Differences Between Software Engineer vs. Software Developer

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 2, 2022 | Published September 29, 2021

Updated October 2, 2022

Published September 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

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Sarah, a software engineer, shows you a day in the life of a remote software engineer including work hours, work environment and job duties.

Even though key differences exist between a software engineer and a software developer, sometimes people use the titles interchangeably. This can create confusion as each role's daily responsibilities and approach to computer science differ from one another. As a job seeker, it can help to have a clear understanding of the differences between these roles so you can choose the one that suits your interests and skill set. In this article, we explore the differences between software engineers versus software developers, examine their primary duties, provide salary information, and explain educational requirements.

What are the differences between software engineers vs. software developers?

Software engineers and developers contribute to the development life cycle of software. Their tasks or responsibilities overlap at certain moments. But engineers typically work throughout all aspects of development, while developers focus on completing very specific functions at a smaller scale. Here are some differences between the two professions:

  • Software engineers are the architects of a project and typically create an outline with specific tasks to accomplish throughout development.

  • Software developers are responsible for completing those tasks, and writing the code that helps bring software to fruition.

  • Software engineers use engineering concepts and systematic processes to create software.

  • Software developers use their artistic skills and creative thinking to write functional programs.

  • Software engineers interact with clients and communicate the overarching plan of action for a project.

  • Software developers collaborate with clients on a smaller scale, like ensuring a particular design is functional and in line with the client's vision

  • Software engineers rely on scientific and mathematical protocols to analyze problems and create technological solutions.

  • Software developers employ a creative approach to solving problems by applying knowledge from external sources, such as personal experimentations.

What does a software engineer do?

Software engineers use engineering principles to design, develop, maintain, test, and evaluate software, including computers or other devices containing software. They are knowledgeable in multiple programming languages. Typically, software engineers employ their scientific and mathematic skills to analyze problems and develop solutions methodically.

During the development life cycle of a product, software engineers are responsible for creating, executing, and managing all components. This responsibility also includes how they communicate and delegate tasks within a team. Collaboration is essential to deliver functioning and effective software adequately. They may also be responsible for refining past designs to correct defects or address new changing client needs.

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Software engineer skills

When companies or recruiters are looking to hire software engineers, they expect candidates to possess certain skills. Software engineers can benefit from having working knowledge in computer science, advanced mathematics, pattern design, cloud-based systems, automated testing, multi-core central processors (CPUs), and fault-tolerant systems. Experience in IT architecture, large-scale data stores, and debugging software and systems, domain-specific languages, and pipelines is also an asset.

As software engineers oversee every element of a project, possessing proven leadership skills, management abilities, and the ability to work independently as well as in collaboration with a team can enhance your chances of getting an interview. This type of profession also requires the ability to evaluate, devise solutions, and have analytical skills that can aid you in reaching strategic objectives. The industry standard is for software engineers to have a working knowledge of several programming languages, such as Python, C++, and Javascript.

Software engineer primary duties

Some of the primary duties of a software engineer may depend on the organization or project, but there are several standard responsibilities you can expect to undertake in the workplace. Software engineers analyze the needs of the clients and the users by supporting the entire development cycle of a product. They do so by working across different departments, giving technical guidance, creating various diagrams, flowcharts, and models that illustrate the type of code needed for programmers.

To ensure the end product meets the clients' and users' expectations, software engineers liaison with the QA team to develop test plans, and document each aspect of a system or application as a reference for future upgrades and maintenance. Maintenance is an essential aspect of software development to establish client and customer success, because bugs may arise during or after the completion of a project. A knowledgeable software engineer understands how to account for bug fixes when devising estimates about how long it may take to complete a project.

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Salary expectations for a software engineer

Salary for software engineers may depend on the level of experience, education, geographical location, and company. For example, a start-up company may offer a different salary than a larger corporation. The national average salary for a software engineer is $76,205 per year.

Academic requirements for a software engineer

If you seek a career as a software engineer, a bachelor's degree in software engineering can provide you with the necessary expertise. Studying math, information technology, computer science, and programming can also help. The courses in these fields reinforce your analytical skills, improve your ability to solve problems, and develop your knowledge of mathematical concepts. Some job positions may require particular certifications, specialization, or a master's degree in a specific IT or software engineering discipline. Having a master's degree or certification may also indicate a candidate's leadership potential and dedication to ongoing learning.

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What does a software developer do?

Software developers are responsible for using their knowledge of programming language to design software programs. They execute the development plans by documenting features, analyzing concepts, and running tests to optimize software. By applying their artistic skills and creative thinking, developers design software functions and develop solutions to fix bugs.

Since they are responsible for more than writing code, software developers have a clearer understanding of the intention and structure of software. Even though their scope of work can be narrow in comparison to software engineers, this allows them to apply their creativity more consistently. By focusing on smaller-scale tasks, software developers can specialize in a particular area of the development cycle, such as within a specific programming language, front-end or back-end development.

Software developer skills

Prospective employers or recruiters expect software developers to possess the ability to write code that is easy to maintain, and proficiency in popular coding languages including Python, Java and C++. It also helps when developers have experience with agile development systems, test-driven development, and have a working knowledge of basic web development frameworks and programs, including jQuery, AngularJS, JavaScript, and ReactJS. Creativity is an essential quality to have as a developer because implementing reliable and responsive web designs is a common work responsibility.

A detail-oriented mindset and work ethic, and proven knowledge on how to develop an application's front-end or back-end, along with the various tools, workflows, and programs can help optimize your candidacy for a job as well. Even though software developers typically work independently, they are still part of a team.

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Software developer primary duties

As a software developer, your primary duties include meeting with clients to determine their software needs, and collaborate with management and various departments to identify end-user requirements and specifications. When creating new software programs and systems, developers design algorithms, flowcharts, and produce efficient code based on project requirements. They review customer service data to discover potential defects and gauge the level of customer satisfaction with a new program.

They are also responsible for testing the quality and consistency of software. Developers do so by performing troubleshooting tests, debugging issues, assessing user experience (UX) and feedback, and refining components like cybersecurity measures and data storage capacities. Software developers also create technical documentation that helps guide future software development projects. Through the observation of user feedback, they can recommend improvements to current software products.

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Salary expectations for a software developer

Salary for software developers may depend on the level of experience, education, geographical location, and company. Certain companies may hire developers as contractors on a project-by-project basis, while others hire for long-term or salaried work. The national average salary of a software developer is $71,656 per year.

Educational requirements for a software developer

If you want to pursue a career as a software developer, a bachelor's degree in computer science, engineering, or a related field can help provide the necessary knowledge. Coding or programming boot camps can develop your skills even further. Certain job postings specify the type of software developer they are looking to hire, like a back-end Java developer or a front-end React developer. As a result, it's helpful to invest your time into acquiring a specialization to maximize your capabilities and candidacy. Some employers may require a master's or doctorate degree in a specific field depending on the requirements of their role.

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