Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: 10 Key Differences

Software developer and software engineer are the two most in-demand job roles today. However, the two jobs differ despite an overlap in skillsets and working conditions. This article explains the 10 ways in which software developers differ from software engineers. It also looks at four ways they are similar, which may contribute to a connected career path. 

Software Developer vs. Software Engineer

Every age in history comes with its peculiarities. Millions of people lose their jobs, yet new professions and subsequent job opportunities that were never in existence are created. This has been the story of humankind from the stone age through the industrial revolution and the computer age. 

The computer age has seen the rise of professions like software developers, software engineers, data analysts, data engineers, data scientists, etc. One is often confused about the responsibilities of some of these job roles leading us to study and compare two frequently misunderstood professions. 

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Who is a software developer?

A developer is a technical professional tasked with designing, creating, and launching computer programs which may be operating system software or application software. Software developers are also involved in creating and developing games, business apps, cloud-based services, and enterprise apps for internal use, among other types of mobile and computer applications. 

Software developers employ creativity to meet the client’s and end users’ needs and demands. A software developer can work as part of the company’s permanent employees or as a freelancer for multiple clients. 

A developer doesn’t just focus on just writing codes for software. They must keep up with that program’s product development life cycle. This involves reviewing customer expectations and end-user experience, rolling out updates, new features, etc. The role of a software developer is similar to but more advanced than that of a programmer. The software developer is tasked with:

  • Understanding client or user expectations 
  • Developing and testing software to meet the desires of a specific client
  • Maintenance and upgrading of the developed software
  • Documentation for further referencing
  • Working and communicating with other members of the team, like graphic designers, product managers, and business analysts

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Who is a software engineer?

A software engineer is a professional with some overlapping skills as a software developer, yet this professional has a distinct role to play in an organization. A software engineer is one who applies technological and scientific principles to the designing, implementation, testing, and documentation of the entire components of a software program. 

A software engineer goes beyond the role of the developer. Although they know multiple programming languages, their strength lies in applying scientific and mathematical skills to systematically solving problems.

The engineer maps out the structure for developing a mobile application and the website, linking both to a server and ensuring seamless communication between all software parts. They do this by mapping out steps and delegating roles to the software developer while overseeing the entire system. A software engineer has the following functions and responsibilities:

  • Design, develop and test software for a wide range of clients
  • Work on existing software to improve the user experience, adapt it to new hardware or fix bugs
  • Coordinate the system software for blue-green or other types of deployment and integrate it with the hardware components
  • Oversee the function of the software developers and programmers
  • Evaluate the needs of the user and fit them into the time frame and budget of the client 
  • Oversee the completion of a project

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10 Key Differences between Software Developers and Software Engineers

A software engineer can be regarded as a high-level software developer. This is the same way a software developer can be likened to an advanced computer programmer. This means that there exist differences and also similarities between these two job roles. Let us first discuss the differences:

1. Job role and description

A professional is guided by his job description. This outlines what his functions are and the expected results. In the same way, a software developer is one who makes use of their technical know-how to write and maintain software for a client. A software developer must be able to view the program they are writing from a holistic point of view. This makes software developers part of the entire life cycle of the program being written. 

On the other hand, a software engineer goes beyond creating software applications but applies engineering principles to develop a constellation of programs and manage the associated hardware. Software engineers are also responsible for maintaining a good relationship between the various individuals associated with any software. Software engineers do not just learn how to code but must also be skilled at algorithms, data structures, current best practices in web development, etc.

2. Educational requirements

Becoming a software developer or a software engineer requires you to have acquired a certain level of education and skills. Educational requirements cover basic knowledge of computer science and go further depending on the profession the individual wants to specialize in. 

A software developer might first have a bachelor’s degree in computer science and then take personalized classes in software development. Some colleges also offer a degree in software development and DevOps courses available online. In institutions where this might not be accessible, the student usually enrolls in online classes where they can learn software development.

Most software engineers also have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in either computer science or software engineering. Although it is possible to gain a similar level of knowledge from other educational sources and courses, it is likely not to meet the required standard a university college can give the software engineer. 

3. Software building process 

The software building process covers the entirety of the software development life cycle, which includes every step taken in building a software application. These steps include the planning stage, requirement stage, design, build, document, test, and deploy. The software developer is responsible for parts of the software building process or SDLC. The software developer can be in charge of the designing, building, and testing of the software. They carry out specific tasks for building the software.

On the other hand, the software engineer is usually involved in the software development life cycle (SDLC) from the beginning. They serve as the architects for a project, creating an outline of how one can achieve it by breaking it down into specific tasks. The software engineer is in charge of planning and mapping out the general requirement for the software program, disbursing responsibilities to other team members, and ensuring that the entire architecture, both hardware and software remain intact.

4. Nature of activity 

The nature of activity describes how software engineers and developers act and behave while carrying out their day-to-day activities. The expected job roles for a software developer are straightforward and can be done alone. Therefore, software developers work primarily on their own. This does not eliminate the need for qualities like good communication skills and team spirit but reduces the influence of those skills on output. 

In comparison, the software engineer is very much involved in the roles of other team members. Software engineering is a team activity as it has to do with other software development components than outright coding. Therefore the software engineer’s nature of the action is working as a team. 

5. Approach to work and problems 

Members of an SDLC team approach their responsibilities differently. For software developers, their working style tends to be more artistic and creative. Since they work on a limited scale, they can afford to think of various ways to approach a problem and come up with a solution. 

The software developer uses set down principles, past experiences in programming, and a creative mindset to create a unique set of codes for the software or part of the software they have been assigned to write while keeping in mind the desires and expectations of the client. 

The approach to work and problems for a software engineer are in sharp contrast. The software engineer usually has to solve problems on a large scale. As a result, there is little room for expressing creativity. Instead, software engineers use engineering concepts, mathematical protocols, and scientific reasoning to study problems and create logical solutions. 

They delve directly into the heart of the assigned job, analyze it and produce results. This does not imply that software engineers work as robots to deliver identical solutions. It only means that they follow logical thinking patterns to create personalized solutions.

6. Tools used in working 

Every professional in all areas of life, from medicine to technology and the arts, must have a narrowed-down set of tools they frequently use. There would always be shared boundaries and overlap when using more universal tools, but specific tools are associated with each profession. The same applies to computer programming and software development. 

The software developer uses tools like RAD Studio, Collaborator, Linx, Studio 3T, etc., to build and design programs. The software developer works with already created and readily available tools. They use these tools to build both mobile applications and desktop applications.

However, software engineers do not work with readily available tools. Sometimes, the software engineer is responsible for creating the equipment used by other programmers to achieve the desired results. A software engineer creates tools that are used in turn by the software developers to build the software. Some of these tools include visual studio and eclipse. 

7. Skills and requirements 

A specific skill set is sought in either a software developer or an engineer. Each must possess skills suited for the role they would play as part of an organization, agency or even as a freelancer to individual clients. 

A software developer, for example, must be proficient in writing codes using popular coding languages like Java, Python, and C++. The codes written by the developer must also be easy to maintain and free of bugs at completion. A software developer should also be skilled in testing software, be very creative, and be able to work with different methodologies like Agile, DevOps, and Kanban. Additional skills that are expected in a software developer include knowledge of web development, ability to work with format end and back end, a detailed oriented mind, and the ability to work as a team when necessary.

A different skill set applies to the prospective software engineer. A software engineer must be acquainted with programming languages like Python and Java. They should have practical knowledge in computer science, pattern design, the cloud, advanced mathematics and logical reasoning, automated testing, etc. 

Software engineers must have competencies to work with system hardware, servers, and multi-core central processors, among others. Beyond this, soft skills like leadership, communication, managerial, and planning are essential. The software engineer will often have to present solutions to problems and must possess analytical skills to view problems and come up with solutions properly. 

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8. Career path 

The career path for a software developer and a software engineer is another point of difference between the two professions. Software developers often start as software programmers. After becoming a software developer, the next step could be becoming a software architect in a specific technological niche like Java, iOS, DevOps, etc. a software developer can also become a senior developer and move into areas like IT architecture, team leadership, become a business system analyst, a software engineer or become a consultant in a self-owned firm. 

For the software engineer, there is a slightly different career path. The software engineer can be a principal software engineer, a DevOps engineer, a lead software development engineer, a tech lead, a technical architect, a team manager, and even a chief technology officer. 

9. Salary structure 

The average salary of a software engineer and a software developer varies substantially. There might be an overlap as wages are not fixed but multifactorial. Salary structure is different in each U.S. state – but a software developer’s average salary is about $92,280, while a software engineer’s is about $105,861 yearly. 

10. Interaction with clients 

Interacting with clients is vital to the software development life cycle. Poor client interaction can lead to unacceptable or unsuitable results. The software, when launched, must conform to the needs of the client and the purpose of its creation. The software developer’s role is to discuss the details of a project with the client. They collaborate with the client on a smaller scale and ensure every feature is worked out to fulfill the client’s vision. 

On the other hand, the software engineer also interacts with the client but with a different mindset. The interaction between the client and the software engineer is to get the overall idea for the project. Just like an architect, this plan is used to map out strategies and smaller chunks of tasks making up the final project. 

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Similarities between a software developer and software engineer 

Now that we have discussed the differences let us consider the four ways software developers may be similar to software engineers. 

1. Training and education 

Although there are differences in the type of education and skillset a software engineer and software developer is expected to have, there are also large areas where their educational requirement and training overlaps. 

Both software developers and engineers generally begin their careers at the same level. That is, by getting a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Computer science teaches the upcoming professional basics about computer programming and other aspects of computer technology. This will serve as a foundation for whatever career path they intend to follow later. 

Granted, a software engineer can study software engineering or a software developer to do the same. Computer science courses still present themselves as a meeting point for both interests. Any of these degrees should be able to give the individual the necessary software education. The skills acquired and the degree places a person at an advantage to become a highly paid professional. Nevertheless, software engineers are expected to have a broader knowledge base than developers. 

Apart from the formal university education, coding boot camps are also points of skill acquisition for prospective developers and engineers. They cost less in terms of time and money and some even offer recognized certifications. Some individuals, developers and engineers alike, have done without a formal bachelor’s or master’s degree but are well regarded as skilled software developers and engineers. 

2. The ability to code 

Another similarity between a software developer and a software engineer is their coding ability. Both professionals often start as software programmers, coding bits and chunks of applications. This means that they both must have learned similar programming languages. Software developers and engineers must know how to interact with computers using languages like Python, Java, C++, Linux, etc. 

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3. Problem-solving skills 

Problem-solving skills are an essential requirement that a software developer or engineer must have. Both job roles ultimately aim to provide solutions to clients needing them, be it a mobile app, website, system software, etc. Although the approach to problem-solving may be different, the ability to solve problems must be present.

4. Similar working conditions 

A software developer is similar to a software engineer in that they have similar working conditions. Both professionals can adopt the nature of their work to suit remote work. A software professional and engineer can work as independent contractors or full-time employees. Similar companies hire for these roles, ranging from technology startups to AI companies and cloud service providers. 

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As our personal and professional lives become increasingly digitized, the reliance on software apps will grow. This means an uptick in demand for both software developers and engineers, with the latter bringing a more value-adding and problem-solving mindset to the table. They are both clear career paths for a technical professional with knowledge of programming languages, product development methodologies, and deployment strategies. One should aspire to start in a developer role and then progress towards software engineer and beyond. 

Did this article help you understand the differences between software developers and software engineers? Tell us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We’d love to hear from you! 


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