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APAC career guide on software development

In this career guide, we look at what it takes to land a career and thrive in the fast-moving world of software development

From supply chain management systems and productivity suites to machine learning models, it’s undeniable that software-powered innovation has become a key driver of the digital economy.

According to a global study by GitLab in June 2024, nearly 70% of organisations say they are shipping software at least twice as fast compared to a year ago, underscoring the growing pace of software development to support digitalisation initiatives.

In its most practical sense, developing software is a systematic process of designing, coding, testing and maintaining software applications and systems. Software developers and engineers drive business impact by creating efficient, functional, and user-friendly software to address specific needs or problems.

“The knock-on business impact of developers is profound from the ability to ship innovative products ahead of the curve to better customer experiences,” says Pierluigi Cau, senior director of field services for Asia-Pacific at GitHub. “That’s why the most progressive companies intuitively recognise that developers are strategically crucial to their success.”

A software developer’s job typically involves working through the stages of the software development lifecycle (SDLC), which includes planning, designing, coding, testing, and maintaining software applications, says Kong Yu Ning, co-founder of Heicoders Academy, a Singapore-based technology training provider.

“Software developers go through the same SDLC for both new and existing products. For new projects, developers build applications from the ground up, such as creating a new Instagram. For existing products, developers focus on adding new features or fixing bugs within the current software, such as enhancing the user interface of a popular e-commerce platform,” he adds.

Software development roles

Software development offers various specialised roles that focus on different aspects of the development process, Kong says. The main specialisations are front-end, back-end, full-stack development and DevOps.

  • Front-end development: Focuses on building user interfaces and ensuring a seamless user experience. For example, front-end developers create the layout, buttons, and overall design of the Lazada website – essentially , anything visible to users.
  • Back-end development: Handles server-side logic and databases. For example, back-end developers manage the database and server logic that power Lazada’s inventory and order processing, using languages like Python.
  • Full-stack development: Combines front-end and back-end skills, enabling developers to build and maintain entire applications. Full-stack developers might develop both the user interface and server logic for an e-commerce platform like Lazada.
  • DevOps: Handles the deployment of applications to the cloud so that users can access the application via the internet. They also ensure applications are secure, can be updated, and handle many users simultaneously.

Rajesh Rao, managing director of technology at Temus, a digital transformation services firm, points to other software development roles, including technical leads who guide teams of developers to ensure the right solution is implemented; architects who understand business problems and provide solutions using appropriate technologies; and business analysts who define business requirements and create or prioritise functionalities for implementation.

There are also testing leads responsible for software testing and managing a team of testers to ensure an application is tested effectively.

If you can demonstrate fluency in the fundamentals for a particular language, such as proficiency in core concepts like building RESTful APIs...then most hiring managers will see that you’re not limited by your current language
Pierluigi Cau, GitHub

    Kong urges aspiring software developers to consider their interests and strengths when choosing a specialisation. Front-end development might be suited for those who enjoy design and user interaction while those who prefer working with data and server-side logic might be better suited for back-end development.

    “For a blend of both, full-stack development is ideal. If you’re passionate about ensuring software runs smoothly and efficiently, DevOps might be the right path. Working on personal projects can also be a valuable way to explore different aspects of web development and identify which specialisation you enjoy the most,” he adds.

    Common programming languages

    Some of the most popular programming languages favoured by developers and employers today include Python, JavaScript, Java, C#, and C++.

    Python, known for its simplicity and versatility, makes it a top choice for web development, data science, machine learning, and automation projects, says Leonard Tan, OutSystems’ regional director of Singapore and the Greater China region.

    JavaScript, primarily used for front-end web development, enables dynamic and interactive web pages through frameworks like React, Angular, and Vue.js. Java is known for its reliability and is commonly used for enterprise-level applications like Android apps and enterprise software in sectors like banking and finance.

    According to GitHub’s latest State of the Octoverse report, JavaScript once again took the crown as the most popular language, with Python and Java among the top five languages year-over-year.

    C# is popular for developing Windows applications and games, especially with the Unity engine, and is favoured within the Microsoft ecosystem for business applications. C++, known for its performance and efficiency, is preferred for systems and software development, game development, and applications requiring real-time processing, such as embedded systems and high-performance software.

    “When it comes to deciding between the likes of Python, Java, or JavaScript, it doesn’t really matter,” says GitHub’s Cau. “The important part is understanding the basics – if you can demonstrate fluency in the fundamentals for a particular language, such as proficiency in core concepts like building RESTful APIs, testing your code, implementing algorithms and data structures, and asynchronous programming patterns, then most hiring managers will see that you’re not limited by your current language.”

    Development tools and methodologies

    Software developers often work with variety of tools and methodologies across the SDLC. One of the most fundamental tools, Kong says, is the version control system, with Git being the most popular choice. Platforms like GitHub, GitLab, and Bitbucket facilitate collaboration and version management, allowing multiple developers to work on the same project simultaneously without conflicts.

    Integrated development environments (IDEs) are also crucial, providing a comprehensive coding environment with features like syntax highlighting, debugging, and code completion. Popular IDEs include Visual Studio Code, IntelliJ IDEA, and PyCharm, which help developers write code more efficiently and with fewer errors.

    Continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) tools such as Jenkins, Travis CI, and CircleCI automate the testing and deployment processes. This automation ensures that software releases are faster and more reliable, reducing the time between development and deployment.

    Containerisation tools like Docker and Kubernetes allow developers to package applications into containers. These containers make applications portable and easier to manage across different environments, ensuring consistent performance regardless of where the software is deployed.

    By thinking linearly, [developers] understand the logical flow of a programme. Without strong linear thinking capabilities, developers will struggle to write code, let alone understand it
    Leonard Tan, OutSystems

    Kong notes that a common methodology used in modern software development is Test-Driven Development (TDD), which involves writing tests before writing the actual code. This approach ensures that the code meets the requirements from the outset and helps identify bugs early in the development process. By focusing on testing first, developers can create more robust and reliable software, reducing the likelihood of defects and improving overall code quality.

    The practice of CI/CD and DevOps is often part of broader efforts to embrace agile development that involves methodologies like Scrum, a framework that breaks down development into sprints with daily stand-up meetings.

    Another agile framework is Kanban, which uses a visual approach to manage work, focusing on continuous delivery without overloading the team, as well as extreme programming, which emphasises customer satisfaction and advocates for frequent releases in short development cycles, says GitHub’s Cau.

    Team collaboration

    In the world of software development, collaboration can make the difference between a brittle last-minute release and a reliable, maintainable, pain-free project.

    “GitHub is the home for many developers and is where developers can collaborate seamlessly. Tools like Issues and Projects come into play, allowing teams to plan, track, and collaborate in a centralised place that’s right next to the code they’re working on,” Cau says.

    Collaboration is facilitated by pull requests, which enable developers to submit changes for review, discussion, and approval, ensuring high code quality and shared knowledge. GitHub’s issue tracking system also helps manage bugs, enhancements and tasks, with issues that can be assigned, labelled and linked to pull requests.

    Additionally, project boards and milestones allow teams to organise and track progress effectively. Documentation is streamlined with Read Me files and wikis, providing clear project information and setup instructions. Markdown support enhances the readability of documentation, issues and pull requests.

    Cau notes that GitHub Actions can also help to enhance collaboration by automating workflows such as CI/CD, ensuring that code changes are tested and deployed efficiently.

    Temus’ Rao says just as important is the need to define communications protocols as well as conduct daily stand-up meetings and regular agile ceremonies, along with specific attribution for who is responsible for conducting the ceremonies: “Regular status updates, risk management, technical dependencies on external systems will also need to be ironed out to deliver large software projects.”

    Career progression

    Heicoders’ Kong notes that in the field of software development, career progression often follows a structured path, advancing from junior roles to more senior positions, ultimately leading to the role of lead developer or technical lead.

    “As a junior developer, you start by learning the basics of coding, working on smaller tasks, and gaining experience with different technologies. This role involves a lot of learning and mentorship from more experienced developers. You’re expected to write clean code, fix bugs and gradually take on more complex tasks as you build your skills,” he adds.

    With experience, one can progress into a mid-level developer who handles more complex projects, has a deeper understanding of the development process and starts taking ownership of certain aspects of the project. Mid-level developers may also mentor junior developers and contribute to architectural decisions.

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    With more skills and expertise, mid-level developers transition to a senior developer position, taking on leadership roles within development teams, making critical architectural decisions, optimising performance and ensuring code quality. They also mentor junior and mid-level developers, guiding them through complex problems and projects.

    The next step is becoming a lead developer or technical lead. These leaders oversee entire development teams or projects, coordinating between team members, ensuring projects stay on track and making high-level technical decisions.

    Lead developers require strong leadership skills and a deep understanding of both technical and business aspects of development projects. They also play a key role in mentoring and developing other team members.

    What it takes to thrive

    A developer is oftentimes a problem solver, so developers who thrive in their careers tend to be strong thinkers with an agile mindset.

    “Problems in coding often require both linear and non-linear thinking,” says Tan. “By thinking linearly, as all developers are required to do, they understand the logical flow of a programme. Without strong linear thinking capabilities, developers will struggle to write code, let alone understand it.”

    However, developers must also activate their non-linear thinking patterns due to the complex and multifaceted nature of software development. Non-linear thinking involves a flexible and holistic approach to problem-solving, allowing developers to navigate the intricate and interconnected aspects of software projects.

    Additionally, all developers need to be fast learners. Tan notes that development teams often introduce new tools, processes, and even programming languages into their products, with managers expecting their engineers to keep abreast of changes and improve ways of delivering products to save time and money.

    “More importantly, the career path of nearly all software developers is likely to take a turn or two as platforms evolve and technologies emerge, so it is crucial for developers to learn and pivot quickly,” he adds.

    Future of software development

    Every developer, and organisation for that matter, should recognise the transformative impact artificial intelligence (AI) will bring in the coming years, says GitHub’s Cau, noting that improvements to developer productivity from tools like GitHub Copilot are just the beginning.

    “Developers who know how to wield the power of AI for greater productivity and faster innovation will be most sought after by businesses. But like any other tool or skill, an AI pair programmer has a learning curve, and there are certain techniques you can use that will make your work with AI even more effective.

    “This is why prompt engineering will be a crucial skill in the future of software development. When applied in the right way, prompt engineering leads to better, more accurate outcomes and ultimately enables developers to ship software ahead of the curve and drive greater business impact,” he adds.

    Cau also points to the rise of low-code and no-code platforms, which allow developers to create applications with minimal hand-coding. Together with generative AI, these platforms are democratising software development, enabling those without extensive programming knowledge to contribute to application development.

    Lastly, the demand for cross-functional skills will grow. Developers will be expected to have a broader understanding of areas such as user experience design, cyber security and data science, enabling them to create more holistic and robust software solutions. Developers who stay ahead of these trends and continuously adapt their skills will be the ones who thrive.

    Getting started on software development

    Embarking on a career in software development is an exciting journey that begins with exploration and education. Start by dipping your toes into the world of coding through structured beginner courses in Python or basic web development from training providers like Heicoders. These courses provide a gentle introduction to programming concepts and help you gauge your interest and aptitude for the field.

    “Once you’ve discovered your passion for coding, it’s time to dive deeper. Enrol in longer-form courses that offer a comprehensive curriculum to master the fundamentals of software development. These programmes provide a structured learning environment, guiding you through essential concepts and techniques that form the bedrock of your skills,” Kong says.

    However, learning doesn’t happen in isolation, Kong says, urging budding developers to join a community of fellow developers to enhance their journey: “Whether it’s online forums, local meetups, or coding boot camps, surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals provides valuable encouragement, advice, and camaraderie.

    “But theory alone isn’t enough. Practical experience is key to truly mastering software development. Seek out opportunities to apply your skills in real-world scenarios. Consider collaborating with startups or non-profit organisations on pro bono projects to gain hands-on experience and build a robust portfolio.

    “By embracing these steps – exploration, education, community, and practical experience – you’ll lay a solid foundation for a fulfilling career in software development, equipped with the knowledge, skills and support to thrive in this dynamic and ever-evolving field.”

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