Common Careers in Software Engineering

Now that we’ve looked at the main pathways in software engineering, we can look at a few of the most common jobs. 

The most popular jobs for a software engineer involve working on websites or web-based applications. Front-end engineers, back-end engineers, and full-stack engineers are always in need. Each of these jobs involves working on a different part of a website. The average pay for these jobs ranges but tends to be around $120,000 per year. 

Another typical job is a quality assurance engineer or a QA engineer. People in this position are responsible for examining software for bugs and other issues. The pay for this job is lower than some others and averages around $85,000. 

Data engineers are becoming more critical as data becomes increasingly important in the tech world. Data engineers are responsible for organizing and interpreting data. Essentially, they are the intermediary who translates a seemingly chaotic string of data into actionable information. Salaries for careers like this average around $110,000 per year. 

While these are some of the most common software engineering positions, there are other choices too. You can become a mobile developer, a cloud engineer, a DevOps engineer, and more. Make sure to take a good look at the whole industry to find something that you like.

Looking for a coding bootcamp that can give your career the boost you need? Learn more and apply for our program that will train you in full-stack engineering.

Picking a Software Engineer Career Path

With software engineering, you can work for a company, take a management position, and even freelance. You can also find many different and intriguing jobs within each pathway. With all of this knowledge in mind, you are ready to pick your own pathway. 

Related: Software Developer vs. Software Engineer?

Posts you might like