What Is the Best Degree Path to Becoming a Software Architect?

An image of a software architect for our FAQ on the Best Degree Path to Becoming a Software Architect

If you enjoy working with computers and numbers, a career as a software architect could be the perfect choice for you. Software architecture is among the highest-paying careers for students who decide to major in computer science and mathematics. Experienced software architects earn a median salary of approximately $110,000 per year. To prepare for a career as a software architect, you will need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree from a college or university.

Why a College Degree Matters

Software architects are a type of software developer with job responsibilities that include designing and developing software systems and applications. As a software architect, you will combine mathematics, computer science skills, and principles of software engineering to develop:

  • operating systems
  • networks
  • computer games
  • other kinds of software

Generally speaking, most schools do not offer a degree in software architecture specifically. However, aspiring software architects should earn at least a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline to develop the skills they will need throughout their careers. It will also to improve their job prospects. It is possible to develop computer and coding skills without earning a degree. However, this  will put candidates at a disadvantage when compared to candidates who do hold degrees.

Degree Options for Aspiring Software Architects

The most popular degree choices for students pursuing careers as software architects are:

  • computer science
  • information technology
  • software engineering

Mathematics may also be an acceptable major, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). No matter which degree path you choose, be aware that you will likely need to take courses in each of these subjects to develop the skills needed as a software architect. You will study:

  • algorithms
  • data structures
  • programming languages
  • ways to test software

You will explore topics in discrete mathematics, as well as engineering. Degree programs in a computer-related discipline give you ample hands-on experience in courses such as:

  • database design
  • network architecture
  • network security

The programs are designed to prepare you to work with new and emerging technologies used in computer networks.

While most software architects hold a bachelor’s degree at minimum, some pursue graduate-level degrees. In fact, employers of software architects often prefer that applicants hold master’s degrees, such as MBAs, in information systems. An MBA requires two years of study beyond the bachelor’s degree level and covers topics related to both business and computer science.

In addition to a degree, licenses or certifications can improve your job prospects. Certification programs in software architecture are generally offered by software firms or product vendors. These vendor-specific certifications ensure that a software architect has acquired special skills and knowledge in a particular networking or software environment. Some companies may require their software architects to be certified in certain products they use. Earning a certification can help you stand out among your competition when applying for a job as a software architect.

An image of a computer architect for our FAQ on the Best Degree Path to Becoming a Software Architect

Starting Your New Career

Even after earning a college degree, aspiring software architects may not be able to start out in their desired position right away. Often, a graduate will begin as an:

  • analyst
  • computer programmer
  • entry-level software engineer

Then they advance to the role of software architect, according to The Houston Chronicle. Working in these positions allows you to continue building your skills and gives you the opportunity to show managers and supervisors that you can excel in your chosen field.

If you took on internship opportunities during your college career you can sometimes attain entry-level jobs with companies for which you interned. Throughout their careers, software architects will need to continue learning about ever-changing technologies. Ongoing education is critical to the career of a software architect, due to the ever-evolving industry and new software products.

Benefits of Working as a Software Architect

Earnings Potential

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for software architects, developers, and closely related occupations is just over $110,000. The median annual wage is the wage that half of the workers in this occupation earned more than and half earned less than. BLS also reports that the lowest 10 percent of earners in this occupation made approximately $65,000, while the highest 10 percent made over $170,000.

Industry type impacts earnings potential. In fact, BLS reports two specific industries where software architects earn higher than the average wage in this occupation. Software publishing proves to offer the highest median annual wage for architects and developers. In this industry, we see a median annual wage of $124,050. The second-highest-paying industry for this occupation is manufacturing. According to BLS, the manufacturing industry paid a median annual wage of $119,280 for software architects and developers.

Other top-paying industries reported by BLS include:

  • management of companies and enterprises
  • computer systems design and related services
  • insurance carriers and related activities

In each of these industries, software architects earn over $102,000 in median annual wages. In fact, management of companies offers a median annual wage of $109,840.

Another factor that impacts earnings is geographic location. Certain states pay a higher wage than others. As reported by BLS, there are five high-paying states for software architects. These states include:

  • Washington
  • California
  • New York
  • Massachusetts
  • the District of Columbia (not a state)

In Washington, software architects and developers can expect an annual mean wage of $138,400. California offers a slightly lower annual mean wage for this occupation of $137,620. The next-highest-paying state for software architects is New York. Here, software architects can expect an annual mean wage of $122,300.

While the number is lower than the average for California and Washington, it is still higher than the median annual wage of $110,000 for all software architects. In Massachusetts, the annual mean wage for software architects is $119,790, and in the District of Columbia, the annual wage is $119,630.

As income varies by state, so does it vary by city. BLS reports the top-paying metropolitan areas for software developers and architects as the following:
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California: $157,480
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California: $144,740
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington: $140,930
Wenatchee, Washington: $131,320
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, California: $127,620

Nonmetro areas also pay well, though not as high as some of the major metropolitan areas. But, according to BLS, there are five top-paying nonmetropolitan areas for software architects and developers. These areas and their annual mean wages are as follows:

Coastal Oregon: $117,450
North Valley and Northern Mountains Region of California: $114,970
Hawaii and Kauai: $114,520
Southern Arkansas: $110,890
Southern Virginia: $108,070

An image of a computer architect for our FAQ on the Best Degree Path to Becoming a Software Architect

Job Outlook

Working as a software architect has several benefits, from the high rate of pay for experienced professionals to a very positive job outlook. As a whole, software developers can anticipate a 22 percent increase in job opportunities over a decade, as compared to the 11 percent job growth expected for all computer and IT occupations combined, the BLS reports. The work of a software architect is interesting and appealing in and of itself if you are both creative and analytical and enjoy working with numbers and computers.

The favorable job outlook for this career is primarily due to the need for:

  • new applications on smart phones and tablets
  • the innovative software demanded by health and medical insurance and reinsurance carriers
  • the overall increasing number of people using digital platforms

Also, security threats to computer networks drives companies and businesses to invest in security software to protect their infrastructure. The increased cybersecurity threats cause companies to hire specialists in the field. This will drive the demand for more software architects.

According to BLS, an additional 316,000 jobs for software architects and related occupations will open up through 2029. Projected employment by 2029 for this occupation is 1,785,200.

Important Qualities for Software Architects

In addition to having the proper education, software architects should possess certain qualities that ensure success in this occupation. The following is a list of “soft skills”, or non-technical skills that relate to how you might perform on the job, that are important for the role of a software architect.

Analytical skills: As a software architect, strong analytical skills are important. Architects working with software must be able to evaluate user needs and design software that functions properly to meet those needs. Being able to think critically and assess issues analytically is important to the role of a software architect.

Creativity: Being creative is as important as being analytical in the role of a software architect. Software architects must be innovative in their ways of approaching design. They must be able to address problems and improve software by being creative.

Detail-orientation: Being highly organized and detail-oriented are important traits of software architects. Since the job requires a certain level of concentration, being able to pay attention to the details helps professionals to navigate the role of software architect and developer. To be detail-oriented means that software architects are able to pay attention to the minute details when testing software and troubleshooting issues.

Effective communication skills: Since the role of a software architect requires team-building skills, effective communication is important. Software architects must be able to offer clear instructions and direction to team members. Should problems arise, the software architect must be able to communicate the issues to:

  • colleagues
  • administration
  • clients

At the same time they must come up with solutions that everyone involved will comprehend. The software architect must also be able to explain technical issues to nontechnical users, such as clients or customers. Being able to effectively communicate helps one to successfully navigate the role of a software architect.

Interpersonal skills: As with communication skills, having strong interpersonal skills helps an individual work together to solve problems and contribute to a team. Interpersonal skills ensure that a software architect works well with others when solving problems or addressing issues. To come up with viable solutions, software architects must be able to work with colleagues. Having excellent interpersonal skills helps in this area.

Problem-solving skills: In addition to communication and interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills are extremely important to the success of a software architect. Since this occupation develops and creates software from start to finish, software architects must be able to solve issues and problems as they arise. Throughout the design process, architects are troubleshooting and anticipating issues. Having strong problem-solving skills makes the job easier.

An image of a computer architect for our FAQ on the Best Degree Path to Becoming a Software Architect

Types of Software Architects and Developers

Several different types of software architects and developers work in various industries. The following are examples of software architect roles:

Applications software architects and developers

Applications software architects work with computer applications, such as games, that are sold to the general public. They also create custom software for commercial or specific customer users.

Software engineers

The role of a software engineer is to take on a broad view of software requirements and a project’s system, plan its scope, and order work required to implement the program. The software engineer may work directly with:

  • software architects and developers
  • quality assurance analysts
  • testers

Often, experience and specific knowledge in software engineering are required.

Systems software architects

Systems software architects are responsible for creating operating systems for the public or for an organization. They may build interfaces that allow users to interact with computers or develop operating systems that keep computers functioning in cell phones and vehicles. Systems software architects often supervise projects from start to finish.

While additional software architect roles exist, the ones listed above are the most prominent jobs in the industry. Most software architects, developers, testers, and quality assurance analysts work full-time. It is not unlikely to be called in to work overtime during different seasons or when projects require that tight deadlines are met. In fact, software architects often work more than a traditional forty-hour week.

Related Resources:

This concludes our article on the best degree path to becoming a software architect.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris