How You Can Pursue the Best Job Of 2014

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This job has high pay, high growth, and high job satisfaction - find out if it might be right for you.

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When people think of the best jobs to pursue, they usually come up with the same roster of careers - doctor, lawyer, or stockbroker.

But in today's job market, such traditionally desirable professions are losing their luster while another career has risen to the top: software developer.

That's right, a job that was once disparaged for its "geek factor" has now climbed the professional ranks. In fact, thanks to its salary, growth potential, and job satisfaction, software developer earned the top spot on the U.S. News' "100 Best Jobs of 2014" list.

The top ranking makes sense, considering that you can see the work of software developers in everything from computers and mobile devices to automobiles and appliances. If software is involved, a developer likely had a hand in making it function - and making it profitable.

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A Shift from Geek to Chic

Software developers have long had a reputation of being computer nerds. Ironically, it's that same tech-savvy that has turned this profession into the job to have.

"Developers are the future and drivers of the economy," says Jay Wampold, vice president of marketing for Chef, an IT firm specializing in automation in Seattle, Washington. "There was always an anti-establishment feeling about them being the geeky ones in the corner, but there has been a shift."

That shift in the perception is strongly evident in the recent study, "Developers: An Emerging Power Class." Conducted by Chef in March of 2014, the study polled some 1,000 U.S. software developers and found that they believe their jobs offer them a stable career path and tremendous job satisfaction.

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Among key statistical findings, Chef's study reports:

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    The average software developer plans to stay at his or her current company for nine years.

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    Nearly half of the software developers plan to be at their current job for more than six years.

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    Some 82 percent of software developers say they are more satisfied with their jobs than their peers who are not developers.

The numbers point to a trend in which software developers recognize their value in the workforce.

"I think developers feel empowered and [the] most valued at companies," Wampold says. "They feel they can make and influence change in organizations with the products and services they provide."

Related Tech Careers*

The Potential Pay Off

Software developers can be rewarded quite handsomely for their talent, skills, and knowledge. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as of May 2013, applications developers had a median annual salary of $92,660, while systems developers had an even higher median salary of $101,410.

In terms of what they do, software developers are responsible for the entire development process of a software program, says the Department of Labor. For example, they might begin by asking how the customer plans to use the software. Next, developers design the program and then give instructions to programmers, who write computer code and test it.

If the program fails to work properly or people find it too hard to use, developers go back to the drawing board and fix the problems, the Department adds. Even after the program is released to the public, a developer may perform upgrades and maintenance.

Whether creating applications or systems, software developers are considered valuable players in the evolution of technology and its use in everyday products. So, it's no surprise software designers top the list of the best jobs, says Stu Lipoff, a fellow with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional organization dedicated to the advancement of technology.

"Software is an important component of products or any piece of product with microcomputer needs, such as a vacuum cleaner or coffee maker," Lipoff says. "And in business, software and computers are in more demand."

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Why It's in Heavy Demand

The demand for software development reflects the growing needs for professionals in the field. The Department projects employment for software developers will increase by a whopping 22 percent during the decade between 2012 and 2022, when the number of jobs will go from 1.02 million to 1.24 million.

If you are wondering whether the demand for software developers will fade out beyond the next decade, it probably won't, according to James Stanger, senior director of product management for CompTia, a non-profit IT trade organization. He says the ever-increasing reliance on technology and data in the business sector will continue fueling the high hiring numbers for developers for years to come.

"Without developers to put the systems together, you won't end up with good data or information," Stanger says.

How to Pursue This Hot Job

High pay and high demand? If you're wondering how you can sign up for this hot job, keep reading. To get started, you'll need a certain level of education and experience. Software developers usually have a bachelor's degree in majors such as computer science, software engineering, or a related field, such as mathematics, says the Department.

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In addition, developers must have a strong aptitude for computer programming and coding, usually gained through experience while in school, notes the Department. And throughout their career, developers need to keep up to date on new computer languages and tools.

Earning a college degree, however, isn't the only way you can prepare yourself for a career in this field. A new way of learning is sprouting up across the country, says Stanger.

"Boot camps are one of the most exciting ways to get the skills," Stanger says. "Most of them are in the [San Francisco] Bay area and, no matter what your background, they can mentor you through the process and provide connections in the workforce."

On top of getting the right education, Lipoff suggests familiarizing yourself with computer operations and how they connect to vertical markets - that is, goods and services tied to specific industries, trades, or professions. For example, if you have interest in the health care field, it might be beneficial for you to study that subject to get a better handle on the computing needs of that industry.

"Vertical industry knowledge helps you succeed by being more than a coder," Stanger says. "It expands your experience and capabilities that will allow you to distinguish yourself and earn a higher salary."

No matter which route one might take, Lipoff and Stanger say they believe software developer is a career worth pursuing if you have an interest in computers and technology.

Lipoff also suggests tailoring your education to include other special skills, not just mindless coding, in order to prosper and advance in this career.

The Skills That Matter

To get their jobs done, developers must possess any number of skills to be successful. The U.S. Department of Labor lists the following as important qualities for a software developer:

  • Analytical skills to break down users' needs and design software to meet their needs.
  • Computer skills to understand the limits and languages of computers in the software design process.
  • Interpersonal skills to work well with others in the creation of software.

But the most important skill for a developer might be understanding the role that software plays in generating revenue for businesses, Stanger says, adding that developers who can generate top-of-the-line software products will reap plenty of benefits, financially and otherwise, during their career.

* All related careers listed from the 2013-2014 U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook. The Department of Labor cites the associated degrees as common, required, preferred, or one of a number of degrees acceptable as preparation for the potential career. In some instances, candidates might require further schooling, professional certifications, or experience, before being qualified to pursue the career.

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