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

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“Software developer” and “software engineer” are commonly used terms in the software engineering industry. But is there a difference between a software developer vs. a software engineer, and if so, what is it? While some companies and professionals use the terms interchangeably, there are distinctions between each role’s focus.

Roles of Software Developer vs. Software Engineer

Both software developers and software engineers work on developing software. However, software developers often focus on one part of software development, while software engineers focus on the big picture. In simple terms, software development is a part of software engineering. 

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“Software engineering refers to the larger scale design, development and testing of an entire system and software, whereas software development has more of a specific focus on a particular system or software,” says Arun Godwin Patel, director of Halo Technology Lab, CTO and co-founder of Audico, and Forage program consultant.

While each role focuses on software and may require similar skills, the day-to-day work can look slightly different.

“Software developers are mainly focused on writing efficient, scalable and maintainable code, building and maintaining database systems, integrating APIs, etc.,” Bruno Krnetic, back-end team lead at Async Labs, says. “Software engineers are responsible for the overall architecture of the software system. They collaborate more with cross-functional teams and spend more (if not all the time) planning and designing new features, and studying new industry trends and best practices. The main goal is to deliver the best product possible, according to specific business requirements.”

>>MORE: Types of Software Engineers (and How to Know Which One’s Right for You)

Are “Software Engineer” and “Software Developer” Used Interchangeably?  

The short answer is yes. These terms can be and are used interchangeably, even though there can be differences in each role’s scope! However, the job title depends on the company and the specific software engineer team you’re working on.

So, how do you know if a company is using a term interchangeably or being specific? It’s best to go right to the source: first, view the job description to see the role’s responsibilities, and then, in the interview, ask the hiring manager themselves. In the interview, you can ask about the role’s day-to-day work, how the role fits into the team, and what the role’s objectives are to understand the specific position’s scope.

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The Differences Between Software Engineer vs. Software Developer

What else differentiates software developers from software engineers? Because the scope of their work is different, their skill set, salary, career path, and work culture can differ as well.

>>MORE: Guide to the Software Engineer Career Path

Software EngineerSoftware Developer
What They DoPlan, design, develop, and build an entire software or computer system. Develop a specific software or computer system.
Skills and Education RequirementsProgramming languages: extensive knowledge of common front-end and back-end languages
—Software debugging
—Creation of software tools
—Knowledge of software architecture
Collaboration skills
—Programming languages: competency in common front-end and back-end languages
—Code testing
—Using software tools to develop applications
Career PathStarts in an entry-level engineer role such as engineer I or junior engineer. Moves up the career path into lead software engineering roles that often require leadership and mentorship of more junior engineers.Can start in an entry-level developer, QA, or tester role. Moves up in the career path into lead developer or technical architect role. While more advanced roles in this career path are managerial, they are often less collaborative than software engineering roles.
Average Salary*About $114,000 according to GlassdoorAbout $95,000, according to Glassdoor
Work CultureWorks in a highly collaborative environment with other engineers. Often also collaborates with external teams like product and design.Works more independently, sometimes collaborating with other developers and engineers.

*In general, software engineers earn more than software developers. However, salary differences for software developers vs. software engineers can be challenging to quantify as many sources use the terms interchangeably. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics groups data for software developers and engineers under one category: Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers. Further, salaries can vary greatly depending on location, company size and type, and industry.

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The Bottom Line

Software developers and software engineers work on developing software, but they differ in scope. Software developers focus on one part of a computer system or application, while software engineers are responsible for the big picture.

Despite these distinctions, some companies and teams use the terms interchangeably. To uncover the role’s scope, you’ll need to dig into the role’s responsibilities, objectives, and functions within the engineering team. Develop common software engineering (and software development) skills with Forage’s tech virtual experience programs.


Can a software developer become a software engineer?

Yes, a software developer can become a software engineer, typically if they’d like to step into a more strategic and collaborative role. Software engineers typically need a bachelor’s or master’s degree, while a software developer might have technical training or an associate’s degree.

Is it harder to be a software engineer or developer?

While both positions require technical skills, it may be harder to be a software engineer as the scope of the role is bigger. Software engineers are responsible for entire programs instead of specific applications and often have more advanced technical skills.

What degree is needed for software developer vs. software engineer?

Software engineers typically have bachelor’s or master’s degrees, while software developers typically don’t need an advanced degree.

Image credit: ThisIsEngineering / Pexels

Zoe Kaplan is a Senior Writer at Forage. Prior to joining Forage, she wrote and edited career and workplace content for Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women.

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