If you’re wondering this, you’re in good company. This is something we get asked a lot, also in the form of ‘How hard is software engineering?’ And we’re not going to lie, it’s not easy. It’s a skill. Is it hard to learn to play an instrument? Is it hard to master a new spoken language? The honest answer for every question is: yes.
But is prepping yourself for a software engineer career worth it? The answer to this is also an emphatic yes4 Solid Reasons to Switch to Tech.
So let’s get into the quirks you might encounter in software engineering as well as how you can overcome them.
What is software engineering?
This term can be remarkably slippery. To make sure we’re all on the same page, here’s the definition we think is broad enough to be encompassing without being too vague:
Software engineering is a generative discipline focused on designing, developing, and maintaining the code that underpins computer systems. It applies programming languages to solve problems within both the digital and the physical realm.
Okay, so what makes it hard?
Why is software engineering difficult? Well, there are a few reasons. Here’re a few things that can be challenging — and tips for how you can overcome them. Keep in mind: none of these challenges are insurmountable.You got this!
This is our first entry for a reason — software is inherently complex. Think about it: you’re writing instructions for a computer to follow. They have to be didactic, exact, and unambiguous. The computer interpreting your code will never think, “Oh, this line of code probably means…” In addition, as you code, you also need to keep in mind all the other components, interactions, and dependencies present.
Then, you often find yourself bridging a few different languages and methodologies that approach problems in their own unique ways. Wrangling software is the first thing a software developer needs to learn.
How to overcome complexity:
- Reach out to experts in the field
There are tons of organizations for people who want to get into tech. You can follow the example of Linda KovacsReigniting a Career: Linda Kovacs’s TripleTen Story, who connected with Women Who Code, an international non-profit supporting women who want to break into tech. Through them, she found out about a program that helped her dive into the field and learn software engineering.
You had to see this coming. The best way to get a handle on the intricacies of code is to, well, learn how to code. Now, there are several ways of going about this. You can get a college degree in computer science, use online resources, or, as we highly (and humbly) recommend, you could also join a coding bootcamp.
- Get hands-on experience
The march of tech
Every field advances. Just consider publishing. We went from writing out books by hand to using the printing press to then producing books on a massive, industrial scale. The only thing is that, for publishing, this was a journey of around half a millennium. For tech, a similar chain of advancement has occurred in roughly a fifth of that time (or less, depending on how you measure).
In tech, things are constantly changing and advancing. This means that, as a field, it is rarely consistent year over year. The tasks you are expected to do will change — maybe you were a web developer and now you’re being asked to take part in a machine learning project. The dynamism can be disorienting for some people.
How to stay up-to-date:
- Join professional communities
Whether online or in-person, stay active in the tech communities that interest you. Curious about machine learning? There are people just like you. If you check in with the community, you might find some new piece of tech that someone is applying in novel ways, and this might spur you to start seeing what it can do. Before you know it, you’ve figured it out and can start using it in your day-to-day work.
- Stay curious
The constant advancement of software engineering is a challenge, sure, but it’s also exciting. There’s always something new coming out, so if you practice a mindset of openness and curiosity, you can find yourself growing naturally as a result of your genuine interest. You can foster this sort of receptiveness by subscribing to software engineering YouTube channelsTripleTen Approved: Best YouTube Channels for Software Engineering Students, for example.
- Collaborate with diverse specialists
Within software development, it’s rare that a coder works entirely alone. In fact, diverse teams come together for complex projects. That means that you will work with people from different functions who have new perspectives and insights into tech that you might not encounter in your usual day-to-day work. Take advantage of these interactions to discover what exciting developments are happening in tech at large, not just within your specific field.
The need to constantly learn
Software engineers need to stay abreast of the latest tech, approaches, best practices, and emerging languages. They must regularly brush up on their technical skills.
Think of it this way: an author can rest on their laurels writing a book in just one language. They won’t have to suddenly learn to write their next novel in Esperanto. But software developers might be asked to shift between languages depending on the demands of the project.
How to pursue continuous learning:
- Find your niche
Find what excites you, and you’ll pursue new knowledge in that field as a matter of course. If you realize that you enjoy working on the front endAll about Front End: What is It, How It Works, and Why It Worth Your Time, you might find yourself drawn to new knowledge on design. If you’re curious about AI and machine learning, you might end up checking out onlineWhy Learning PySpark Will Make You a Highly Paid Specialist resourcesLearn to Train AI with Scikit-learn on what you can add to your Python knowledge. Yes, you’re going to need to keep growing as a software developer, but if you find a subject that moves you, continuous learning will happen naturally.
- Participate in local and online events
Join local meetups where people share tips, updates, and things they’re excited about, or tune in to webinars or virtual conferences where top coders in the biz present the latest upgrades to programming languages or methodologies. In either case, you’ll uncover new knowledge (and even get the chance to establish a wider network, which is a nice little perk).
- Find a mentor
Companies will often offer mentorship programs. Junior coders can find more experienced programmers to guide them, show them what they should brush up on, and make sure that their learning is seen to. These companies might even offer free or discounted access to certification or upskilling classes. If your company doesn’t have a formalized mentoring program, you can always find a more senior member of your team and ask them for advice. Usually, they’ll be happy to help.
Often, these are two different categories of challenges, but we’ve grouped them into one entry because they share a core feature: they can lead to rework. To avoid ambiguity, software engineers must put in effort to drill down to find specific tasks they should accomplish to solve specific problems.
However, as we’ve touched on previously, tech as an industry can be subject to significant change. That’s where changing requirements come in, and no amount of initial work clarification can prevent rework here.
Business and user needs might change. Market trends might suddenly shift. Unforeseen challenges might crop up. This can strain timelines and budgets and cause frustration if a software engineer working on a web development project suddenly has to make an app instead.
How to tackle ambiguity and changing requirements:
To reduce the likelihood of shifts in requirements, plan to collect user and business feedback as early and as thoroughly as possible. Then, create a schedule that treats changing requirements as an inevitability. If the project stays the same — great! That means you have extra time to refine the software even further. But, if something changes, a plan with baked-in space for change will make sure that you and your team already have the time, resources, and budget to be flexible.
- Use project management tools
What is a project about? It’s detailed in the tool. When’s the due date? Again, that’s shown in the tool. Who’s doing what and where are they in that process? You know where to find that info. What’s changing and why, and how are the deadlines going to adjust to reflect the new reality? You’ll never guess where those details can be found. In short, these tools are great swords for the Gordian Knots of ambiguity and changing requirements.
As a software developer, you need clarity on what you should be building. Communication is absolutely key. And this extends beyond just reducing ambiguity or clarifying requirements. Communication helps a team cohere and allows for expertise to mesh and become mutually complementary. If a team is unified and has a clear goal, any unexpected difficulties can be easily addressed.
You have to work with people (gasp!)
Software engineering is a collaborative process. Coders need to talk to stakeholders to prevent ambiguity, build tech with people from diverse backgrounds who have different skills and experience levels, and maintain a team atmosphere that is positive and conducive to getting projects done.
And we know this isn’t just a challenge in software engineering, but there is a cultural assumption that coders hide in their programming bubbles and that they rarely have to do the work of building consensus. That’s largely a myth. Software engineering, like any specialization, is something usually done along with a team. And that comes with its own challenges.
How to collaborate more effectively:
- Use collaboration and version control tools
If you need to quickly get in touch with someone about something small, messaging and collaboration tools like Slack can be especially helpful. Likewise, if you want to see what the latest code is as well as what has changed, a version control system like Git will allow you to find all the information you need. In both cases, the tech will make it easier to work with a team, especially if it is remote or otherwise distributed.
- Regular short meetings
These meetings, usually called standup meetings, keep everyone in the loop. They allow teams to share updates, mention blockers, and discuss progress. While usually less in-depth than planning meetings with stakeholders, these conversations help a team maintain social contact, stay aware of the work being done, and naturally align or offer assistance.
- Team building
Yeah, this is often parodied and mocked, and when it goes too far, it can be excruciating. But nonetheless, people who know each other work together better. If you are friendly with someone whose component is late, you might have the added context that their kid is home sick from school, for example. So spending time socializing among teams, even if it’s a short, casual chat over Zoom, can help them cohere and work together with less friction.
How to become a successful software engineer
If your question has now moved from ‘Is software development hard?’ to ‘Is it hard to become a software engineer?’ then we have another answer for you: no, but it will take dedication. People from music teachersFrom Making Music to Making Commits: Jenny Doctor’s TripleTen Story to graphic designersFrom Graphic Design to Code Design: Desiree Bradish’s TripleTen Story have made the switch, and so can you. At TripleTen, we’ll teach you the tech you need to know to become a software engineer, help you build a portfolio that will make hiring managers want to talk to you, and give you the soft skills that will set you up for a long career in software.
To get the nitty-gritty on how and what we teach, check out our Software Engineering bootcamp.