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Online PhD in Software & Application Development Programs

Do you want to become the next Steve Wozniak? If so, you may want to consider earning a PhD in software engineering. A PhD, or doctoral degree, is the highest possible degree

you can earn in the United States. So, it’s no small feat! But if you’re looking to really position yourself as an expert in the field—and set yourself apart from your peers—it may be beneficial to your goals. Something else to consider…the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that computer jobs are expected to rise by 12% from 3.9 million in 2014 to 4.4 million in 2024!i  So this may be the ideal time to supersize your skills, knowledge, and credentials by earning an online doctorate in software engineering. To help you get started, check out the information below on the ins and outs of earning a PhD in this exciting field.

What knowledge and skills may be relevant in software engineering?

When it comes to software engineering, you’ll obviously need to be very knowledgeable about computers and electronics. This means being well-versed in computer components like circuit boards, chips, and electronic equipment—and in computer software and hardware.ii  But that’s not all! You’ll also need to be knowledgeable in the practical application of engineering science and technology.ii Other important field-related skills that you may want to build on include computer programming, systems analysis, and systems evaluation.ii

Wondering what qualities may be beneficial to someone pursuing a career in software engineering? Well, you might need to have:

Analytical skills: To analyze user needs and design software to meet them.

Communication skills: To give clear instructions to other project team members and explain how software works.iii

Creativity: To be the creative mind behind developing new software.iii

Problem-solving skills: To solve issues that arise in the software design process.iii

And a detail-oriented nature: To be able to effectively work on many different parts of an application or system at the same time.iii

What courses would I take while earning my PhD in software engineering?

Let’s start out by saying that your coursework will really vary, depending on the university and program that you choose. But in general, the purpose of this type of doctoral program is to help you gain a comprehensive understanding of software engineering, build your research skills, and cultivate a deep understanding of topics that will lead into your thesis research—and eventually—your final thesis.  Depending on the program, you may also be required to take part in a practicum component as well.   

Some of the topics you may study in an online PhD in software engineering program include:

  • Software engineering research
  • Programming language semantics
  • Software systems models
  • Advanced user interface software
  • Machine learning
  • Formal logic
  • Intro to computer security

Earning your doctorate degree can take anywhere from two to six years to complete, depending on whether the program accepts students who’ve already earned a bachelor’s degree, or require students to have already earned a master’s degree for entrance.

What industries employ people with a PhD in software engineering?

According to the BLS, software engineers accounted for about 1.1 million jobs in 2014.iv  The industry that employed the most software engineers was computer systems design and related services at 33%.iv This was followed by software publishers, finance and insurance, computer and electronic product manufacturing, and management of companies and enterprises.iv So that’s something to keep in mind when thinking about where to apply after you graduate. Speaking of which…

What careers could I pursue with an online PhD in software engineering?

If you earn your doctorate in software engineering, there are a variety of career paths you could pursue. Let’s start with software engineers. Also called software developers, they are the geniuses behind computer programs! Some develop applications that allow people do specific tasks on computers or other devices—while others create underlying systems that run these devices or that control networks.v

Computer programmers, on the other hand, write and test code that makes computer applications and software function properly—basically, they take the program designs created by software engineers and turn them into instructions that computers can follow.vi

Finally, computer scientists spend their time inventing new approaches to computing technology—and finding new uses for technology that already exists.vii  This involves studying and solving complex problems in computing for medicine, business, science, and other fields.vii

When it comes to salary and employment potential, here is how these three careers stack up, according to the BLS. . . .

Software engineers are expected to lead the pack in terms of the job outlook from 2014 to 2024 with a 17% growth rate, which is much faster than average.v In terms of median annual salary, computer scientists earn the highest at $110, 620vii, followed closely behind by software engineers at $100, 690v, and computer programmers at $79,530.vi Always keep in mind that salary will vary depending on your employer and the area that you live in. If you’re interested in finding out more about pursuing a career in software development where you live, the BLS has state-by-state statistics available to the public.

Why earn your PhD in software engineering online?

The biggest benefit to earning your doctorate degree online is flexibility. It’s hard enough to juggle work and personal obligations, never mind adding a PhD program into the mix! But studying online may make it a lot easier for you to fit your coursework into your busy schedule. And, your employer may also be impressed to hear that you’re building skills and knowledge that you can apply to your current job!

A big worry that some people have about online learning is that they’ll be all alone in it. That couldn’t be further from the truth! You’ll still be able to interact with fellow students and your professors online through discussion boards and chats. And you’ll also likely have access to support services like advising, online research libraries, and tutoring. Just check with the schools that you’re interested in to get exact details on the types of support that they offer their online students.

How do I get started?

The first step is finding a perfect PhD in software engineering program. The good news is, we’re here to help! Just check out our sponsored listings of accredited schools that offer online doctorate programs in software engineering to get a feel for which ones appeal to you. Then, it’s easy to request more information to help you narrow down your options—and choose what best fits your specific needs and goals.


[i]bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm [ii]onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1132.00?redir=15-1031.00 [iii]bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm#tab-4 [iv]bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm#tab-3 [v]bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm#tab-1 [vi]bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-programmers.htm [vii]bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-and-information-research-scientists.htm [viii]bls.gov/oes/current/oes151132.htm#st