The Software Engineer’s Guide to a Career in AI
Software Engineering is, as everyone knows, inextricably linked to the practice of artificial intelligence (AI). The success of any tech-oriented endeavor largely hinges on the prowess of its software engineers -- and that's where you come in!
Broadly speaking, software engineers are responsible for designing, developing, and testing software. Applying holistic engineering principles to their craft, software engineers are not only able to design the system architecture, but also ensure its maintenance, security, as well as test case designing and documentation.
If this sounds appealing to you, keep reading this quick (but comprehensive) guide brought to you by none other than the mastermind behind Synapse Analytics' tech operations, Shady Fanous. In the Q&A below, you'll find everything you need to know from the educational background and skillsets necessary all the way to how you can stand out in an interview .
Which degrees are best suited to work in the field of Software Engineering? Can someone from outside of these disciplines work in this department?
While Software Engineering usually requires a degree in Computer Science or Computer Engineering, related majors such as Software Development can enter the field as well. If you’re interested in starting a career in Product Management, your background requirements will vary depending on the scope of the product. For example, if it's a technical product, recruiters have a strong preference for someone with some technical background. Whereas for Software Designers, a graphic design degree is usually required.
Which jobs could a Software Engineering graduate apply themselves to in the field of data science and AI?
As a graduate of Software Engineering, you can apply yourself to a number of positions including, but not limited to, the following:
Quality Assurance Engineer
Software Integration Engineer
What are the key primary and technical skills required for someone to work and excel in Software Engineering? What are the secondary skills required?
Of course, the key technical skills include coding, software testing and software development.
While it’s unlikely for software engineers to spend a lot of time writing code, a stand-out candidate should be familiar with the programming languages in use, including Python and Java, just to mention a couple. As for testing, your ability to test your software and incorporate debugging throughout the process is core to becoming a successful software engineer. Software development, on the other hand, is a necessary skill insofar as it enables you to lead your organization’s software development department.
In my opinion, some soft or other desired skills in the field include:
Initiative: Proposing new ideas or different solutions to a problem is a highly valuable skill that is sought after by employers.
Great communication skills: You can teach someone a new programming language or introduce him/her to a new tool but you can't teach him / her how to communicate. This is especially important given the collaborative nature of the job. This applies externally with stakeholders and clients, as well as internally with team members.
Critical thinking and problem solving: Remember our point about software testing? This particular set of skills will help you with successfully spotting problems along the way, as well as quickly finding solutions for them.
Research: While this is an essential skill across the board, it is especially relevant for aspiring product managers. In your role as a product manager, your tasks will require you to conduct market research to be able to gauge your product’s place in the market, as well as take the necessary steps to improve it.
Creativity: This is an especially important skill for software designers. Your ability to think outside the box and not be constrained by the traditional way of doing things is essential for contributing to or completing a project successfully.
What advice do you have for graduates outside of this department’s field of expertise, who wish to apply themselves to software engineering?
Software engineering is a vast, vast field. Just take a look at the list of positions you can apply yourself to as a software engineer!
Because of this, exposing yourself to different types of projects will help you become a more mature and seasoned problem-solver, which is really the key to mastering the field.
In the meantime, I can’t stress enough the importance of working on your own personal projects on the side. These don’t have to be anything too major - just something that you can showcase later on to any potential employers and collaborators. More on this in the following question.
What do hiring managers in software engineering look out for in applicant CVs? What makes a software engineer stand out in an interview?
As I said, extracurricular experience is crucial in your journey to a software engineering career. Having a personal project or two under your belt is equally as important as your academic achievements, and is a good indicator of hands-on experience in and passion for the field. In this regard, any portfolio webpages are always a plus (Github for software engineers, Behance for software designers).
The ability to support your reasoning and decisions made in your personal projects when prompted is also a crucial skill. In this regard, research skills, and being able to take scope of what others in the field have said about projects or problems similar to yours, are invaluable.
This guide was brought to you by Shady Fanous, Chief Technology Officer at Synapse Analytics. Shady is a computer engineer with diverse experience in Web Development, AI & Machine Leaning and Robotics; he is currently focused on advancing Synapse Analytics' product development efforts and continually growing the engineering team.