The difference between a web developer vs. software engineer is difficult to define since web developers are a type of software engineer. The term software engineer is broad and encompasses various technology roles and specializations, including web development, cloud computing, mobile application creation, and video game development. On the other hand, web developers focus on one area of software engineering: building and maintaining websites.
What Do Web Developers Do?
Put simply, web developers create websites.
“A web developer is a type of software engineer who is specialized in building web applications,” says Hayk Shirinyan, founder and lead developer at Developer Partners. “Software engineer is the more general term. Web developer is the more specific term that describes what the person is specialized in.”
Beyond web development, web developers can specialize in a specific development area. Some web developers work on back-end engineering, writing and maintaining the code that forms the basis of the website and allows it to run smoothly.
Other developers handle front-end engineering, which deals with the parts of a website that users can see, including text, widgets, and interactive elements. A web developer can also specialize in full-stack development, meaning they know both back- and front-end processes.
Moreton Bay Regional Council Web Development
Explore building websites for the tourism industry with this free job simulation from the Moreton Bay Regional Council.
Avg. Time: 2.5 hours
Skills you’ll build: Critical thinking, web development, user flow, site mapping, WordPress, HTML, CSS
What Do Software Engineers Do?
Software engineers are tech professionals who know how to write code and develop technological products, such as websites, databases, or software applications.
“There are different types of software engineers,” says Shirinyan. “For example, web developers, desktop developers, mobile developers, database developers, etc. all are software engineers (or developers).”
The exact role of a software engineer depends on the area of development they work in and the project they have at hand.
In general, “day-to-day activities involve analyzing users’ needs, designing software solutions, writing code, debugging, testing, and collaborating with other team members,” says Dmitrii Ivashchenko, lead software engineer at MY.GAMES. “Additionally, they may participate in project planning, software evaluation, and continuous improvement processes.”
Electronic Arts Software Engineering
Gain practical skills in software engineering and game development with this free job simulation from EA.
Avg. Time: 4 to 6 hours
Skills you’ll build: Communication, feature design, feature proposal, object-oriented design, class design, code analysis, data structures, code readability, game engine technology
Software Engineer vs. Web Developer Salaries
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), web developers and designers earn an average annual salary of $87,580. On the other hand, BLS data suggests that the average salary for software developers is $132,930 per year.
Ultimately, salaries for software and web developers depend on experience and skills.
“Software engineers often earn competitive salaries due to their specialized skill set,” says Ivashchenko.
>>MORE: Check out some of the highest-paying software engineering jobs.
How to Become a Web Developer vs. Software Engineer
Education and Background
Many software engineers and web developers have bachelor’s degrees in computer science, information technology (IT), or other STEM fields. A degree in a technical field can build a foundation for core skills and make you more marketable to employers.
A degree isn’t always necessary, though. Some software engineers and web developers are instead self-taught and rely on certificates from coding bootcamps or professional certifications to prove their skills.
“A public GitHub account with code that everyone on the internet can see is a great way to build credibility,” says Shirinyan. “For example, if a web developer contributed to open source, anyone can go and see what exactly they did and how they did it.”
Whether a software engineer holds a degree or is self-taught, breaking into the tech industry can be tricky.
“Engaging with professional networks, attending industry events, and participating in online communities can help build connections,” says Ivashchenko.
>>MORE: See our picks for the best coding bootcamps of 2023.
Professional certifications can help software engineers and web developers establish credibility or prove specialized skills in a specific area.
“Earning industry-recognized certifications, such as from Microsoft or Oracle, can enhance your skills and marketability,” says Ivashchenko.
Common certifications web developers and software engineers seek include:
- AWS Certified Developer: A credential that shows the developer knows how to build and maintain applications that run on Amazon Web Services (AWS).
- Google Professional Cloud Developer: A certification that shows high-level skills in cloud computing.
- PMI Project Management Professional: A certificate that can show you have skills in agile methodologies and project management.
However, there are other ways to prove your skills and build your credibility. Shirinyan suggests online reviews on platforms like Upwork and Clutch can help clients feel more confident in your abilities.
“You can think of it this way — if you need a plumber, you’d probably look at their Yelp reviews rather than certifications,” says Shirinyan.
Find your career fit
Discover the right career path for you with a free Forage job simulation.
Web developers need specialized hard skills in web development. Depending on which area of development they work in, this could include:
- Coding in HTML, CSS, and Java
- Applying visual design principles
- Building or maintaining database architectures
- Creating and using application programming interfaces (APIs)
- Translating client needs into product specifications
- Project and product management
- Using UX and UI knowledge and research
A software engineer’s skill set will vary depending on the type of engineering or development they handle. However, most software engineers need:
- Strong programming skills
- Familiarity with object-oriented design (OOD)
- Data structures and database architectures
- Testing and debugging code
- Knowledge of how to create and use algorithms
JPMorgan Software Engineering
See what it's like to work in software engineering for a major bank with JPMorgan's free job simulation.
Avg. Time: 5 hours
Skills you’ll build: Financial data, Python, Git, basic programming, React, typescript, web applications, technical communication, financial analysis, open source
All software engineers, including web developers, need soft skills that help them work with colleagues and solve complex issues. Some of the most essential soft skills for software engineers and web developers include:
- Creative thinking
- Analytical thinking
- Time management
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Critical thinking
“A willingness to learn and adapt to new technologies is crucial for staying relevant in this fast-paced field,” adds Ivashchenko.
Walmart Advanced Software Engineering
Learn in-demand software engineering skills with this free job simulation from Walmart.
Avg. Time: 3.5 to 4 hours
Skills you’ll build: Java, data structures, optimization, software architecture, UML, SQL, relational database design, Python, data munging
Shirinyan describes the career path for developers as beginning as junior developers and progressing through mid-level and senior developer roles before becoming a lead developer, and, eventually, a product owner.
“Sometimes software developers become chief technical officers (CTO) or chief information officers,” adds Shirinyan.
However, both web developers and software engineers can change their career trajectories by seeking out new specializations, such as mobile app development, cloud engineering, or DevOps (a crossroads for software development and information technology operations).
Explore a career in cybersecurity with this free job simulation from JPMorgan.
Avg. Time: 5 hours
Skills you’ll build: Exploratory data analysis, open source, presentations, application security hygiene, web application development, email security, text-based ML models, data structures
Bottom Line: What’s the Difference?
Ultimately, the difference between a software engineer vs. web developer is subtle.
“The two terms are often used interchangeably,” says Shirinyan.
Although a web developer is a software engineer, a software engineer is not always a web developer. Web developers focus on one specific type of software engineering: building and maintaining websites.
On the other hand, software engineers generally “possess a broader skill set encompassing the entire software development lifecycle, including building large-scale software systems and applications,” says Ivashchenko.
|Web Developers||Software Engineers|
|Primary Function||Build websites, including the back-end code that provides the foundation for the page, and front-end code that allows users to interact with and use the site||Build technological products ranging from websites to mobile applications to video games depending on specialization|
|Average Salary from BLS||$87,580||$132,930|
|Education and Background||STEM background with experience or education in web development through college courses, bootcamps, online courses, or internships||STEM background, often with experience or education in a chosen specialty using college courses, bootcamps, online courses, and internships|
|Technical Skills||Coding in HTML, CSS, or Java|
Applying design, UI, and UX principles
|Coding in a programming language such as Python, Ruby, CSS, or SQL|
Testing and debugging code
|Learn more||Learn more|
Jump start your tech career and unlock exclusive content with Forage’s Software Engineering Career Path.
Image credit: Canva