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

What’s the difference between a software engineer and a software developer? In this post, learn what each role entails and which one is a better fit for your skills and experience.


The roles of software developer and software engineer are great options for anyone interested in a technology career. Because there’s an overlap in the skill sets required to perform each job, it can be confusing to tell the difference between the two positions—which is why you see job listings that use the titles interchangeably. 

Before you choose which field may suit you best, it’s important to understand the distinct differences between them. This article helps clarify the duties and technical skills required for each position.

What Is a Software Developer?

Whenever a company comes up with an idea for a new piece of technology, it usually ends up in the hands of a software developer. They’re the ones who take technical requirements and turn them into instructions to pass on to a programmer. The app you use each day or the interface through which you access your banking info on different devices likely received oversight from a software developer.

What Does a Software Developer Do?

Software developers map out the design of an application and come up with the technical specifications for computer programmers. They highlight data flows and different points of user interaction. Software developers’ duties include maintaining documentation on a piece of software so it’s available for future enhancement requests. They oversee the testing of the application to ensure it functions as intended and meets the client’s needs.

‌The complexity of the role requires a lot of technical expertise with different tools and computer languages, including:

  • C#
  • JavaScript
  • SQL
  • Python
  • DevOps
  • Oracle
  • Linux
  • Windows‌

‌Software developers need good problem-solving instincts to work through issues and figure out the best approach to constructing a software solution. Software developers often coordinate with team members like other developers and programmers when tackling a large project. They break big problems down into smaller, more manageable pieces.  

What Is a Software Engineer?

While software developers tend to focus on one piece of a project, engineers are responsible for overseeing the entire piece of software. They rarely get involved in the details of coding. Software engineers come up with solutions that affect the entire project. It’s always about the big picture and making sure a software platform meets the user needs of diverse groups within a company.

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Software engineers conduct code reviews, coordinate with other technical personnel on different projects, and spend a lot of time researching. When there are questions about a project, it’s the software engineer who communicates with stakeholders.

It’s the engineer’s responsibility to ensure the development process adheres to the software requirements laid out by business partners. Software engineers look for the most effective way to deliver a product, then assign specific tasks to developers and programmers.‌

Software engineers rely on:

  • Math skills
  • Scientific knowledge
  • System design‌ expertise
  • Good communication
  • Excellent analytical skills‌

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

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

The biggest difference between a software developer and a software engineer is how they approach their job. 

‌Software developers have a specific problem to solve. They work within the tight parameters passed to them by a software engineer. Developers come up with the structure on which to base the development of the software.

‌Companies rely on software developers for duties that include:

  • Designing a new mobile interface
  • Detailing how to build a data pipeline from a new data source to feed into an existing application
  • Writing data design documents that outline the flow of information through an app
  • Letting programmers know which language to use when writing the code

‌Software engineers review the work of various developers and make sure their work sticks to the requirements. They look at the entire development process from end to end and make sure different system components work together as they should. Instead of focusing on one problem, engineers must look at multiple issues and develop ideas for a workable solution that addresses them all.

‌Examples of a software engineer’s responsibilities include:

  • ‌Identifying conflicts that might arise for one system when making changes in another
  • Helping software developers identify flaws in logic that could impact the outcome of a project
  • Making sure the development team adheres to the chosen software development methodology, whether it’s waterfall or agile

Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: Who Makes More Money?

The pay for developers and engineers varies depending on their skillset and years of experience. Glassdoor lists the average salary at $94,972 for a software developer and $104,727 for a software engineer.

When you look for a job, keep in mind that the title may vary because some companies conflate the duties of a software developer with that of a software engineer. They may not realize that software engineers have to oversee the technology infrastructure at a higher level than that of a software developer. Read the job description details to see if what you’re applying for fits your ideal role.

Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: Which Is a Better?

Many software engineers start as developers. Spending time in that role exposes you to different systems and fundamentals and lets you exercise various skill sets. It’s a chance to gradually gain experience and move up by displaying your competence and proficiency with different technologies.

If you like focusing on the specifics of a particular system or piece of software, you might be more suited for a software developer role. You get more opportunities to use your technical language skillset and get into the details of making a program work. Working as a developer prepares you for other roles in the technology field like a systems architect or data engineer. 

If you like overseeing all aspects of a company’s systems and have a management mindset, you might find yourself more suited to the role of a software engineer. You take on the responsibility of making sure that those you oversee provide their best efforts in delivering a piece of software or a new system platform.

Whichever path suits you best, you need the right kind of education to prepare you to work as a software developer or software engineer.‌

Ready to switch careers to software engineering?

Springboard offers a comprehensive software engineering bootcamp. You’ll work with a one-on-one mentor to learn key aspects of front-end web development, back-end web development, databases, and data structures and algorithms. Modules include learning resources, practice exercises, projects, and career-related coursework. 

Check out Springboard's Software Engineering Career Track to see if you qualify.

Not quite ready to dive into a software engineering bootcamp?

Springboard also offers a Software Engineering Prep Course, where you can learn the foundational web development skills (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) needed to pass the technical skills survey for the Software Engineering Career Track.

Download our software engineering salary guide

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