The Key Differences Between Software Developers and Software Engineers
The world of software development and software engineering can seem complex to those outside the field. Many people use the terms “software developer” and “software engineer” interchangeably, assuming they refer to the same profession. However, while these two roles share similarities, there are some important distinctions in terms of their scope of work, tools and technologies, educational background, career path, work styles, and more.
Understanding the nuances between these professional titles is key for those looking to pursue a career in this dynamic industry. This extensive guide breaks down all the key differences and similarities between software developers and software engineers to help technical professionals select the right career path.
- Software developers and software engineers play integrated yet unique roles collaborating to build and deploy apps
- Developers focus narrowly on programming small pieces of apps providing hands-on coding expertise
- Engineers focus more broadly on high-level system design, architecture and infrastructure decisions
- Though different, software development and computer engineering skills deeply overlap around technology
- With some experience, it’s common to transition between related roles over a career
- Both professions offer dynamic, well-compensated careers with stellar growth trajectories
Software Developer Job Description & Responsibilities
Software developers are technical professionals who build, test, and maintain software applications. They typically specialize in writing code using various programming languages to bring product concepts and designs to life.
Some examples of a software developer’s day-to-day responsibilities include:
- Analyzing user needs and product requirements to develop technical specifications and plans
- Designing architecture and writing code to create desktop, web, mobile, cloud, and other applications
- Running tests, fixing bugs, and continuously updating and improving software
- Documenting development processes and application coding/architecture
- Collaborating with product managers, software engineers, UI/UX designers, and other team members
Overall, a software developer’s primary focus includes building the core functionality and coding of a software application or program based on specifications from stakeholders. They work hands-on with programming languages and development tools to code, troubleshoot, and deploy applications.
Software Engineer Job Description & Responsibilities
A software engineer takes a more holistic, big-picture view to developing large, complex software systems. Rather than just writing code, they apply principles of software engineering to design, develop, test, deploy and maintain applications.
Some examples of a software engineer’s responsibilities include:
- Collaborating across teams to understand software requirements and business goals
- Researching solutions, analyzing data, and making recommendations to stakeholders
- Conducting feasibility studies and prototyping to test theories and validate concepts
- Designing architecture, drafting specs, and mapping out infrastructure plans
- Identifying tasks, assigning work, and mentoring junior developers
- Monitoring systems performance, finding bottlenecks/issues, and optimizing
- Ensuring designs meet security, compliance, and regulatory requirements
Software engineers focus more on structural design and engineering principles rather than hands-on coding. They make high-level decisions about the scale, deployment, integration, and performance of large, enterprise-wide software systems.
Key Differences Between Software Developers & Engineers
While software developers and software engineers overlap in some areas, there are a few fundamental differences that set their roles apart:
Scope of Work
The scope of work is a major difference between the two roles. Software developers have a more narrowed focus on building specific features or applications using code. Software engineers have a wider scope focusing on high-level system design, architecture, and engineering concepts.
- Software Developer Scope – Program, build, test, debug, and develop software applications based on requirements
- Software Engineer Scope – Design, plan, test, deploy, integrate and optimize complex large-scale software systems and infrastructure
Tools & Technologies
Software developers and engineers work with similar programming languages, frameworks, libraries, and development tools like GitHub, Azure, AWS, etc.
However, their application of these technical skills differs. Developers use tools and technologies focused on writing code and testing applications. Engineers apply them when making structural design decisions and testing systems capabilities.
Education & Background
The educational backgrounds for software developers and engineers also differ typically.
Most engineers pursue four-year computer science or software engineering degrees. Developers often start with vocational training, coding bootcamps, online courses, or computer science degrees.
Engineers focus more on advanced software engineering concepts including algorithms, data structures, modeling, analytics, systems design, and architecture. Developers focus on building specialized skills in coding languages, mobile/web frameworks, databases and version control.
Career Path & Salaries
The earning potential and career growth opportunities for software developers and engineers have some differences too. According to PayScale, here are the average salary differences:
- Software Engineer Salary – Average of $93,000 per year
- Software Developer Salary – Average of $78,000 per year
- Career Growth – Software engineers have more senior-level architecture and leadership roles
Software engineer career outlook: Engineers progress into advanced technical authority, principal engineering and staff software architecture positions. Developers can grow into senior-level and lead dev roles focused on hands-on application coding and delivery.
Similarities Between Software Developers & Engineers
While their specific roles diverge in some areas, software developers and software engineers share the following core similarities:
- Both careers involve actively working on ideating, planning, designing, developing, testing, deploying and maintaining software using programming languages.
- They collaborate closely together along with other roles like project managers, QA analysts, UI/UX designers etc.
- The two fields share overlapped skills in areas like software development methodologies, documentation, tracking issues/bugs, and optimizing performance.
- Work environments are similar as well in tech companies or IT departments with comparable hours, office settings, and programming tools.
- Strong fundamentals in computer science theory, logic, critical problem-solving, creativity, communication, and analytical thinking apply.
So while their specific applications may differ, software developers and software engineers share more commonalities than differences in their core technical skillsets and development approaches. Underneath it all software engineering incorporates software development tasks.
Software Developer Skills & Traits
Software developers need a specific set of technical abilities and soft skills to thrive:
- Databases – SQL, MongoDB, Cassandra, HBase
- Mobile & Web – ReactJS, AngularJS, Android SDK
- Cloud – AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform
- Software Testing – Selenium, JUnit, PyUnit, JestJS
- Agile Methodologies – Scrum, Kanban, XP, Lean
- Communication & Collaboration
- Creative Problem Solving
- Attention to Detail
- Analytical Thinking
- Time Management & Organization
- Ability to Work Independently
For developers, these technical and soft skills empower them to translate software specifications into robust and resilient real-world applications.
Software Engineer Skills & Traits
Software engineers require specialized technical abilities along with engineering-focused strengths:
- Data Structures & Algorithms – Stacks, queues, trees, graphs etc.
- Design Patterns – Decorator, factory, observer, MVC etc.
- Statistical Analysis – R, Pandas, MATLAB, Weka
- Systems Architecture – Microservices, monolithic, SOA, BPM
- Test Engineering – Automation frameworks, performance/load testing
- Cloud Platforms – AWS, Azure, GCP infrastructure
- Complex Problem Solving
- Creativity & Analytical Thinking
- Research & Learning Agility
- Leadership & Teaching Abilities
- Attention to Detail & Quality Focus
- Communication & Collaboration Skills
For software engineers, these expanded technical and soft skills empower them to architect systems that can scale securely, provide high availability, and meet compliance requirements.
Path to Becoming a Software Engineer or Software Programmer
Are you considering a career in software engineering? Jessup University’s Bachelor of Science in Computer Science presents an in-depth program that fuses theoretical foundations with practical application. With in-person and online learning options, our approach is adaptable to various educational preferences, allowing students to excel in their chosen format.
In-person attendees will benefit from 15-week courses, immersive community involvement, and comprehensive resource access. Those opting for the online route can take advantage of shorter, 7-week courses, flexible scheduling, and six annual start dates. This program offers specializations in Cybersecurity, Data Analytics, Data Science, Information Technology, and Software Engineering, providing a customized educational journey whether you’re on campus or studying from afar.
Crucial Skills for Success in Computer Science
What is computer science? It’s the field of study that focuses on computation, information, and automation using computers and computational systems. It’s the backbone and foundation behind software engineering, and can lead you many directions within the tech space.
See, prospering in the ever-changing field of computer science is tied to a robust skill set. Jessup University’s program stresses expertise in advanced programming languages, proficiency in modern software development methodologies, and effective technical communication.
The curriculum deepens understanding of computational challenges, their requirements, and constraints. Additionally, it embeds a Christian ethical outlook towards technology, preparing graduates to be proficient and morally responsible in their field.
Whether participating in on-campus activities or via online modules, students are equipped to deploy their skills in various professional settings, armed with our Computer Science degree.
If you’re not yet a software engineer and you’re curious about becoming one, now is the time to actualize your dreams. Jessup University is where your passion for software engineering can evolve into an inspiring vocation and to dive deep into the world of software and AI. Contact us today to discover how you can embark on this dynamic career journey.
Which Career is Right For Me?
If you’re trying to decide between pursuing software development or software engineering paths, consider the following:
Optimal for Software Developer Roles
- You enjoy ideating creative technical solutions and programming executable apps yourself
- You like bringing hands-on software projects to market quickly
- You prefer narrowed focuses perfecting products vs high-level system design
- You want flexibility without needing four year technical degrees
- You’d like to manage software projects someday
Optimal for Software Engineer Roles
- You’re passionate about designing model solutions and complex technical architectures
- You thrive researching cutting edge techniques and setting long-term road-maps
- You excel applying analytical thinking and engineering principles
- You desire high-level strategic technology leadership roles
- You want to oversee wide-scale organization software strategies
Assessing individual strengths can determine best fits between occupations. Technical doers and tactical coders may enjoy development roles. Methodical technical leaders might find engineering positions more fulfilling. The good news is skills are widely transferable between both over time.
If you’re curious and ambitious about a software career, especially in software engineering, now is the time to pursue your dreams. Jessup University is where your passion for software can evolve into an inspiring career. Contact us today to discover how to embark on this dynamic journey.