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What is software development?

June 26, 2023
Young woman and man sitting in front of monitors looking at code.

Professionals in business, healthcare, and the social sciences increasingly rely on software products and solutions to do their jobs effectively. In fact, professionals working outside the IT field are beginning to incorporate more software development into their daily tasks.1 If you are a working professional, you can advance your career with a high-end competency in software development, even if you do not work directly in tech.

Read on to learn about the different aspects of software development and how you can master these technological trends to advance your career.

Types of software development

What is software development? The term refers broadly to any activity within the computer science field related to software creation. Software developers can work on designing software, implementing software solutions, or providing support and feedback for existing software.

If you pursue software development as a career or as a supplemental skill, you may find yourself working with specific subfields of the broader field. These include:

Systems software

Systems software developers work on designing and implementing the core operating systems that allow the software to run. This may include hard drives, disks, and utilities.

Programming software

Programming software developers create solutions for writing and debugging the code within software products. All software programs run on “code,” which are essentially instructions for how the program should function written in a special programming language. If a line of code causes the program to function incorrectly, that is called a “bug.” Writing and debugging code requires software solutions created and refined by software developers.

Application software

Most software products employ applications (or "apps”) that allow users to perform tasks within the system software program. Application software developers design and implement these apps to ensure easy access to a software product for most users.

While all software programs are “accessible” to some degree, application software provides user-friendly interfaces to all users for specific types of tasks. For example, word processing applications software provides an interface for users to create and edit written documents. Media players provide interfaces to play sound and video files.

Embedded software

This involves programming machines that can connect to the internet but are not considered “computers.” Examples include cars, industrial machines, telecommunications, and other parts of the so-called “Internet of Things.”

What is agile software development?

The agile methodology emphasizes flexibility and pragmatism in the software development process and prioritizes individual interactions between users and components of a software system.2 Rather than focusing on a piece of software as a whole, an agile software development approach prioritizes how different professionals and teams relate to software components based on their own unique needs.

For example, a company's marketing and accounting departments have different needs from their software. Marketing requires complex analytics and design tools to maximize its effect, while accounting needs efficient data entry and document management capabilities. If both departments work with one single software product, the marketing department may find all of its needs met while the accounting department may need some improvements.

With an agile development approach, software developers can focus development efforts on the specific applications used by the accounting department without making unnecessary and costly changes to applications used by the marketing team.

Different teams have evolved their own unique relationships with software, and each software product must be agile enough to meet the needs of each team. Agile practices result in a much more streamlined process and lets all teams work together more efficiently.

Thanks to this efficiency, the agile model has tremendous potential for future careers in the field of software development, especially as artificial intelligence continues to induce software evolution across multiple areas.

What is the software development life cycle?

The software development life cycle is a guideline for the process of creating software.3 It corresponds to industry best practices and proven processes for developing the best software solutions. Although the specifics may vary from organization to organization, in general, the software development life cycle has six stages: planning or needs identification, requirement analysis, architectural design, development, testing, deployment and maintenance.4

1. Planning or needs identification
During the planning stage of the development cycle, software developers will identify (or be instructed by a client) specific user needs for their software to fulfill. For example, users might need to input data onto invoices quickly, interact with multiple users on a video conference, or edit and alter visual images. Developers use this stage to brainstorm software product features and potential strengths and weaknesses of a product.

2. Requirement analysis
In the requirement analysis stage of the development process, development teams including project managers, developers, and others work together to outline the scope, features, and tasks of their current product. Software requirements are categorized into four groups: functional requirements, performance requirements, system technical requirements and specifications.

3. Architectural design
With the requirement analysis completed, software architects can begin designing the technical specifications of the software product in development.

4. Development or build phase
This is the "coding phase" of the life cycle. In the development stage, software engineers use code to construct the interfaces and backends of the software product. A program’s interface is the display that a user will interact with when using it. The “backend” is the underlying code that drives the program, but which the user cannot access. Both are essential for a software program to meet user needs. Plus, the development stage needs to focus on both equally to develop software that works.

5. Software testing
Once the development stage is complete, software developers will complete performance testing on the software to identify bugs and ensure its performance meets the agreed-upon system requirements, also known as "acceptance testing." Analysts might also pursue cybersecurity testing, integration testing, and system testing in this phase.

6. Software deployment and software maintenance
After performing thorough testing, a software team reaches the deployment phase when the product is ready to be released to the customer base. This stage also represents the required consistent maintenance and customer service to respond and solve issues that users experience with a product.

Software development and artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence tools offer tremendous potential for the software development lifecycle, especially regarding agile software development.5 Artificial intelligence can generate code much more quickly than humans can. However, it still requires human oversight to create code within the correct parameters. Nevertheless, this capacity can provide much greater efficiency in the design, code quality testing, and development stages of the software development lifecycle.

Additionally, artificial intelligence offers a vast pool of resources to improve the testing and debugging stage of software development. For many software developers, having artificial intelligence review code presents less risk than having it generate code. As such, software developers have found that artificial intelligence language models are useful for identifying bugs and flows in a program’s backend.

Artificial intelligence for agile software development

The strengths and weaknesses of artificial intelligence in software development make it useful for agile software development. Because it requires ongoing and pragmatic development of user-application relationships, software developers can implement artificial intelligence tools to respond to specific pain points in real-time.

In these cases, artificial intelligence would not develop large code architecture on its own. Instead, it would allow software developers to generate specific code for individual applications as each issue arises.

Advance your software development career with a Marquette University Online master’s program

With advances in technology like artificial intelligence emerging daily, professionals will need the best resources to take advantage of this exponentially growing field. This means getting the education you need to integrate advanced software development tools into your work environment. Marquette University’s online M.S. in Computer and Information Science will help you master the developments in software development, artificial intelligence, machine learning, cybersecurity, and IT analysis.

The faculty at Marquette University’s computer and information science degree programs bring both the expertise and a commitment to education that students need to succeed in the world of software development. Marquette’s online degree programs in computer and information science feature a world-class faculty, top-ranked student engagement, and ample networking opportunities. Learn more about Marquette’s online M.S. in Computer and Information Science by scheduling a call with an Admissions Outreach Advisor today.