Software Engineer vs. Software Developer

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in the computer and information technology sector are projected to grow 12 percent by 2024. Two crucial positions within this field are software developers and software engineers. Although their titles sound similar, each provides a unique service within the realm of software creation.

Does a Job Title Matter?

“The terms ‘software engineer’ and ’software developer’ are often mistaken for one another,” says Dr. Gerald Wright of Husson University. As an assistant professor at Husson’s School of Business and Management, Wright offers insight into what makes these roles both similar and different.

Software engineers and software developers are part of a spectrum of software creation-related job titles, explains Wright. “If we look at that continuum, it’s not only a continuum about what you know, it’s a continuum about what you care about,” he says. Coders and programmers make up one end of the spectrum, focusing on detail-oriented work. The other end is populated with software developers and engineers who take responsibility for organizing and solving larger-scale problems.

In many ways, the roles of software engineers and software developers are similar. They both are concerned with maximizing efficiency, finding elegant solutions to complex problems and providing some degree of leadership to a team. Both also use the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), a process by which those in the software industry successfully design, develop, and test products before their use.

However, the roles differ in a number of ways. While software engineers are able to do the work of software developers, not all developers can do the work of engineers. Software engineers in particular are considered project managers. They work on a broad scale, developing documentation and specifications for coders and programmers. They may design programs and solve issues related to the scalability, efficiency and maintainability of systems. They are also responsible for ensuring software effectiveness for end users and current or upcoming computer systems. Since they have management standing, there are generally fewer software engineers at any given organization, and they are generally paid more.

Software Occupations

While still concerned with a broad view, software developers generally do not work on the scale software engineers do. Software developers tend to take on a more creative role, the BLS explains. They are responsible for analyzing user needs, designing pieces of applications and seeing how they fit together, as well as collaborating with other computer specialists. They ensure that programs continue to function normally through maintenance and testing, recommend software upgrades to customers and find ways to fix or improve programs when required. It must be noted that both positions are likely to exist in tiered structures within their companies. Junior, mid-level and senior positions are common, meaning that individuals who wish to do so have room for advancement.

Skills

Another element that differentiates software engineers from software developers are the type of skills required. As explained above, elements may overlap but also prove unique to their respective roles. For example, both software engineers and software developers require knowledge of higher-level mathematics. While developers only need a solid understanding of algebra and calculus, engineers require expertise in differential equations, linear algebra, and discreet mathematics. As managers, software engineers usually also need a certain amount of formal or informal experience in project management.

An important and often overlooked skill required by both positions is interpersonal effectiveness. Although computer science is anecdotally considered a solitary profession, present-day demands of the industry require regular interfacing with others. Uses for this skill include solving problems in teams, asking questions, and interacting with end users.

A bachelor’s degree is the preferred way to begin working toward either of these careers.

Computer Technology Education at Husson University

Software developers and software engineers are part of a growing industry that needs skilled professionals more than ever. The online Bachelor of Science in Software Development from Husson University teaches skills such as project management, data analysis, interfacing and solution development, preparing students for real-world success. The program takes between a year and two years to complete.