Software Developer vs Software Engineer?

At first glance, software engineers and software developers may be interchangeable terms- they are both extremely skilled professionals who build software. However, there are critical distinctions between the two that are important to consider as a recruiter. If you know precisely what you need for each job, you can be more successful in your hiring process! If you think they're interchangeable, you may hire somebody wrong for the position.

It is vital to know the difference between a software engineer and a software developer because these positions have disparate responsibilities, scopes, and (important to recruiters) different salary averages.

coding, computer code

Different sets of skills are also required for these two roles. Moreover, these distinct roles call for different approaches to work. This article discusses what both of these rules do and the distinctions between these roles.

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What does a software developer do?

A software developer takes a similar approach to building high-quality software as a professional chef to make delicious dishes. A developer generally begins the app development process by consulting with current and potential customers and determining their software needs. After these criteria are established, they design and develop different application components that need to work in conjunction. A significant aspect of the job is managing the project from beginning to end and ensuring that they continuously remain in contact with vital stakeholders.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that a developer typically works closely with programmers who physically execute the developer's design. However, developers also often need a range of skill-management skills such as project management, good communication, and domain-specific technical expertise. Software developers essentially do everything that engineers do but on a smaller scale. This means they have more room for creativity than engineers and can solve problems as they come up. Engineers, however, typically solve problems on a grander scale. They can't be as creative but rather more systemic in their thinking.

What does a software engineer do?

A software developer builds an application from start to finish. "Engineer" is a disputed term in the industry. Some countries have specific qualifications for the term, while others don't think it applies to computer science. Despite these contentions, most experts agree on a particular definition of the role of a software engineer. A software engineer does everything a software developer can do but through a different design lens. Engineers look at a bigger picture than developers, which means that they should emphasize structure design and get rid of technical debt. When solving a problem, they are more interested in reducing the trade-offs to the system's other components and its architecture.

Software engineers are generally split into two types. Application engineers are closer to developers. They design, build, install, and maintain applications, typically on a large scale. System engineers deal with the upkeep of a company's IT infrastructure. Systems engineers build, design, and maintain the structures that support applications while accounting for all the involved stakeholders.

Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: What's The Difference?

Job Descriptions

Software Engineer Skills:

  • Proficiency with pattern design to make resilient and fault-tolerant systems
  • Technical expertise, with experience working on a wide array of projects
  • Know how to build and maintain IT architecture, cloud-based systems, and large-scale data stores
  • Test automation with tools like Cucumber, Gherkin, or Ansible
  • Formulate scalable deployment pipelines to support continuous delivery and continuous integration
  • The ability to work effectively alone and with remote teams
  • Senior software engineers need to oversee complicated systems analysis, development, and design programs.

Software Engineer Role:

  • Resolve defects with existing software, adopt new hardware, or improve hardware performance
  • Research, design, develop, and test software along with compiling and distributing software over the network
  • Consult with customers about design and specifications
  • Analyze user needs and assess software requirements, including cost/time constraints and design feasibility.
  • Supervise technologists and engineers
  • Coordinate system software for deployment and installation

Software Developer Skills & Role

  • Familiarity with computer languages like Java, C#, C++, Python to work on computer programs
  • Good analytical skills, as they will need to compare software needs with capabilities continually
  • Experience with open-source tools like GitHub
  • Excellent communication and feedback skills, with an emphasis on detail
  • Be able to grasp the logic of code even in unfamiliar languages

Software developers constantly must monitor any changes and tweaks they make for quality and consistency. Thus, they need to transition between their assigned work and managing other deadlines constantly.

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The most significant difference between a software developer and a software engineer is the job function itself. Software engineers may play a role in development, but developers are rarely too involved with things' engineering side. While there's a lot more to these roles, this is the most straightforward distinction. Developers work with the client to determine what they want and then lead a team to implement the design while maintaining contact with their clients throughout the project's duration. Developers have to have a working knowledge of the software to balance the client's requests with what the software can feasibly offer.

On the other hand, software engineers are the ones responsible for actually building the software systems. This means that they are a lot more hands-on during the development process and work to apply engineering principles to the testing and creation of the product. Engineers take care of the system as a whole, where developers focus on solving specific problems. Engineers need to find solutions that will work across the entire program and not just a single area. Since software engineers need to have a higher technical skill level than developers, it's typically easier for an engineer to do a developer's job than the other way around.

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cartoon of software developer sitting in front of a computer

Software Engineer and Developer Skills

  • Experience building and maintaining IT databases and architectures
  • Good analytical skills
  • Experience with pattern design and cloud-based infrastructure
  • Ability to use different software development methodologies such as Scrum, Agile, and Kanban
  • Hands-on experience with multi-core CPU


Regardless of whether they want to become a software engineer or a software developer, most prospective software professionals start their education in computer science degree programs. A bachelor's degree focusing on coding and software should offer the necessary software education and help kick-start your career in this field. Of course, you don't necessarily need a degree to begin working as a software developer or engineer. Many talented software developers and engineers are self-taught or learn through experience. However, most prefer to start with education.


A software engineer's average salary is higher than a software developer, with guru99 listing the annual average wage for a software engineer in the U.S. as $105,861, compared to $92,380 for a software developer.


Due to the overlap between these two roles, there are also many similarities in the interview process. If you're interviewing for these roles, make sure to come prepared with a portfolio, as employers like to see your past work. If you're interviewing for either of these roles, your employers will probably ask you questions testing how you think. Developers generally are tested on whether they can think creatively, while engineers typically have to prove they're good at tackling problems through scientific and mathematical approaches.

With the considerable overlap between software development and engineering, certain experts don't even bother to distinguish between the two anymore. Be aware that what an employer expects you to do may not necessarily line up with what you're expecting. For example, if you've specifically trained to be a software developer, are you going to do software engineering? Is this something you're planning to do? If you are thinking about software development or engineering, then it is key to find your niche. Jumping between disciplines is possible with some hard work and a little ingenuity! The most important thing is finding you the best at, what you enjoy the most, and making it work for you!

Best Practices 

Below we list some best practices for software engineers:

  • Make sure software products and related modifications meet high professional standards
  • Act in a way that is beneficial to both the employer and the client
  • Promote software development and maintenance in an ethical manner
  • Maintain integrity and independence in their approach
  • Support the success of others
  • Promote an ethical approach for software maintenance and development

Below we list some best practices for software developers:

  • Effectively utilize code in the project
  • Understand how their code fits into helping the overall business operate and grow
  • Always kick the project off with the most difficult portion
  • Strategize a solution for the immediate coding task


Below we list some critical challenges software engineers face:

  • The cost of software failure can be catastrophic in high-risk areas like nuclear power plants, space, etc. because lives are potentially on the line.
  • Handling the ever-increasing complexity of software, which constantly demands new applications
  • The diversity of software systems need to communicate with each other.
  • Rising market demand can be a challenge for engineers.

Below we list some critical challenges software developers face:

  • Inability to keep up with evolving requirements
  • Misinterpreted end-use requirements
  • Software that is challenging to extend or maintain
  • Work on models which don't fit together well
  • Poor software quality, which is often an issue in low-cost projects
  • Late-stage discovery of critical project flaws

Role and Responsibilities

Below we list some roles and responsibilities shared by software engineers and developers alike:

  • Formulate a cohesive strategy helping clients produce a program that meets their needs
  • Work across teams to offer technical guidance and support throughout the product's entire development process
  • Attend meetings with computer programmers, clients, and other staff
  • Prepare a training manual that application users can use
  • Obtain and license software after obtaining relevant data from vendors
  • Improve operations through systems analysis
  • Build tools for optimizing internal productivity
  • Provide relevant data through collecting, analyzing, and summarizing service and development problems

Real-Life Examples

Example 1: Let's go back to our chef analogy mentioned at the beginning of the article. Think about the developer as a professional chef. A chef needs to prepare tasty dishes that target his core customers' tastes and use an innovative approach in doing so. A software developer takes a similar approach to produce high-quality software and understands his customer through software tools or resources.

Example 2: Now picture a hotel with three restaurants running simultaneously, all fed from the same kitchen. The head chef of the central kitchen is comparable to a software engineer responsible for ensuring the quality of each project they're running is up to par. Like the head chef, an engineer needs to manage all of the projects without compromising any individual software project quality.

Example 3: A software engineer is regarded in the industry as a musher who hooks software developers up to their sled as coders and guides them towards victory to complete a project successfully. The key takeaways we've analogized above are that software engineers solve problems on a much larger scale and that software developers play a vital role in helping software engineers complete a project.

How to Effectively Evaluate a Software Developer and Software Engineer?

Due to the distinctions between these roles' responsibilities, desirable qualities for engineers are different from those for developers. Assessing skills for engineering and developer roles is fairly straightforward. Since both professionals work on the same applications and systems, skill evaluations are mostly the same. The main difference is how each individual approaches a problem and provides a solution.

Essential Qualities For A Software Engineer

Engineers need to be excellent communicators to clearly give direction to their fellow developers, engineers, and programmers. Moreover, software engineers need to have high-level math skills and robust prowess in analytical thinking. Software engineers not only have to solve problems, but to understand their origin, possible impact, and potential implications. Engineers cannot be ambiguous and must account for how their actions could impact other system components.

Essential Qualities For A Software Developer

A software developer implements the engineer's plans by building on the blueprint. Developers can work on a task-by-task basis to establish an immediate solution, which gives more room for creativity. The biggest skill here is their problem-solving ability; can they think of multiple feasible solutions quickly, using all the tools in their arsenal?

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two male software developers working

Final Thoughts on Software Developer vs. Software Engineer

While software developers and software engineers have similar job descriptions on paper, the two roles are distinct and require different skill sets. If you are seeking a high-paying job in tech, Sabio offers high-quality training programs. Train with Sabio to work in tech today!

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