Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: Which Career to Choose?

What Is the Difference Between a Software Engineer and Software Developer?

According to a SignalHire study, software engineers and software developers are two of the most in-demand jobs in 2022. In this article, we are going to look at the differences between these two roles so you can determine which career path is ideal for you!

What Is the Role of Software Engineers vs. Software Developers?

Software developers tend to be far more independent and spend lots of time working by themselves. This is why nowadays, many software developers work remotely. The role of software developers is to focus on a specific piece of software or app and then build it. They are more focused on working on specific apps and operating systems rather than other people. Their tasks are often very specific and don’t require any collaboration.

On the other hand, software engineers take a broader approach. Instead of just working on one application or even one particular feature, they look at entire systems. Software engineers are more focused on the overall design, solving overarching problems, and project management. Software engineers are very collaborative and work with numerous other team members to complete tasks. Projects also tend to be more long-term and have a wider impact on the business.

What are the Skill Differences Between the Two Roles?

Both jobs require a strong working knowledge of different programming languages as both are tasked with building and developing systems and apps. However, there are some key differences:

Skills of a software developer

  • Working knowledge of core programming languages
  • Writing code
  • Familiarity with cross-browser compatibility
  • Understands web designs
  • Front-end development
  • Understands algorithms and data structures
  • Stick to deadlines

Skills of a software engineer

  • Knowledge of numerous programming languages
  • Understands software development
  • Knowledge of mathematics
  • Understand engineering principles
  • Leadership skills
  • Ability to debug software
  • Project management skills

What is the Career Path for Software Engineers and Software Developers?

Software engineers have a clearer career path to management and coveted Chief Technical Officer roles. This is because software engineers tend to have project management baked into their roles from the beginning. Software engineers are also very collaborative and regularly work with different people to achieve goals.

It typically takes software engineers 3 to 5 years to transition into a junior management role where they are overseeing other engineers. Then after 7 to 9 years of experience, they might take on senior management or tech lead role. Then after 12 + years, they can start applying for Chief Technical Officer jobs.

In contrast, software developments tend to be more siloed and often complete a lot of work by themselves. This can make a transition into management more difficult, but many former software developers do go on to become CTOs. The first step most software developers make is going from a junior role to a senior role. This typically involves a nice pay bump, more responsibility, and bigger projects.

Another common career path move for software developers is specializing in a particular type of development. For example, a junior developer might be promoted and start exclusively working on mobile development or become a specialist front-end developer. By specializing, developers develop unique skills and can command a higher salary due to their irreplaceable expertise in important domains.

What is the Job Outlook Like?

Both software engineers and software developers are in high demand as nearly every company these days is selling online, creating digital products, and or has an app. This, combined with the fact being an engineer or dev requires technical skills and is not for everyone, has resulted in a shortage of employees. In the US, it is predicted that there will be close to 200,000 new opportunities for engineers and developers created every year, and demand is expected to grow 22% from 2020 to 2030.

Due to the favorable labor conditions for software engineers and developers, both of these careers can command large salaries and enjoy great working conditions. However, this only applies to skilled and competent devs and engineers. Due to the nature of the work, companies would rather overpay for a small number of talented devs and engineers than hire a number of mediocre employees for cheap.

What Degree Do You Need to Become a Software Engineer or Software Developer?

To land your dream job as a software engineer, in most cases, you will need formal education. In the US, over 70% of software engineers have at least a bachelor’s degree, and 20% have a master’s degree. If you want to pursue a role in management, then a master’s degree can be very beneficial and get you a nice pay rise. The most common degree among software engineers is computer science.

Many software developers also have a bachelor’s degree in computer science. However, it is far more common for software developers not to have a related university degree or not have a degree at all. There are many self-taught software developers who have attended boot camps and work in the industry.

Do Software Developers and Software Engineers Earn the Same Amount?

The median salary for a US software developer in the United States is $73,659 per year. The median salary for a US software engineer in the United States is $88,653 per year. Software developers tend to top out at $112,000 per year, while software engineers top out at $139,000.

As you can see, both are great paying jobs and way above the American median salary of $54,000, but software engineers tend to earn quite a bit more money on average. However, there are many factors that determine your salary as a software engineer or developer, including location, years of experience, and the company you are working for. For example, software developers at Google based in California can earn substantially more than even experienced software engineers in other parts of the country.

Final Thoughts

Becoming a software developer or engineer is a great career path. Both roles will challenge and allow you to build and work on amazing products while earning a healthy salary. If you are more interested in big-picture thinking, project management, and collaboration, software engineering could be a great option. However, if you just like to sit down and code all day while working on one specific task, then stick to software development! Comment below which career you prefer and why!

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