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Software Developers vs. Software Engineers: What’s the Difference?

May 24, 2021

5 min read

Software developers and software engineers are closely related. They’re also close enough in terminology that questioning the difference might seem like an unnecessary nuance. 

But if you truly want to have a solid understanding of what software development is in general, knowing the difference between software developers vs. software engineers is going to come in handy. 

To learn the difference between software developers vs. software engineers, keep reading. You’ll learn all about it!

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What Does a Software Developer Do?

Software developers are a type of computer science professional who handle a variety of work related to software development

If you’re not familiar with the subject of computer science, maybe you need an overview. Computer science is the study of computers or devices that have computer systems like a smartphone or tablet.

Though computer science and information technology (IT) are sometimes used interchangeably, computer scientists tend to align themselves more with software development, and IT professionals almost always handle the hardware aspect of computer machines. 

Software developers build software by putting together programs via code. Typically, software developers either specialize in systems development or application development. 

The latter references building things like websites or mobile applications. Application developers are the kind of software developers who built Candy Crush and this very website.  Such things execute on a larger categorical entity like a web browser or mobile phone. 

To that end, software developers who develop systems use code closer to hardware or machinery, building for larger systems. For example, a systems developer has the skill set to build an operating system like iOS or a web browser like Google Chrome. 

Within application development, software developers can be front-end developers, back-end developers, or both — which falls under the title full stack developer

Front-end developers program the user interface (UI) of a program or the external design while back-end developers code the processes that occur in a program. Full stack developers can do it all.

What Is Software Development?

Software development entails using an array of different technical tools to complete a software project.

For example, programming languages translate code into output that machines can understand. Because of programming languages, software developers don’t have to operate in the 0s and 1s of binary code. 

There are a wide variety of programming languages available to use. Software developers choose programming languages based on their personal preferences. Or software developers may learn programming languages depending on what’s in high demand in the market

For instance, JavaScript and Python are some of the most popular programming languages in use today. 

JavaScript is a foundational web technology for programming dynamic web pages. Thus, front-end web developers — a particular type of software developer — should always have familiarity with this language. 

Python, on the other hand, is general-purpose. Software developers classically use JavaScript for web development, but Python works just as well for a mobile application with a cross-platform framework, and even games can be built with Python. 

For the most part, Python is for back-end development. Back-end developers should be familiar with server-side concepts like servers and application programming interfaces (APIs)

The designers of Python — who were software developers themselves — created the language with specified design philosophies, such as code readability and simplicity. Largely for these reasons, many software developers from beginners levels to advanced, learn and/or use Python regularly

The frameworks that were briefly mentioned allude to certain software or technologies based on programming languages that provide an outline of sorts for software applications. 

Most programming languages have several frameworks, and software developers should have sufficient knowledge of how to write code within these frameworks. 

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

Software engineers build software just like a software developer does, but on a larger, more systemic scale. This requires analytical and critical thinking skills that a software developer isn’t necessarily expected to have. 

Engineering on its own means solving problems and building tangible solutions by cleverly utilizing scientific principles and other systematic applications of STEM subjects — that is, science, engineering, technology, and math. 

It follows that software engineering relies on those same problem-solving skills and applies it directly to software development. 

Unsurprisingly, software engineers end up doing many of the things that software developers do, or at least they know how to. 

In the same fashion as software developers, software engineers write code to create programs and software applications. They use programming languages and frameworks as part of the software development process. 

And there are systems engineers and application engineers, as well as front-end engineers and back-end engineers

A non-technical example illustrating the role distinctions between a software engineer vs. a software developer is a line cook and chef. 

If you have some experience in the restaurant industry, then you will know that a line cook is responsible for food preparation and getting things ready for the chef who occupies a higher position and ultimately designs and executes the recipe and final meal. 

This is similar to software developers vs. software engineers. A software developer and a software engineer have similar skills. But a software engineer has the intellectual capacity to architect and manage an entire software development project. 


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

Software engineers are software developers too. It’s a bit like that brain-twister — squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are square. (If you know geometry, that will make more sense.)

In other words, software engineers are by definition software developers but not all software developers are software engineers

Software engineers are software developers, but a software engineer carries a bit of weight to its title, which in this case indicates that a software engineer takes on a more managerial role or has more responsibility where software development is concerned

But this isn’t just a matter of ego. For the most part software engineers are doing something ideologically different than software development. 

To illustrate, software engineers may work closely with project managers to guarantee that the software developers on their team are adequately meeting the vision of the tech company that employs them. 

Software engineers even get paid more than software developers, on average at least. 

In 2021, ZipRecruiter, a popular site for job-seekers, maintained that the average software engineer salary is $99,729 dollars per year while software developers fall short by several thousand dollars, earning an average of $86,311 dollars a year

Keep in mind, these numbers are local to the United States. Software development overseas can be relatively cheaper because of the cost of living, but there is still a financial and noteworthy distinction between a software developer vs. a software engineer no matter the region. 

What Are the Skills of a Software Developer and/or a Software Engineer?

The skills of a software developer and software engineer — for near-obvious reasons — are interconnected. Both software developers and software engineers should be able to:

  • write algorithms that provide solutions to simple and complex problems
  • be adeptly familiar with software development tools like programming languages, frameworks, libraries, etc. 
  • create applications that can perform specific tasks or otherwise have some sort of practical use
  • work with the client to make sure project requirements are met 
  • build scalable software that is desirable to the end-user

Although on paper, it likely looks like software developers and software engineers have very tech-oriented, linear jobs, in reality, this is hardly true. 

Anyone working within the software development industry should also have a skill set related to taking feedback from consumers and meeting their desires. 

These same skills play into the importance of working well on a team, which is duly important. 

Collaboration is vital to all software development teams and to that end, so is communication. This is the key to successful development and a successful software product. 

You might call such a skillset ‘soft skills’ and it is a crucial factor to consider when hiring software engineers or software developers. 


Obviously, career roles and titles can be pretty layered. A software developer develops; and a software engineer engineers. All the same thing, right? No. And you know that now. 

Though slipping up and calling a software developer a software engineer or vice versa, calling a software engineer a software developer is no crime, it is probably best to know what specific expertise the professional you are planning to hire possess. 

Having the ability to differentiate between a software engineer vs. a software developer will better help you describe your own project and who and what you need to complete it. 

In any event, hiring software developers and software engineers isn’t easy to do. Though a quick Google search would seem to provide the results you need, choosing the right person for your software development team is a careful and intricate undertaking. 

At Trio, we vet and train our software engineers and developers extensively. We aim to ensure that they can put their minds to any problem or project that arises. 

Hire qualified software developers and engineers with Trio today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is software development?

Software development entails using an array of different technical tools to complete a software project.


What does a software developer do?

Software developers build software by putting together programs via code.


What does a software engineer do?

Software engineers build software just like a software developer does, but on a larger, more systemic scale that requires analytical and critical thinking skills that a software developer isn’t necessarily expected to have.

What the difference between a software developer and software engineer?

A software developer and a software engineer have similar skills. But a software engineer has the intellectual capacity to architect and manage an entire software development project.

Author avatar

Cordenne Brewster

Cordenne Brewster is a tech enthusiast whose ardor is best expressed through the written word. With contributions ranging from software development to scaling, Cordenne provides insights to keep the curious and inquisitive informed, well-read, and on-trend.

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