“The difference between a software developer and a software engineer is the same as the difference between big and large.” — Unknown.
Want to know a popular bone of contention in the software industry? It is whether or not there is a difference between software developers and software engineers.
It is worthwhile to examine the difference between software engineer vs. developer as these terms are often used interchangeably, especially by employers in calls for applications for a position. Sometimes, the difference between software engineers and software developers can be guided by individual perceptions.
So what does it mean to be working as a software engineer or a software developer?
By the end of this article, you will walk away with clarity about the critical differences between the two. After all, not understanding the fundamental differences can result in the right candidate applying for the wrong job.
This article will cover:
- Who is a software engineer?
- How to become a software engineer?
- Who is a software developer?
- How to become a software developer?
- Software developer vs. Software engineer—key differences
- Responsibilities of a software engineer
- Responsibilities of a software developer
- Challenges faced by software engineers
- Challenges faced by software developers
- How to prepare for software engineer and software developer interviews
Who is a Software Engineer?
The scientist responsible for developing the on-board flight software for the Apollo missions of NASA, Margaret Hamilton, coined the term ‘software engineering’ to describe what her team was doing.
In simple terms, software engineers are engineering professionals who utilize a range of software engineering principles for the full spectrum of software production. This includes the design, development, maintenance, testing, and evaluation of software.
“Typically, software engineers will play the role of team leaders, being at the front in dealing with clients and taking on different projects for the team working at the back.” — Talha Waseem, Tech Content Editor at InvoZone.
How to become a Software Engineer?
Anyone desirous to work as a software engineer in FAANG companies needs to have a Bachelor’s degree in the software engineering discipline. There are two broad categories of software engineers:
- Application engineers: These engineers are responsible for creating applications for the specific needs of the user or the business. Those who work as application engineers are responsible for the full spectrum of software. In other words, they design, build, install, and maintain the program.
- System engineers: These engineers look after the maintenance of the IT infrastructure of an organization. Unlike application engineers, system engineers do not design or build any particular software. Instead, they coordinate with various stakeholders in the IT ecosystem to maintain the appropriate framework to support individual applications.
Typically, software engineers are expected to have a comprehensive knowledge of various programming languages and computer operating systems to create software.
Who is a Software Developer?
Software developers are the architects behind a software program.
While software engineers create various tools for developing software, software developers write the complete code from scratch and create specialized software. Common apps that you use in your daily life, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, are created by software developers.
Unlike software engineers, software developers do not utilize any engineering principle. Instead, they bank on their creativity for the entire life cycle of software development.
How to become a Software Developer?
While having a computer science or engineering degree can help you become a software developer, anyone can become a developer by mastering a programming language. Moreover, attending coding boot camps can also help you quickly master the art of coding in a short span of time. However, it is not uncommon for some candidates to opt for specialized degrees in information technology or computer programing to work as software developers.
Please note: Most software engineers and developers working with FAANG companies have a degree in either computer science or engineering. However, it is also possible for candidates without engineering or computer science backgrounds to get hired as developers and engineers at such companies.
Software Developer vs. Software Engineer—Key Differences
The fundamental difference between software engineering and software development lies in the approach—software engineers use a unique design philosophy to develop a structure aimed at solving immediate problems faced by the end-user. Since software engineers address issues at a much broader scale, they never lose sight of the big picture issues. They also do not get an opportunity to showcase their creativity—working within the boundaries of engineering principles is essential for such professionals.
A software developer or a coding engineer, in contrast, focuses on software development at a smaller scale. That’s why developers can unleash their creativity to create an application from scratch.
Here are some other differences between the two:
- For a developer, the modus operandi of software development is straightforward—design and deliver software within strict parameters. For this reason, they are only engaged with a single aspect in the entire development process. By contrast, software engineers are a part of the entire development process.
- In companies, software engineers work as part of a team to resolve an issue, whereas software developers can work independently or directly with clients.
- Software engineers must have a thorough grasp of technical aspects of software building as they are responsible for implementing it across a program. In contrast, developers can do with working knowledge.
- While software engineers focus on creating various tools to develop the software, developers end up using such tools to make the final application.
- Lastly, when it comes to software developer vs. software engineer salary, an engineer usually earns more than a software developer. According to studies, a software engineer's average salary is $110,464 per year in the United States and a $4,000 cash bonus per year. The average salary for a software developer is $92,380 per year in the United States.
Responsibilities of a Software Engineer
Preparing a detailed roadmap of a software solution is at the heart of what a software engineer does. They often lead teams and manage all aspects of designing a software system. Their responsibilities revolve around flowcharts and maintaining a 30,000-foot view to support various aspects of the software development process. In particular, the key responsibilities of a software engineer include:
- Identifying issues and common patterns to improve an existing software system;
- Strengthening various applications by pinpointing the areas of enhancement, designing, and implementing relevant solutions;
- Working with other members of the team (such as programmers and developers) to execute various technical designs;
- Using newer technologies to simplify software solutions; and
- Supplying meaningful data through a detailed analysis of various software development issues.
Responsibilities of a Software Developer
A variety of industries and sectors employ software developers. You can consider the work of software developers similar to a chef. A chef cannot serve the same dish to all his customers—it needs to be customized based on customers' taste buds. To do that, the chef may rely on various creative approaches to customize the dishes using the available resources.
Similarly, a developer needs to ensure that the software designed meets the specific needs of the customer. Here’s a bird’s eye view of the different responsibilities of a developer:
- Writing and implementing efficient code
- Testing software to check if it meets the needs of the client
- Developing upgrades to existing software
- Carrying out quality and performance testing of various software
- Interacting with clients to understand their requirements
Challenges Faced by Software Engineers
Software engineers face several roadblocks daily that can hamper the software design. These include:
- Not having adequate resources for testing the software
- Failure to coordinate efficiently with team members
- Keeping up with the never-ending technological developments to design better software systems
Challenges Faced by Software Developers
In a rapidly evolving tech industry, software developers experience several challenges due to the IT industry's increased complexities and customer demands. The key challenges include:
- Working under strict time constraints
- Not understanding the underlying business needs of the client, resulting in inefficient software solutions
- Interpersonal conflicts with the testing team that affects the quality of the software
- Coding software that’s difficult to maintain
- Failing to leverage new technology trends, resulting in mediocre programs
How to Prepare for Software Engineer and Software Developer Interviews
Because of the overlap between software developers and software engineers, it should come as no surprise that there are often similarities in the interview process.
Whether you want to work as a software engineer or a software developer at FAANG, theoretical knowledge about programming concepts is not enough. Given you will typically face multiple rounds of technical interviews with experienced professionals working at tech giants, you need a detailed interview prep approach to become a successful problem-solver.
Apart from refreshing critical concepts in programming fundamentals, data structures, and algorithms, you will also need to master the art of articulating your approach for solving a problem thrown at you.
Even if you are a professional with a breadth of experience, it may be extremely challenging to crack FAANG interviews without a prep strategy.
Also read: How to prepare for technical interviews.
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