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What's the Difference Between a Software Developer and a Software Engineer?

The terms are often used interchangeably, but do they actually mean the same thing?


Computer displaying front-end developer code.

TL/DR:

In short, the two terms have slightly different connotations and responsibilities. But in many cases, the distinctions are subtle and the roles overlap significantly.


What really is the difference between a software developer and a software engineer? Let's expand on each term to compare.


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Software Developer - Definition

noun. A professional whose job is to "design, program, build, deploy and maintain software using many different skills and tools. They also help build software systems that power networks and devices and ensure that those systems remain functional." ~ Devry University

This job primarily focuses on writing, testing, and maintaining code. Software developers can usually enter the field with a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field. Ongoing learning is essential for software developers to keep up with technologies that are ever-changing.


Their main responsibility is to implement features or functionalities based on design specifications. This could require going deeper to work on smaller components or modules of an application. Software developers collaborate within a team of other developers, testers, and project managers to ensure successful implementation.


Software Engineer - Definition

noun. “Someone whose job is to create computer programs.” ~ Cambridge Dictionary

A software engineer is also a professional who designs and maintains software systems. However, they may have a broader scope of responsibilities including system architecture, design patterns, and overall management. These responsibilities are given to team members with more experience making high-level technical decisions. Therefore, software engineers typically require a stronger educational background, often including advanced degrees in computer science or engineering.


Extra years of experience provide software engineers with the ability and confidence to take the lead on complex applications, considering factors like scalability, performance, and system integration. Software engineers may interact with various stakeholders in the project, including clients, product managers, and designers.


However, just like software developers, software engineers also benefit from continually learning, since the software world is constantly evolving.


Main Takeaways

If the dictionary terms have you bogged down, try thinking of it differently: Software developers mainly write and maintain code, and if they do more, their job is to focus on the details. Software engineers write and maintain code too, but focus on the big picture: scalability, patterns, and higher-level architectural considerations.


While these distinctions provide a general overview, it's important to note that the roles can vary based on the organization, project, or specific terminology used. In some contexts, the differences might not be as pronounced. Ultimately, the skills and responsibilities of both software developers and software engineers contribute to the successful creation and delivery of software applications.


If these two terms aren’t synonymous, how did they reach the point of being used interchangeably in the first place?


Historical Evolution

The concept of software computing has been around less than a century. In its early days, there wasn't standardized terminology for every role. Responsibilities and capabilities were continuously changing and growing; different organizations and individuals adopted different titles to describe similar roles. Therefore, the confusion over terms today can be attributed, in part, to a lack of standardization.


Industry Practice

Title variation isn't just an issue of the past: Different companies, industries, and regions still use varying job titles today. For instance, some companies prefer 'software engineer' to emphasize the technical aspects of the role, while others use 'software developer' to highlight coding and designing tasks. These title preferences for similar roles can lead to confusion, and we still lack universally agreed-upon definitions.


Overlapping Responsibilities

Both roles involve creating, testing, and maintaining software applications. But software engineers may also be involved in high-level design and architectural decisions. Software developers, on the other hand, could have a broader range of tasks that go beyond coding.


Changing Industry Perceptions

As we mentioned above, the software industry hasn’t been around for very long. As it evolved to its current state, the importance of design, architecture, and engineering principles in software development saw increasing recognition and importance. Both roles, software development and engineering, are seen as integral to the process. The interchangeable use of the terms highlights the industry’s fluid nature.


In conclusion, software developers and software engineers are both pivotal roles to any application project. The terms have and will continue to evolve as software computing grows and its obligations change.


Utilizing the Difference Between Developers and Engineers

It's a great idea to understand the current definitions and role requirements. If you're looking to hire the right professional for your project, consider what both positions typically consist of. Do you need someone to fix intricate details? Provide an overarching plan for scalability? Maybe both? Check out BearPeak's software staffing to find the right kind of developer or engineer to take your project to its peak.


 
It's important for us to disclose the multiple authors of this blog post: The original outline was written by chat.openai, an exciting new AI language model. The content was then edited and revised by Lindey Hoak.
"OpenAI (2023). ChatGPT. Retrieved from https://openai.com/api-beta/gpt-3/"

BearPeak Technology Group is a software studio based in Boulder, CO, offering studio, strategy, and staffing services. The startup studio takes ideas from concept to reality. The strategy services range from Fractional CTO mentors to architecture and specialized skillset services. for startups, businesses, and entrepreneurs. The staffing services assist teams in connecting with high-quality software developers. If one of these sounds like the solution for you, get in touch with BearPeak for a free consultation at bearpeak.io/contact.

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