Software Engineer vs. Developer: What to Expect

Programmers, software developers, software engineers — you may have always wondered, “What’s the difference?” Some people use these high-tech job titles interchangeably, and while software engineers and software developers have similar, sometimes overlapping job responsibilities, these roles are much more nuanced than it may initially appear.

In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between software engineers and software developers, the top skills necessary for success in each role, and what you need to know to get started in either field.

What’s The Difference Between Software Developers and Software Engineers?

The main difference between these two positions is one of scope. Generally, software developers are in charge of designing and implementing an individual piece of software, or features within an existing piece of software. Developer roles can involve designing, planning, and writing code for pieces of software.

Software engineers, on the other hand, are usually responsible for architecting and designing large, complex enterprise systems for major companies. Often, software engineers create plans and blueprints for software systems — even though they might not be doing much of the coding themselves. However, software engineers still have a vast wealth of knowledge of programming languages and concepts.

All programming-related job roles, including both software engineers and software developers, need to have a deep understanding of programming languages. Completing a coding bootcamp can help you get started with some essential programming languages for software careers.

Below, we dive deeper into each unique role so you can learn more about their positions and decide which career path might be the best suited for you.

Software Developer vs. Programmer: What’s The Difference?

The difference between software developers and programmers can feel fuzzy — the biggest difference concerns their scope of work. Programmers are well-versed in programming languages and can use their knowledge to create software. However, programmers typically aren’t involved with planning software. Programmers typically write and test code using blueprints from other members of a team.

Software developers typically have a higher-level scope of work. In larger organizations, developers might plan software projects and turn their plans over to a team of programmers to implement. Developers at smaller companies might both plan pieces of software and write the code.

The biggest difference between software developers and programmers is one of scope — developers are typically involved in planning, designing, and sometimes coding a piece of software, while programmers are usually only responsible for the code itself.

Software Engineer vs. Web Developer: What’s The Difference?

Software engineers and web developers might work together on certain types of projects, but their roles are very different. As we’ll discuss in the next section, software engineers use the software development life cycle (SDLC) to architect and design complex enterprise applications. Web developers build and maintain websites and other web applications. This can include the front-end visual interface or back-end server-side services. Both fields are very technical and require a high level of skill and competency, but generally, web development requires less of an educational background to get started.

Are you interested in becoming a web developer or learning more about the process? Read our guide on how to become a web developer.

Software Engineer vs. Developer Responsibilities

Software engineers and developers typically contribute to creating software or other applications, but at different levels of detail. Read on to see exactly how their scope of work varies.

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Software engineers usually use engineering concepts to create large, complex enterprise software systems. Their responsibilities can be broad, requiring knowledge of planning software development, integrating software with existing systems, and the software development process more broadly. You can think of a software engineer as an architect, using their knowledge of the software development process to plan out the structure of a complex project.

Software engineers are well-versed in the software development life cycle, also known as the SDLC. This is a process used in software development to design, develop, and test software with the aim of producing a high-quality product. The SDLC involves planning, defining, designing, building, testing, and deploying software

Software engineers are in high demand and typically command higher salaries (we’ll discuss this in more detail later on). If you want to learn how to become a software engineer, our guide can help you get started.

Monster provides a sample software engineering job description to help job seekers understand what a job posting might look like for someone in this position. Some applicable job responsibilities include:

  • Creating information systems by designing, developing, and installing software solutions.
  • Determining operational feasibility by evaluating analysis, problem definition, requirements, solution development, and proposed solutions.
  • Developing software solutions by studying information needs, conferring with users, and studying systems flow, data usage, and work processes.

The entire sample job description provides valuable information about the job responsibilities, skill requirements, and educational/experience requirements for a typical software engineering job.

What Does a Software Developer Do?

process. They’re involved with the actual creation of software or other computer experiences, often implementing and writing the actual code that powers the experience. Software developers can be involved with planning and designing smaller-scale software projects, but aren’t usually involved with planning massive enterprise software systems. The specifics of a software developer role often change from company to company, depending on the resources a company has available and the size of its development team and budget.

Each software developer could focus on building one part of a broader software system or solution. Individual developers might focus on a development sub-field, like front end or back end development. Other developers might specialize in a particular coding language or set of languages.

Job descriptions for software developers can be highly variable depending on an individual role’s responsibilities and the technologies involved with the specific software developed. Some example job duties for a software developer include:

  • Collaborating with management, departments, and customers to identify end-user requirements and specifications.
  • Designing algorithms and flowcharts to create new software programs and systems.
  • Producing efficient and elegant code based on requirements.
  • Testing and deploying programs and applications.

A side-by-side comparison image of sample job descriptions for software developers vs software engineers.

If you want to read more examples, Indeed has provided a hub that explains a software developer’s job description in more detail, which includes on-the-job requirements and educational requirements as well. These are some of the most-commonly listed duties found in job postings for open software developer positions.

Software Developer vs. Software Engineer Education Requirements

Software-focused positions require a deep knowledge of programming languages, information architecture, software design, and more. Many people think that earning a traditional college degree in computer science is the only way to become a software professional. While it’s a popular path to start a software career, it’s not the only way to begin working as a software developer or engineer.

A potential employer usually has one primary consideration when considering a candidate for hire: Can they produce the type of software we want? For many, a college degree is a great credential to help you get your foot in the door.

If a traditional college degree doesn’t fit your lifestyles due to finances, a lack of time, a current job, or any other reason, that doesn’t mean you’re shut out of the field. Software engineering and software development careers require knowing programming languages that you can learn in other ways. One great way is Columbia Engineering Coding Boot Camp — an intensive course that can be completed in 12 or 24 weeks, depending on if you’re studying full-time or part-time.

Software Engineer Education

Software engineers are versatile. They’re able to apply logical engineering principles to software development and implementation challenges. They’re able to design deep, intricate systems that can perform a wide range of functions for a business or organization. As such, software engineers must have a strong understanding of software development best practices, systems-level thinking, programming languages, and much more.

There are many ways for learners to pick up these skills, and we will discuss some of the most popular in this section.

Bootcamps

Many people think that you need a bachelor’s degree to become a software engineer. Many software engineers indeed have traditional college degrees, but it’s not necessarily a requirement for the job.

Coding bootcamps can provide the skills needed to get started in a software-related field. Bootcamps provide structured, fast-paced learning with hands-on projects that help get your feet wet in the field. Columbia Engineering Coding Boot Camp can help you get started in as little as three months of full-time study.

Ready to delve into the web development field? Columbia Engineering Coding Boot Camp might be the right fit for you offering in-demand, real-world skills needed to become a full stack developer in as little as 12 or 24 weeks.

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College Degrees

Many software engineers have bachelor’s degrees in computer science or a related discipline. Their role involves applying engineering principles to the field of software development. As such, this requires a strong understanding of the software development pipeline and the specifics of individual programming languages, databases, server architectures, and IT infrastructure more broadly.

College degrees can be an excellent option for helping a software engineer get started in the field. Completing a typical bachelor’s degree takes four years of full-time study, giving learners the time needed to dive into many different software-related subjects. However, the time required for a traditional college degree isn’t possible for many learners.

Not all software engineers have college degrees, and engineers without degrees are becoming more common throughout the industry more broadly. Columbia’s guide talks more about the degrees software engineers can obtain to help you understand more about the options available to you no matter what educational path you want to pursue.’

Independent Learning Options

Self-guided learning can help you get started by understanding some of the most critical coding languages in the field. The skill of learning new coding languages and technologies is essential for software engineers, especially as their roles typically involve keeping up-to-date with the latest best practices and technologies.

Independent learning can help you build the skills useful for software engineering, but people often find it harder to pursue a career as a software engineer without the instruction and hands-on experiences you can gain from colleges and bootcamps. However, independent learning is a great way to introduce yourself to programming languages and technologies involved with the field.

Software Engineering Languages

Software engineers are responsible for understanding the software creation process inside and out, from the lower-level technical specifications to the high-level software planning process. Understanding the specifics of individual programming languages is required to understand what’s possible with each piece of software. While software engineers might not spend a lot of time writing individual software, they still have to have a deep knowledge of programming languages.

The specific programming languages that a software engineer needs depends on their area of expertise. For instance, an engineer specializing in database architecture is likely to know languages such as Python and MySQL, as these languages are critical for data analysis and server architecture.

Coding bootcamps teach these software engineering languages to help those interested in the field quickly start writing code, learn computer science basics, and more.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Software Engineer?

The answer to this question is quite varied. The time it takes to become a software engineer depends on your existing experience and skills, how much time you have to commit to learning, and the academic route you want to pursue.

Generally, it takes between three months and four years to become a software engineer, depending on where you’re at when you start the process. A high-level lead software developer might only need a few months of training on new technology stacks. At the same time, someone with no previous experience can take up to four years to earn a traditional college degree. Coding bootcamps can help someone get started in as little as three months of full-time study.

To learn more, check out this guide on how to become a software engineer.

Software Developer Education

Software developers bring a deep understanding of how to build individual software components. The amount of education required to get started depends on the amount of experience someone has coming in. We discuss this more in the following section.

More and more software developers are getting started with coding bootcamps. Bootcamps provide valuable hands-on experience in as little as three months. Learners work with instructors on various computer science topics, including web development, database management, API integrations, and more.

Bootcamps can be completed on a full-time or part-time basis, allowing learners to continue working a full-time job if they so choose. Columbia Engineering Coding Boot Camp helps learners get the experience they need to get started in the field.

Software development is a broad field encompassing many sub-fields, including enterprise software development, front and back end development, operating system development, and more. Traditional 4-year degrees allow learners to explore these many fields to determine what they want to do in the future of the field.

Completing a college degree is a popular way to get started in software development, but it can take longer than other options. Most undergraduate degrees require four years of full-time study from start to finish. It’s an excellent option for someone coming out of high school, but can be more difficult to schedule if you have a full-time job or other responsibilities that conflict with a busier schedule. If you’re interested in learning more, Columbia Engineering, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, Department of Computer Science has more information.

Getting started as a software developer can feel intimidating — the field is highly technical and changes quickly. But learning how to learn is vital for any software developer who wants to work in this ever-evolving field.

There are many great resources available for self-directed learning. For example, EdX offers free courses put together by major players in the industry — IBM’s Full Stack Application Development course is a great example. There are also many excellent books available that go over the basics of computer programming as well.

Software Development Languages

The languages required for software development differ heavily depending on a developer’s specialty. However, some languages stand out more than others in terms of usage across the industry. According to Statista, the top three languages developers used worldwide in 2021 were JavaScript, HTML/CSS, and Python.

A graphic displaying the three most prominently used programming languages in 2021.
Coding bootcamps teach these languages and more, helping budding developers start quickly in the field and learn in a hands-on environment. Columbia Engineering Coding Boot Camp teaches JavaScript, HTML/CSS, computer science basics, and much more.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Software Developer?

The time it takes to become a software developer depends on how someone enters the field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many (but not all) software developers learn the basics through a college degree in computer science to land their first entry-level job.For these learners, it generally takes four years of full-time study to become a software developer.

Many software developers get started or can pursue a career thanks to coding bootcamps or independent learning. Applying the skills learned through these methods to other projects can help professionals build a valuable skill set. Creating a portfolio through this method can take a few years, though, which depends on how quickly a learner picks up the concepts. Generally, software developers have multiple years of experience before working full-time in a role.

Software Engineer vs. Developer Job Outlook

The career prospects for software developers and software engineers are substantial — both fields are highly paid, and the demand for employees will grow significantly in the coming years.

Software Developer and Engineer Job Outlook

The need for new software applications across computers, phones, tablets, and other devices is likely to continue to grow as technology becomes more closely intertwined with our lives. Because of this, the demand for software developers and engineers is high, and this demand is expected to grow significantly over the next decade. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for these professionals is expected to grow by 22 percent between 2020 and 2030, which is much faster than the average rate of growth for most fields.

Begin Your Career as a Software Engineer or Developer

No matter what field you’re interested in entering, both professions are dynamic, exciting careers with a great deal of employment and financial growth potential. Getting started in either area would be well worth the time and effort it takes to build a valuable skill set. Start your software engineer or software developer journey with Columbia Engineering Coding Boot Camp today.

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