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What Is a Principal Software Engineer? How to Become One, Salary, Skills.

Principal software engineers use their software knowledge to establish standards and guidance for engineering teams to follow, ensuring the quality of software projects. Here’s what to know about a principal software engineer’s needed skills, salary and how to become one.


What Is a Principal Software Engineer?

A principal software engineer leads engineering teams in developing and testing software projects. Their experience and expertise enables them to make recommendations that can enhance their employers’ technologies and processes.


What Do Principal Softwares Engineers Do?

Principal software engineers work to guarantee software projects meet quality standards and are completed on time. In addition to establishing and managing technical standards for projects, principal software engineers also perform specific tasks like helping with testing and troubleshooting software.

Principal Software Engineer Responsibilities

  • Manage teams and projects to meet deadlines.
  • Establish technical standards for developing and testing software.
  • Train and mentor junior and entry-level team members.
  • Assist with testing software and troubleshooting issues.
  • Meet with team members to come up with software solutions.
  • Optimize and maintain existing software.
  • Recommend tech upgrades to company leaders.

Principal Software Engineers Within a Company

In many companies, the principal software engineer is the highest level role within the software engineering team hierarchy. It is a management position for an experienced professional capable of guiding software development projects and coaching less-experienced engineers.

Importance of Principal Software Engineers

Principal software engineers provide necessary leadership and mentorship for software engineering teams. They are masters of the software development lifecycle who guarantee projects are finished according to quality specifications as well as within deadlines.

A Day in the Life of a Principal Software Engineer | Video: David Byttow


What Skills Are Needed to Be a Principal Software Engineer?

Qualifications to Be a Principal Software Engineer

  • Expertise in software development.
  • Knowledge of essential programming languages like C++, Java and HTML.
  • Management experience.
  • Understanding of software testing and quality assurance practices.
  • Comfortable in a team-oriented environment.
  • Able to debug and adjust software.
  • Familiarity with software engineering and project management tools.

Principal Software Engineer Prerequisites

  • A four-year degree in a relevant field.
  • Roughly 10 years of experience.
  • Professional certifications.

Principal Software Engineer Hard Skills

  • Coding and programming knowledge.
  • Using software engineering and project management tools.
  • Testing and debugging software.
  • Following security protocols and best practices.

Principal Software Engineer Soft Skills

  • Communication and collaboration skills.
  • Team leadership experience.
  • Problem-solving mindset.

Tools and Programs Principal Software Engineers Use

  • Project management tools like Jira, Proofhub and Trello.
  • Communication and collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom and Google Workspace.
  • Software engineering tools like GitHub and Docker.
  • Software testing tools like Selenium.


How to Become a Principal Software Engineer

Principal Software Engineer Education and Experience

To become a principal software engineer, you will likely need at least 10 years of software development experience as well as a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field like computer science. Preparation for this position should not only include developing extensive coding and programming expertise, but also management experience.

Principal Software Engineer Certificates and Courses

Principal Software Engineer Career Path

Many principal software engineers begin their careers as junior or entry-level engineers. Once they have at least six years of professional experience and supplement their education with relevant certifications, these professionals can grow into senior software engineers, a position which allows them to develop their management and leadership skills in preparation for becoming a principal software engineer. The next step in the career ladder could be engineering manager or VP of engineering.


Principal Software Engineer Salary and Job Outlook

A Market Research Future report predicts a “global increase” in the software engineering market through 2030, driven largely by demand for automation and integrated software solutions.

The full compensation package for a principal software engineer depends on a variety of factors, including but not limited to the candidate’s experience and geographic location. See below for detailed information on the average principal software engineer salary.


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