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Software Engineers vs Developers: What’s the Difference?

James Gallagher - November 11, 2022


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 generally have different requirements when they are looking to hire engineers vs developers, and the positions have different responsibilities.

When it comes to software engineers vs developers, the differences can be subtle, but they are important to understand if you want to work in the technology industry. This article will compare and contrast the job title of software developer vs software engineer to give you a better understanding of what each position entails.

What Is a Software Engineer?

A software engineer working on lines of code on a computer.
When comparing engineers vs developers, you must first consider the different stages of development each role provides.

A software engineer is a professional who uses 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.

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What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Software engineers play a number of roles within a development team. First, they lead and contribute to 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.

A software engineer does everything that a software developer does, but takes a bigger picture view of the application development process. They should be conscious of technical debt and engineering design, as well as focused on ensuring the end product is created as efficiently as possible.

Expectations of 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
  • Ability 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

What Is a Software Developer?

A software developer is a professional who designs, programs, and maintains software using various tools and programming languages. Some software developers specialize in a particular area of the field, such as game development or application development. They generally have a broader skillset than computer programmers.

What Does a Software Developer Do?

In general, what a software developer does is write code and build software for a development team. They are also involved with reviewing and optimizing the software development process. Software engineers work with other members of a development team, like designers, engineers, and analysts, to understand the specifications of a project, then create an application in line with those specifications.

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

Expectations of a Software Developer

  • Familiarity with at least one development methodology
  • Experience in software design and development, and ability to write test-driven code
  • Knowledge of at least one programming language, such as Python or Java
  • Knowledge of a version control system (such as Git, GitHub, or BitBucket)
  • Experience working with databases
  • Ability to learn new technologies and languages

Software Developer vs Software Engineer Education

The educational requirements for engineers vs developers can vary depending on the company, but there are a few important distinctions. For example, software engineers are more likely to need a degree, as this role is more of a leadership position. Below, we discuss the education required to become a software engineer vs a developer.

Pursuing College Education

A college degree is the most common path to either position. The most common degree you need to be a software engineer is a Bachelor’s Degree in Software Engineering , although you can also enter the field by majoring in computer science, engineering, or mathematics. Many software engineers also hold master’s degrees.

The most common degree you need to be a software developer is a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Science. A computer engineering, data science, or mathematics degree is also broadly accepted. However, it is much rarer for a software developer to require a master’s degree .

How to Become a Software Engineer Without a Degree

A major software engineer vs developer difference is that it is more difficult to become a software engineer without a traditional degree. However, that doesn’t mean it is impossible. If you attend a coding bootcamp and gain advanced technical skills and professional knowledge through real-world experience, you can progress in your career regardless of your educational background.

A coding bootcamp can help you land your first development job, which will give you a chance to practice your coding and analytical skills and learn more about the entire development process. Once you have the right experience, you can qualify for software engineering job titles. If you want to land managerial positions or increase your annual salary, you can always get a degree later on.

How to Become a Software Developer Without a Degree

There are various ways you can become a software developer without a degree, such as attending a coding bootcamp or teaching yourself essential skills using online courses or books. While many hiring managers will still require a degree, some employers in this field value technical knowledge over educational credentials.

Venus, a software engineer at Rockbot

"Career Karma entered my life when I needed it most and quickly helped me match with a bootcamp. Two months after graduating, I found my dream job that aligned with my values and goals in life!"

Venus, Software Engineer at Rockbot

Coding bootcamps like Coding Dojo and Flatiron School can provide you with all the skills you need to land a wide range of entry-level developer jobs in less than a year. It might be more difficult to compete on the job market with applicants who have a degree in software development if you are self-taught or don’t have a bootcamp certificate, but the right in-demand skills can still lead you to success.

Software Engineers vs Developers Skills

Software engineer skills are generally more broad and advanced than the required skills for a software developer role. Software engineers are more likely to hold leadership positions, so they need advanced soft skills like communication, organization, and adaptability. They also need to be able to incorporate engineering principles into their work and take on large-scale projects for a company.

Software developer skills are often more specific, as they often work on particular computer systems or applications. They might have more advanced coding skills and a broader knowledge of programming languages. Important software developer soft skills include patience, critical thinking, and time management.

Software Engineer vs Developer Career Path

The average software engineer career path often starts with junior developer roles, as many software engineers start off as developers. Below, we list some common software engineering jobs to give you an idea of what your career progression could look like with the right level of experience.

  • Junior software engineer
  • Full stack engineer
  • QA engineer
  • DevOps Engineer
  • Data engineer

The career path of a software developer can vary depending on education and interests. You can specialize in one programming language or work in a specific field, as this is a broad sector with many opportunities. The average software developer’s career path starts with a junior role, but this isn’t always the case. Below are a few examples of software development job titles.

  • Web developer
  • Java developer
  • Android developer
  • Game developer
  • Computer programmer

Software Developer vs Software Engineer Job Responsibilities

Beyond writing and testing code, software developers have various job responsibilities, such as designing and implementing algorithms and conducting quality assurance processes. They may also integrate multiple software components and programs and analyze the requirements for a project to ensure the end result is satisfactory.

On the other hand, software engineers push software through the software development life cycle, create quality assurance and testing procedures, and deploy programs and evaluate feedback. Software engineers also create flowcharts and internal documentation to make the software development process more efficient.

Software Engineer vs Developer Salary

If you compare the average software engineer vs software developer salary, you’ll find that engineers generally make more. This is because software engineers are often more involved with architecting the development process and have a higher level of education.

The average software engineer earns $105,819 per year, according to Glassdoor, whereas the average software developer earns $95,589 . Entry-level developer vs engineer salaries follow the same pattern, with developers earning $83,390 and engineers earning $96,569.

Software Developer vs Software Engineer Job Outlook

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes software engineers and software developers under the same category, and these software-related occupations are projected to grow by 25 percent over the next decade. This number is significantly higher than the average job growth rate for all occupations, which is five percent.

Software Engineer vs Software Developer: Which Is Better?

The answer to what is better between engineers vs developers depends on your own career goals and interests. The roles have many similarities, but it is important to note that developers are involved more with writing code, whereas engineers are more focused on the big picture and bringing all aspects of a development project together.

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. What the software developer vs software engineer question boils down to is the following major difference. Software engineers are focused more on the big picture, whereas developers are more focused on execution.

Software Engineer vs Developer FAQ

How many hours do software engineers work?

Software engineers usually work 40 hours per week, though this number is often higher as major deadlines approach. You may have to work on weekends or into the evening if the project you are working on faces major problems or bugs.


What languages do software engineers use?

Some of the languages that software engineers use include Python, Java, JavaScript, C++, Ruby, and SQL. The languages you use may depend on the company you work for and your specific job title and responsibilities.


How much do freelance software developers make?

Freelance software developers make an average salary of $89,002 , according to Glassdoor. This number will vary depending on your education and years of professional experience. Most freelance software developers make between $70,000 and $113,000.


What is the difference between computer science and software engineering?

The main difference between computer science and software engineering is that computer science is a much broader field. A computer scientist might study all aspects of computational systems, while a software engineer is purely focused on software design and development.

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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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