Software Engineer vs. Developer: What's the Difference?
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated July 6, 2022 | Published February 25, 2020
Updated July 6, 2022
Published February 25, 2020
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Related: A Day in the Life of a Software Engineer
Sarah, a software engineer, shows you a day in the life of a remote software engineer including work hours, work environment and job duties.
The technology industry is rapidly changing, which can create confusion and crossover between different, related titles. In fact, some titles that are actually quite distinct are often used interchangeably within this field. This is the case with software engineers and software developers. In this article, we explain what a software engineer does versus what a software developer does, and explore the similarities and differences between the two roles.
What does a software engineer do?
Generally speaking, software engineers apply software engineering principles throughout the process of designing, developing, maintaining, testing and evaluating software (or devices that contain software). This position holds a lot of responsibility and emphasizes skills in math and science rather than art and creativity. The technical expertise needed for this position is typically learned through a bachelor's program in an engineering discipline, such as computer science or through a coding boot camp.
Regardless of the specific area of expertise, engineers are taught to utilize their training, education and engineering principles to interpret and analyze a problem. They approach all problems methodically and utilize the scientific method to explore possible solutions.
Engineers then use these same methods to develop solutions that are both comprehensive and effective, taking into consideration all components of a project. This is especially true in regard to software, because engineers with this area of expertise are involved in and responsible for every aspect of the product development life cycle.
Here are some of the skills necessary to become a software engineer:
Proficiency in advanced mathematics
Knowledge and familiarity in computer science
Ability to effectively evaluate and solve problems
Experience with developing and maintaining databases and IT architectures
Working knowledge of several programming languages, such as C++
Experience working on multi-core central processors (CPUs)
Experience debugging software and systems
Background in pattern design and working within a cloud-based infrastructure
Proficient in automated testing
Familiarity with developing scalable domain-specific languages and pipelines
Ability to work alone as well collaborate within a team
Analytical skills that aid in reaching strategic objectives
Leadership and management abilities
The culmination of these skills helps software engineers complete some of their basic responsibilities, such as:
Supporting the entire development life cycle for the product by working across teams to give technical guidance
Communicating and collaborating with the customer success and marketing teams that are involved in the product's development
Liaising with the QA team to develop test plans
Designing, developing, testing and maintaining the embedded networking software
What does a software developer do?
Aside from providing the coding needed for software development, software developers document features, analyze concepts and, in some cases, design, test, debug and optimize the software to ensure that it is performing well in every possible area. Throughout a product's development, individuals in this position work closely with other professionals, such as graphic designers, product managers, customer representatives, senior managers and various other decision-makers.
Because of the nature of this comprehensive and ever-changing process, software developers need to be able to receive and interpret feedback from all of users and team members. They must also be able to communicate effectively with the various people involved.
Software developers are often responsible for performing a specific function or developing a particular aspect of a project as opposed to the entire system. Because of this, many developers choose to specialize in a specific development framework to fulfill that function.
The specialties that employers are looking for in a software developer can often be found in job posts where positions are advertised as "Front-End React Developer" or "Back-End Java Developer," for example. Here are some of the basic skills and qualifications typically needed to become a software developer:
Ability to write clean and easily maintainable code
Experience in creating responsive web designs
Familiarity with cross-browser compatibility
Experience in developing an application's front-end with various programs, tools and workflows
Ability to communicate and collaborate within a team
Familiarity with test-driven development and agile development practices
Ability to receive and analyze feedback
Creative thinking skills
Through the use of these skills, software developers can complete the various functions of their position, such as:
Maintaining a quality user experience (UX) by collaborating with front-end engineers, designers, QA engineers and product managers
Participating in frequent, rapid prototyping defined by the project's specific requirements
Developing tools and systems designed to improve productivity
Exploring new front-end technologies and using them to create features that are innovative and cutting-edge
Continually contributing to and making improvements to the user interface (UI) architecture
Conducting software runs to test the consistency and quality of a software
Software engineer vs. developer: Similarities and differences
While software engineers are commonly involved with software development, software developers are rarely engineers. Though their functions can overlap, there are some key distinctions between the roles of software engineer and software developer, including:
Software developers focus on creating functional programs through the use of art and creativity, while software engineers utilize scientific methods and engineering principles to create reliable solutions.
Software engineers can be compared to a project's architect, with a software developer being the carpenter. The engineers outline the specifics by designing, coordinating and overseeing the project. Developers then execute these plans and write the code that brings the project to fruition.
Software developers tend to approach problems creatively. Instead of relying on education and protocols like engineers, developers utilize practices and patterns that they likely learned through self-discovery and external sources, such as blogs and books.
Software engineers connect a client's needs to technological solutions by using systematic processes and engineering concepts to create software. Software developers, on the other hand, collaborate with the client to decide on a functional design. In other words, developers often act as the creative driving force behind software design and development.
Explore more articles
- What Are STEM Jobs?
- 20 Campus Jobs You Can Pursue
- Teach English Online: The Ultimate Guide
- FAQ: Why Should You Work in a Care Home?
- Learn How To Become a Data Entry Operator
- What Does a Process Assistant Do? A Definitive Guide
- How To Become a Volunteer Counselor (Application Process)
- What Can You Do With a Counseling Psychology Degree?
- What Is a UI Designer? (With Tips and FAQs)
- Job Cast: Pride at Work
- What Is Holistic Nursing?
- How To Become a Sports Psychologist in 5 Steps (Plus Skills)