Software developer vs software engineer: What is the difference?

What are the key differences between a software developer and a software engineer?

Different countries and different companies have various definitions of these roles. Many still debate the distinctions between software developer and software engineer. But we can use a few handy criteria to understand the differences between the roles.

First let’s establish the responsibilities for each role.

Software Engineers

A software engineer will research and architect a solution for the software project. The software engineer begins by analyzing the needs of the customer. The software engineer gathers requirements. Then the software engineer will begin the design of the program. Good software engineers need to understand pattern design. In software engineering, pattern design refers to reusable solutions to common problems. The systems they create are large-scale. The software engineer will oversee the work of the team. The software engineer must ensure the programming and implementation adheres to the requirements. Software engineers see the larger picture, they supervise and guide large teams.

We can divide software engineers into two groups. Application engineers work on building applications. Applications like mobile apps, websites, and even desktop programs. Systems engineers, do not focus on one application. The focus on the underlying systems that support many applications. Systems engineers concern themselves with the IT setup and structure. Systems engineers might also structure databases and back-end code.

Software Developers

The software developer acts much like the engineer. Software developers do many of the tasks that engineers do, but on a smaller scale. The software developer focuses in on details of the project. The software developer creates a part of the project. The developer will communicate changes and modifications necessary to create the software. The software developer will understand computer code and machine logic. Great software developers are detail-oriented and creative. The software developer might also supervise and direct programmers.

Now, on to the differences: 

The major difference between software engineers and software developers is scope. Software engineers oversee a whole process. Developers will tackle smaller pieces of the process. Software engineers look at the big picture. Software Developers, in contrast, concern themselves with only a part of the picture.

A comparison can help explain the difference between the roles. The software engineer acts like the head chef of a restaurant. The head chef likely knows how to make most if not all the dishes. The head chef designs the menu and creates new dishes. But the head chef spends more time managing the other chefs than cooking. The head chef will manage the pastry chef, fry chef, sous chef and more. In the same way, the software engineer will guide and manage the developers. These developers create the C++ , the HTML, and the JavaScript code. The Software Developer is like a pastry chef. The developer will be very good at making pastry, but not so great with grilling the perfect steak. 

In software development the developer has deep knowledge of a specific type of code. Like the pastry chef knows a lot about pastry, the software developer knows a lot about C++ or Java for example. Software engineers have a wider range of knowledge about different coding languages. Software engineers understand how code works. They see the logic in code in a fundamental way, even in code they don’t know. The software engineer oversees the whole process. The software developer works only on part of the process. The software developer will focus on building a component of the project. The software engineer will pay attention to the whole project. 

Software Engineers oversee a team. The software developers will work alone or in a very small group. Going back to our restaurant metaphor, the head chef moves through the kitchen. The head chef makes sure the other chefs make the food to his specifications. The head chef offers guidance and encouragement. In contrast, the pastry chef works alone, creating desserts, likely with an assistant. The assistant in the software development world would be a programmer. The pastry chef and the assistant work on dessert, not concerned with how the salad or steak are being made. 

Programmers differ from developers in one key way—programmers usually have less experience. Programmers also do not oversee others. Software developers will often have others reporting to them.

Software engineers are general technologists. Their role is overseeing the structure and the process. They keep the project focuses and organized. Software developers will have more freedom to be creative. Software engineers have more responsibility and must think about the whole project. Software developers, in contrast, have less responsibility and focus on smaller tasks.

Let’s take a hypothetical example. The customer would like a mobile application. The software engineer will meet with the customer and other stakeholders. The software engineer will build the structure of the mobile application. The software engineer will define the parameters of the application. Then the software engineer will present an outline to the stakeholders. After this, the engineer will direct the software developers and programmers. The software engineer will assign different tasks to the software developers. The software developers will create the code. The developers supervise the programmers working with them. They will work together to ensure that the code they create is correct and bug-free. After the software developers create the code, the software engineer tests the code. The software engineers will ensure the code meets the specifications and customer requirements.

The developer executes and develops code for a part of the project. The software engineer organizes and designs the whole solution. The developer focuses on a piece of the project. The software engineer focuses on the whole project. The software engineer shoulders more responsibility. They must also keep the project organized. 

At Blocshop, we understand the need for both software developers and software engineers. Our teams include both engineers and developers. This means we can deliver our projects on time and on budget. Blocshop’s custom development service allows us to assemble teams that get results. If you seek a software solution that requires expert help, please get in touch.

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