How To Build Software From Scratch: Complete Guide + Tips

By
Christopher Pinski
Published
March 29, 2024
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How To Build Software From Scratch: Complete Guide + Tips

Wondering how to create software from scratch? What skills does it take? What software platform or platforms do you use? Do you need to hire a software engineer and software developer, or is it something you can learn — with or without a computer science background?

We'll answer all these questions and more about how to build a program from scratch, covering topics including choosing a software platform/platforms, building a team, risk management, processes, and more.

How to Develop Software From Scratch: Key Takeaways

  • Software solutions are holistic problem-solvers within your company — while an existing product may just be a bandaid.
  • Traditional coding requires lots of legacy software tools and large development teams — but no-code app development relieves much of that burden while saving time and money.
  • The project management methodology you choose matters more than you think.
  • Solidifying scope and anticipating challenges upfront will save you time, money, and frustration when building software from scratch.

Software Solution vs. Software Product

Is there a difference between a software product and a software solution? While they're closely related, there is a difference:

  • Software Product: A pre-built piece of software designed for a specific task or small number of tasks in a wide variety of businesses and industries.
  • Software Solution: A customizable software system designed to integrate seamlessly into your tech stack and solve a specific challenge unique to your business.

In other words, an out-of-the-box product may allow you to complete a task, but a custom solution offers personalized ways to improve the way you do business.

A light-skinned man in pinstriped button-down shirt has a cardboard box over his head. He holds both hands to the outside of the box, as though holding his hands to his cheeks. This represents feeling boxed in with a pre-existing software product, compared to exploring more possibilities with a custom software solution
Don't get boxed in to out-of-the-box products. For larger business challenges, you have to think outside of the box!

Organizations often turn to developing software solutions because software products haven't solved their biggest challenges. Yet, while the benefits of custom software solutions are numerous, the cost can be prohibitive.

When you eschew programming languages and start coding without code (using no-code tools), custom software solutions become much more efficient and affordable. More on this later!

What Are The Different Types of Software Development Tools?

Even a seemingly simple software project involves a wide variety of tools, making it tough for citizen developers to DIY. Here are many different types of programs used for software development.

Build Tools

Build tools let developers write code in different programming languages and transform that code into an artifact ready for deployment.

  • Jenkins: An open-source code automation server with continuous automated testing (including integration tests), plugins, and distribution capabilities.
  • Gradle: An open-source build tool with ample API and plugins, high-speed build and deployment, and scalability.

Integrated Development Environments (IDEs)

IDEs make coding easier by combining building, testing, editing, and packaging into one tool.

  • Visual Studio: A leading option for Windows .NET and C++ developers, with an OS-agnostic option (Windows, MacOS, Linux) for multiple programming languages.
  • IntelliJ: Coding assistance and collaborative features make this a great choice for a streamlined development process.
Purple background with rendered white button showing purple Microsoft Visual Studio IDE logo
Microsoft's Visual Studio is a popular integrated development environment (IDE).

Source Control

Source control lets you develop, track, and manage changes to your code. This is critical for versioning updates, allowing you to pinpoint and reverse errors in and across functional modules during testing or deployment.

  • Git: An open-source tool that works locally on the computer on which it's installed. There isn't an easy way to share code unless you use...
  • Github: A developer platform using Git software that allows developers to create, store, refine, and share code. You get access control, wikis for every software project, and even task management. Which brings us to...

Project Management Tools

No matter what methodology your project manager and development team decide to use, project management tools are essential to keeping your scope, timeline, and budget on track. Don't skip this when building software from scratch.

  • Jira: A classic choice for agile iterative development. Project managers can track sprints, share milestones and dependencies, and customize views.
  • ClickUp: A multipurpose tool for project tracking, collaboration, document creation and management, time tracking, and more.

Profilers

Profilers analyze your code to ensure it's optimized for best performance. They don't typically handle more than one language — instead, they're specific to each programming language.

  • Xcode: An IDE for iOS apps, containing an iOS-specific profiler.
  • JProfiler: A common profiler for the Java programming language.
A black desktop with black notebook, camera lens, iPad with stylus, iPhone, and AirPods
Developing for iOS? Use a profiler that's up to the task, such as Xcode.

Load Testing Tools

These tools test how software systems perform under a heavy load (lots of requests to the app).

  • Gatling: A popular load tester to ensure optimal performance and scalability.
  • Apache JMeter: Java application testing for web applications and more.

Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) Tools

These tools allow for a highly iterative development process. Make incremental changes with integration tests and automatically deploy each update with ease.

  • Travis CI: Connects to source code control tools including GitHub, with simple syntax, parallel building, and autodeployment.
  • CircleCI: With a focus on speed, security, and extensibility, this CI/CD tool helps iterate and scale any software project.

Testing Tools

Reliable testing facilitates rapid iteration and deployment — so successful software development depends on reliable testing tools.

  • Selenium: Automates web applications for rigorous testing in browsers.
  • Postman: API development and testing platform, including workspaces and governance.
A wall with pink sticky notes representing phases of software development. A light-skinned hand holds one sticky note as though they're about to put it on the wall; it reads "Run a Usability Test"
Test, test, and test some more! Make sure testing is ever-present in your software development process.

Software Logging

Software logging tools record events while a software program runs. This lets you confirm what works well, but also track and identify errors for test cases.

  • Logstash: Open source data processing platform with ample plugins for software logging from multiple sources.
  • Graylog: Robust software logging tool with search, visual reporting, compliance, and more.

Software Monitoring and Alerting

Deployment doesn't mean your software will run seamlessly forever. Monitoring and alerting are crucial steps to ensure the health of your software in its current state, future iterations, and at scale.

  • Datadog: SaaS platform for cloud-based applications, offering monitoring and alerts along with log management.
  • Instana: Real-time full-stack observability tool by IBM with 1-second granularity.

Building Your Software Development Team

Developing software can't happen without your core software development team!

But the scope and size of these teams varies considerably. It mostly depends on whether you're coding from scratch with a programming language (or languages!) vs. a low-code or no-code solution.

A) Traditional Coding: Outsourced or In-House Software Development Team

When coding with a popular language or multiple programming languages, a successful software development team can get pretty robust.

Business Analyst

Business analysts are responsible for determining the needs of the software and gathering requirements. They're the team's client expert, working closely with the client to understand their organization and how the software can/will be used. That means they'll answer questions for the development team while building the scope.

Architect

The architect helps select the tech stack (every software platform and tool used in software development) for the project. Architects also orchestrate how all the technologies work together, which can include database design and defining how the interfaces between different systems will look.

Project Manager

Project managers are responsible for creating the development process plan, selecting the workflow methodology, and choosing the best project management tool. They manage the timeline and milestones, coordinate collaboration among teams, and report to internal and/or external stakeholders (depending on the team structure).

A project manager, white male, writes something on a pad of pale yellow sticky notes. The hands of a brown-skinned person hold another sticky note nearly out of frame. Both stand in front of a wall covered in various sticky notes in categories Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4
Project managers orchestrate and run the software creation roadmap. Sticky notes are a common way to initially map things out, supported by robust PM software.

UI and UX Designer(s)

User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design are essential for building software. Through research and testing, these team members ensure that end users will have an intuitive and seamless experience (UX) with a visually appealing look and feel (UI). Teams may have a dual UI/UX designer or one of each.

DevOps Engineer

A team's DevOps engineer manages servers, selects software monitoring tools for the project, and develops continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines. If errors occur in the production environment, they'll perform root cause analysis to determine the source of the problem.

Quality Assurance Engineer

Quality assurance (QA) is essential throughout iterative builds, integration tests, and redeployment. QA engineers ensure that everything works and appears as it should across each operating system and environment. They develop test cases, conduct tests, and report bugs.

Back-End Developer(s)

Back-end developers create the data processing power for a software project by writing server-side code. They work closely with the database to build proper models, implement database indexing to improve performance, and develop complex database queries to properly retrieve and modify data. They can also be found developing any necessary integrations, API, etc., and fixing back-end bugs found during quality assurance testing. 

Depending on the scope of a project, there may be more than one back-end developer.

Front-End Developer(s)

The front-end developer creates what end users see when using the app, building upon the work of the UX and UI designers. They may write their own code or use existing templates or tools. They work closely with back-end developers, ensuring that proper and simplified API contracts are in place to serve data requirements while keeping the front-end lean. These devs also fix front-end bugs found during quality assurance. 

Depending on scope (and the state of the job market), there may be more than one front-end developer.

A developer with black hair in buzz cut wears headphones and sits at a white desk in a white room, angled with one hand on a mouse. He appears to be listening to something. Code is visible on a computer monitor in front of him.
Developers on traditional software projects spend lots of time creating, navigating, monitoring, refining, and bug-bashing code.

B) Low- and No-Code Software Development Team

That traditional development team was pretty enormous, right? With low- and no-code platforms as the foundation for your software development project, the team shrinks considerably — improving efficiency and reducing costs.

Here's what you can expect:

Project Manager

As above, project managers are responsible for building the project plan and workflow. But in a no-code development team, with fewer moving parts, PMs also typically take on the role of Business Analyst and Quality Assurance Engineer.

Architect

No-code projects typically retain an architect to orchestrate the right tech stack and drive technical design decisions. Since many no-code tools integrate multiple functions into a single tool, these projects may use fewer tools (though not always).

UI/UX Designer

While you can separate these roles if desired, many skilled combo UI/UX designers can meet both of these needs without increasing team size.

Full-Stack Developer(s)

Thanks to the relative ease of use of no-code technologies, in most cases, 1 or 2 full-stack devs can handle both back-end and front-end development. These projects don't typically require large development teams, which streamlines workflows and cuts costs.

Two white male developers, one aged mid-30s and the other early 20s, sit in a small room looking at a laptop. The older man points at something on the screen and appears to be explaining something to the other dev
Thanks to the efficiency of no-code tools, developers can spend more time collaborating with one another and interfacing with clients to develop the right solution.

The Software Development Process from Scratch: Iterative Development and Key Considerations

Many articles outline the software development process as though it's a linear approach, also known as "waterfall." You would develop your scope, build a draft, edit that draft, and achieve a final product.

But most software projects don't work that way — instead, they take an iterative approach. Let's learn more about what that means and how it impacts the traditional concept of an end-to-end process.

Waterfall vs. Iterative Development and Agile Methodology for Software Development

Waterfall

Waterfall project management methodology involves defining a scope, building a wireframe or prototype, and refining the product internally (often on a strict pre-determined timeline) until it's complete and ready to be released.

Waterfall projects take awhile to launch, since the product isn't usually deployed at the end of each feedback cycle. And with cascading milestones, if any one review goes off the rails, the rest of the project scope and timeline must be rebuilt.

Iterative/Agile

In iterative development or agile methodology, it's a given that your software project will go through multiple versions, reviews, updates, and tweaks throughout the development process — and that won't stop you from releasing the product early and re-releasing often.

In agile methodology, you work in sprints. 

Sprints are short cycles (typically 1-4 weeks each) in which you ideate, build, test, and refine, typically releasing the software application in its current state at the end of each sprint. 

While sprints typically work on a strict review cycle, you aren't held to a specific deliverable in the same way a waterfall project would be.

When you develop software this way, you anticipate that you'll learn as you go, release the product in increments, and build on each release with feedback along the way.

This is typically the best approach for software development projects. It allows you to get to market faster! You also have the benefit of expecting the unexpected — scope creep, feedback delays, etc. — while avoiding significant impact to the overall project and timeline.

A rushing waterfall crashes into the water below, creating a white mist. This represents waterfall project management methodology, where a project flow is designed to move in one direction from start to finish
Waterfalls move in one direction. Sprints allow you to build upon any part of the work (without totally reworking the scope, that is!).

Key Considerations Across Software Project Sprints

Each sprint involves the following components:

1. Define requirements and app features for the software

Determining your goals, target audience, and scope early allows you to set specific goals for the sprint. You can revisit as needed in future sprints, but aim to get the requirements nailed down as much as possible at the outset.

What are your goals for the product? Who is your target audience? What's your unique selling proposition?

2. Build a project plan

This is where you define how to develop a software product from scratch. What will your development process look like and what should the client expect to review in each sprint?

3. Design UX/UI

What functional modules will your new software application require? How will the program function, and what will the user interface look like — across different browsers, Android devices, Apple devices...? Where and how will key features appear? What will navigation look like? You'll cover all of this with UX/UI design.

A light brown-skinned woman's hands, with white gold wedding band set and cream-colored manicure, draws a UX sketch on paper and begins a list called "user goals" in the margin
Effective UX/UI design sets the stage for the architecture of your app or program.

4. Architecture design

Now it's time to turn wireframes into code. How will the software be built? Will your integration approaches be middleware-based, point-to-point, or other? What software platform will serve as the base of your project?

5. Develop software

Your developers step in to code the solutions designed by the project team. Each sprint involves building software and releasing new versions in their preferred delivery automation environments (such as continuous integration/continuous delivery). With each subsequent sprint, they will build on that functionality, continue to test, and add new features.

6. Quality assurance testing

Is everything working as it should? What bugs are coming up on the back-end and front-end of your software project? QA engineers and/or project managers step in to ensure you're creating software that does its job.

7. Launch the software solution

With a minimum viable product (MVP) approach, you’ll deploy a software application many times over the life of the product. Frequent versioning allows teams to iterate across sprints, identify and fix bugs, and scale the product over time.

8. Gather stakeholder and user feedback

Client and end-user review cycles are crucial steps in building software from scratch. Real-world feedback helps teams improve the product, elevate the user experience, and increase viability in the market. Future iterations of your product depend on regular and thorough feedback cycles.

A group of white men sit around a wooden picnic-style table in an office setting. They all look to one man on the end who appears to be speaking, and some have notebooks ready to take notes. This represents a stakeholder or user feedback session
Collect internal and user feedback throughout the development process for best results.

9. Monitor and maintain the solution

The process doesn't stop at deployment! The team must monitor the released software to make sure it continues to behave as expected. Monitoring and alerting tools can remove some of the manual labor, allowing the team to see if users are able to utilize new features successfully and watch for errors.

Cost of Building a Software Application From Scratch

Every software development cost estimate will vary widely. Variations in scope, complexity, and service provider rates all influence this. So when calculating ROI, it can be helpful to approach cost from the perspective of business size and user scale:

  • Small businesses with fairly limited scope and complexity can expect to pay $50k+ for a custom application.
  • On the other hand, enterprise software with incredibly large scope and complexity could require $1M+.

So if cost is one of the major factors influencing your project, look for low-code and no-code software development agencies.

Why?

With traditional coded software from scratch, you're paying for team members who primarily manage servers and oversee complex deployments. This adds both cost and time to your project.

A black server room wall with light shining on some of the equipment
Do you want to spend money on a team managing servers — or actively building your software application?

But with no-code tools, all of that is abstracted away from your team — speeding up development and saving you money. With tools like Xano, backend setup is a breeze. And database management has never been easier (see our What is Airtable post for more).

You'll also see more user-friendly interfaces thanks to the relative ease of features like drag-and-drop interfaces and other pre-built components.

Top Challenges When Developing Software

Look out for these pitfalls along the way.

1. Scope creep

Scope creep is probably the biggest challenge when building software. It's easy to get excited about new features and keep wanting to add more and more to your scope, even when — or especially when! — it was always meant to be a simple program.

Be aware that scope creep can be costly, negatively impact your project timeline, and unwittingly steer you away from your original goals.

2. Protecting against vulnerabilities

When you create software from scratch, there will always be a new hack or other vulnerability to consider. That's why sufficiently protecting against security vulnerabilities can be so difficult. Your development team must identify the biggest risks and secure those first. Beyond that, budget is the main factor in additional protections.

Close-up of a black laptop keyboard with a gold and steel lock sitting on top, representing vulnerabilities in software development
Software security is an essential consideration.

3. Evolving technology and innovation

Open source software packages are constantly changing, which often requires code updates to accommodate the latest, most secure versions. At a higher level, there's always a new tool on the market — so it's easy to get distracted and implement technology that isn't really needed.

4. Software development team collaboration

Development teams must be aligned on goals and timelines at all times to avoid delays. Likewise, communication with the client must remain clear and open. If not, project requirements, feedback, and expectations will be misaligned, leading to dissatisfied clients and customers.

5. Tracking dependencies

Dependencies are the ways in which different pieces of your software rely on one another to work. Tracking dependencies helps you best manage the evolution of your new software without breaking it — and the right tools will automate this process for you.

6. Version control

When you create software, version control is essential throughout the development process. It allows you to track changes to the software at each iteration, and revert to previous versions as needed if something breaks. Without proper version control, a mistake could break your software irreparably, because you may not be able to restore an older draft.

7. Rigorous testing for successful deployment and integration

Quality assurance testing with test cases and automated test scripts helps you identify issues early on. But stakeholder and user feedback gives you another layer of insight into the real-world experience. Testing early and often while creating software gives you the best chance of error-free launches and happier customers.

How to Find an Expert Software Development Team

One factor in finding your perfect software development team is the type of partner you want.

Are you looking to:

  • Expand your in-house team (staffing)?
  • Find a single expert on a temporary basis (freelancer)?
  • Partner with a group who can act as your own expert software development team (agency)?

Whichever option you choose, it's important to understand the level of service you can expect. Do they just deliver a product, or are they a true partner?

For example, here at Crispy, we're an end-to-end partner for your software development needs. We do more than you might think!

All our clients have to do is provide their dream-state vision (what an ideal piece of software would do for them) and any specific requirements you have. That's it!

A 20-something white man with partially bleached hair stands on a rooftop deck with glass railings, overlooking a small town and palm trees giving way to a beach and ocean view. He leans one arm on the railing, one foot on the lower rail, and is talking on the phone.
When you work with Crispy, just pass us your dream state and requirements — then relax and let us do the rest!

We facilitate all the planning, tech selection, UI/UX design, development, testing, release, onboarding, monitoring, updates, and scaling.

Not only that, but we aim to make the entire process as easy-to-understand and transparent as possible. That way, your team understands all the benefits and intricacies of the software and feels confident using it for the life of your business.

How to Build Software from Scratch FAQs

How hard is it to build software?

Building software from scratch is tough, and there's a steep learning curve. In our opinion, it's one of the harder engineering disciplines because there are so many variables at play.

Each software project will have different combinations of computer hardware, different internet speeds/locations, different web browsers and web browsing settings, lots of different ways to store and compute data, etc.

All of those different variables can play a major role in how software is built and how it performs.

How do you create software from scratch? How to make a computer program from scratch?

The exact process varies depending on whether it's a web development project, a mobile app, a cloud-based or localized program, etc. But most software projects will be built using iterative development (incrementally improving on the original product) and follow these basic steps:

1. Define goals, target audience and market, requirements, and app features for the new software

2. Build a project plan

3. Design UX/UI

4. Architecture design

5. Develop software

6. Quality assurance testing

7. Launch the software solution

8. Gather stakeholder and user feedback

9. Monitor and maintain the solution

A bright yellow background with a black notebook reading "PLAN" in white handwriting, next to a white pen.
Build and maintain a solid plan to stay on track.

How long does it take to build software from scratch?

If you code custom software from scratch by using a programming language like Java (or multiple other languages), it takes a considerable amount of time and involves large teams, extensive complexity, and a solid plan.

However, relying on low- and no-code tools cuts this time significantly by providing a managed service for your developers.

With no-code, instead of spending time on the granular details of managing servers and wrangling large-scale deployments, your team can focus on the business logic and specific needs of your unique organization. Ultimately, this yields a better-fit solution in less time and at lower cost.

What's the best way to build a software product?

The best way to create software is to first listen to the customer. Learn all about their unique needs.

Defining the correct scope upfront lets you set the right goals, measure the right metrics, and build the right solution.

A Black woman with long braids watches as an Asian woman in red flannel works on a laptop; they appears to be collaborating on a software development project in an office setting
Firmly establish scope and consistently check your work against it. That way, you're always working toward the right goal.

If you create software based on a generic need — or with more or less complexity than the ask requires — you're likely to bust your budget by relentlessly modifying the product and redefining scope.

Apart from that, follow tried-and-true software development processes such as agile methodology. It's an industry standard for a reason.

What programming languages do I use to build software?

These days, you don't need to learn Java or C++ to create software! In fact, with the right prompts, AI tools such as ChatGPT can write code for you in whatever language you choose.

What's more valuable in building software is understanding the business, translating software requirements into tasks for your development team, architecting the right combination of tools to achieve your goal, and designing and implementing the right solution.

All of this can be done using time- and cost-saving low- and no-code platforms such as Airtable, Make, Zapier, Bubble, Softr, and more.

Creating Software From Scratch: We've Come a Long Way

Got a technology pain point that you just can't seem to solve? Dedicating too much manual labor, time, and budget into it? Chances are, a custom app or workflow automation can solve your problem and help you get back to business.

Let us help: get in touch.

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