woman programming on a notebook 1181359

10 Best Degrees for a Career in Software Development
What to study if you want to be a software developer

Degree Finder
CollegeConsensus.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.

In recent years, the digital age has become a reality with the introduction of a broad range of devices and applications that are now considered essential to daily living. Whenever new applications are introduced, a large team of software developers is usually needed to create and optimize the code that powers the functionality behind the scenes. Since applications are now disrupting almost everything in the modern world, there has been a surge in demand for developers who know how to create efficient applications.

The field of application development is relatively new, so many of the best software developers got started over the last decade. Therefore, the knowledge barriers to becoming a software developer are less steep than in many other high-paid professions where master’s degrees and decades of experience are necessary to get a job.

Instead, software developers are mostly hired on the basis of the skills that they have. You can learn development skills on your own through online classes or by taking part in complex projects. You can also get additional career benefits by choosing a major that complements software development, such as engineering, entrepreneurship, or cyber security. Consequently, aspiring developers can choose between a broad range of majors when beginning their educational journey.

1. Software Engineering

Software engineering is one of the most popular degree options for people who want to become developers. The primary advantage of choosing software engineering is learning knowledge that is squarely focused on improving your software development skills.

In a software engineering degree program, you will get to learn about the fundamentals of how computers operate and how code really works. Many of today’s developers lack a deep technical understanding of how computers function, so people with this technical knowledge enjoy a significant edge in the workforce.

Another major advantage of software engineering is that it teaches the fundamental skills needed to write code that supports applications. Software engineering majors tend to perform better when writing code on the back end since their training teaches true engineering knowledge that can be used for creating or optimizing mainframe servers and electronics. With this knowledge, you will be able to write code with an understanding of how it will perform on the underlying infrastructure that it runs on. Engineering knowledge can even be used to improve application performance on end-user devices.

Of course, possessing a strong understanding of the engineering side of software development also opens new possibilities for further advancement in your career. Your degree will usually give you the opportunity to become a licensed engineer upon graduation, so your employer will be able to use your skills to sign off on various types of work and to qualify for more contracts.

As a software engineer, you will also enjoy more flexibility in the uncertain future that lies ahead. Software is likely to become increasingly complex in future years as modern technology continues to mature, and you will have the best chances of qualifying to pursue these opportunities when you have an actual software engineering degree.

Many software engineering programs let you specialize in a particular area, such as artificial intelligence or smartphone applications. With more specialization, employers will be much more interested in hiring you after graduation. Additionally, your initial specialization will provide you with more opportunities for advancement and potentially even help you to earn a higher salary.

The bottom line is that software engineering is one of the best options to consider if you want to become a developer. Although software engineering courses can be challenging, getting through these classes will give you a very strong advantage in the workforce for the remainder of your career. Therefore, you should definitely give pursuing a software engineering degree serious consideration if you want to become a developer.

2. Computer Science

Computer science is the most common degree that software developers choose when starting their career. When you get a degree in computer science, you will primarily study the exact skills that you will use on a daily basis as a developer. Some of the skills that you will learn in a computer science program include:

  • Technical computer operations,
  • Computer mathematics,
  • Computational logic, and
  • A strong understanding of modern code.

Most computer science programs have all students learn certain types of code that the degree program’s directors view as most useful for new graduates. The best schools usually consult with thousands of employers in the private sector when choosing what programming languages are taught, so the information that you learn will be concentrated on what you will really need to know in your career.

You are most likely to get exposure to both the front end and the back end of software development. In this way, you will have the opportunity to make an informed decision about what kind of developer you really want to become. New graduates often discover that their passion is really in another area of development after graduation, and these students will often end up coming back to school to take supplementary classes. Therefore, schools usually require all computer science students to get exposure to a broad range of development scenarios throughout their degree program.

Computer science is also a great degree option if your goal is to get into a specialized field, such as artificial intelligence, cyber security, or machine learning. Software engineering programs can usually give you exposure to these specialized areas, but they usually afford you less time to specialize since many software engineering classes focus on project management and quality assurance.

Overall, computer science is a degree that you should seriously think about if your eventual goal is to become a software developer. As with software engineering, computer science teaches a broad range of skills that can be applied in almost any job function that is related to writing, editing, and managing code. As a result, you should be sure to evaluate the computer science program at the school of your choice to decide if it is right for you.

3. Data Science

Data science is a specific field that involves highly technical analysis and design of data systems. According to IBM, there will be 61,799 jobs that require individuals who specialize in data science in 2020; however, these jobs only represent 2 percent of jobs requiring skills in data or analytics. Therefore, although the field of data science is growing rapidly, you should make sure that data science is the precise area that you want to specialize in before enrolling in a data science degree program.

Majoring in data science will teach you strong analytics skills so that you can help organizations to make sense of the enormous quantity of data that modern businesses are obtaining. Analytics involves the discovery of patterns and correlations by using sets of data. In practice, your work as a data analyzer will involve combing through existing data to discover correlations that prove or disprove hypotheses that are relevant to your organization. Most analytics work will involve huge sets of data that may be several terabytes in size, and you will output results using charts and formulas.

Data science professionals are also responsible for determining how data should be collected and stored. As a result, data science programs will also teach you about the technical aspects of how computer systems operate. You will even learn to write code by taking many of the same classes as students who major in computer science or software engineering. For this reason, data science can be a great major to choose if you want to become a software developer because you will learn to create software from a unique perspective that will make you invaluable to organizations that are on the cutting edge of modern technology.

4. Software Development

In some cases, universities offer degrees that specifically focus on software development. If you are looking to become a developer, these degrees may be your best option.

However, you should still weigh the pros and cons of choosing a software development degree based on your intended career path. Software development is an extremely broad field that allows practitioners to specialize in specific aspects of development work. Developers who have an edge in specific areas are often able to earn more while finding it easier to land a job after graduation.

Before moving forward, you should sit down and contemplate what you truly want to accomplish with your degree. If you enjoy math or technical problems, you may want to choose a major that gives you more exposure to these types of areas. Likewise, if you are more interested in the business side of software development, you may want to choose a major that will give you a strong understanding of the founding, growth, and management of a business venture. You can then learn software development on your own, or you can plan on finding a partner.

Software development majors can, therefore, be a good option for some people, but you should never assume that a software development degree is right for you until you have conducted thorough research. Nevertheless, software development could be the right choice for you, so you should keep the major on your list of possibilities.

5. Information Technology

The field of information technology is another area that complements software engineering very well. Information technology will prepare you to help organizations to effectively utilize servers, routers, smartphones, and other modern technology. As an IT professional, you could be responsible for a broad range of functions, including:

  • Physically setting up new equipment,
  • Configuring network infrastructures,
  • Providing help desk support to employees,
  • Repairing equipment or software,
  • Planning, testing, and maintaining new devices.

Of course, if you plan to become a software developer, many of the skills that IT professionals use will be highly relevant to your role. If you have a strong background in IT and work as a software developer, you will be able to provide insights to your team about how your software will be impacted by the infrastructures of your end users. Additionally, you will be better able to help your development team empathize with the needs of the IT professionals who will install and maintain the code that you use.

Being a software developer with a background in IT can also open new possibilities for your career. For instance, your software development skills can be used in an IT setting to complete highly technical configurations or even to write custom code to improve how devices operate within your organization. You would even have an advantage if you tried to get a job as a software developer at a company that creates IT products. Consequently, IT is a major that is worth considering if you plan to specialize in software development.

6. Mathematics

Many software developers have limited math skills. Unfortunately, writing code often requires using complex algorithms that make use of functions that only true mathematicians understand. If you enter the workforce as a developer with a degree in mathematics, many employers will be eager to hire you.

Modern mathematics majors will also teach you a broad range of skills that are directly relevant to software development. In most cases, you will learn to write code and to make use of databases. Computers can be seen as highly sophisticated calculators, so work involving modern mathematics is almost completely done digitally. Consequently, you will learn many of the skills that you will use as a software developer in the process of earning your degree in mathematics.

You should also keep in mind that your skills in software development can be highly valuable in the field of mathematics. Sadly, many mathematicians are still accustomed to using a pen and paper when solving problems, and employers are usually unimpressed with this outdated approach. As a result, your ability to write code that runs calculations directly within a computer system can give you a huge advantage in today’s marketplace.

7. Business Administration

The field of business is highly dependent on modern digital technologies. Today’s managers are finding ways to make every decision on the basis of internal data, and they often need software programs to automate tasks that are done within their departments.

As a result, business administration can be a great major to choose because of how acquiring skills in this field will enable you to apply your software development skills in an economically productive manner. When your work helps businesses to earn higher profits, you will naturally get a share of the value that you create. Therefore, your salary may be higher, and you will have more opportunity to work as a well-paid consultant.

8. Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is another good major to choose if you are interested in applying software development skills to the field of business. According to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the number of technology-based startups grew by 47 percent between 2007 and 2017. In fact, the majority of today’s new startups now involve digital technology.

When you have a strong background in software development, you can utilize your skills to build your own applications that can be marketed commercially. Of course, owning a business that markets applications can be immensely profitable since businesses that are dependent on software sales enjoy profit margins of nearly 100 percent in many cases.

As a result, entrepreneurship can be a lucrative major to choose when specializing in software development. The potential that you can enjoy as an entrepreneur is literally unlimited, and many of the startups that will be founded in the years ahead will depend on software development skills. When you are actively involved in building new businesses, you will have the perspective necessary to discover and pursue opportunities in the software space.

If you have not considered becoming an entrepreneur, you should think about whether doing so is right for you. Owning a business can require you to work more hours and to manage a significant amount of stress, but the rewards of getting through the challenges often outweigh the extra work. Furthermore, entrepreneurs also enjoy more flexibility by being able to do whatever they want as long as they perform effectively.

Many entrepreneurs are able to work while living in exotic areas of the world and while having incredible life experiences. Entrepreneurs can set their own hours, and they can go home when they are done with their work. In contrast, managed employees usually have to abide by strict schedules while continuing to look busy when their work slows down.

The bottom line is that entrepreneurship can enable you to enjoy a more rewarding career as a software developer. As a student of entrepreneurship, you will learn the business principles needed to take advantage of new opportunities in the marketplace. Entrepreneurship students are usually exposed to a broad range of business specialties so that they will be prepared to manage an overall organization. You may also get the opportunity to meet venture capitalists who can provide the funding to launch your new business. Therefore, entrepreneurship is often the right major to choose if you are seeking to become a high-paid developer.

9. Electrical Engineering

Modern electrical engineers do most of their work on a computer. Programs are used to design circuit boards and to create more sophisticated technical equipment. Many software programs allow developers to write their own code for the purpose of automating tasks or even for analyzing completed work. If you are a specialist in software development, therefore, you will be highly valuable if you work as an electrical engineer.

You should also keep in mind that today’s electrical engineers primarily focus on developing software to program electronics. Electrical engineers still work to create circuit boards in many cases, but the need for circuit boards is rapidly declining. Instead, reduced manufacturing costs have made it economically viable for engineers to rely on smart systems that can be programmed for specific use cases.

The reality is that modern electrical engineers need strong skills in software development. As a result, majoring in electrical engineering will give you the opportunity to acquire strong skills in software development that can be applied in specialized use cases. With more specialization, you can expect to earn more after graduation.

As with software engineering, obtaining a degree in electrical engineering will enable you to become a licensed engineer after graduation. As an engineer, you will have greater authority and respect within your organization. You will also be able to work on a broader range of projects so that you will enjoy more opportunity for advancement in your career. For these reasons, electrical engineering is a great major to choose if you are also interested in working on developing physical products.

10. Cyber Security

Security is a growing concern among businesses that are entirely dependent on the integrity of their data systems. In the event of a data breach, businesses can lose crucial customer data and intellectual property to unknown nefarious hackers. Unfortunately, many modern hacks are done by highly sophisticated national intelligence agencies or hacking groups that steal intellectual property for profit.

Larger corporations often face several hacking attempts every minute. Smaller businesses are even more vulnerable since they often lack skilled IT staff and tend to have insecure data infrastructures. The bottom line is that modern businesses have very high demand for individuals who are capable of ensuring the security of their digital systems.

By majoring in cyber security, you can learn the skills needed to work as a security professional while mastering software development at the same time. Most cyber security programs teach the same basic classes that software developers take as part of obtaining their major. Therefore, you can simply take a few extra classes or even study independently to get the additional skills that you need to work as a software developer. As with many majors covered above, you can expect to earn even more when you combine software development skills with expertise in cyber security.

Choosing the Right Major

Selecting a major is one of the most difficult decisions that you will ever have to make in your life. The knowledge that you learn as part of your degree program will set your career on its initial trajectory, and your major will determine the range of career opportunities that will be open to you as a software developer. Consequently, it is crucial to do extensive research on your own before coming to a conclusion about what major is best for you.