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Software Engineer vs Developer

James Gallagher - May 22, 2020


In the programming industry, the terms “software engineer” and “software developer” are used interchangeably, and people often think they mean the same thing.

True, there is not an official distinction between these two roles, but companies who advertise jobs in these positions often have different requirements. A company may be hiring a software engineer and a software developer, each of whom would have their own job requirements.

The differences between software engineers and developers can be subtle, but if you’re working in the technology industry it is important that you are aware of the difference between these two terms. If you’re looking for a job, it’s helpful to know what certain positions mean; if you are working with other engineers or developers, it’s important you know what falls within their job requirements.

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So, let’s break down the main—albeit subtle—differences between software engineers and software developers.

Software Developers

Software developers are responsible for writing code and build software for a development team. They’ll also be involved with reviewing the software development process and making changes to optimize the process. Software engineers will work with other members of a development team—designers, engineers, analysts—to understand the specifications of a project, then create an application in line with those specifications.

Software developers also make sure their code works by testing it, and make any required changes before production to ensure that their application is fully functional. They also follow a development lifecycle methodology such as Agile, Kanban, or Scrum, depending on the development team, but may not necessarily be involved with the operations associated with those processes.

Software developers spend most of their time writing code and executing on a project.

Here are the typical expectations for a software developer:

  • Familiar with at least one development methodology
  • Experience in software design and development, and capable of writing test-driven code
  • Knowledge of at least one programming language such as Ruby on Rails or Java
  • Knowledge of a version control system (Git, GitHub, BitBucket, etc.)
  • Experience working with databases
  • Able to learn new technologies and languages

The job responsibilities of a software developer are as follows:

  • Work with developers to design and implement algorithms
  • Write code toward a project that meets specifications
  • Analyze the requirements for a project and work with developers to turn those into code
  • Integrate multiple software components and programs
  • Deploy code through quality assurance processes
  • Test code and make required changes before it is pushed to production

Software Engineers

Software engineers are people who use engineering concepts to create software. They will be involved in all stages of the software development cycle, from analyzing the problems to evaluating the effectiveness of the solution the development team has created. Software engineers use standardized processes to advance through the software development cycle, and help create the end product.

Software engineers play a number of roles within a development team. Firstly, they’ll be a leader and contributor on various projects—if people have questions about a codebase, software engineers are usually expected to come up with an answer. Software engineers must also provide advice in helping a company advance the software development process.

Software engineers should be able to do everything that a software developer does, but take a bigger picture view of the application development process. They should be conscious of technical debt and engineering design, and focused on ensuring the end product is created as efficiently as possible. Software engineers also need to apply engineering principles to the computer science field.

Here are the typical expectations for a software engineer:

  • Experience with test-driven development
  • Proficiency in software engineering processes and tools
  • Experience designing and developing applications
  • Work experience as either a software engineer or software developer
  • Able to document and manage project specifications
  • Working knowledge of database technologies
  • Ability to develop in at least one programming language such as Java, C++, or Ruby on Rails

The job functions of a software engineer are as follows:

Venus, a software engineer at Rockbot

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Venus, Software Engineer at Rockbot

  • Push software through the software development life cycle
  • Write high-quality code
  • Create quality assurance and testing procedures for an application
  • Deploy programs and evaluate feedback
  • Ensure the end product meets all project specifications
  • Create flowcharts and internal documentation to make the software development process more efficient
  • Integrate various parts of the software development process

Salaries for Software Engineers vs. Developers

Aside from the different job responsibilities, the salaries between these two positions vary widely. The average software engineer earns $107,300 per year, according to Glassdoor, whereas the average software developer earns $85,200.

Because software engineers are often more involved with architecting the development process, they usually command higher salaries than the average software developer.

The Bottom Line

There are a couple of main differences between software engineers and developers.

Perhaps the most important is that developers are involved more with writing code, whereas engineers are more focused on the big picture and bringing all aspects of a development projects together.

A software developer will write code that meets the specifications for a project, and will do so using one or multiple programming languages and technologies. Software engineers, on the other hand, will apply the principles of engineering to software. They will be focused on figuring out how to efficiently develop an application and be involved with all stages of the development process. They may take on a developer role when needed, and they may also test code, or create quality assurance processes.

Often, people start their career as a software developer, which has a lower barrier for entry, then advance to a software engineer position after gaining more experience working in a professional development environment.

That’s all there is too it. Software engineers are focused more on the big picture, whereas developers are more focused on execution.

If you’re looking to learn more about careers as a software engineer, check out our career guide on how to become a software engineer .

About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.

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James Gallagher

About the author: James Gallagher is a self-taught programmer and the technical content manager at Career Karma. He has experience in range of programming languages and extensive expertise in Python, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. James has written hundreds of programming tutorials, and he frequently contributes to publications like Codecademy, Treehouse, Repl.it, Afrotech, and others.

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