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Principal Software Engineer

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What Is a Principal Software Engineer?

Principal software engineers oversee the technical aspects of projects, providing software standards and guidance for engineering teams to follow. This role ensures the quality of each project while helping teams meet deadlines, keeping a company’s technical debt in check. A principal software engineer also assists with testing products, troubleshooting issues and performing other specific tasks. With their expertise, principal software engineers can make recommendations to enhance their employers’ technologies and processes. 

How do you become a principal software engineer?

Principal software engineer roles require a four-year degree and at least 10 years of work experience.

Aspiring principal software engineers need to reinforce their passions with extensive training. Majors like computer science and engineering provide necessary training in essential programming languages like C++, Java and HTML. These skills create a foundation that students can apply to entry-level software roles. 

Many principal software engineers begin their careers working as entry-level software engineers for several years before moving up to senior software engineer roles. Serving in this position for five to six years allows leaders to become familiar with managing engineers and encouraging individuals to work as a team. With a combined 10 years of relevant on-the-job experience, candidates can prepare themselves for a principal software engineer position. 

What is the salary of a principal software engineer?

As managers with years of experience, principal software engineers earn an average base salary of $163,658.

According to the Built In salary calculator, principal software engineers in the U.S. make an average base salary of $163,658. High-performing employees can achieve an additional cash compensation of $54,464, elevating their total compensation to $218,122. Principal software engineers can continue to extend their salary range as crucial leaders, earning as much as $375K later in their careers. 

What skills does a principal software engineer need?

Principal software engineers should display programming and software experience, analytical thinking and some business acumen.

To excel as principal software engineers, professionals must master crucial software knowledge. This role must often help with writing code, debugging issues and making adjustments. Not only does software expertise come into play here, but analytical thinking also enables principal software engineers to spot errors and present proper solutions. As a result, software and analytical expertise are key demands of the position. 

While principal software engineers jump into individual projects, they are still leaders of their engineering teams. This reality means these professionals should also be looking for ways to optimize their teams’ processes by recommending tech upgrades to company leaders. A degree of business acumen is an excellent complement to technical knowledge that establishes principal software engineers as multi-faceted leaders within their companies. 


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