Programming vs. Coding: What's the Difference?

By Desmond Motiso

Updated July 26, 2022 | Published August 25, 2021

Updated July 26, 2022

Published August 25, 2021

Desmond Motiso is a creative, cross-functional, tech-savvy and Cisco-certified digital copywriter with 5+ years of professional experience in producing content free of technical jargon. He enjoys finding unique angles to stories and creating evergreen content that provides value, engages and informs both technical and non-technical audiences.

Coding involves translating natural language to computer script, while programming entails building an intricate software system. Programmers may have experience in multiple software development tools. Understanding the similarities and differences between coding and programming can help you determine when both are suitable for a computing task.


In this article, we explain coding, define programming and outline the differences between the two terms.


What is coding?

Coding is transforming computer instructions into a form a computer can understand. Coders can write programs in a particular language that provides instructions to control the computer's sequence of operations. You can read and write code in a text editor. Examples of languages you can use are C, Python, R and Java for back-end coding. CSS and HTML are examples of languages you can use to code front-end interfaces. Compilers transform the code into a machine language that the system can understand.


The coder writes code that represents the ideas they have. They write, convert and deliver code for programming projects. 

 The coders help facilitate processing information from the user to the machine or computer they're using. Coders create the building blocks that programmers use to construct whole applications or software.

Related: PHP vs. JavaScript: Comparison and Features


What does a coder do?

Freelance computer coders may have different responsibilities than a coding expert who works full time with a company or organization. These are some of the daily duties that a computer coder may complete, depending on their specialty and where they work:

  • Coders write computer code scripts. These professionals may receive instructions from programmers for the code they write, then create the scripts to help programs function.


  • Coders apply their knowledge about a coding language when working on problems. A coder may receive direction on which coding language to use or may use their knowledge of coding languages to select the best one.


  • Coders search for coding errors. Before submitting their scripts to their client or team, they proofread and check the code to ensure it works.


  • Coders write websites. A coder may help write front-end code for websites using a coding language like HTML.


  • Coders may work with code libraries that other coders created. By sharing code, they can avoid building the same components on new projects and focus on improving the existing code.

Related: 11 of the Most In-Demand Coding Languages


What is programming?

Programming is designing and building an executable software program to solve a specific problem. The programming process may include the design of algorithms, flowcharts, software architectures and source code writing. Programming typically constructs a complex coding system that performs a particular computing task. For example, programmers can create bank applications to offer bank transaction services to customers. During the development cycle, programmers may work to find and fix errors and refine the software product. These professionals may focus on the primary user specifications to ensure the completed software meets the end-user requirements.


Programmers may code during this process or use scripts from coders to build their programs. Project managers may assist in the software development process by planning the project, determining the delivery timeline, assigning roles and estimating a budget. Designers may also design the software by outlining how the user experiences the software. The entire development team can coordinate to determine how different software components fit together and when to write the software and run tests. Testing applications can help ensure that the product's various aspects function together as users expect.

Read more: How To Become a Computer Programmer


What does a programmer do?

These are some duties a programmer may have during a regular workday, depending on where they work and their specialty:


Develop applications

Depending on their specialty, a programmer may develop various applications or specific web software. When developing software products, programmers should first understand the user’s specifications about the product. This information can assist the developers in creating a prototype or basic version of the application. Engineers can test this prototype and refine it until the customer expresses satisfaction.

Related: What Is an App? Types of Apps and Examples


Create system software

System software is a computer program that runs a computer's hardware and application programs. Such software includes operating systems, device drivers and firmware. Programmers can write system software for a specific operating system, such as a calendar application.

Related: System Software vs. Application Software: What's the Difference?


Solve program errors

A programmer may use tools to test for, identify and solve program errors. Examples of these tools include debuggers, code analyzers and performance tools. Issues in software can arise from bugs that prevent components from functioning as the programmer intended. Once they identify the cause of a software fault, the programmer can correct the code.


Prepare updates

Computer programs and applications function with other components like device drivers and the operating system. Programmers can release updates to:

  • Ensure the applications still work with new operating system updates

  • Improve the application by eliminating software errors

  • Keep the application secure by handling arising security threats

Write documentation

Programmers may use code comments, white papers or software manuals to write documentation. Code comments are annotations within the source code that explain what the code does. White papers can be general descriptions of the code or system and the problem it solves. Manuals are guides that show other people how to use the code or system. The readers of software manuals may be other programmers or end users.

Related: 14 Programming Side Projects To Boost Your Resume (With Examples)

Programming vs. coding

These are some primary differences between programming and coding:


Scope

Coders may have smaller scopes in their work compared to programmers. Usually, a coder can provide scripts without comprehensively understanding the final project. Programmers may possess an understanding of how each piece of the product works. This knowledge can help programmers test the application throughout its development.


Tools

Coding may require simple tools like a text editing program and a computer. When writing code, your computer may use minimal processing power and hardware. You may require a program to test the code and ensure it functions as you intend. Programmers may use various development tools, depending on their project and the size of their team. They may require software for running automated tests, analyzing code, performing unit testing and compiling large codebases. To operate these programs, programmers may require powerful computers to ensure their processors can manage the high computing load.

Related: Top 10 Programming/Coding Interview Questions


Approaches

A coder translates information and ideas into code. Coders can use trial-and-error methods to ensure the code works before delivering it. Programmers may work on more advanced systems. This type of task may require programmers to use a systematic approach to testing and improving their work. This approach can help them stay organized and document errors when they occur.


Skills

To be successful at coding, you may require an understanding of different coding languages. Usually, programmers also understand these languages and have other skills in creating functional applications. These skills may include logical thinking, analytical skills, organization, planning and attention to detail.

Related: 18 Hobbies That Improve Coding Skills (And Why It’s Important)


Deliverables

The final product for coders and programmers may be different. Coders translate and create code to supply the smaller pieces of a larger project. Typically, coders can deliver portions of a program or software. Programmers can offer a completed program or application to their users or clients when submitting their work. Their final deliverable is the product of solving errors, evaluating new user requirements and refining the software.

Related: 17 Reasons Why You Should Learn Computer Programming


Difficulties

Coding and programming may have varying difficulty levels, depending on the project and the coding language. Coders may only require knowing how to translate code, while programmers may know about working with multiple software tools. This knowledge may make it more difficult to become a programmer than a coder. Some software development companies may require programmers to possess a bachelor's degree. However, you may freelance as both a coder and programmer without a formal computer science degree.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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