Online master of software engineering for a future in technology

By Clare Kaufman

Behind today's high-tech innovations, from vehicles to manufacturing robots, is a team of software engineers. Thanks to these experts, computer chips evolve into intelligent control centers capable of managing the most sophisticated machines.

Online master of software engineering programs allow developers and project engineers to pursue broad-ranging design roles. Software engineering studies combine applied engineering practice with computer science.

Closer look at software engineering and online master's degrees

According to the Association of Computing Machinery, "Software engineering (SE) is concerned with developing and maintaining software systems that behave reliably and efficiently, are affordable to develop and maintain, and satisfy all the requirements that customers have defined for them."

Software engineering master's studies offer both advanced instruction in computer science and applied training in the design and development of software. Some schools make a distinction between programs such as these:

  • Master of Science or M.S. in Software Engineering: an academic research degree
  • Master of Software Engineering or M.S.E.: a professional graduate degree

Most master's degree programs begin with a year or more of coursework, culminating in an independent design project or research thesis. A degree generally takes two years to complete, though self-paced online programs may be completed in an accelerated 12-month to 16-month format or over several years, as time permits.

Master's programs in software engineering: courses and requirements

Software engineering degree programs cover core competencies such as programming, basic computer science theory and the software development process, reports the ACM. An online SE master's degree may offer advanced courses in any of these three areas.

Systems engineering and systems architecture are also typically key subjects. Other sample technical courses include the following:

  1. Embedded real-time systems
  2. Enterprise application integration
  3. Globally distributed software development
  4. Mobile computing software engineering
  5. Software process definition
  6. Software testing and measurement
  7. Software verification and validation

Courses also cover related skills such as these:

  • Communication for software engineers
  • Managing software development
  • Risk management for software projects

Team projects are a critical component of SE degree programs. Online master's degree programs encourage specialization in both coursework and independent studio work. Online master of software engineering schools may allow students to direct their own curriculum by emphasizing a certain skill set. For example, aspiring managers may take courses in managing a software development team, encouraging innovation and risk management.

Careers for master of software engineering graduates

At the graduate level, software engineers can deepen their technical expertise or expand their skills in business management. With an M.S.E. or an M.S. in software engineering, graduates can seek jobs such as these:

  • Applications engineer
  • Lead design engineer
  • Software architect
  • Software engineering director
  • Software engineering manager
  • Systems software engineer

Software engineers and engineering managers are in high demand, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Excellent prospects are expected for both engineers and managers, with about 32 percent and 17 percent job growth, respectively, in the 2008-2018 period. Software engineers are among the fastest growing careers in the nation, as demand increases for innovation in Internet, mobile and cybersecurity technology. The BLS reports the following mean salaries for related occupations in 2010:

  1. Applications engineers: $90,410
  2. Systems software developers: $97,960
  3. Computer and information systems managers, including software engineering managers: $123,280

Numbers like these and attractive work conditions have earned software engineers a place in lists such as CNN's 2006 "Best Jobs in America" and U.S. News & World Report's "Best Careers 2011."

Notable engineers who started out with a master's degree

The discipline of software engineering, with its combined computer science, electrical engineering and management curriculum, is a relatively new development in technical education. The computer science master's degree is a closely related predecessor to the software engineering specialization. Here are some pioneers who have built their success on graduate studies:

  1. Andy Bechtolsheim, M.S. in computer engineering, co-founder of Sun Microsystems
  2. Sergey Brin and Larry Page, M.S. in computer science, founders of Google
  3. Scott Forstall, M.S. in computer science, senior VP of iPhone software at Apple

A master's degree in software engineering offers the power to shape innovation. The online master's degree offers access to this comprehensive program for mid-career software engineers aiming for a management or advanced developer role.

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