A Look at a Day in the Life of a Software Engineer

Read about the day in the life of a software engineer and tips on finding a work-life balance as a software engineer.

Many people hear the term “software engineer” and think of people who can fix a broken printer or hack into anything. Maybe they even think it’s a boring job because, well, all software engineers do is code all day, right? In reality, there’s a lot more than that going on each day in the life of a software engineer. 

Read on for an in-depth look at what a software engineer does all day. If your organization is building a software engineering team, what’s here can help you appeal more strongly to job candidates. 

What is software engineering?

Software engineers are computer science team members who use engineering principles and programming languages to design software products. Along with coding, software engineers test, debug, and monitor the performance and lifespan of any products that go to the public.

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A typical day in the life of a software engineer

While coding typically doesn’t fill all of a software engineer’s work hours, they still do a lot of it. Usually, the goal here is to squash bugs and fix problems in other people’s code (or their own) as they revisit and refine old projects. They also spend plenty of time writing entirely new code for a bunch of small projects or a couple of big ones. While they can work solo, they often team up with project managers, UI or UX designers, and other team members to deliver better software faster.

Main responsibilities of software engineers

Software engineers have a lot on their plate. Below are just some of their many responsibilities.

1System design

This is all about creating clear and efficient outlines for web applications and software products. The information left in the coding framework can guide software developers in making the product.

2Updating and creating documentation

Software engineers should always create supporting documentation for their work. This can help others understand how the software and its technology operate. 

3Software maintenance

Software engineers monitor and maintain existing software to keep it up to date with any new company or industry standards. Troubleshooting issues and brainstorming improvements is a big part of maintenance too.

4Upgrading outdated systems

It’s up to software engineers to stabilize internal company systems or client systems. That means solving any issues that pop up and upgrading out-of-date software.

5Meeting standards

Software engineers keep track of new technologies within their field and organization. This way, existing and future software products always meet all the key standards. 

Nonstandard duties for software engineers

Knowing what a software engineer does every day probably erases some of the misconceptions about the field, but maybe not all of them. For new team members to have clear expectations coming into the job, they should know what they won’t be doing as well. 

For example, some software engineers might be happy to hear that they don’t always work closely with clients. Their managers might instead relay what the client wants and then let them go off and do it. The goal here is to maximize productivity and minimize micromanagement/

Front-end development typically isn’t a software engineer’s primary focus either, though they’ll probably work with front-end developers to build a better end product. Similarly, software engineers aren’t part of the hiring process too often, though that can change if they’ve been at an organization long enough. After that, management might put them in more of a leadership or management position, which means their role could start including just about anything. 

Software engineer FAQs

Below are a few questions people often ask about software engineering.

1How many hours does an entry-level software engineer work?

Entry-level software engineers often work the standard 40 hours weekly, or eight to nine hours daily. Overtime is common for software engineers who work in a startup or are up against big deadlines. 

2How many hours does a senior software engineer work?

Senior software engineers average around 45 hours a week (9 hours a day) due to their extra responsibilities. Their frequent overtime can increase their number of hours on the job.

3How much are software engineers paid?

In the U.S., entry-level software engineers earn a median salary of $75,000 annually. Senior-level software engineers earn a median annual salary of $168,000.

4What qualifications are needed to become a software engineer?

Software engineers typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in software engineering or a related field. Some core skills needed are familiarity with a programming language, advanced problem-solving, and knowing complex technical jargon.

5Where do software engineers work?

Software engineers can work in almost any industry since increasingly many companies are using software to help with their work. This means they’ll need to rely on software engineers to keep everything up to date. 

How to maintain a work-life balance as a software engineer

Software engineers can get super busy, so if you’re a software engineer, maybe you’re wondering how all of these responsibilities will affect your home life. After all, there’s a time for work and a time for relaxation. When they start blending into each other, you’re priming yourself for stress and burnout. Below are a few ways to keep work and home separate – and your mental health intact.

1Better manage your time at work

A software engineer’s work-life balance can start to wobble when they need to work extra hours to meet their deadlines. Proper time management can help you avoid giving up your free time. Just set achievable goals for what you want to get done that day and make a point to finish up before you’re off the clock.

2Set boundaries with your job

Make sure your manager knows that your time is your time. Talk to them if they give you projects that you know you can’t do by the deadline. A good manager will work with your schedule so you can continue doing your best work. 

3Schedule your tasks

As a software engineer, you’ll likely get coding projects, revisions, and updates piled onto your plate. Trying to do them all at once can lower your productivity. Instead, set aside time for each task on your schedule so that you have plenty of time for all of them.

4Don’t sit still

Software engineers get a lot of their work done at their desks, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Moving around on the job can get your blood flowing more efficiently, potentially putting you in a more productive growth mindset.

5Look after yourself

Distractions are everywhere, and they’re a big temptation if you’re just not getting enough “you” time. So check in with yourself every now and again to make sure you’re not spending valuable time aimlessly scrolling through social media. If you are, try to get back some time for yourself. Once you get back to work, chances are your newly refreshed mind will lead you to turn out better results – and get less distracted.

Organize a software engineer’s busy schedule with Fellow

Software engineers’ schedules involve way more than coding. They have to ensure their code is up to par with industry and organization standards and keep up as these standards change down the line. Whether a software engineer works independently or with a group, highly structured, organized meetings can help them break down silos and work more efficiently. 
With Fellow, your organization can track objectives and key results (OKRs) and meeting action items to collaborate more effectively and increase productivity. These tools can ensure that no one is confused about their tasks and everyone knows exactly what goals they’re aiming to achieve. They’re the bread and butter of any great software engineering team.

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