What's the Difference: Software Developer vs Software Engineer

While software developers and software engineers share many similarities, they approach computer science and daily tasks differently. For example, software engineers are more likely to dabble in software development, but software developers do not commonly work on software engineering tasks. Often, individuals in the field of computer programming interchange the terms software developer and software engineer. Even titles and job posts switch between the two.

This guide tackles key questions around the software developer vs. software engineer debate.

Software Developers vs. Software Engineers

The table below identifies similarities and differences between software developers and software engineers.

Both careers enjoy a strong outlook with regard to job growth, demand, and salary. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that software developer positions will grow by 24% between 2016 and 2026. These professionals can expect to earn a median annual salary of $105,590. The BLS does not offer a similar statistic for software engineers, but they can also expect faster-than-average job growth due to the expansion of the broader software/tech field.

Software Developer

Job Function: Software developers use their professional knowledge and skills to modify, write, and debug software for end-customer use. These professionals also document software and test applications for clients. Most software developers rely on their knowledge of ASP.net, Java, C#, and Python to do their jobs. A software developer's position requires a more holistic view of software than a coder or programmer would hold. Software developers are involved in the full cycle of product research, development, testing, and launch. Despite the breadth of their responsibilities, some software developers focus on a single niche, such as mobile application development or Internet of Things development.

Salary: $70,509

Education: Most software developers hold degrees in computer science or software engineering. Students can tailor coursework or specialize in software development within these programs. A few universities offer a bachelor's in software development. Online and independent study options can make learning about web development easy and accessible; but for many careers, open course learning is not a substitute for formal college education.

Become a Software Developer

Software Engineer

Job Function: In their field, software engineers sit at the top of the career structure. They apply engineering principles to the creation of computer programs and data management. The job requirements extend beyond technical know-how since software engineers communicate with a variety of stakeholders, from coders to users. To this end, software engineers need to possess a solid knowledge of algorithms, languages, data structures, scalability, and best practices in systems engineering and web development. Generally, software engineers work with the same technology that developers use (including Java and C#), but they also incorporate analytics, testing, scaling, and communication into their work.

Salary: $84,009

Education: Commonly, future software engineers earn a bachelor's degree or a master's degree in computer science or software engineering. Many universities offer these degrees entirely online. Nontraditional educational providers may also offer online coursework, which can seem easier and less expensive than a degree. Nevertheless, students absorb significant risk when trying to substitute any other educational achievement for a college degree.

Become a Software Engineer

What Is the Right Fit For Me?

Successful software developers and engineers exhibit similar traits: they are curious, creative, logical, detail-oriented problem solvers who excel in math. The hard skills required of a software developer vs. software engineer also overlap, though software engineers typically hold a larger scope of responsibility and, therefore, a wider skillset.

Successful software developers and engineers exhibit similar traits: they are curious, creative, logical, detail-oriented problem solvers who excel in math.

While a software engineer typically possesses the same skills as a software developer, a developer does not always hold the same technical knowledge and experience to carry out engineering the holistic, big-picture design and management of the whole system. Consequently, typical software developers enjoy the opportunity to develop and expand their skills to advance their career to a software engineer.

Differences in skills are listed below. Depending on your background, experience, education, and interest, you can determine which role is best for you.

  Software Developer Software Engineer
Skills
  • Intermediate mathematics
  • Programming
  • Coding
  • High-level mathematics
  • Knowledge of engineering principles
  • Project management
  • Management
  • Programming
  • Coding
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