Full Stack Developer vs. Software Engineer: Which Career Path to Choose?

More and more people are considering careers in software engineering or web development. In fact, these are some of the top fields in the technology industry and offer many exciting job options. However, these jobs have specific differences that set them apart from each other.

We’ll lay all of this information out for you so that you can understand all the details. By the end of this article, you’ll know plenty about a career as a software engineer and a full-stack developer. Then, you’ll be ready to make an informed career decision. 

Related: What is a Software Engineer and How Do I Become One

What Is a Full-Stack Web Developer?

A full-stack developer works on a website or web application. However, they don’t just work on a single piece; they take on the entire challenge. This includes programming on both the front end and back end. This makes them one of the integral factors in keeping a successful website going.

What Does a Full-Stack Developer Do? 

The work of a full-stack developer is all-encompassing, so, as you can expect, it involves a lot of different aspects. However, caring for the website or web-based application is at the core of all this. This involves all the tasks that go into creating and maintaining it

This includes straightforward tasks like developing protocols that allow different programs to work together. It also includes ensuring that the website or application works just as well on mobile devices as on desktops. 

However, full-stack developers aren’t just on their own all day. They must work with the website’s designers to help bring the agreed-upon design to life. In many cases, this makes full-stack developers at least partially responsible for the website’s visual appeal as well. Meanwhile, a project manager will have their hands on the website as well, coordinating everything needed to get the job done. 

Once the website or application is up, the developer’s work isn’t done. After all, a website isn’t good for anything if it shuts down immediately after starting. This involves testing and debugging. If there is a problem, they will have to find a solution. 

Required Skills

With a range of tasks that need to be completed, full-stack developers must have the skills necessary to complete these tasks. 

This starts with a fundamental knowledge of what goes into creating and maintaining a website. For this, a full-stack developer must understand and be familiar with computing languages directly related to web development. This includes HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and more. 

It also means understanding other concepts more related to this field. This includes understanding databases like MySQL, Oracle, and NoSQL. It also includes understanding back-end programming languages like PHP, Java, Python, and more. 

Basically, a full-stack developer needs robust, all-around knowledge of anything related to web development. 

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The average salary of a full-stack developer is $101,070. However, the actual salary of a full-stack developer can fall below this for entry-level positions and rise far above it for more advanced ones. 

What Is a Software Engineer?

Once again, the title of this professional explains it all. A software engineer is responsible for engineering software. This means that they design and develop it for any piece of equipment that needs software to run.

What Do They Do? 

A software engineer can be responsible for any number of different steps along the software creation process. They may be working on a single step in the process for an intense project, with the team around them working on the rest. For smaller projects, they may be responsible for many steps across the entire process. Higher-level and more senior software engineers may also work on large projects where they oversee people working on individual steps and, thus, have additional responsibilities. 

These steps are varied and include plenty of different tasks. This starts with designing and creating the software and working alongside the client to ensure this process goes according to their wishes. It also includes finding ways to improve and optimize software, implementing updates, and overseeing documentation. 

Many software engineers are also heavily involved in testing. They ensure that the software works correctly and take steps to fix the issue if it doesn’t. This includes integration testing, system testing, unit testing, and more. 

Related: Back to School: How A Coding Bootcamp Can Accelerate Your Career

Required Skills

To do all of this, software engineers need a toolbelt of skills. Most of these skills directly relate to programming, but some go beyond this. 

The top programming skill is fluency in a few key programming languages. The top languages a software engineer should know are Java, Python, and C++. They should also be familiar with working on and testing software in general. Some direct experience in this field is always helpful. 

On top of these programming skills, software engineers must have specific soft skills. These include a creative approach to problem-solving, the planning skills required to execute a project properly, enough communication skills to work with a team, and plenty more. Strictly what skills are required and to what degree they are required will depend on the specific job. For example, communication and teamwork are more critical when working with a large group. 


The average salary of a software engineer is around $106,746 per year. However, this is an average, as many salaries in this field will fall above or below this number. 

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Which Should You Choose? 

Ultimately, there are a lot of similarities between a career as a full-stack developer and a software engineer. Both require knowledge of coding languages, benefit from field experience, and pay a similar salary. 

However, there are definitely some differences as well. For one, the coding languages required by both are vastly different. Becoming a full-stack developer will be easier if you already have experience in languages like HTML. If not, you will want to look into a coding bootcamp to polish your skills. 

Both also require different personal skills that you should consider. For example, a career as a software engineer will often require more personal skills than a full-stack developer. 

In addition, consider the things that actually interest you. If you like HTML and think the idea of creating websites sounds fun, you may want to consider becoming a full-stack developer. Meanwhile, if you like actually creating software, becoming a software engineer is the obvious choice.

Full-Stack Developer and Software Engineers

No matter which path you choose, you will be able to achieve success in both of these fields. Picking the one that best suits you will ensure you can do this well. So, consider your options and make the choice you need to make.

Related: How to Prepare for a Full Stack Developer Bootcamp

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