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Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: Similarities and Differences

Written by: North Carolina Central University   •  Jan 19, 2024
Software developer working on a laptop, sitting at a desk in an office.

Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: Similarities and Differences

From games to communication tools and from information technology (IT) security programs to personal fitness applications, software plays a major role in day-to-day life. The process of creating software programs and bringing them to market requires a range of skill sets and professional disciplines. Two of the most popular career options within the software field are software developer and software engineer.

While the roles have several overlapping duties and responsibilities, they also have some important distinctions. Those pursuing a Bachelor of Science (BS) in IT degree may find it useful to learn more about the software developer vs. software engineer roles, exploring particular similarities and differences. 

Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: Defining the Roles

Software development and software engineering are both computer-based disciplines that involve programming, iterating, and testing new applications. Consider how each role fits into the broader world of software creation.

What’s a Software Developer?

The role of the developer is to develop, test, and launch a new piece of software, which can be an operating system (OS) or a specific application. Software developers may participate in the development of games, cloud-based services, consumer-facing programs, or enterprise-level programs that are used within a particular business setting.

The job of a software developer is to ensure that the final program meets the needs and addresses the pain points of the client. This involves not only coding but also contributing to each stage of the software development life cycle (SDLC), from reviewing the user experience to iterating new features to rolling out software updates.

What’s a Software Engineer?

Those who work in software engineering and those who work in software development share some overlapping duties. However, the job of a software engineer is ultimately a bit more scientific and mathematical and is defined by traditional engineering principles. Essentially, software engineers apply technological and scientific principles to thoroughly design, test, and implement a piece of software.

Software engineers, similar to software developers, may do some coding. Their job also entails applying science and math skills to solve systemic problems. They may also provide supervision for the development of an entire software ecosystem, delegating tasks to a developer or a team of developers.

Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: Comparing the Roles

When choosing whether to become a software developer or a software engineer, it may be helpful to assess them according to a few different criteria, including job description, educational requirements, and salary expectations.

Job Description

While both of these professions are devoted to the creation and iteration of new software, their scopes of work can be quite different. Software developers are responsible for creating and launching programs, whereas software engineers apply technical principles to solve problems and ensure the programs work as they should in context. A software developer will usually work on just one program or application at a time, while a software engineer may have responsibilities for creating an entire constellation of programs to support a specific piece of hardware. 

Educational Requirements

Both of these positions typically require a BS degree, at a minimum. Some engineering roles may also require a master’s degree in IT or another related discipline, especially positions that command a higher salary or come with a broader scope of authority.

Salary

When comparing the software developer vs. software engineer roles, wondering about the salaries is only natural. According to Payscale, the median annual base salary for a software developer is approximately $77,910, and the median annual base salary for a software engineer is approximately $92,810. For both professions, factors such as educational level and years of experience can affect the salary range.

Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: Which Role Is Best?

For those who have a familiarity with a programming language and a desire to work in a computer-based setting, both professions may be rewarding.

The reasons to consider the software engineer path include the following:

  • Typically, software engineers earn a higher salary than software developers.
  • Software engineers usually face more complex software systems and, therefore, more complicated challenges.

Meanwhile, the reasons to consider the software developer path include the following:

  • There’s more room for creativity and experimentation.
  • Software developers usually interact more directly with the latest technological trends.
  • In some cases, software developers face slightly lower education and training thresholds.

Explore Multiple Paths Forward in the World of Software

The software field offers rich opportunities for professional development and lasting success, including positions in development and engineering. While these roles differ in key respects, both ultimately require a strong educational foundation.

One option to consider is the online BS in IT from North Carolina Central University. This program furnishes skills in business programming, project management, database management, and systems analysis, and equips students for success across a range of technical fields. Explore how this program can be the first step toward a rewarding professional life.

Sources:

Betterteam, “Software Engineer Job Description”

Indeed, “Software Engineer vs. Developer: A Career Comparison Guide”

Payscale, Average Software Developer Salary

Payscale, Average Software Engineer Salary

Spiceworks, “Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: Top 10 Differences”

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