How To Become a security software developer

female software security developer checks monitors in her work office

A security software developer's main responsibility is to create and maintain security systems that safeguard data. Since fraudsters continuously adapt and change their hacking tactics, an organization's security system needs to both consistently and successfully block bad actors.

This role combines a working knowledge of cyber security and software development to build the most robust systems. If you're interested in both of these areas, becoming a security software developer could be an ideal match.

Education requirements for security software developers

Most software security developer jobs require a bachelor's degree at minimum. It's recommended that you hold a degree in computer science, information science, electrical engineering or any other subject that is directly related to data and computing. 

If you already have a bachelor's degree in cyber security or in a different field, you don't necessarily need to go back to college to earn another four-year degree. Instead, you can enroll in a cyber security or software engineering bootcamp

Bootcamps can take anywhere from 12-32 weeks to complete, and you'll learn the basics of: 

As you advance in your career in security software development, it's important to continue learning about new threats and advancements in the field. Cyberattacks are always evolving, so continuing your cyber education will ensure that you are up-to-date in the latest techniques and processes. Higher-level engineer roles may also call for a master's degree, so that's key to consider as well if you want to earn a promotion or a higher salary. 

Skills needed for this role

Security software developers need a combination of technical and soft skills to succeed on the job. Below are the ideal skill sets to work on as you embark on a career in this field. 

Technical skills

• Programming languages for security software development
• Familiarity with development tools and frameworks
• Understanding of encryption and decryption techniques
• Experience with penetration testing

Bruce H., a senior software security engineer, gives his perspective: "In addition to having experience with programming languages like Python, Java, Go, etc., and operating system knowledge, it's important to have working knowledge of things like cryptography, defensive programming and secure OS and network protocols.  A familiarity with popular security frameworks (NIST, FedRAMP, ISO 27001) is also a must-have. You should have an understanding of HIPAA, GDPR and any other specific legal requirements that you may run into."

Soft skills

• Analytical thinking
• Attention to detail
• Communication skills
• Ability to work in a team environment

Bruce adds, "I find the most important skill is the ability to negotiate. It's critical that a security-focused engineer possess the ability to convince people that a security-first approach is in their best interest."

Job experience

In addition to creating a security portfolio, it's important to try to gain as much real-world experience as you can in order to showcase your talents to future employers. You can do this through: 

Getting an internship.
If you're a current student, check your school's career development center to see if there are any upcoming job fairs or online postings. Alumni will often try to hire current students for internships throughout the year. 
Co-op programs.
Some schools offer co-op programs, which give you the opportunity to work a part-time or full-time job while still in school. Whether your school requires this or has made it optional, this is a fantastic way to get ahead of your peers and potentially get a job offer upon graduating with your degree. 


Certifications aren't necessary to becoming a security software developer, but they can be a boon to your career. Earning a certification will help set you apart from others in your field and is a great way to demonstrate your expertise. Certifications that are valuable for security software developers include: 

Certified Encryption Specialist (C|ES):
A two-hour, 50-question multiple choice exam that measures your expertise in cryptography. This exam costs $250. 
Certified Ethical Hacker (C|EH):
The CEH certification proves your ability to spot vulnerabilities and weaknesses in an organization's security practices. The exam is 4-6 hours depending on whether it's practical or knowledge-based. Those without enough experience will need to take an official course before the exam, which ranges from $2199-$3499. The exam itself costs $1299 to take. 
Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP):
Earning the CISSP certification will show that you can effectively design, implement and manage a cyber security program. You'll need to take and pass a four-hour multiple-choice exam and pay a $749 fee.
Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP):
This certification tests your knowledge of the three a's: authentication, authorization and auditing. To earn it, you'll take a three-hour multiple-choice exam. Registration is $599.
CompTIA Security+:
If you don't yet have any certifications, this is an excellent first option. The CompTIA Security+ certification will show that you have the core knowledge and skills for an intermediate-level cyber security role. You must take and pass a 90-question multiple choice exam to become certified, and the registration fee is $392. 
EC-Council Certified Secure Programmer (ECSP):
If you want to show that you're proficient in building applications with .NET framework, this is the certification you should earn. Test takers must pass a two-hour, 50-question exam. Registration costs depend on your level of experience. Those with no experience must pay to take an official training before the exam which costs $850.  Those with at least two years of experience must pay a $100 application fee plus $1199 to take the exam. 
GIAC Certifications:
All exams are open book and range from 2-4 hours depending on the specialization. You can earn a GIAC certification in cyber defense, offensive operations, digital forensics, cloud security, industrial control systems and cybersecurity leadership. Registration is $949 for each individual exam.


Building a security portfolio

One of the best ways to demonstrate your skills and knowledge in security software development, even if you have little to no experience, is to build a portfolio. Your portfolio should showcase different papers or articles you've written about cyber security (if any) and examples of successful projects you've worked on.

You can include projects like: 

  • Data retrieval
  • Your own encryption software
  • Your own keylogging software
  • RFID blocking

To display your projects, you can build a standard portfolio website using Squarespace or Weebly. Or, you can also use a more tech-oriented platform like Github or CodePen, which are designed to help you showcase your original code. 

Networking and industry involvement

One of the best ways to land your first job is to network. "Security engineers and managers exist in almost every company, " says Bruce. "If you're looking to break into the industry, or even simply need more contacts, approaching a company's or organization's security team with a willingness to learn and a desire to help will garner a lot of positive response and attention."

There are several cyber security organizations to join, such as: 

  • Cloud Security Alliance
  • Content Delivery and Security Association
  • Cyber Oregon
  • Cyber Smart NV
  • CyberTexas Foundation
  • Federal Information Systems Security Educators Association (FISSEA)
  • Greater Houston Cyber Security Council
  • Identity Management Institute (IMI)
  • Information Security Forum
  • Information Security Research Association (ISRA)
  • Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)
  • International Association for Cryptologic Research (IACR)
  • International Association of Privacy Professionals
  • International Association of Security Awareness Professionals
  • International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2
  • Minority Cyber Inclusion Council
  • National Cybersecurity Society
  • National Cybersecurity Student Association
  • New Jersey Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Cell (NJCCIC)
  • Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP)
  • UtahSAINT
  • Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS)
  • 801 Labs

The industry has a few notable annual conferences, too, such as: 

  • Black Hat USA
  • RSA Conference

Job search and application process

To find your first software security developer job, look for postings on big-name sites like Indeed or LinkedIn. You can also look on tech industry-specific sites like Dice, or sites that focus on startups, like Wellfound. Try to utilize any networks you have, such as a professional organization you might've joined or your school's alumni directory if possible. 

The most important tip for creating a standout resume and cover letter is to address the keywords listed in the job posting. Each job posting will have certain keywords, so it's your job to ensure that you address each one in your materials. You should also format your resume and cover letter so that they're easy to read and have no grammatical or spelling errors. A link to your portfolio must be easily accessible as well—be sure to test that it's in working order before forwarding it to a recruiter. 

Once you get called for an interview, you'll need to practice answering standard technical interview questions. Bruce says, "You're going to be asked a lot of questions that traditional developers won't, but that doesn't mean you can slack off on the coding side. Practice spotting insecure code (improperly escaped strings and dynamic SQL queries, data input that isn't validated, insecure communication between services, hard-coded secrets, etc.), and know how to fix it.  Brush up on the security frameworks you expect to encounter and come prepared with questions about a company's security posture, how they detect and remediate vulnerabilities, the tools they use, how their compliance process works and how they've handled prior security incidents."

Security software developer salary expectations

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for software developers in the United States is $127,260. Your salary, however, may be higher or lower than this amount due to:

  • Your location
  • How many years of experience you posess
  • Size of the company
  • Your educational background

Here are median annual salaries, including the lowest and highest 10% pay by state and national data:

Software Developers

National data

Median Salary: $127,260

Projected job growth: 25.7%

10th Percentile: $71,280

25th Percentile: $96,790

75th Percentile: $161,480

90th Percentile: $198,100

Projected job growth: 25.7%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alabama $103,520 $58,930 $170,710
Alaska $134,210 $83,870 $196,440
Arizona $110,380 $77,240 $171,380
Arkansas $87,880 $38,880 $130,430
California $164,330 $97,190 N/A
Colorado $129,920 $80,870 $180,090
Connecticut $110,420 $73,990 $171,290
Delaware $118,450 $80,760 $167,230
District of Columbia $135,230 $87,760 $185,240
Florida $107,440 $61,150 $167,810
Georgia $122,430 $68,240 $167,640
Hawaii $103,210 $56,160 $166,780
Idaho $101,440 $41,600 $152,190
Illinois $118,470 $67,560 $171,450
Indiana $100,510 $57,010 $139,610
Iowa $103,580 $64,910 $139,600
Kansas $102,700 $60,300 $159,970
Kentucky $100,320 $64,500 $148,470
Louisiana $102,670 $63,850 $158,920
Maine $104,430 $65,880 $148,890
Maryland $129,810 $80,720 $205,720
Massachusetts $132,330 $82,780 $180,080
Michigan $101,070 $61,090 $140,120
Minnesota $110,600 $74,520 $161,300
Mississippi $91,750 $52,470 $148,530
Missouri $101,650 $51,070 $148,680
Montana N/A N/A N/A
Nebraska $106,720 $64,620 $140,440
Nevada $107,920 $72,740 $175,530
New Hampshire $125,280 $78,300 $177,470
New Jersey $127,900 $75,340 $178,730
New Mexico $100,750 $61,240 $174,090
New York $135,090 $78,840 $210,520
North Carolina $126,520 $72,940 $176,160
North Dakota $84,860 $41,920 $132,320
Ohio $104,500 $65,260 $149,660
Oklahoma $99,510 $57,620 $158,650
Oregon $121,230 $65,820 $172,630
Pennsylvania $107,170 $66,610 $166,310
Rhode Island $129,690 $77,310 N/A
South Carolina $98,630 $65,000 $155,950
South Dakota $80,290 $61,320 $112,450
Tennessee $103,270 $56,180 $151,290
Texas $111,700 $67,580 $165,920
Utah $107,990 $50,650 $170,980
Vermont $99,250 $60,340 $153,150
Virginia $130,980 $74,460 $204,270
Washington $151,930 $83,800 $218,390
West Virginia $88,190 $53,240 $140,050
Wisconsin $100,310 $61,730 $138,280
Wyoming $101,410 $53,420 $143,880

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

And the BLS says the cities/metro areas with the highest number of software developers, which indicates the highest levels of potential employment, include:

Metropolitan Areas Employment
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 108,650
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 83,860
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 80,770
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 69,360
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 67,010
Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH 55,590
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 53,220
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 50,370
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 41,920
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 40,840

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is the job outlook for security software developers? 

The job outlook for security software developers is very good, with the profession growing at the incredibly fast rate of 25.7% through 2032. 

What is the typical career progression for security software developers?

The typical career progression for security software developers is not too different from that of a regular software developer. Bruce says, "You can start out your career as an entry-level SWE or security analyst, and progress along a traditional junior/engineer/senior/staff/principal developer path while maintaining a security-focused approach.

Alternatively, you can later become a security engineer/architect, independent consultant or penetration tester. Developers who proceed along the management track can become security team leads/security managers, compliance managers, directors/VPs of security or even a CISO." 

What is the difference between a security software developer and a cyber security professional?

A security software developer is a type of cyber security professional. Examples of other types of cybersecurity professionals include network security engineers, forensic analysts, IT security specialists and machine learning engineers. 

Final say

Cyber security is an ever-changing field. Experienced software security developers are needed across industries to keep data safe from growing threats. 

You can join an exciting, fast-paced field and protect data from bad actors by earning a four-year degree in computer science, engineering, or a related field—or by successfully completing a cyber security-focused bootcamp. Use the Find Schools widget on this page to find trusted universities, colleges and bootcamps near you that will let you start your journey to becoming a software security developer. 

Published: July 25, 2023

emily polner

Written and reported by:

Emily Polner

Contributing Writer

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