Software engineering tackles designing, testing, and maintaining software (programs). This branch involves many technologies and tools that assist in the process of creating programs for many different niches.
Here, we’ll provide an answer to the “What is software engineering?” question. We’ll also explain the key concepts related to it, the skills required to become a software engineer, and introduce you to career opportunities.
Basics of Software Engineering
History and Evolution of Software Engineering
Before digging into the nitty-gritty behind software engineering, let’s have a (very short) history lesson.
We can say that software engineering is relatively young compared to many other industries: it was “born” in 1963. Margaret Hamilton, an American computer scientist, was working on the software for the Apollo spacecraft. It was she who coined the term “software engineer” to describe her work at the time.
Two NATO software engineering conferences took place a few years later, confirming the industry’s significance and allowing it to find its place under the computer-science sun.
During the 1980s, software engineering was widely recognized in many countries and by various experts. Since then, the field has advanced immensely thanks to technological developments. It’s used in many spheres and offers a wide array of benefits.
Different Types of Software
What software does software engineering really tackle? You won’t be wrong if you say all software. But learning about the actual types can’t hurt:
- System software – This software powers a computer system. It gives life to computer hardware and represents the “breeding ground” for applications. The most basic example of system software is an operating system like Windows or Linux.
- Application software – This is what you use to listen to music, create a document, edit a photo, watch a movie, or perform any other action on your computer.
- Embedded software – This is specialized software found in an embedded device that controls its specific functions.
Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)
What does the life of software look like? Let’s analyze the key stages.
Planning and Analysis
During this stage, experts analyze the market, clients’ needs, customers’ input, and other factors. Then, they compile this information to plan the software’s development and measure its feasibility. This is also the time when experts identify potential risks and brainstorm solutions.
Now it’s time to create a design plan, i.e., design specification. This plan will go to stakeholders, who will review it and offer feedback. Although it may seem trivial, this stage is crucial to ensure everyone’s on the same page. If that’s not the case, the whole project could collapse in the blink of an eye.
After everyone gives the green light, software engineers start developing the software. This stage is called “implementation” and it’s the longest part of the life cycle. Engineers can make the process more efficient by dividing it into smaller, more “digestible” chunks.
Before the software reaches its customers, you need to ensure it’s working properly, hence the testing stage. Here, testers check the software for errors, bugs, and issues. This can also be a great learning stage for inexperienced testers, who can observe the process and pick up on the most common issues.
The deployment stage involves launching the software on the market. Before doing that, engineers will once again check with stakeholders to see if everything’s good to go. They may make some last-minute changes depending on the provided feedback.
Just because software is on the market doesn’t mean it can be neglected. Every software requires some degree of care. If not maintained regularly, the software can malfunction and cause various issues. Besides maintenance, engineers ensure the software is updated. Since the market is evolving rapidly, it’s necessary to introduce new features to the software to ensure it fulfills the customers’ needs.
Key Concepts in Software Engineering
Those new to the software engineering world often feel overwhelmed by the number of concepts thrown at them. But this can also happen to seasoned engineers who are switching jobs and/or industries. Whatever your situation, here are the basic concepts you should acquire.
Requirements engineering is the basis for developing software. It deals with listening and understanding the customers’ needs, putting them on paper, and defining them. These needs are turned into clearly organized requirements for efficient software development.
Software Design Principles
Software engineers break down the software into sections (modules) to make the process easier, quicker, more detailed, and independent.
Most software users don’t want to see the boring details about the software they’re using. Being the computer wizards they are, software engineers wave their magic wand to hide the more “abstract” information about the software and highlight other aspects customers consider more relevant.
Encapsulation refers to grouping certain data together into a single unit. It also represents the process when software engineers put specific parts of the software in a secure bubble so that they’re protected from external changes.
Coupling and Cohesion
These two concepts define a software’s functionality, maintainability, and reliability. They denote how much software modules depend on each other and how elements within one module work together.
Software Development Methodologies
The basic principle of the waterfall methodology is to have the entire software development process run smoothly using a sequential approach. Each stage of the life cycle we discussed above needs to be fully completed before the next one begins.
With agile methodologies, the focus is on speed, collaboration, efficiency, and high customer satisfaction. Team members work together and aim for continual improvement by applying different agile strategies.
DevOps (development + operations) asks the question, “What can be done to improve an organization’s capability to develop software faster?” It’s basically a set of tools and practices that automate different aspects of the software development process and make the work easier.
Quality Assurance and Testing
Software engineers don’t just put the software in use as soon as they wrap up the design stage. Before the software gets the green light, its quality needs to be tested. This process involves testing every aspect of the software to ensure it’s good to go.
Software Maintenance and Evolution
Humans are capable of adapting their behavior depending on the situation. Let’s suppose it’s really cold outside, even though it’s summer. Chances are, you won’t go out in a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. And if you catch a cold due to cold weather, you’ll take precautions (drink tea, visit a doctor, or take medicine).
While humans can interpret new situations and “update” their behavior, the software doesn’t work that way. They can’t fix themselves or change how they function. That’s why they need leaders, a.k.a. software engineers, who can keep them in tip-top shape and ensure they’re on top of the new trends.
Essential Skills for Software Engineers
What do you need to be a software engineer?
If you can’t “speak” a programming language, you can’t develop software. Here are a few of the most popular languages:
- Java – It runs on various platforms and uses C and C++.
- Python – A general-purpose programming language that is a classic among software engineers.
- C++ – An object-oriented language that almost all computers contain, so you can understand its importance.
Problem-Solving and Critical Skills
A software engineer needs to be able to look at the bigger picture, identify a problem, and see what it can be done to resolve it.
Communication and Collaboration
Developing software isn’t a one-man job. You need to communicate and collaborate with other team members if you want the best results.
Time Management and Organization
Software engineers often race against the clock to complete tasks. They need to have excellent organizational and time management skills to prevent being late.
Continuous Learning and Adaptability
Technology evolves rapidly, and you need to do that as well if you want to stay current.
Career Opportunities in Software Engineering
Job Roles and Titles
- Software Developer – If you love to get all technical and offer the world practical solutions for their problems, this is the perfect job role.
- Software Tester – Do you like checking other people’s work? Software testing may be the way to go.
- Software Architect – The position involves planning, analyzing, and organizing, so if you find that interesting, check it out.
- Project Manager – If you see yourself supervising every part of the process and ensuring it’s completed with flying colors, this is the ideal position.
Industries and Sectors
- Technology – Many software engineers find their dream jobs in the technology industry. Whether developing software for their employer’s needs or working with a major client, software engineers leave a permanent mark on this industry.
- Finance – From developing credit card software to building major financial education software, working as a software engineer in this industry can be rewarding (and very lucrative).
- Healthcare – Software engineers may not be doctors, but they can save lives. They can create patient portals, cloud systems, or consumer health apps and improve the entire healthcare industry with their work.
- Entertainment – The entertainment industry would collapse without software engineers who develop content streaming apps, video games, animations, and much more.
Education and Certifications
- Bachelor’s degree in computer science or related field – Many on-campus and online universities and institutes offer bachelor’s degree programs that could set you up for success in the industry.
- Professional certifications – These certifications can be a great starting point or a way to strengthen the skills you already have.
- Online courses and boot camps – Various popular platforms (think Coursera and Udemy) offer excellent software engineering courses.
Hop on the Software Engineering Train
There’s something special and rewarding about knowing you’ve left your mark in this world. As a software engineer, you can improve the lives of millions of people and create simple solutions to seemingly complicated problems.
If you want to make your work even more meaningful and reap the many benefits this industry offers, you need to improve your skills constantly and follow the latest trends.
Soon, we will be launching four new Degrees for AY24-25 at OPIT – Open Institute of Technology
I want to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the Product Definition process that has shaped these upcoming programs.
🚀 Phase 1: Discovery (Late May – End of July)
Our journey began with intensive brainstorming sessions with OPIT’s Academic Board (Francesco Profumo, Lorenzo Livi, Alexiei Dingli, Andrea Pescino, Rosario Maccarrone) . We also conducted 50+ interviews with tech and digital entrepreneurs (both from startups and established firms), academics and students. Finally, we deep-dived into the “Future of Jobs 2023” report by the World Economic Forum and other valuable research.
🔍 Phase 2: Selection – Crafting Our Roadmap (July – August)
Our focus? Introducing new degrees addressing critical workforce shortages and upskilling/reskilling needs for the next 5-10 years, promising significant societal impact and a broad market reach.
Our decision? To channel our energies on full BScs and MScs, and steer away from shorter courses or corporate-focused offerings. This aligns perfectly with our core mission.
💡 Focus Areas Unveiled!
We’re thrilled to concentrate on pivotal fields like:
- Advanced AI
- Digital Business
- Metaverse & Gaming
- Cloud Computing (less “glamorous”, but market demand is undeniable).
🎓 Phase 3: Definition – Shaping the Degrees (August – November)
With an expert in each of the above fields, and with the strong collaboration of our Academic Director, Prof. Lorenzo Livi , we embarked on a rigorous “drill-down process”. Our goal? To meld modern theoretical knowledge with cutting-edge competencies and skills. This phase included interviewing over 60+ top academics, industry professionals, and students and get valuable, program-specific, insights from our Marketing department.
🌟 Phase 4: Accreditation and Launch – The Final Stretch
We’re currently in the accreditation process, gearing up for the launch. The focus is now shifting towards marketing, working closely with Greta Maiocchi and her Marketing and Admissions team. Together, we’re translating our new academic offering into a compelling value proposition for the market.
Stay tuned for more updates!
Far from being a temporary educational measure that came into its own during the pandemic, online education is providing students from all over the world with new ways to learn. That’s proven by statistics from Oxford Learning College, which point out that over 100 million students are now enrolled in some form of online course.
The demand for these types of courses clearly exists.
In fact, the same organization indicates that educational facilities that introduce online learning see a 42% increase in income – on average – suggesting that the demand is there.
Enter the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT).
Delivering three online courses – a Bachelor’s degree in computer science and two Master’s degrees – with more to come, OPIT is positioning itself as a leader in the online education space. But why is that? After all, many institutions are making the jump to e-learning, so what separates OPIT from the pack?
Here, you’ll discover the answers as you delve into the five reasons why you should trust OPIT for your online education.
Reason 1 – A Practical Approach
OPIT focuses on computer science education – a field in which theory often dominates the educational landscape. The organization’s Rector, Professor Francesco Profumo, makes this clear in a press release from June 2023. He points to a misalignment between what educators are teaching computer science students and what the labor market actually needs from those students as a key problem.
“The starting point is the awareness of the misalignment,” he says when talking about how OPIT structures its online courses. “That so-called mismatch is generated by too much theory and too little practical approach.” In other words, students in many classes spend far too much time learning the “hows” and “whys” behind computerized systems without actually getting their hands dirty with real work that gives them practical experience in using those systems.
OPIT takes a different approach.
It has developed a didactic approach that focuses far more on the practical element than other courses. That approach is delivered through a combination of classroom sessions – such as live lessons and masterclasses – and practical work offered through quizzes and exercises that mimic real-world situations.
An OPIT student doesn’t simply learn how computers work. They put their skills into practice through direct programming and application, equipping them with skills that are extremely attractive to major employers in the tech field and beyond.
Reason 2 – Flexibility Combined With Support
Flexibility in how you study is one of the main benefits of any online course.
You control when you learn and how you do it, creating an environment that’s beneficial to your education rather than being forced into a classroom setting with which you may not feel comfortable. This is hardly new ground. Any online educational platform can claim that it offers “flexibility” simply because it provides courses via the web.
Where OPIT differs is that it combines that flexibility with unparalleled support bolstered by the experiences of teachers employed from all over the world. The founder and director of OPIT, Riccardo Ocleppo, sheds more light on this difference in approach when he says, “We believe that education, even if it takes place physically at a distance, must guarantee closeness on all other aspects.” That closeness starts with the support offered to students throughout their entire study period.
Tutors are accessible to students at all times. Plus, every participant benefits from weekly professor interactions, ensuring they aren’t left feeling stuck on an educational “island” and have to rely solely on themselves for their education. OPIT further counters the potential isolation that comes with online learning with a Student Support team to guide students through any difficulties they may have with their courses.
In this focus on support, OPIT showcases one of its main differences from other online platforms.
You don’t simply receive course material before being told to “get on with it.” You have the flexibility to learn at your own pace while also having a support structure that serves as a foundation for that learning.
Reason 3 – OPIT Can Adapt to Change Quickly
The field of computer science is constantly evolving.
In the 2020s alone, we’ve seen the rise of generative AI – spurred on by the explosive success of services like ChatGPT – and how those new technologies have changed the way that people use computers.
Riccardo Ocleppo has seen the impact that these constant evolutions have had on students. Before founding OPIT, he was an entrepreneur who received first-hand experience of the fact that many traditional educational institutions struggle to adapt to change.
“Traditional educational institutions are very slow to adapt to this wave of new technologies and trends within the educational sector,” he says. He points to computer science as a particular issue, highlighting the example of a board in Italy of which he is a member. That board – packed with some of the country’s most prestigious tech universities – spent three years eventually deciding to add just two modules on new and emerging technologies to their study programs.
That left Ocleppo feeling frustrated.
When he founded OPIT, he did so intending to make it an adaptable institution in which courses were informed by what the industry needs. Every member of its faculty is not only a superb teacher but also somebody with experience working in industry. Speaking of industry, OPIT collaborates with major companies in the tech field to ensure its courses deliver the skills that those organizations expect from new candidates.
This confronts frustration on both sides. For companies, an OPIT graduate is one for which they don’t need to bridge a “skill gap” between what they’ve learned and what the company needs. For you, as a student, it means that you’re developing skills that make you a more desirable prospect once you have your degree.
Reason 4 – OPIT Delivers Tier One Education
Despite their popularity, online courses can still carry a stigma of not being “legitimate” in the face of more traditional degrees. Ocleppo is acutely aware of this fact, which is why he’s quick to point out that OPIT always aims to deliver a Tier One education in the computer science field.
“That means putting together the best professors who create superb learning material, all brought together with a teaching methodology that leverages the advancements made in online teaching,” he says.
OPIT’s degrees are all accredited by the European Union to support this approach, ensuring they carry as much weight as any other European degree. It’s accredited by both the European Qualification Framework (EQF) and the Malta Qualification Framework (MQF), with all of its courses having full legal value throughout Europe.
It’s also here where we see OPIT’s approach to practicality come into play via its course structuring.
Take its Bachelor’s degree in computer science as an example.
Yes, that course starts with a focus on theoretical and foundational knowledge. Building a computer and understanding how the device processes instructions is vital information from a programming perspective. But once those foundations are in place, OPIT delivers on its promises of covering the most current topics in the field.
Machine learning, cloud computing, data science, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity – all valuable to employers – are taught at the undergraduate level. Students benefit from a broader approach to computer science than most institutions are capable of, rather than bogging them down in theory that serves little practical purpose.
Reason 5 – The Learning Experience
Let’s wrap up by honing in on what it’s actually like for students to learn with OPIT.
After all, as Ocleppo points out, one of the main challenges with online education is that students rarely have defined checkpoints to follow. They can start feeling lost in the process, confronted with a metaphorical ocean of information they need to learn, all in service of one big exam at the end.
Alternatively, some students may feel the temptation to not work through the materials thoroughly, focusing instead on passing a final exam. The result is that those students may pass, but they do so without a full grasp of what they’ve learned – a nightmare for employers who already have skill gaps to handle.
OPIT confronts both challenges by focusing on a continuous learning methodology. Assessments – primarily practical – take place throughout the course, serving as much-needed checkpoints for evaluating progress. When combined with the previously mentioned support that OPIT offers, this approach has led to courses that are created from scratch in service of the student’s actual needs.
Choose OPIT for Your Computer Science Education
At OPIT, the focus lies as much on helping students to achieve their dream careers as it does on teaching them. All courses are built collaboratively. With a dedicated faculty combined with major industry players, such as Google and Microsoft, it delivers materials that bridge the skill gap seen in the computer science field today.
There’s also more to come.
Beyond the three degrees OPIT offers, the institution plans to add more. Game development, data science, and cloud computing, to name a few, will receive dedicated degrees in the coming months, accentuating OPIT’s dedication to adapting to the continuous evolution of the computer science industry. Discover OPIT today – your journey into computing starts with the best online education institution available.