Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: What’s the Difference?

If you’re confused about the difference between software developers and software engineers, you’re not alone. Not only is there an overlap in some of the skills required for both developers and engineers, but experts in the field disagree on whether or not the titles even matter. As long as employers keep searching for developers and engineers, it’s worth knowing the difference.

Skills

Okay, let’s explore the different skill-sets involved with becoming an engineer or developer. For instance, if you like working with people and finding creative solutions, you might want to consider becoming a software developer. On the other hand, if you feel more comfortable working with a wide range of engineering principles, software engineering might be better.

That’s because the main difference between software engineering and software development is mainly in the job function itself. Software engineers may take a hand in development, but developers seldom get too involved in the engineering side of things. Of course, there’s more to it than just this, but this distinction is probably the easiest way to differentiate the two positions.

More specifically, developers work directly with the client to figure out what they want, then lead a team to implement the design while keeping in contact with their clients throughout the life cycle of the project.

To do this, developers need a working knowledge of the software to be able to balance what the client wants with what the software can actually provide. They also need to have great attention to detail to ensure the project is running smoothly.

Software engineers, on the other hand, are the ones who actually build the software. As such, they are much more hands-on during the development process, working to apply engineering principles to the creation of the product.

Where developers might help find solutions to specific problems, engineers are responsible for the system as a whole. Engineers must look for solutions that will work across the entire program, rather than just one area.

It should be noted that because software engineers are required to have a higher level of technical skill than developers, it’s often easier for an engineer to work as a developer than the other way around. 

Training

Whether they’re looking to become a software engineer or developer, many prospective software professionals feel like their education has to start at the same: computer science degree programs.

A bachelor’s degree that focuses on coding and software – including, but not limited to, computer science – will not only provide the necessary software education, but the degree could help you get your foot in the door when it comes to employment.

That said, while software engineers are often expected to have more education than developers, you don’t need a degree to start working in either field. And if you’re not sure about committing at least four years of your life (and a whole lot of money) to a college education, you should know that you have other options.

One of the growing trends in tech-related education is coding bootcamps, which can provide a base level education for a fraction of the cost and time. Some bootcamps offer certification, another way to get your foot in the door. But, again, certificates aren’t the only factor in getting a job, so don’t let that limit your learning.

Coding bootcamps can be a valuable alternative to a college degree. To learn more about what’s available, check out the Devmountain course list.

Whether you’re in a degree program or a bootcamp, it’s also worth getting to know other coders. You can do this in person with friends or classmates, or you can find coding communities online. Interacting with people can keep you motivated, help you learn outside of a classroom setting, and provide you with valuable advice.

Furthermore, while learning concepts is important, you’ll also want to spend time creating finished projects for a portfolio. For software engineers, this should include a wide variety of projects to showcase your range.

You’ll want to show you’re not just adept in C++, but also Java, Ruby, Python, etc. On the other hand, software developers are often encouraged to specialize. If you want to do website development, for instance, make sure you have several examples of your website work.

Regardless of how you go about getting a coding education, what really matters is what you learn, what you create, and how you approach problem-solving.

Interview

Because of the overlap between software developers and engineers, it should come as no surprise that there are often similarities in the interview process as well. You should definitely come prepared with a portfolio; employers like to see your past work.

If you’re interviewing, you should also be prepared to tackle questions that test how you think. Developers are often expected to prove they can think creatively, while engineers usually need to prove they can tackle problems using mathematical and scientific approaches.

You should also research what employers are expecting from your work in the posted job position.

Because there’s overlap between the fields of software development and engineering (remember, some experts no longer bother making a distinction between the two), what an employer expects you to do might not line up with what you’re anticipating.

If you’ve trained to be a software engineer, for instance, are you prepared to dip your toe into the world of development? Would you want to?

The best advice for individuals considering software development or engineering is to find your niche. With a little ingenuity and some hard work, making the jump between disciplines is possible so find what you like doing and make it work for you!

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