Programming Languages and What They’re Good For

Among the thousands of programming languages that exist, there are a few that have risen to the top as the absolute best or the industry standard for particular uses. The following is a list of a few programming languages or computer terms you are guaranteed to run into during software engineer degree, and brief explanations of them.

  • Perl: This programming language is used for everything from system administration to bioinformatics applications, and is a key component of the internet. It was invented around 1987 and still forms a major part of the substrate upon which current internet services and web applications are built. Perl is a procedural language, meaning that the programmer defines the steps that the program must take to achieve the sought outcome.
  • Ruby on Rails: Ruby is a programming language commonly used for web development, and Rails is a framework that many Ruby developers use to eliminate redundancy in their work. Ruby has existed for longer than Rails, but the two are mentioned together more often than not because of the popularity of Ruby on Rails in the web development community. The popular social network Twitter was originally developed using Ruby on Rails.
  • PHP: PHP, or hypertext preprocessor, is an object-oriented, procedural scripting language used primarily for web development. This extremely common language undergirds much of the World Wide Web (which is not the same thing as the internet, but does rely upon it), and is a crucial skill for any software engineer who wants to develop for the web.

Careers for Software Engineers

Computer programmers and software engineer degree are among the most sought after workers in the world now, because the need for them is growing far faster than the number of new ones that are being educated in top universities. Many software engineers work for large corporations like Google for a few years, and then decide to strike out on their own and start companies. There is a whole ecosystem of startup incubators and venture capitalists looking to find the next big idea, develop it rapidly, and monetize it. Some common job titles that appear on employment advertisements for software engineers include:

  • Back-end Developer: The back-end of any service or product is the mountain of code that is stored on servers and accessed via the internet, which props up many of the most popular services today.
  • User Experience Specialist: The user experience of a product or service is the collective effect of the parts of it that actual people interact with. A web page’s navigation bar, a cell phone’s buttons, a blog’s comments system; these are all part of user experience, and because of the catch-all nature of the term, and the many factors that can influence user experience, there are now people who have the phrase in their job titles.
  • Project Lead: These jobs usually go to people with a great deal of experience working with a particular programming tool or standard. You won’t likely get a project lead position right out of school, but a master’s degree will certainly get you closer to this goal.

Career prospects are excellent for new software engineers just entering the field. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for them “is projected to grow 30 percent from 2010-2020, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

Also, “the median annual wage of applications developers was $87,790 in May, 2010.” That number may be slightly different for systems developers or any of the other myriad job titles available in the software industry, but it will still be tens of thousands of dollars higher than the median wage for most occupations. Technology is a great field to get into right now if you want to make money, but it takes an analytical, math-friendly brain to excel in the field.

How to Pick a Software Engineering School

Fortunately, it is a little bit easier to tell which software engineering schools are better than others because high profile companies are quite public about the schools that they recruit and hire from. Unfortunately, those schools are often Ivy League universities, and are super difficult to get into. That’s OK though, because there are plenty of non-Ivy League colleges that provide great instruction on how to be a software engineer.

It helps a lot when choosing a computer science or software engineering program to know what kind of work you are interested in doing. Choosing the topics you study and the programming skills and styles you practice can help you land your first job, and from there, you can let your career be guided by innovations in the field, of which you’ll have an insider view if you work at a major company, or even a new startup.


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