23 Alternative Career Paths that Software Developers Can Grow Into

As a seasoned software developer and engineering leader, one of the most common questions I get from new developers is: "What other career options are available to me besides writing code?"

It‘s a great question. While becoming a software engineer is an exciting and lucrative career path, it‘s not the only option. The skills you gain as a developer – problem-solving, analytical thinking, learning new technologies quickly – are immensely valuable and transferable to a wide range of other roles, both technical and non-technical.

In this post, I‘ll walk you through 23 alternative career paths that leverage the skills you‘ve developed as a software engineer. We‘ll explore options across customer-facing roles, product development, support functions, teaching and writing, analytical fields, and paths offering more independence and flexibility. For each, I‘ll explain what the job entails, the key skills you need, how to get started, and the long-term prospects.

Whether you‘re a coding bootcamp grad still searching for your first developer job, or an experienced engineer looking for a new challenge, I hope this guide will open your eyes to the exciting career possibilities that await you. Let‘s dive in!

Customer-Facing Roles

If you enjoy interacting with people and helping them succeed with technology, consider one of these outward-facing roles:

1. Developer Relations, Advocacy, or Evangelism

As a Developer Advocate, you act as the voice of the developer back to the company, and the voice of the company out to the developer community. You get to code, write, speak, teach, and build relationships.

The DevRel field has exploded in recent years as more companies strive to win the hearts and minds of software developers. Industry leaders like Mary Thengvall and PJ Hagerty have helped define this role and share their experiences on the Community Pulse podcast.

To get started, build your writing and speaking skills by contributing to open source projects, writing tutorials, and speaking at meetups. With a few years of development experience under your belt, you can land an entry-level Developer Advocate role and grow from there. Glassdoor pegs the average US salary for this role at $111,000.

2. Developer Marketing

While there is overlap with Developer Relations, Developer Marketing focuses more on driving awareness and adoption of tools and platforms. As a technical person, you have an advantage in understanding how to authentically market to developers.

SlashData, which puts out great content and research about marketing to developers, values the global developer marketing community at over $40 billion. To get into this field, brush up on your content marketing, SEO, social media, and influencer marketing skills. You can showcase your abilities by growing your own blog and social channels.

3. Sales Engineer

Sales Engineers use their technical knowledge to sell complex products to other businesses. In this role, you‘re the technical expert who can explain how the product works, answer technical questions, give demos and POCs, and make sure the customer is set up for success.

As more companies build software tools for developers, Sales Engineers who can speak the language are in high demand. According to Glassdoor, Sales Engineers earn an average of $90,000 base salary, plus often sizable bonuses. You don‘t need special certifications, but you should have strong communication skills and a knack for building relationships.

4. Technical Recruiter

With your developer background, you‘re uniquely equipped to identify technical talent and persuade them to join your company. You understand the skills, can assess candidates, and speak credibly about the work environment and tech stack.

Technical recruiting can be a grind, but it can also pay very well. Glassdoor shows an average base pay of $54,000, but notes that commissions can more than double that. To get started, consider recruiting for your current company, or look for entry-level roles at reputable tech recruiting firms.

Product Roles

Want to shape the direction of the software you‘re building? Check out these product-focused roles:

5. Quality Assurance or Test Engineer

If you have an eye for detail and like to break things, consider Quality Assurance. QA Engineers design and conduct software tests to identify bugs, verify the product matches the requirements, and ensure a high-quality user experience before release.

The role usually involves a mix of manual and automated testing. Demand for QA automation engineers who can write scripted tests is particularly high. Payscale shows an average salary of $74,000 for QA automation engineers in the US.

6. Business Analyst

Business Analysts sit at the intersection of the business and technology. They define requirements, document processes, and communicate between stakeholders and the development team. BAs need a mix of tech savvy, business sense, and strong analytical and communication skills.

If you enjoy digging for answers and bridging the gap between the suits and the geeks, this could be a great fit. The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) offers a well-regarded certification program. According to Payscale, the average Business Analyst salary is $68,000.

7. Project Manager

Project Managers plan, coordinate, and oversee the execution of projects. As a PM, you manage tasks, resources, budgets, schedules, risks, and deliverables to ensure projects finish on time and meet objectives.

Project management could be a good match if you‘re detail-oriented and enjoy seeing "the big picture." Breaking into this field often involves starting as a project coordinator or junior project manager. Payscale reports an average US Project Manager salary of $88,000.

8. Scrum Master

Scrum Masters facilitate the Agile process for their development teams. They ensure everyone follows Scrum theory, practices, and rules. They coach the team, clear roadblocks, and optimize the process.

If you‘re a process geek and a people person, consider Scrum. Scrum.org and the Scrum Alliance offer popular Scrum Master certifications to add to your credentials. The Scrum Master role pays an average of $97,000 according to Glassdoor.

9. Product Manager

Product Managers oversee the entire lifecycle of a product. Their goal is to deliver a product that solves real user needs, within the constraints of the business. PMs coordinate between engineering, design, sales, marketing, support, legal, and other functions to make the best product decisions.

Product management can be a good fit if you‘re a big picture thinker who‘s also willing to get into the details. The transition often starts by moving into a project manager or business analyst role first. The average Product Manager salary is $108,000 according to Glassdoor.

10. Designer

If you have a visual eye and a front-end development background, you might consider transitioning into User Experience (UX) or User Interface (UI) design. UX designers focus on making products functional and easy to use, while UI designers perfect the visual details.

Designers with coding skills are in demand because they can create interactive prototypes and seamlessly collaborate with developers. The path usually starts with developing a strong portfolio on a platform like Dribbble or Behance. Glassdoor shows an average base pay of $90,000 for UX designers.

11. No-Code or Low-Code Developer

The rise of no-code and low-code platforms like Zapier, Webflow, and Airtable have opened up possibilities for building software without in-depth programming knowledge. As a software developer, you can leverage your understanding of software logic and architecture to build sophisticated applications on these platforms.

No-code developer roles are relatively new, so requirements and pay scales vary widely. But your coding background will give you a leg up. Check out sites like Makerpad and NoCodeJobs.co to get a feel for the opportunities.

Support Roles

Maybe you enjoy the satisfaction of keeping systems running smoothly or helping customers succeed. Consider one of these support-focused roles:

12. Sysadmin or DevOps Engineer

System Administrators are in charge of maintaining computer systems like servers and databases. They install, configure, update, and monitor systems to ensure everything runs smoothly.

DevOps is a more modern take on this role, emphasizing automation and closer collaboration with developers. DevOps Engineers need coding skills to write automation scripts as well as expertise in tools like Terraform, Docker, Kubernetes, and various monitoring services.

These roles suit detail-oriented problem solvers who like learning new technologies. The average salary range is wide, but Glassdoor shows DevOps Engineers averaging $103,000.

13. Database Administrator

DBAs are the keepers of an organization‘s data. They maintain, secure, and optimize the databases that power applications and analytical systems. The role involves tasks like designing schemas, tuning performance, taking backups, and granting access permissions.

To become a DBA, dive deep into database technologies like MySQL, PostgreSQL, Oracle, MongoDB, and Redis. Understand indexing, normalization, ACID, CAP theorem, and so on. The average Database Administrator salary is $85,000 according to Glassdoor.

14. Site Reliability Engineer

Site Reliability Engineering is like being a firefighter for large scale software systems. SREs respond to incidents, track down root causes, build monitoring systems, and work to prevent future outages. The role combines software engineering and systems administration skills.

If you‘re curious and like creative problem solving, check out Site Reliability Engineering. It can involve some high-pressure on-call situations, but it exposes you to the full breadth of the software stack. Glassdoor shows an average SRE salary of $130,000.

15. Technical or Customer Support

For those who like to help people, Technical Support could be a rewarding career. In this role, you assist customers who are having technical issues with the product, by guiding them through troubleshooting steps, identifying bugs, and escalating issues to engineering when needed.

The role can be stressful – you‘re often dealing with frustrated customers. But it‘s rewarding to be the hero who solves their problems. And your technical background will help you move up the ladder into higher tier support or engineering roles. The average Technical Support Specialist salary is $46,000 according to Payscale.

Teaching and Writing Roles

Do you find joy in explaining complex technical topics to others? Your experience as a developer can be valuable in teaching the next generation or writing to share knowledge:

16. Technical Writer

Technical Writers excel at distilling complicated technical information into clear, useful documentation. If you have solid writing fundamentals and can explain technical concepts to different audiences, consider technical writing.

The work can include producing documentation, tutorials, user guides, API references, and educational blog posts. There are many paths in – you can start with developer blogs and community writing programs, then build up a portfolio. The average Technical Writer salary is $72,000 according to Glassdoor.

17. Teacher or Trainer

Teaching is another way to share your software development expertise. You could teach at a coding bootcamp, a community college, or within an organization. Some companies employ trainers to teach customers how to use internal developer platforms and APIs.

To get started, build up your communication and presentation skills. Create an online course, lead workshops, or start a YouTube channel. Teaching pays less than software development (around $50,000 according to Glassdoor), but it can be fulfilling to inspire the next generation of developers.

Analytical Roles

If you‘re fascinated by data, these analytical roles let you apply your technical chops to deriving insights and guiding decisions:

18. Data Scientist or Data Engineer

Data Scientists use statistical techniques and machine learning algorithms to extract insights and make predictions from data. Data Engineers work on the pipelines for collecting, cleaning, and processing that data. Both roles require strong programming and SQL skills.

To transition into data science, you‘ll need a solid grasp of statistics, data visualization, and tools like Python, R, Pandas, and Jupyter. Building some data projects in Kaggle or contributing to open source can help you practice. Data Scientist is a lucrative role, averaging $122,000 according to Glassdoor.

19. Security Analyst

Security Analysts help protect an organization‘s computer networks and systems. They monitor for security breaches, investigate incidents, and implement security controls. The role requires knowledge of security vulnerabilities, cryptography, authentication, and best practices.

To break in, start by learning OWASP, threat modeling, tools like Metasploit and Wireshark, compliance standards, and certifications like Security+. Glassdoor shows an average salary of $76,000, with significant upside as you gain experience.

Independence and Flexibility

Prefer to go your own way? These paths let you set your own terms:

20. Freelancer or Consultant

As a freelance developer, you work with multiple clients on a project basis and set your own hours and rates. Consultants tend to focus more on guiding technical strategy than on hands-on coding. Both give you variety and control over your schedule.

Getting steady freelance work takes time. Start by tapping your network for referrals, then expand to freelancer platforms like Upwork and Toptal. As you gain experience, aim to move up the value chain from gigs to contracts to retainers. Experienced freelancers can earn $150+/hour.

21. Startup Founder

Have an idea for a product? With your software development skills, you have a head start on making it real. Join the legions of developers who have bootstrapped or raised funding for startups.

Founding a startup is not for the faint of heart – it typically means working long hours with no guarantee of a paycheck. But the potential financial and creative rewards can be significant. Start by validating the idea, then seek co-founders or early customers to help you get off the ground.


As you can see, software developers have a wide range of career possibilities beyond the conventional path of writing code in a product development team. Your analytical mindset, problem-solving skills, and ability to learn can be valuable in customer-facing, managerial, educational, and entrepreneurial roles.

Don‘t be afraid to experiment and pursue the path that aligns best with your unique strengths and interests. And if you‘ve already made a transition, I‘d love to hear your story! Let me know on Twitter or in the comments.

Remember, not all who wander are lost. Follow your curiosity and keep learning. With the foundation you‘ve built as a software developer, you have a bright future ahead of you, no matter which direction you choose. I wish you the best of luck!

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