Virtually every aspect of modern life involves the use of computers. But while we tend to credit the fields of computer science and computer engineering for ushering in our digital age, we would be lost without one sometimes forgotten field of study: software engineering. Software is the operating system on your laptop that runs all of the applications, from Office to iTunes. And software engineers are the ones who keep it all running smoothly.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the field of software engineering to grow by 22% between 2012 and 2022, much faster than the average rate for other professional fields. Not only is it one of the best-paid jobs, with an average starting salary of $62,000 (and sometimes as high as $89,000, according to NerdScholar’s recent survey on highest-paying salaries), but it’s also a very gratifying one: Forbes ranked software engineer among the happiest jobs in America.
To learn more about this fun and lucrative field, NerdScholar has compiled a list of some of our favorite schools producing software engineers.
Milwaukee School of Engineering — Most Balanced
The Milwaukee School of Engineering is a pioneer in software engineering education, hosting one of the first four accredited programs in the country. In addition to the classic engineering curriculum, the undergraduate program also offers 36 credits of humanities, social sciences and business electives. The emphasis on both technical and entrepreneurial development encourages students to “apply engineering concepts, techniques and methods to develop reliable and efficient software systems that are affordable, and satisfy customer requirements,” says JoEllen Burdue, director of media relations. Job preparation is a vital aspect of the program, and in a school where there are more laboratories than classrooms, software engineering students spend an average of 600 hours gaining hands-on experience. The intensive training definitely pays off: MSOE boasts a 98% placement rate for software engineer graduates, at companies such as Amazon and Yahoo.
Purdue University — Most Variety
Purdue University offers many options for students interested in software engineering. There’s a software engineering track within the computer science major, and an interdisciplinary specialization for industrial, electric and computer engineers. Within the specialization, students are expected to complete two summer internships with a corporate partner, or to study abroad in a country relevant to software engineering, such as Germany or India. The well-rounded software engineering program at Purdue encourages students to explore all of their academic and professional interests, and professors recognize the importance of personal growth in a work environment. Students learn that “good people are one of, if not the most important, requirements for successful projects,” says H.E. Dunsmore, software engineering chair and professor. “All students are required to be part of a full-semester software engineering senior project team in which they tie together everything they have learned in their full undergraduate career.” Purdue students gain more than an education from their software engineering experience: the values and skills acquired prepare them for success in leadership positions.
Auburn University — Most Innovative
The Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering at Auburn University offers undergraduate degrees in software engineering and wireless engineering, with the option of a track in wireless software engineering. Mike Clardy, director of communications, says that Auburn’s software engineers develop software “for the computer systems and networks that power today’s world;” projects that students work on include video games, MP3s and cell phones. The curriculum’s emphasis on developing tools for modern society explains the track in wireless software engineering, and reflects the Auburn program’s focus on the future of technology and how its students can help shape future systems.
Michigan Technological University — Most Engaging
In addition to work in the classroom and the lab, the software engineering program at Michigan Tech offers students opportunities to get involved with clubs and organizations. Students can participate in Enterprises and Senior Design, which are two student-run teams that are directed by industry sponsors and faculty advisors. The software engineering Enterprise teams, such as Husky Game Development and Humane Interface Development Enterprise, solve real-world problems using engineering design, team building, project management and end-to-end original product development. Similarly, Senior Design is a team project that seniors complete as their capstone experience. Carl Anderson, associate dean of the College of Engineering, says that for students, one of these hands-on educational experiences is “not their final class; it’s their first job.”
Michigan Tech has also made a special effort to recruit and support women in software engineering. It is one of only 20 universities nationwide chosen to take part in the National Center for Women and Information Technology Pacesetters Project, whose goal is to increase the numbers of women in computing careers.
Clarkson University — Most Interdisciplinary
Clarkson University’s software engineering program involves faculty from multiple departments. “It is interdisciplinary lodged in engineering and joint between electrical and computer engineering and computer science,” says Susan Conry, director of the software engineering department. “Software components are part of almost every product that touches our lives. Understanding different disciplinary perspectives is critical.” The combination of disciplines allows students to master both theory and application as well as to be more flexible, and the strong engineering background increases the quality of the software. The program also emphasizes the business skills of teamwork and project management, which is why 1 in 5 alumni is a CEO or VP of a company.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University — Most Real-World Experience
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s software engineering program looks beyond the computer industry and prepares its students for careers in industries ranging from video game development to aerospace. The multidisciplinary program is housed in the Electrical, Computer, Software and Systems Engineering Department, and the aeronautical focus of the university encourages students to think big and take risks. Farahzad Behi, professor and associate chair of ECSSE, says that by “using real-world, hands-on projects like flight control of an autonomous aircraft or power control in a hybrid automobile, students develop the knowledge, skills and ways of system thinking required to design and implement software for embedded computer systems.” Graduates from Embry-Riddle understand the importance of dependability and quality, and their study of software on such a large scale prepares them for careers in any industry.
Note: Superlatives, noted in green, are inclusive of the group of schools listed in this article only.
Image of coding courtesy of Shutterstock.