Software Engineers vs. Software Developers: A Detailed Comparison

Software engineer and software developer are two terms used interchangeably. Even though both roles share many similarities, their daily tasks are pretty contrasting. What’s important is that you clearly understand the difference between the roles since industries have a high demand for both. When you are looking to expand your workforce and recruit new tech professionals, you must know whether you want to hire top software developers or engineers in your team. That’s why this blog will walk you through the key differences between software engineers vs. developers in terms of their roles and responsibilities, skillset, career paths, salaries, and more.

So, let’s get started without any further ado!

Who is a software engineer?

Software engineering is a systematic approach to designing, building, maintaining, testing, and evaluating software with the help of engineering principles. So basically, software engineers are professionals who focus on structural design and the entire development process. They usually work in a team and find solutions to real-life problems concentrating on quality, budget, and schedule. Consequently, they have a broader view of issues instead of specialized solutions to specific problems.

Who is a software developer?

On the other hand, software development is a branch of software engineering that deals with building software programs. Software developers are professionals who design software components and write codes to create diverse applications. They brainstorm ideas to develop applications that run on users’ devices and allow them to perform specific tasks.

Unlike software engineers, developers may work in a more independent environment with a core focus on the development aspect. They usually have limited collaboration with other developers and programmers, which allows them to be creative and innovative.

Consequently, they can freely conduct experimental software which offers better performance and consistency. The bottom line is that software developers do everything a software engineer does in a bounded and limited environment.

Software engineers vs. developers: Key differences

Here are some key differences between software engineers vs. developers:

1. Roles and responsibilities

Software engineers:

• Software engineers apply engineering principles and concepts to different phases of the software development life cycle (SDLC)
• They identify issues and patterns and devise optimal solutions or strategies to improve system quality
• They design and implement tools and systems to enhance any application
• They research and implement the usage of relevant new technologies that can enhance the development process
• They work hand-in-hand with the development team to ensure high quality and standards

Software developers:

• Software developers are responsible for the core development process. They research, design, develop, deploy, and maintain applications
• They devise well-thought strategies to ensure the application meets the client’s requirements
• They maintain and analyze existing systems to upgrade them for better performance
• They also develop tools that optimize internal efficiency and performance
• Developers also work on quality assurance by creating test scripts that ensure the application is bug-free

2. Skillset

Software engineer:

• Firm grasp of computer fundamentals and engineering principles
• Proficiency in developing and maintaining IT architectures and databases
• Expertise in multiple programming languages, including Java, Python, C, C++, JavaScript, PHP, etc.
• Sound knowledge of automation testing and debugging techniques and practices
• Good analytical and advanced mathematical capabilities with solid command over multi-core processors
• Excellent communication and interpersonal skills to ensure effective cross-functional team collaboration

Software developer:

• Proficiency in one or more programming languages, such as Java, Python, C, C++, JavaScript, PHP, etc
• Sound knowledge of frameworks and technologies like AngularJS, JavaScript, jQuery, and ReactJS
• Expertise in writing readable and maintainable code
• Understanding of data structures, algorithms, and databases
• Keep up with the industry’s prevalent trends and tech stacks
• Knowledge of test-driven development and Agile methodologies
• Excellent communication and interpersonal skills to ensure effective team collaboration
• Ability to work independently with minimal supervision

3. Career path

A clear distinction between developers and engineers is that developers tend to have more flexibility, whereas engineers typically oversee a team of professionals. Developers can choose a different course and pursue specific roles such as front-end, back-end, full-stack, or mobile development. However, an engineer’s career trajectory usually remains linear. Let’s see the career trajectory of a software engineer first:

• Entry-level software engineers: accountable for building, launching, and debugging systems
• Senior software engineer: responsible for supervising junior engineers
• Software engineer lead: responsible for overseeing a team of people
• Engineering manager/VP/CTO: responsible for piloting an organization’s technological needs

Now, the career trajectory of a software developer:

• Junior developer: responsible for writing simple codes and assisting senior developers
• Senior developer: accountable for handling complex codes with solid command over databases, application services, and application lifecycle development
• Technical architect: accountable for conceptualizing, designing, and building software to solve complex problems

4. Salaries

According to Payscale, the average software engineer salary is $89,161 / year, with total annual pay ranging from $64k to $139k. On the other hand, the average salary for software developers is $74,197 / year, with total yearly pay ranging from $51k – $113k.

Although, it’s crucial to note that salaries are not fixed and significantly vary due to location, industry, candidate’s experience, and the company itself. For instance, the average salary for a software engineer or developer in India will be significantly lower than that of engineers or developers in the U.S.

Which is the right fit for your company?

Software engineers typically hold a much border responsibility and, consequently, require a broader skill set. In comparison, developers work on a much smaller and more specialized scale. Thus, they might not have the knowledge and expertise to manage the whole system. However, developers with experience can move to software engineering roles.

Considering all these factors, it’s crucial for you first to understand your project requirements. If it needs a specialized skillset with a focus on just application development, then developers are the right option for you. But, if you need a professional who can efficiently carry out holistic system management, software engineers should be the right choice.


Even though software engineers and software developers are similar in many ways, different aspects make these professionals crucial for any organization. Today, both these roles are in high demand, leading to stiff competition among companies to hire the best professionals. That’s why it is essential to know your needs and strategize your process to ensure you hire the right professionals.

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