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

According to recent Linkedin research, both software development and engineering are among the top-15 emerging jobs in the US for 2020. Full-stack engineers have showcased a 35% annual growth. On the flip side, software developers are also emerging positions. Still, what’s the difference between a software developer and a software engineer?

This article will explore the main differences between developers and engineers when it comes to computer science tasks, job responsibilities, and salaries. By the end of this study, you will also be able to verify the skills of a software engineer or developer. 

Software Developer Vs Software Engineer

Although people tend to confuse the terms, there are some key differences between a software engineer and a software developer. In a few words, a software developer is a creator behind a computer software or code. That means that developers mainly focus on building the software, and for this reason, they are called coders. On the flip side, an engineer has more of a holistic approach, an entire perspective of a software developing project. 

Thus, by applying specific engineering principles, engineers have a different role than developers. What that actually means is that the difference between the two job positions is all about the job function. To be more precise, there are differences in numerous key points: skills, roles, responsibilities.

For this to become clear there has to be an individual approach to each one of those positions. Let’s dive deeper into what a software developer and a software engineer do.

What Are the Main Areas of Responsibility of Software Developers?

Software development is, in most cases, a solitary task. A software developer is responsible for writing a code/program. That being said, developers usually work on a more limited scale than engineers. Of course, that doesn’t mean a developer is not as creative as an engineer. By using tools and developing software, programmers create web, desktop, or mobile software systems from scratch. Therefore, a developer has to be creative and come up with viable and innovative solutions.

Likewise, a software developer usually deals with one or more of the following development tasks:

  • The creation of software: this should meet the owners’ needs
  • The analysis and recommendation of software updates
  • The design of strategies that show the code needed for an application development
  • The maintenance and testing of the app  

What Are the Main Areas of Responsibility of Software Engineers?

On the other hand, software engineering is a team occupation. Thus, an experienced software engineer is usually involved in more than one component of building a high-quality application system. For this reason, engineers solve larger computer programming issues. Thus, an engineer must be more systematic than a developer, as this person has to work with other engineers to develop a system. 

Therefore, a software engineer is usually in charge of:

  • The creation of software product modifications 
  • Providing guidance and support to the entire dev team
  • The development of a complete strategy that will help the clients understand and adjust their needs
  • The communication with vendors 
  • The creation of a service summary for the client

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Key Differences Between Software Developers and Engineers

It becomes evident that software engineers and software developers have more differences than just their job titles. Apart from the type of activity and the work process itself, there are other dissimilarities too. For example, an accredited degree in software engineering is required for software engineers to be successful at what they do. 

On the flip side, not all top-tier software developers have a degree in relevant studies (i.e. software development, computer science). In fact, this is not a requirement. For example, many professional developers have learned programming languages through coding workshops/ bootcamps, and some of the best ones out there are self-taught.

Key DifferencesSoftware EngineerSoftware Developer
StudiesDegree in Software EngineeringDegree in Software Development
Work ProcessAn engineer is part of the complete processA developer is part of the building process only
Work ResponsibilitiesAn engineer solves larger development issues and manages the development teamA developer builds an application 
TechnologiesIndependent of programming languages as the engineer solves fundamental and in-depth problemsUsually uses one or a certain number of programming languages that developer is skilled in

Apart from that, there is a noticeable difference in the average salary of a software engineer vs. a software developer. This is reasonable due to the different scale of responsibilities between the two positions.  

What Salary Has a Software Engineer?

Even though the salary of a software engineer varies significantly based on the region, technical expertise, and technology (see tables below), software engineers generally earn more than software developers. To be more precise, Glassdoor offers insights concerning the global average incomes for software engineers. For instance, the average salary for a software engineer in the US is $105K per year. Software engineers in Germany are also well-paid role, but they earn approximately $65K per year. 

On the flip side, countries like Ukraine and India have lower living costs. Thus, the average salary for a software engineer in Ukraine is $35K and in India is $10K per year. Of course, a top-tier software engineer earns a few times more than the average salary. 

What Salary Gets a Software Developer?

These differences also apply to the average salary of software developers. More precisely, developers based in the US have an average wage of $96K per year. In Western Europe, the situation is the same. For example, German developers earn around $62K per year.

As with software engineers, software developers located in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia have lower average incomes. For instance, according to Glassdoor.com, software developers based in Ukraine earn $33K per year. Finally, Indian developers have an average salary of $9K per year.

Job PositionThe USGermanyUkraineIndia
Software Engineer,
the average income per year
$105K$65K$35K$15K
Software Developer,
the average income per year
$96K$62K$33K$12K

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Screening CVs of Software Developers and Software Engineers: What Differences to Expect in Resume

Apart from the differences between developers and engineers noticed in the academic degrees, there is a big difference in each job’s career path. A great software engineer’s resume should include proof of the following skills: 

  • Excellent communication with previous clients
  • Integrity and independence
  • Knowledge of engineering concepts and approaches
  • Project management skills
  • Excellent analytical skills
  • Excellent problem-solving skills 

On the other hand, an experienced software developer focuses on the following skills:

  • Knowledge of (at least) one programming language
  • Familiarity with operating systems like Windows, iOS, Android, etc.
  • Writing code knowledge
  • Code testing knowledge
  • Knowledge concerning algorithms and data structures 

This doesn’t mean that those technical skills can’t overlap. In fact, a top-tier engineer should have a deep understanding of most web development skills. As previously mentioned, the roles and responsibilities of software engineers and developers also have some fundamental similarities.

How to Verify Skills of a Software Developer and Engineer?

Whether you want to hire a software developer or engineer, there are a few tips you should keep in mind. A significant factor you should always consider is a candidate’s adaptability and willingness to learn. Don’t forget that great software engineers and software developers keep learning and adapting throughout their careers. 

Also, you should always ensure that a candidate is a great team player and has the cultural profile you request. It becomes obvious that, when it comes to soft skills, both job descriptions have similar requirements. 

Make sure to check our list of questions for a soft-skills interview.  As software engineers are involved in cooperation with the team on a more complex level, having excellent soft skills is more important for them than for software developers.

However, verifying a software developer’s or engineer’s hard skills can be challenging. Earlier we published a big article with numerous methods of vetting tech talent. All of them can apply to both: software developers and engineers. What you’re actually should pay attention to is their approach to solving the problem, on which level do they try to find a solution.
Let’s have a look at some recommendations that will help you ensure you select the perfect person for the job.

How to Verify Software Developer Skills?

There are different ways in which you can ensure that a software developer has the skills you need:

  • Host an interview: No matter if you choose to hire locally or offshore via staff augmentation, hosting an interview is crucial. It would help if you always asked general and more technical questions about the specific languages your software uses. For example, if you want to hire an AngularJS developer, you should prepare a relevant list of questions related to AngularJS skills.
  • Use platforms with pre-verified candidates: When hiring a remote developer, you can use platforms that have their internal rating of developers which you can use as a starting point in your validation process. For example, you can use Upwork filters to choose only candidates with some level of experience, success rate, English level, etc. Another example is a marketplace for staff augmentation, YouTeam, where only specialists that passed a few stages of selection appear in the talent pool. This can help you find professional developers quickly as part of the vetting has been already done by someone else. Still, the final choice is yours. 
  • Use an online code tester: Online platforms like HackerRank and CodeRignal can help you verify a candidate’s skill set through live code tests. 

How to Verify Software Engineer Skills

Accordingly, the same tips also apply to software engineers. But the results and ways of approaching the problem in these cases are expected to be more sophisticated. An engineer should demonstrate better analytical and mathematical skills. They also should be able to organize the development process of the whole team, not solitarily solve the task. 

Conclusion

For many people “software developer” and “software engineer” are synonymous. This is part of reality and we should be ready that these terms can be used in such a way. At the same time, there are critical differences between a software developer and a software engineer. Those differences apply in numerous aspects of each job like the work process, the main role responsibilities, the tools used.

In nutshell, a software developer is a specialist that has some educational background in software development (which could be an official education or just some courses), master at least one programming language and work on dev problems on a limited scale. They are expected to be professionals that could solve a specific task.

Software engineers, are professionals that have an official degree in computer engineering, can apply high-level approaches to solving tasks, and deal with complex problems on a large-scale level.

All this defines is a noticeable difference between the average salaries of developers and engineers. Software engineers are involved in the complete development process, and they cooperate with all team members. For this reason, their average salaries tend to be higher than those of software developers.

Afterward, this article offered some knowledge concerning the differences on each position resume. Successful software engineers have an accredited degree in software engineering. On the other hand, software developers might have a relevant degree, but many are self-taught or learned programming languages from bootcamps.

Finally, we explored how you can test the skill set of a software engineer and a software developer. Today, many companies expect their employees have good soft skills, but in the case of software engineers, this is a bit more important than for software developers. For developers’ hard skills verification you can use online code testers like HackerRank. For software engineers, it’s better to use custom tasks where they can show their creativity.

To save your time we suggest trying YouTeam, a marketplace for engineering staff augmentation where first candidates matching your requirements can be suggested within 48 hours or less. If you have any questions, just fill in this short form and book a free call with our representative. 

Written by
Svetlana Shevchuk

Digital Marketing Specialist at YouTeam, a Y Combinator-backed marketplace for building remote dev teams.

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