The world of software engineering is always evolving, and while that might partially be the fun of it all, it comes with some challenges when it comes to managing day-to-day tasks. Certain actions may be in flux as new updates and changes roll out, so your work processes may look different a month from now than they do today. Sounds like a lot, right?

Setting goals to help you stay on track is key to handling these challenges as they come. Below, learn why (and how) software engineers like yourself should set goals and tweak them regularly to support your daily processes and overall professional development goals.

Why should you have goals as a software engineer?

Software engineers goals help with:

  • Staying ahead of the competition. The right software engineer goals keep those who set them ahead of technology’s ever-changing tides. That means more knowledge for you, and for your clients or employer, it means someone far likelier to excel at every task, no matter the project.
  • Long-term professional development. In the short term, remaining up to date on the latest in software engineering is great for finding work and new opportunities. In the long term, it helps you build strong client and employer relationships, as you’ll bring cutting-edge skills to the table.
  • Better time management. The client and employer relationships described above mean less time searching for projects and more time working on (and completing) them. As your workload shifts toward the latter, you’ll find time management much easier.
  • More confidence. When you’re more confident, your work almost always comes out better. And better work, of course, makes you a great candidate for promotions, raises, and other career advancement opportunities.

How should you make software engineer goals? 

All software engineer goals should be SMART goals. No, not brainiac book smart – SMART is an acronym that happens to be a fitting word choice as well. This acronym stands for:

  • Specific: Clear and well-defined
  • Measurable: Easy to track and analyze
  • Attainable: Feasible with your resources
  • Relevant: Appropriate for your ambitions, field, or company
  • Time-bound: Achievable within a preset timeframe

You should ensure that all your goals meet these SMART criteria. If not, then breaking your goal down into smaller steps can bring you closer to making it SMART.

Pro tip

Use a meeting management tool like Fellow to align your team to common goals or track personal goals to keep your team accountable.

13 examples of software engineer goals

Some common software engineer goals, all of which can easily be made SMART goals, include:

1 Coding goals

Coding goals are the bread and butter of software development. Think of them as the key results for your project. Examples might include:

  • Over the next month, revise an app’s coding to result in load times one second shorter than now.
  • Spend one week tweaking our bug detection code to result in five percent more bugs detected per month.

Note that these goals are anything but technical. Yes, achieving them will require immense technical skills, but anyone at all can understand them. That’s how you know you’ve come up with a good coding goal.

2 Technical goals

Technical goals are specific to your personal learning or growth. They help you acquire technical skills you don’t yet have or improve skills you do have. Examples include:

  • Be able to fully engineer a machine learning project from start to finish within the next year.
  • Spend the year becoming comfortable working on the backend of software that can accommodate up to one million requests per second.

3 Code quality goals

Although flawless products are rare, ambitious but achievable code quality goals can bring you close. Such goals can include the following:

  • For the next three months, develop software with absolutely no errors in the first line of code.
  • Spend three months refactoring troubling low-line coding that someone else created.

Achieving these goals improves your products and your own skills. The more time you spend increasing the quality of your code, the better your work will continue to be.

4 Code ownership goals

Code ownership goals can pertain to your coding and higher-level achievements outside the workplace related to it. Some examples will demonstrate this distinction:

  • During the next quarter, achieve at least 99.9999% uptime on the platform.
  • Within the next six months, teach an introductory software development class.

The first of these code ownership goals pertain to your software itself. It qualifies as a code ownership goal because, to have near-perfect uptime, you need to be fully confident in your coding. The latter goal also falls under the code ownership umbrella because you probably wouldn’t be teaching if you didn’t think you knew your stuff!

5 System design goals

System design goals overlap at least a bit with all the above goal types. However, they more often pertain to larger-scope achievements. Examples might include:

  • Make the product you’re working on fully integratable with all major hosted WordPress services by the end of the year.
  • Redesign our product to reduce time-to-market by at least 80% within the next year.

As you can see, coding is key to achieving these goals, but all these objectives pertain to larger concerns. You can also obtain them more easily through the next set of goals.

6 Testing goals

When you commit yourself to running product tests only through certain platforms, you ensure that your products are consistently ready to go to market. Testing goals that achieve this outcome include:

  • Coding all your unit tests in one framework and all your integration tests in another for the quarter.
  • Teaching yourself a new coding language within three months to open your projects to additional testing avenues.

7 Debugging goals

As with system design and testing goals, debugging goals somewhat overlap with coding goals. However, the best debugging goals pertain not to just the bug itself but what fixing it will do to the software. Below are two examples:

  • Fix the bug that stops people from accessing one part of the app you’re working on, so engagement with that service increases by 30% next month.
  • Over four months, debug the real-time traffic checker so that users know about traffic jams two minutes earlier than they used to.

8 Entrepreneurial goals

Entrepreneurial goals pertain to how you’ll use your software development prowess to become your own boss. They could include objectives such as:

  • By this time next year, develop an app capable of generating $20,000 in revenue per month
  • By the end of the year, start freelancing for companies unlike your own so you can get experience developing apps in other fields.

9 Leadership goals

Being an effective leader goes hand in hand with being your own boss. After all, the most successful entrepreneurs also employ others to help them succeed. This success is more likely when you know how to guide, motivate, and manage other people. Leadership goals that can teach you these skills include:

  • Recruit a new member to my team and have them reach satisfactory performance levels within their first three months on the job.
  • Divide tasks among the people I supervise so that everyone’s workload is almost perfectly even and nobody is missing their deadlines.

10 Teamwork goals

At the end of the day, the best software engineers still need to work with others in their field. Getting the best work possible from these helping hands becomes much easier when you’re a team player. To become an effective collaborator, set goals like those below and regularly check whether you (and your team) feel on track to meet them:

  • Within the next month, implement PERT or GANTT charts. This way, everyone on the team is handling tasks well-suited for individual skillsets, completed in a logical order and in a timely manner.
  • Host and lead daily or weekly meetings so we can all get on the same page (and use Fellow’s Zoom app to make meetings more productive).

11 People goals

Perhaps the broadest of all software engineering goal categories, people goals can include anything that helps you improve the lives of the engineers around you. Some examples are below:

  • By the end of the month, provide the senior software engineer with the resources she needs to learn whatever languages and frameworks are on her own goal list.
  • Over the next two weeks, set up internal messaging tools to get everyone the help and resources they need quickly.

12 Networking goals

Just because your computer might be your best friend in software engineering doesn’t mean you can forgo face-to-face interaction. If anything, networking with others in your field can help you find the very people who can accelerate your development timelines and perfect your products. To meet people who should be in your corner, consider goals like those below:

  • Get lunch with at least one senior software engineer per month who works on another team, ideally at another company.
  • Attend at least one software development conference per year and leave the conference with no fewer than 20 business cards.

13 Professional goals

Setting professional goals can help software engineers like yourself excel at time management, problem-solving, and more. The below professional goals are great examples:

  • On average, spend two fewer hours on the UX design portion of my next 10 projects.
  • Over the next six months, master the Lean methodology so that any unnecessary challenges stop being concerns and everyone involved in the project is happier.

Why are goals important for an engineering team?

Individual goal-setting is important, of course, but teams of software engineers, or teams that include a software engineer, should set goals for themselves as well. That’s because:

  • Happier team members do better work. If your team agrees upon a set of goals and achieves them all, you’ll probably be pretty excited. That excitement translates to employee happiness, which is correlated with better work.
  • Employees want to grow. If you’re managing a software engineering team, you’re probably surrounded by people with ambitions of their own. Recognizing these ambitions and helping your team members work toward them results in employee growth. And when your employees grow, your company can too.

    Take it from Marissa Goldberg, founder of Remote Work Prep: “As a manager, I like to know what each of my employees are aiming for long-term. That way I can open up opportunities and encourage skill growth that will help lead them to where they want to be. I don’t make their growth choices for them, instead I listen to their dreams.”
  • Achieved goals mean better software overall. Let’s say one of your teammates is dead set on completing their portion of the project in 20 percent less time. If you help them achieve this goal, your teammate achieves a personal goal while you achieve a professional goal. That professional goal is higher productivity and efficiency. When one team member wins, everyone wins.

Be ambitious, but pace yourself

Whew, that’s a lot of goals, right? The good news is that nobody’s expecting you to commit to all of them. Choose just a few, then put your time and energy into meeting them. If all goes well, you’ll grow personally and professionally, your team will become more productive and efficient, and everyone around you will be happier. And if your goals involve meetings, Fellow can help you make the most of your time in the conference room.