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

By Robert P. Ingram

Updated September 15, 2022 | Published May 11, 2021

Updated September 15, 2022

Published May 11, 2021

Robert Preston is a trained journalist with a deep interest in technology. He has been passionate about and has been studying coding for over 20 years.

Related: Becoming a Web Developer

Are you interested in a career as a web developer but are not sure how to start preparing for it? We have you covered!

When pursuing a career as a developer, there are multiple fields you may choose, with many developers choosing to work in web or software development. Web and software developers use similar skills, and each may be an appealing opportunity for you. By learning about what each career entails and the key differences between them, you can determine which is the preferable option for you.

In this article, we discuss web developers versus software developers, including what their job duties are, how these roles differ and tips for choosing between these two career paths.


What is a web developer?

A web developer is someone who uses coding and computer programming skills to create websites. They write the computer code for a website's user interface, such as its user-facing pages, portals and functions. They also use a variety of coding languages to craft the digital designs, including the site framework, individual pages, navigation for how those pages link to one another and interactive elements to create an entire website.

Read more: What Is a Web Developer?


What does a web developer do?

A web developer designs and codes webpages and sites. Web developers may work as independent contractors, offering their services to individuals or businesses needing web applications or sites. Web developers may also work for a company, either by maintaining the web presence for that company or working for an employer who contracts web development services to others.

Common roles a web developer may fill include:

  • Front-end developer: Works on the client side of website or app development and writes the code that creates the design of the user experience

  • Back-end developer: Creates the server-side of a website, allowing it to complete tasks such as sending information to or receiving information from the user

  • Full-stack developer: Develops both front- and back-end services on a website, creating a fully functional website

Related: How To Become a Web Developer (With Certification Tips)


What is a software developer?

A software developer is a coding professional who creates digital applications. Software developers use coding and scripting languages to create applications for a variety of operating systems and to serve a broad range of purposes. A software developer may specialize in creating a particular type of software or use their skills to complete projects for clients or an employer as needed, creating applications with a diverse set of functions.

Read more: What Is Software Development?


What does a software developer do?

A software developer designs and codes programs, either of their own design or according to a design brief. Software developers may create their software packages within a coding language or use a development engine that provides pre-built functionality or modules that the software developer can use. Software development opportunities cover a broad range of fields with many job possibilities for software developers. Common fields a software developer may work in include:

  • Mobile applications: A mobile software developer creates applications designed to work with the unique characteristics of mobile devices. This may include games, service apps for companies and professional applications to help the user complete their work.

  • Professional software: Many software developers work for companies that create and distribute retail software packages for professional use. Professional software completes tasks and manages work responsibilities for organizations, allowing companies to work more efficiently and securely.

  • Video games: Working as a software developer on a gaming project allows you to apply your coding knowledge to the creation of the mechanisms that allow a video game to operate and provide a fun and memorable experience for players.

Related: The Differences Between a Software Developer and a Software Engineer


Web developer vs. software developer

Web developers and software developers both rely on coding and computer programming to complete their job duties. Although the fields are similar, there are a variety of differences between the two positions. Key considerations when choosing between the two include:


Schooling

Both web development and software development include opportunities for you to learn independently and begin your career without a degree from a college or university. For an aspiring web developer, this may involve working as an independent contractor, providing your services to businesses that need a website developed. As a software developer, creating your own independent software applications allows you to begin work without a degree. When seeking work for an employer, such as a software company or web management firm, an employer may require a minimum of a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field.

Related: Is a Computer Science Degree Worth It? (With Jobs)


Compensation

The national average salary of a software developer is $93,965 per year, while the national average salary for a web developer is $67,488 per year. Although the average salary for a software developer is higher, web development also has the potential for significant compensation. Your compensation in both fields includes several factors, including your education level and certifications, your experience and the size of your employer or clients.

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the links provided.

Related: How Much Does a Web Developer Make?


Job flexibility

The market demand for web developers and software developers affects the job flexibility for these two career fields. Web developers can work for a variety of industries and clients to tailor websites to fit their needs. Many of these professionals are freelancers and set their own schedules because of the large market for web developers. The opportunity to choose between freelancing and working for a web development firm allows for considerable flexibility within the industry.

Typically, a software developer joins a large company that specializes in retail software development or works for a private or government organization developing software for internal use. The large scale of most software programs means that software developers often work in teams with other computer programmers. These factors may provide less job flexibility for software developers but might offer a clearer path toward advancement in their field because of the existing structures in their companies. Software developers seeking more independence may create their own studio or develop software on their own.

Related: How To Find Junior Developer Jobs in 5 Steps (Plus Tips)


Job growth

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the predicted rate of job growth for software developers is 22% from 2020 to 2030, which is much faster than the predicted average job growth across other industries. The BLS predicts employment for web developers and digital designers to grow 13% from 2020 to 2030. Although slower than software developers, this still represents significantly above-average growth, indicating a strong future for the field.

Related: 8 Entry-Level Software Developer Jobs (With Typical Duties)


Developmental languages

Another area of difference between web developers and software developers is the set of programming languages they use. Although many languages share similar structures, which can make it easier to adapt to a new language when changing careers, it's still beneficial to focus your education and training on the languages that most align with your chosen career. Common languages for web developers include HTML, JavaScript and Ruby, while common languages for software developers include Python, C and Golang.

Related: 50 Types of Programming Languages and What They Do


Tips for choosing between these careers

If you're considering a career in computer science and deciding between web development and software development, keep these tips in mind:

  • Try both fields. One of the most effective ways to learn about web development and software development is to experience them. With free online courses, you can gain a basic understanding of both professions and determine which one appeals to you more.


  • Choose a versatile major. When selecting a major in college, consider choosing a major that works for both, such as computer science, or focus on your electives and general computer science programs during early semesters. This allows you to progress toward a degree while maintaining your options for which field to pursue.


  • Establish your career goals. Create a list of goals for your career, including a classification of which elements are most important and which are preferable. This can allow you to compare your career options and determine which aligns the most with your goals.


  • Apply for an internship. Taking part in an internship program is an excellent way to gain experience in web or software development. Besides providing you with experience and references who may help you find work after graduation, an internship allows you to try working in that field and figure out how much you enjoy it.

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


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