Software Engineer vs. Developer: What’s the Difference?
In the IT industry, the terms “software developer” and “software engineer” are used interchangeably and if someone interviews for a job that is advertised as a developer role, the reality is, you could be interviewing for either. At first glance, it may appear that there is no difference between a software developer and an engineer, however, in the world of IT, there are some major differences between the two. What are these differences and how do they reflect the job descriptions of both software developers and engineers? Let’s take a look.
Differences in Job Functions
Software engineering is when you apply engineering principles in order to build software. Software engineers could be involved in software development but not many software engineers are developers. While software engineers participate in the software development lifecycle by connecting the needs of the client with applicable technology solutions, they also systematically develop processes to provide specific functions. It is better to view software engineering as a means of using engineering concepts to create software.
On the other hand, software developers are the driving creative force behind programs. Software developers are responsible for the entire development process. They are the ones who collaborate with the client to create a theoretical design. They then have computer programmers create the code needed to run the software properly. Computer programmers will test and fix problems together with software developers. Software developers provide project leadership and technical guidance along every stage of the software development lifecycle.
Therefore, a software engineer may be involved with software development, but few software developers are engineers.
Software Engineer Skills and Job Description
Senior software engineers oversee complex systems design and development as well as analysis programs. They actively play the role of consultant, leader, and individual contributor on various projects. They must be able to manage resources, coordinate development tasks and supervise technical project plans and provide analytical advice in identifying and implementing new IT uses to help clients and the company reach strategic goals. They often collaborate with IT, operations and development staff through the software development lifecycle. Finally, they must provide a smooth running of operations by identifying and recommending improvement processes.
Software engineers must have technical expertise, personal accomplishments they can demonstrate and experience with using open source projects and tools. They should be proficient in automated testing, pattern design, and fault-tolerant systems. It is very important that software engineers know how to create and maintain IT architecture, cloud-based systems, and large-scale data stores. Also, they need to be familiar with how to build scalable data stores, pipelines, and scalable domain-specific languages. They must be comfortable working both by themselves and with remote teams.
Software Developer Skills and Job Description
Software developers must continually monitor project updates and reported defects in order to manage necessary modifications. Consequently, they must constantly shift gears between assigned projects, deadlines, and schedules. Software developers must conduct experimental software runs to ensure quality and consistency. They must have an eye for perfection in order to properly direct repairs and revisions of programs designed to increase operating efficiency. Some software developers are tasked with being the primary point of contact with clients and vendors.
Software developers must have excellent analytical skills because they will be required to continually compare needs with software capabilities. They must be familiar with computer languages in order to effectively work with computer programs. In order to do this, they must have formidable feedback and communication skills. Keep in mind that minor error or miscommunications could result in major financial and operational problems. Being detail oriented will help them manage simultaneous projects at different development stages.
In the end, the main difference between software engineering and software development is that the latter oversees the engineering while the former focuses on creating functional programs.
Does the Title Really Matter?
Given the constantly evolving, user-centric, creative communications environment; and with all the JS frameworks, Markup Pre-Processors, languages and application frameworks pushing the boundaries of what’s achievable in the browser and mobile devices, the difference between Engineer and Developer is a little harder to distinguish. But if you are in the middle of a job search, it could make a difference.
Nowadays, when a company posts a job advert for a “software engineer” they are looking for somebody who has a fundamental grounding through education in engineering principles, and through the application of engineering concepts, they create solutions. To many employers, the term “engineer” typically connotes a “builder” of some sort whose design process is methodical, involving a deliberate application of established patterns and principles.
While there certainly are developers who satisfy this sense of the term; however, in practice, the formal title means nothing. Software engineering is not a licensed profession, and companies often exploit this fact and the value of the title by offering it as a fringe benefit to their employees — irrespective of personal methodologies.
On the other hand, a developer tends to be more creatively minded applying patterns and practices learned through self-discovery, on the job, reading books and blogs, or courses focused on specific aspects of the development life-cycle without the fundamentals of the scientific method and engineering principles.
So, if you’re thinking your current title is incorrect, employers seem to agree that they don’t hire on a title. But if it’s something important to you then speak to your boss, and put your case forward — it doesn’t seem a deal breaker to change.