Software developers versus software engineers

Learn about the differences between these two types of software professionals

IT professional in front of a computer screen

Many companies will employ software developers and software engineers, and in some cases, there will be little distinction in how they define these disparate roles. The job descriptions can vary by industry, education level, and geographical location. However, there are several key differences between software developers and software engineers.

With this guide, we’ll answer some of the most critical questions about the differences between software developers and software engineers, including their education, required skills, and typical duties.

Software developer

A software developer is responsible for the software development process. They collaborate with the client on a theoretical design and then work with computer programmers to build software that runs on different computers. They create software to perform specific tasks and write code to run desktop, mobile, and web applications.

Education

A software developer usually requires a bachelor's or master’s degree in computer science, computer programming, or a related field. Courses also cover building software and writing code. However, some people do well in studying software development on their own. 

People studying to become a software developer should learn and stay up to date on different programming languages. They should also develop knowledge of the industry in which they want to work (e.g., finance for the banking industry). 

Required skills

A software developer must have high-level analytical skills for comparing the users’ needs with their software’s capabilities. They must have knowledge and familiarity with several computer languages (e.g., Java, C#, C++, Python) to work with different computer programs. They must also understand the logic of code in other computer languages and know how to use open-source tools (e.g., GitHub).

A software developer requires top-level feedback and communication skills to prevent errors from causing operational or financial problems. They must have a high level of attention to detail to avoid making errors and manage multiple projects at different development stages. 

They should have problem-solving skills to address issues in the software development process. It also helps to have interpersonal skills to work well with others involved in developing the software.

Typical duties

A software developer will monitor project updates and listed software defects to ensure they manage the required modifications. This typically requires changing gears and switching between projects, deadlines, and schedules. 

Related Resource

The total economic impact of Slack for technical teams

Cost savings and business benefits enabled by Slack

Download now

They will also follow the development life cycle methodology or delivery framework (e.g., Scrum, Kanban, XP) and test the software in controlled and real-world situations to evaluate its quality and consistency. 

A software developer must stay on top of details to direct repairs and changes to programs to ensure everything runs efficiently. They will also review and seek opportunities to improve the current system, manage deadlines and schedules, and collaborate with analysts, end users, marketing, and designers. 

In some cases, they will serve as the main point of contact with clients and vendors.

A software developer will face potential challenges in the course of their duties, including:

  • Interpretation of end users’ requirements 
  • Addressing changing needs
  • Discovery of bugs or flaws near the end of or upon conclusion of project
  • Poor software quality 
  • Difficulty maintaining or extending software
  • Software that is difficult to maintain or extend 

A software developer should also follow several best practices:

  • Understand how the code supports the business
  • Make effective use of the code on the project
  • Meet coding goals
  • Define approach to short-term coding task
  • Begin work on the most difficult part of the project

Software engineer

A software engineer applies software engineering principles to design, develop, maintain, test, and evaluate computer software. They participate in the software development life cycle by systematically developing processes to provide technology solutions for a client’s specific needs. 

Education

A software engineer will often have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in software engineering, computer science, mathematics or a related area. Courses will cover computer fundamentals, data structures, programming languages, software engineering, and computer architecture. 

Software engineers will also study analysis, problem-solving, and mathematical concepts and learn how to work with large-scale structures within computer programming and hardware interfacing. 

Required skills

A software engineer must have technical expertise and experience on a wide range of projects involving open-source tools and projects. They should demonstrate proficiency in pattern design, automated testing, and the creation of fault-tolerant systems and know how to use the tools involved in testing automation (e.g., Ansible, Gherkin, Cucumber). 

A software engineer should know how to create and maintain cloud-based systems, IT architecture, and large-scale data stores. They should be familiar with building scalable data deployment pipelines and domain-specific languages. 

A senior software engineer must have experience and comfort with overseeing complex systems analysis, design, and development programs. They will lead, consult, and contribute to a range of projects and advise on identifying and applying new IT methods to help clients achieve strategic goals. 

A senior software engineer also manages resources, coordinates tasks, and supervises technical project plans. They will also work with other team members, including development staff, operations, and IT, at various stages of the software development life cycle, ensuring operations run smoothly and identifying opportunities for improvement.

Typical duties

A software engineer will research, design, develop, and test software and system quality. They would look for issues and patterns then develop standard operating procedures for addressing what they find. They will update existing software to address defects, adopt new hardware, or improve performance. 

A software engineer will look for opportunities to improve existing applications and make recommendations to design and implement updated systems. They will also compile and distribute software over the network.

A software engineer will analyze users’ needs to determine their software requirements, using design feasibility and resource constraints, and coordinate software deployment and installation. They will collaborate with team members to apply technical designs, supervise technologists and engineers, and consult with clients on specs and design. 

A software engineer will also investigate new technology use and improve existing codebases and peer review code changes.

A software engineer will face potential challenges in the course of their duties, including:

  • Potential financial and human costs of software failure in critical areas (e.g., nuclear power plants) 
  • Growing complexity of software
  • Diversity of software systems that must work together
  • Increase in market demand

A software engineer should also follow a number of best practices:

  • Engage in activities to benefit the client and their employer
  • Ensure software and its modifications meet professional standards
  • Maintain integrity and independence in professional approach
  • Ethically engage in software development and maintenance
  • Support their co-workers

Software developer vs. software engineer: overlapping roles with distinct differences

While there is overlap between the roles of software developer and software engineer, there are many differences in the scope of their duties. 

Software developers will usually work on small-scale projects, such as programs with specific functions, whereas software engineers will work on many programs to ensure they work together properly. 

Software engineers might also work in software development, but software developers rarely work in engineering. 

Companies will typically employ both types of professionals, but they will have very different responsibilities in projects involving software development and improvement.

Featured Resources

Managing security risk and compliance in a challenging landscape

How key technology partners grow with your organisation

Download now

Evaluate your order-to-cash process

15 recommended metrics to benchmark your O2C operations

Download now

AI 360: Hold, fold, or double down?

How AI can benefit your business

Download now

Getting started with Azure Red Hat OpenShift

A developer’s guide to improving application building and deployment capabilities

Download now

Recommended

Can private companies help solve the COVID laptop crisis?
digital divide

Can private companies help solve the COVID laptop crisis?

22 Jan 2021
7 skills you need to become a front-end developer
Careers & training

7 skills you need to become a front-end developer

19 Jan 2021
10 best free coding boot camps
Careers & training

10 best free coding boot camps

5 Jan 2021
Merico debuts advanced code analytics platform for developers
Development

Merico debuts advanced code analytics platform for developers

18 Dec 2020

Most Popular

How to move Windows 10 from your old hard drive to SSD
operating systems

How to move Windows 10 from your old hard drive to SSD

21 Jan 2021
WhatsApp could face €50 million GDPR fine
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

WhatsApp could face €50 million GDPR fine

25 Jan 2021
Trump pardons convicted ex-Google engineer Levandowski
intellectual property

Trump pardons convicted ex-Google engineer Levandowski

20 Jan 2021