Likely when talking about website development, you’ve said “coder” when you meant “programmer” and “programmer” when you meant “developer.” These roles require similar skills and responsibilities and are therefore easy to confuse — unless you are a coder, programmer, or developer, I guess.

Software engineers and software developers pose a similar challenge. Both software engineers and developers are highly skilled professionals who can build software from scratch. There are, however, important differences that can help you make the right hiring choices or choose the right career path for yourself. Let’s take a closer look below.

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What does a software developer do?

A software developer is typically responsible for a specific software application, which might include designing, installing, or maintaining it.

Below we’ll take a closer look at the education, skills, roles and responsibilities, and salary associated with this role. Let’s start by taking a look at this job description of a software developer for Market Street Talent, Inc.

Software Developer job description for Market Street Talent, Inc

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Education

Most software developers will have a Bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer programming, IT, or something related to any of those fields. They’ll also have a lot of “informal” education, like online courses, coding camps, and other opportunities where they sought out more education or self-taught themselves a language or skill.

Roles and Responsibilities

A software developer is focused on understanding the user’s needs and designing, testing, developing, maintaining, and upgrading a software application to meet those needs. Software developers must be able to identify not only the core functionality necessary to meet the user’s need, but also the level of security and performance that the user expects.

While some developers will simply create the diagrams and models for programmers to create the necessary code, other developers will create the code themselves. They have to understand and plan for how each piece of an application works together, but their tasks are typically completed in isolation from the rest of the system or IT infrastructure.

Working on this smaller scale, software developers can typically enact more creative solutions that are customized to the user’s needs than software engineers.  

Skills

Software developers need in-depth knowledge of HTML and CSS as well as at least one programming language like Java, Python and C++. They also need to be detail-oriented in order to carry out multiple projects at once and avoid errors or bugs.

Recruiters will expect software developers to have knowledge of best practices or experience of the entire software development lifecycle, from communicating with clients to coding standards to the build process to testing to actually launching the project, and more. This will help them see that the software developer is able to take a project from the first stage (scoping) to the final stage (launch).

Salary

According to Glassdoor, the average annual salary for a Software Developer is $76,526 in the United States. Since this is the average, some developers will make more and some less based on where they are in the country (or world), their years of experience, budget restraints, and more. It is important to note that software developers tend to make less than software engineers.

What does a software engineer do?

While similar to software developers in terms of education, skills, roles and responsibilities, and salary, software engineers are usually expected to have slightly more education, a wider range of skills and experience, and take on leadership roles. As a result, they’re usually paid more.

Here’s an example of a job description of a software engineer for Google.

Software Engineer job description for Google

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Education

Like software developers, software engineers will likely have a Bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, or something related. Additional education — like a master’s or doctoral degree or special certification — may be required or preffered.

For example, in Canada, engineers must be licensed, like those in the medical and legal professions. To obtain a license, they must have a degree from an accredited engineering program, fulfill the work experience requirement of their province or territory (typically three of four years), pass the Professional Practice Examination, and demonstrate good character as well as proficiency in English or French.

Roles and Responsibilities

A software engineer should be able to perform all the tasks that a software developer can — but on a different scale.

While software developers produce small scale solutions, software engineers need to produce large scale solutions that are more systematic than creative. To see and solve for the big picture, they need to focus on minimizing trade-offs in other parts of the system and eliminating technical debt rather than trying to solve the immediate problem in isolation. This will often require collaborating with multiple stakeholders.

In short, software engineers are typically responsible for designing, installing, and maintaining multiple applications or the entire infrastructure of a company.

Skills

Like software developers, software engineers should have computer programming experience. They will also need to demonstrate high-level analytic thinking in order to operate at a large, and sometimes enterprise-level, scale. Typically, they will also need to demonstrate collaboration and leadership skills since they frequently communicate with stakeholders and manage teams.

Recruiters will expect software engineers to have experience in multiple areas like mobile application development, Unix/Linux environments, natural language processing, or security software development.

Salary

According to Glassdoor, the average annual salary for a Software Engineer is $92,046 in the United States. This is an average, like the salary estimate of a software developer given above, so different engineers will have different salaries. It is important to note that software engineers tend to make more than software developers.

Key Differences between Software Developer and Software Engineer

A software developer and engineer share some skills, education requirements, roles and responsibilities, but they differ in important ways. Understanding these differences can help you hire the right person for your organization or start down the career path you want. 

Let’s take a look at a summary of these key differences below.

  Software developer software engineer
Education Bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field. Bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field. A master's or doctoral degree may be preferred.
Roles and responsibilities Designing, testing, developing, maintaining, and upgrading a software application to meet the user's needs. Designing, installing, and maintaining multiple applications or the entire infrastructure of a company.
Skills Knowledge of or experience in programming languages and entire software development lifecycle. Experience in programming as well as other areas like mobile application and security software development.
Salary $76,526 per year in the US $92,046 per year in the US

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Originally published Dec 9, 2020 7:00:00 AM, updated December 09 2020

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