Software Development vs. Software Engineering: What's the Distinction?

Software development and software engineering are so similar that many people get confused, even within these professions. However, there are a few key differences in what they do and how they function. Knowing these is essential if you are looking for a career in either. 

This article will explain the differences. Keep reading to find out how these careers are different and, in some places, what makes them so similar. 

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

What Does Each Job Involve? 

The first and most significant difference between software development and software engineering comes from the work that each job involves. 

Software engineering is about creating computer systems and applications on a large scale. It involves every step in the process, including how one piece of software works with another and how this will impact the system as a whole. 

Software development is a part of this larger process. It concerns itself with the development of specific software and specific applications. Because of this, it is more specialized and less broad. 

The interconnected nature of software engineering means that software engineers often take a more collaborative approach to their work. They are part of a larger team that includes other engineers. They may even work directly with the client to ensure the work is going according to their specifications. 

Meanwhile, software developers have work that tends to be more solitary. They will take deep dives into a project and will not need to talk to others about it for a while. They still need to resurface from this dive to work with people to determine what to do next and how to proceed. However, between these meetings, they are primarily on their own. 

What Skills Are Required? 

Regarding software developers, coding is a big part of the job. The ability to write in common programming languages like Java, Python, C++, and Scala is essential. They also need to be proficient in the environment they are working in. This means developing proficiency with web-based, mobile, or whatever else they are working on. 

Software developers also need to have some creativity. They are responsible for making their software or application work. This is even more valuable when paired with some critical thinking, one of the top tech skills anyone in the industry can have. Together, these allow developers to create something from nothing, which is a big part of their job.  

Meanwhile, software engineers require a broader knowledge of programming languages. However, this knowledge can be closer to the surface level. They don’t need to go as deep as a software developer does. 

They also need to have experience in actually developing software and working with operating systems. This includes knowledge of the tools involved in both activities. 

Alongside this, they have to have the personal skills necessary to drive the job forward. This means the ability to communicate with others on their team or even outside of it. If they have a leadership role in a team, they will also need leadership skills and the ability to communicate their ideas to a group. 

Want to build the skills you need to become a software engineer? Attend an info session with Sabio and find out more about our coding bootcamp.

What Are the Career Paths?

While the career paths are obviously different, they have a similar structure. They start with an entry-level position at a company. Then, after some time, they can move up to a more senior position and then on to an even more senior position. 

After this point, skill becomes more of a factor. Skilled workers can move on to management positions, and seriously skilled workers can move on to executive positions. Anyone looking to strike out on their own can abandon company work altogether and move on to freelance work. 

While this is a general structure for these career paths, the exact progression will vary dramatically. 

The big difference is that software developers have a little more flexibility in what they do. Many of the positions in software development do not follow a typical progression and exist independently of other positions. Because of this, there is more to choose from when it comes to software development. 

Since software engineers are typically more involved in working with others, the job locations are also less flexible. While the pandemic has made working from just about anywhere more possible, software engineers will need to have more team meetings and meetings in general. This is especially true at the management level, where software engineers need to be constantly involved in the work that is taking place around them. This makes remote work as a software engineer less of an option than for software developers. 

Related: The Software Engineer Job Hunt

What Is the Job Outlook? 

The job outlook for both careers is positive in a way that beats out most other careers. Both are projected to grow by around 25% over the course of the next decade. This growth rate is rated as “much faster than average” compared to other careers. 

This is obviously good news for both careers. Anyone getting into one of these careers has great job prospects in the future because plenty of positions will be available for them. 

What Is the Pay? 

The average salary for a software engineer is around $109,000 per year. However, the range around this number is pretty wide. Starting salaries can be as low as $60,000, while salaries on the higher end can go up to $177,000. The exact salary depends on the experience level an individual carries with them. 

Meanwhile, the average salary for a software developer is around $120,730 per year. The range here is similar, with salaries on the lower end paying around $90,000 and salaries on the higher end paying around $150,000. 

Want to build the skills you need to become a software engineer? Attend an info session with Sabio and find out more about our coding bootcamp.

Job Requirements

For both careers, some sort of degree is either desired or needed. Most people in these professions have a bachelor’s degree in a computer science or math-related field. For software developers, a degree in software development is more common. Some people have more advanced degrees, with a master’s being the most common. 

Outside of this, certifications help in both of these careers. A career-focused coding bootcamp will often offer certification at the completion of the course. This shows that you have the necessary skills and knowledge to complete the course and also shows that you have at least some experience under your belt. Something like this can set you apart from the rest of the competition.

Software Development vs. Software Engineering

Ultimately, the most significant difference between software development and software engineering is that software development is more specific while software engineering is broader. This means that the skills and responsibilities that go into both fields are different as well. Understanding all of this will allow you to make the right choice when deciding between these two careers.

Related: Top Positions in Tech and Salary

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