Differences Between Software Engineer vs. Software Developer

Updated December 4, 2022

If you ever feel confused about the differences between software engineers vs. software developers, it might be because the titles are often used interchangeably. This happens even though the daily responsibilities and approaches to computer science in each of these professions are actually quite different. As a job seeker, it can help to have a clear understanding of these differences so you can choose the role that best suits your interests and skill set. In this article, we explore the differences between software engineers vs. software developers, examine their primary duties, provide salary information, and review the educational requirements for each.

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Key differences between a software engineer vs. software developer

Software engineers and developers both contribute to the development lifecycle of software and their tasks or responsibilities overlap at certain moments. Engineers, however, typically work throughout all aspects of development, while developers focus on completing very specific functions at a smaller scale. Here are some of the key 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, 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 experimentation.

Related: FAQ: Is Software Engineering a Good Career? (With Benefits)

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 use their science and math skills to analyze problems and develop solutions methodically.

Software engineers create, execute, and manage all components of a producte during the development lifecycle. This responsibility also requires them to 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 and changing client needs.

Read more: What Does a Software Engineer Do? (With Jobs to Consider)

Essential skills for a software engineer

When companies or recruiters are hiring software engineers, they expect the candidates to possess certain skills. It's helpful for prospective software engineers to have a 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, having proven leadership skills, management abilities, and the ability to work both independently and as part of a team can better your chances of getting an interview. This type of profession also requires the ability to evaluate, devise solutions, and have analytical skills that can help you reach strategic objectives. The industry standard is for software engineers to have a working knowledge of several programming languages, such as Python, C++, and Javascript.

Related: How To Become a Software Engineer

Primary duties of a software engineer

The primary duties for a software engineer will, in part, depend on the organization or project, but there are several standard responsibilities you can expect to have in this role. 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, and 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 liaise with the QA team to develop test plans and document each aspect of a system or application as reference for future upgrades and maintenance. Maintenance is an essential aspect of software development for client and customer satisfaction, because bugs can be found during or after the completion of a project. A knowledgeable software engineer understands how to account for bug fixes when estimating how long it may take to complete a project.

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 $84,961 per year.

Related: 11 Highest-Paying Software Engineering Jobs (With Duties)

Academic requirements for a software engineer

If you're interested in a career as a software engineer, a bachelor's degree in software engineering can help you develop 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 jobs may also require certifications, specializations, or a master's degree in a specific IT or software engineering discipline. Having a master's degree or certification can also help demonstrate your leadership potential and dedication to ongoing learning.

Related: Software Engineer Career Path (Plus Job Opportunities)

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What does a software developer do?

Software developers use their knowledge of programming languages to design software programs. They execute the development plans by documenting features, analyzing concepts, and running tests to optimize software. Developers will also use their artistic and creative thinking skills to design software functions and come up with solutions to fix bugs.

Because 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 a specific programming language or front-end or back-end development.

Related: How to Write a Software Developer Resume (With Steps)

Essential skills for a software developer

Prospective employers or recruiters expect software developers to be able to write code that is easy to maintain, and be proficient in popular coding languages such as Python, Java and C++. It's also helpful for developers to have experience with agile development systems, and test-driven development, and to 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 regular work responsibility.

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

Read more: Top Skills for Software Developer

Primary duties of a software developer

As a software developer, you can expect your primary duties to include meeting with clients about their software needs, and collaborating with management and other departments in your workplace to identify end-user requirements and specifications. When creating new software programs and systems, developers design algorithms and 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.

Developers are also responsible for testing the quality and consistency of software. They 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 analysis of user feedback, they can recommend improvements to current software products.

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 $79,111 per year.

Related: How to Become a Freelance Software Developer in 9 Steps

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 you build the necessary knowledge. Coding or programming boot camps can develop your skills even further. Certain job postings will specify the type of software developer required, like a back-end Java developer or a front-end React developer. As a result, you might consider acquiring a specialization to maximize your capabilities and candidacy. Some employers may also require a master's or doctorate degree in a specific field depending on the requirements of their role.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organization‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌, ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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