Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: What’s the Difference?

Sakshi GuptaSakshi Gupta | 7 minute read | June 13, 2022
Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: What’s the Difference?

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A restaurant kitchen might not seem like the best analogy for software development, but in fact, the two have quite a few similarities. This is especially true when comparing software developers and software engineers—two similarly sounding positions that have some key differences. 

Software engineers are akin to a kitchen’s head chef, who is responsible for conceptualizing new dishes, ordering ingredients, and making sure that the kitchen runs smoothly during service. Think of software developers as the kitchen’s line cooks. They’re given specific tasks to accomplish and often have a specialty or niche in which they excel. 

In this article, we’re going to further demystify the differences between software developers and software engineers. We’re also going to look at their job descriptions so that you’ll know which job is better suited for your skillset. 

Is There a Difference Between a Software Developer and a Software Engineer?

Yes! There is a distinct difference between being a software developer and a software engineer. 

A software developer uses their understanding of computer science and programming languages to build or enhance software applications. They often collaborate with product managers and graphic designers to complete various tasks that are part of the software development lifecycle. 

A software engineer, on the other hand, lays the framework for the software development process. So while a software developer only concerns themself with building components for a piece of software, a software engineer is involved with the entire development process. This includes delineating the scope of responsibilities for different developers, instituting agile development practices, defining the strategic objectives of each project, and using creative approaches to fulfilling the end-user requirement. 

Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: Job Description

What Does a Software Developer Do?

Software developers build mobile applications and computer software using programming languages and by adhering to specific development principles. They often receive their tasks from software engineers. 

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

A software engineer is involved in every step of the software development life cycle. In addition to producing functional software, they also have to interact with different members of the development staff. 

Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: Requirements

What Are the Requirements To Become a Software Developer?

The following are the requirements to become a software developer

  • Bachelor’s degree in software engineering or computer science field 
  • Basic understanding of mathematics in areas like calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra
  • Knowledge of cloud-based systems and the mobile ecosystems 
  • The ability to code in one or more programming languages 

What Are the Requirements To Be a Software Engineer?

The following are the requirements to become a software engineer

  • A bachelor’s degree in computer science or engineering 
  • Understanding the architecture of software programs and the difference between frontend and backend development
  • A practical understanding of the principles of software engineering 
  • The ability to work with other professional developers and oversee the product development life cycle
  • Basic familiarity with networking software, agile development practices, and producing creative business solutions

Related Read: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering [Comparison Guide]

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Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: A Day in the Life

What’s a Typical Day in the Life of a Software Developer?

Software developers are given very specific tasks to complete each day. This means that they’ll build a particular component of a software program, then deliver the code so that it can be reviewed and deployed when it’s ready. 

There is very little variation when it comes to the daily responsibilities of a developer. They’ll usually be given daily coding goals, often in the form of a feature that they need to implement. They write code from scratch and use the same programming languages throughout the course of a project. 

What’s a Typical Day in the Life of a Software Engineer?

Software engineers have a lot more variety when it comes to their daily work. Their specific tasks will depend on the progress of the project they’re overseeing.  

If they’re in the early phase of development, then a software engineer’s day might begin with producing requirements specifications and developing flowcharts and layouts to chart out the progress of that project. Later on, they might take different components created by the developers and integrate them into the software that they’re building. 

Software engineers also give developers coding tasks, maximize the internal productivity of their team, and sometimes even oversee part of the customer success function. 

Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: Skills

What Are the Required Skills To Become a Software Developer?

The following are the skills required to become a software developer: 

  • An understanding of how software programs work 
  • The ability to translate software specifications into functional software programs 
  • Knowledge of a few different programming languages
  • The ability to write maintainable code
  • Working with the rest of the development team to complete coding tasks 

What Are the Required Skills To Become a Software Engineer?

The following are the skills required to become a software engineer: 

  • An understanding of different operating systems 
  • The ability to create software requirements and chart the development process for a piece of software
  • Assign the programming roles for different projects
  • Guide the creation of fault-tolerant systems that work across different operating systems and environments 
  • Write code to complete the development of a piece of software whenever necessary

Software developer vs. Software Engineer: Salary

How Much Can a Software Developer Make?

The average salary for a software developer is $110,140.

How Much Can a Software Engineer Make?

The average salary for a software engineer is $127,399.

Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: Career paths

What’s a Typical Career Path for a Software Developer?

Junior software developers are usually tasked with writing basic code. To land a more senior developer role, you’ll need to advance your technical skills. This entails excelling at algorithms and data structures. You’ll also need to become a better communicator and collaborator at this stage.

The higher rungs of the software developer ladder are reserved for the most skilled professionals. You will have the opportunity to assume the role of lead developer or software development manager depending on the hierarchy at your company. At that stage, you will have a strong understanding of computer science concepts, project management, and will know how to lead technical teams.

What’s a Typical Career Path for a Software Engineer?

As a beginner, you can choose from a wide variety of career opportunities software engineering offers.

More senior software engineers often have the opportunity to specialize. If you want to continue handling core technical operations, then you can interview for a technical architect or information architect role. But if you want to oversee a team and oversee development, then you might consider being a team manager designation, which can later lead to a role as a chief technology officer. 

Software developer vs. Software Engineer: Which Makes Sense for You?

Who Should Consider a Software Developer Career?

You should consider working as a software developer if you genuinely enjoy writing code and building functional software. It’s a career that allows you to focus on that aspect without worrying about everything else that goes into creating and launching software. 

Who Should Consider a Software Engineer Career?

You should consider working as a software engineer if you’re interested in every aspect of the software development process. Working in the role will give you the opportunity to work on different technical pieces of the software puzzle. You’ll also get to collaborate with different stakeholders who are involved in the process. 

How To Choose Between Software Developer and Software Engineer

Your Education and Experience

The educational requirements for software developer and software engineer roles are actually not that different. Companies will at most require that candidates have a bachelor’s degree when applying to either role.

But it’s also possible to land a job as a software developer or engineer without having a degree. You can, for example, complete a coding bootcamp or work through online courses to build your skillset and interview for these roles. 

Your Interest

The main thing that will help you decide between these two jobs is your interest. If you’re interested only in building software, then you’re probably best suited for a software developer role. Those who care more about architecting the entire development process and overseeing development should consider a career in software engineering. 

Your Career Goals

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Consider a Software Developer Career if…

You enjoy writing code, working in a more solitary manner, and don’t mind a slightly smaller paycheck. 

Consider a Software Engineer Career if…

You are willing to study a more broad range of topics, are good at working in teams, and want a more lucrative, demanding career. 

Since you’re here…
Interested in a career in software engineering? Join our mentor-led Software Engineering Bootcamp or our foundational Software Engineering Course if you’re just starting out. We help people make the switch every day (just peep our reviews). You can do it, too!

Sakshi Gupta

About Sakshi Gupta

Sakshi is a Senior Associate Editor at Springboard. She is a technology enthusiast who loves to read and write about emerging tech. She is a content marketer and has experience working in the Indian and US markets.