What Is Software Development: Definition, Processes and Types

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 28 November 2022

Published 26 May 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Software development is a key creation process in the information technology (IT) sector. Software developers create computer and mobile device programs and make sure they work reliably for users. Understanding the software development process and gaining software development skills can help you find work in the IT sector. In this article, we explain what software development is, the types of programs created through this process and some of the jobs in software development.

What is software development?

Software development is the process of designing, creating and testing programs for computers and mobile devices. This process has several phases which ensure programs meet their technical specifications and the needs of users. Software development is sometimes called the Software Development Life Cycle (SLDC).

Software companies around the world use the SLDC to build and refine their programs. This process provides a clear structure for software development teams to follow when designing, building and maintaining their programs. This structure improves efficiency and effectiveness, so companies can create reliable, functional programs on time and on budget.

Steps in the software development process

The six steps in the software development life cycle are:

1. Needs identification

Needs identification is the process of identifying the needs of users. Through market research and brainstorming sessions, the software company stakeholders identify the kinds of programs that users need. They also start thinking about the features and functions the new program should have. They identify the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities of their proposed project. Considering all these aspects carefully helps the company's stakeholders decide if the program should move through the software development process.

2. Requirement analysis

In the second phase of software development, the development team works with the company stakeholders to determine how to deliver the program. The development team uses its technical expertise to determine what the project's specifications should be. The two teams work together to define the scope, the requirements of every component, developer tasks and testing limits.

The outcomes of all discussions are recorded as tickets, or stories, in an issue tracking program such as JIRA, or as project Wiki pages linked to JIRA tickets. Team members can access these resources when they need clarity on the project. Following the tickets should ensure the program achieves its intended purpose.

3. Design

In the third stage, the development team creates more detailed technical specifications for completing the project. These specifications outline the project's architectural design, components, front-end and user flow. The team also considers the time they'll need to complete each project, any limitations they can foresee and the technologies they'll use. They communicate with the management team to confirm their plans suit their intended budget and timeline. As with the second stage, all points discussed get listed on the project's Wiki pages or as tickets.

4. Development and implementation

In the fourth stage, software engineers code the program based on the agreed specifications and requirements. Software engineers may be front-end developers, who work on user-friendly interfaces, back-end developers who ensure functionality, or full-stack developers who manage both. The developers test and review their colleagues' code during this phase.

After developing the code, the developers enter the implementation stage and deploy the product to a testing environment. They test a pilot version to ensure its performance matches the program requirements.

Related: Technical Skills: Definition and Examples

5. Testing

During the testing phase, test analysts assess the program's functionality and reliability. They look for bugs and make sure the program satisfies the specifications and requirements. Executing test script and exploratory testing helps them make sure every component works as intended.

Test analysts notify software engineers of any code defects. The software engineers check these defects and improve their code as required before resubmitting it for testing. This process continues until the software satisfies requirements.

During this phase, software architects also assess the code and look for areas of improvement. The steps they take can help the program load faster and use less data or memory. They also make the code simpler so it's easier to work with in future.

6. Deployment and maintenance

After thorough testing and refining, the software company releases the program to customers. Some companies employ special maintenance teams who manage any issues users encounter while operating the program. Others use their regular development team for this purpose. During the maintenance phase, developers solve minor issues with hotfixes, which are small pieces of code added to programs to fix bugs as quickly as possible. More complex issues get noted and worked on for the next program update.

Types of software

There are two main types of software that companies develop, each with different applications:

System software

System software is the program that a device, such as a computer or a smartphone, uses to translate input commands into a language it can understand. System software controls the device's hardware components. System software is also called the operating system. Some common operating systems include Windows and Mac OS for desktop computers and Android and iOS for smartphones and tablets.

Application software

Application software is the software users interact with when they use their computers and mobile devices. Word processors, mobile games, internet browsers, social media apps, photo editors and anti-virus programs are all examples of application software.

Types of programming languages

Most people who work in software development need a good understanding of programming languages. They apply their knowledge of programming language when coding and testing programs. They also use this knowledge during the maintenance phase to hotfix any minor issues and later when updating products. Knowing many different program languages can help you transition between projects and work with other people's code. Those fluent in several different program languages are also more employable. Some common programming languages include:

  • JavaScript: The most popular language for interactive web applications, mostly used for front-end development

  • Swift: The primary language for iOS development

  • Java: An Object Orientated programming language designed for a variety of different computers

  • Python: Mostly used for technical applications in maths, statistics and science

  • Ruby: A versatile language used for web applications, API development and automation

  • C#: A .NET language with similar capabilities to Python and Java created by Microsoft

  • C++: One of the oldest programming languages used primarily when developing legacy systems and applications

Eight jobs using software development

Several roles in the IT industry use software development, including the following eight positions ranked by their salaries, lowest to highest:

1. Test analyst

National average salary: $93,381 per year

Primary duties: Test analysts assess the code that developers create to make sure it functions as intended and meets the program's requirements. Their involvement in the design and development process helps them understand their program's goals. They also design test plans that meet company standards and satisfy industry guidelines.

2. Software engineer

National average salary: $94,140 per year

Primary duties: Software engineers consider a project's needs and design and create programs that satisfy them. They engage with many parts of the software development process, working with project managers on project specifications, and then creating the code which achieves them from designer plans. They also continuously refine code to correct errors and make improvements that enhance their programs.

3. Application developer

National average salary: $97,793 per year

Primary duties: Application developers design and create applications that satisfy a project's needs. They work with project managers on app specifications before creating code that satisfies requirements. Application developers often design Android and iOS apps for tablets and smartphones. They may also create desktop applications.

Related: 15 Future Jobs for You

4. User interface designer

National average salary: $96,136 per year

Primary duties: A user interface designer plans the way a program looks. They create designs that are aesthetically pleasing, while being intuitive. They use established graphic conventions to help guide users through the product. They also make sure the product features their company's branding. User interface designers are sometimes called UI designers.

5. Business analyst

National average salary: $102,705 per year

Primary duties: A business analyst translates the needs of a business to a list of program requirements. They work during the early stages of software development to make sure the program's design meets the business's goals. Working as a business analyst is a great option for anyone interested in software development with a business background, rather than a technical one.

6. User experience designer

National average salary: $104,765 per year

Primary duties: A user experience designer creates plans showing how users should interact with the program. Their plans ensure that completed programs are useful and intuitive. User experience designers are sometimes called UX designers.

7. Project manager

National average salary: $121,476 per year

Primary duties: The project manager leads the development term. Project managers work with other company stakeholders during the needs identification phase and help developers find solutions that can satisfy the company's needs. They also communicate with company stakeholders on the development team's behalf if any project issues arise.

Related: Management Skills: Definition and Examples

8. Software architect

National average salary: $144,765 per year

Primary duties: A software architect makes high-level choices about the program's development, such as its platform, tools and coding standards. They also review code to make sure it is simple and effective.

Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate’s experience, academic background and location.

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