Software Engineer: 2012's Top Job
According to the CareerCast study, software engineer beat out positions including physician, Web developer, computer programmer, and financial planner, thanks to through-the-roof demand and excellent pay. In fact, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for software engineers in 2010 was $90,530 per year. And the demand for software engineers is on the rise, with an estimated growth rate of 30% between 2010 and 2020--more than double the 14% average growth rate for all occupations.
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"Over the last few years there's definitely been a 20% to 25% uptick in salary for software engineers," said Tom Janofsky, VP of software engineering at Monetate, a Philadelphia-based provider of marketing optimization technology and a 15-year software engineer veteran. "I feel like I live in a different economy. We're constantly hiring, which is so different from what I hear on the news. It's sort of surreal."
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But great pay and plentiful job opportunities aren't the only aspects of what makes the role of software engineer an enviable IT position. The collaboration, creative thinking, and hands-on experimentation required of software engineers can lead to an ever-evolving career path.
Just ask Ruchi Sanghvi. Facebook's first female engineer, Sanghvi worked her way from "an office space in downtown Palo Alto right above a Chinese restaurant" to the executive office of Dropbox, where she's currently the VP of operations.
Consider these five advantages of a software engineer career path:
1. Tons Of Flextime: Artsy Web designers aren't the only IT professionals who get to think outside the box--and work outside the cubicle. "Being a software engineer is a really creative job," said Janofsky. "There's a lot of freedom around workplace hours and a lot of the work can be done remotely from home--perks people typically associate with more creative positions."
2. Cool Colleagues: A big part of software engineering is constant trial-and-error--an experimental spirit that's likely to attract those who "enjoy theoretical problem-solving" rather than IT professionals "from more traditional IT roles like systems administration," said Janofsky. As a result, he said, "some people who come to our company and interview for a position may not have even studied to become a software engineer, but maybe wrote a game that's available in an app store. It's very much a field that's open and accessible to people that may not have a traditional computer science background."
3. A Team-Oriented Work Environment: Unlike programmers, software engineers typically work in teams in order to meet tight timelines and release dates. It's a collaborative environment that Sanghvi described as "the closest thing you can find to a meritocracy. It's results that matter and it's what will get you noticed. It's an unusual environment and it's a great environment because of that."
Facebook was no exception, Sanghvi says. "Being the first female engineer at Facebook was just a lot of heads-down hard work building products that we really cared about and working together to get things out. It was really exciting," she recalled.
4. A Chance For Creativity: Forget Hollywood. "People have a 1980s movie view of a software engineer as someone sitting at a desk and banging at a keyboard," said Janofsky. "But that really misses the part of the problem solving that's so fascinating. We're not talking about something you can type into Google to find the answer. Rather, software engineering is like having an infinite set of Legos. It's about taking things apart and rebuilding them."
5. Freedom To Fail: Whether it's ensuring a network's availability or blocking malicious code, many of today's IT professionals work within a razor-thin margin for error. That's not the case, though, for software engineers. "A lot of what we do is about failing, doing something wrong and then going back and looking at the problem again," said Janofsky. "Our work is a puzzle and that's a great part of the job that's often not seen or understood."
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Cindy Waxer is a Toronto-based freelance writer and content strategist who covers small business, technology, finance, and careers for publications including Technology Review, The Economist, TIME, Fortune Small Business, and CNNMoney.com.