Software Engineer vs Developer (With Responsibilities)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 7 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The technology industry is constantly evolving, which can lead to confusion with specific job titles for roles that share similar responsibilities. While some titles are quite distinct, titles like software engineers and software developers can be easily confused. Understanding the differences and similarities between these roles can be helpful if you're considering a career in IT. In this article, we explore software engineer vs. developer, explain what a software engineer does, highlight some essential skills and responsibilities, outline what a software developer does and their responsibilities and skills and explore the key differences between the two roles.

Software engineer vs developer

The software engineer vs. developer distinction involves some key differences and similarities regarding the main job tasks and responsibilities. These roles approach tasks and computer science differently. For example, a software engineer is likelier to experiment in software development, while a software developer rarely works in software engineering.

Despite the differences between these roles, some people working in computer programming use these two job titles interchangeably because software developers and engineers have similar traits. They're typically creative, logical, detail-oriented and excel at problem solving and maths. There's also an overlap in the hard skills necessary for both roles, although a software engineer usually requires a broader skill set than a software developer.

Related: 10 Computer Science Careers (With Salaries and Duties)

What does a software engineer do?

Software engineers apply engineering principles to create computer programs and manage data. Their role can involve developing and designing software solutions that meet their client's requirements. They typically work in various industries and may specialise in web applications, operating systems, databases or content management systems. Software engineers usually possess excellent knowledge of data structures, algorithms, web development and best practices in systems engineering. In addition to developing software, they also incorporate testing and analytics into their work and regularly communicate with stakeholders from various backgrounds, meaning good communication skills are important.

Software engineers are highly skilled in maths and science. Problem-solving is a part of their role, helping them to look at problems methodically and using scientific methods to help explore potential solutions. This assists in designing comprehensive and practical solutions to meet their client's requirements.

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Skills of a software engineer

Working as a software engineer usually requires a bachelor's degree, specialising in software engineering, mathematics or computer science. Some critical skills that can be beneficial if you plan on becoming a software engineer include the following:

  • Proficiency in advanced mathematics

  • Experience in computer science

  • Excellent knowledge of several programming languages

  • Advanced problem-solving capabilities

  • Strong analytical skills, including visualising processes and outcomes

  • Experience developing and maintaining IT architectures and databases

  • Good understanding of data structures and algorithms

  • Knowledge of pattern design and experience working within a cloud-based infrastructure

  • Proficient in troubleshooting various software issues

  • Ability to work on multi-core central processors (CPUs)

  • Experience with debugging systems and software

  • Strong testing skills, particularly relating to automated testing

  • Ability to work autonomously and in collaboration with a team

  • Understanding how to develop scalable domain-specific languages and pipelines

  • Leadership and people management skills

  • Excellent communication skills to translate complicated information into simple language for different audiences

Related: What Is Software Development: Definition, Processes and Types

Responsibilities of a software engineer

Typical software engineering responsibilities can include:

  • Collaborating and communicating with the marketing and customer insights teams working on product development

  • Testing plans in collaboration with the quality assurance team

  • Working across teams to support the entire product development cycle while offering technical guidance and support

  • Designing, testing, developing and maintaining networking software

  • Identifying any issues or common patterns to improve systems and develop standard operating procedures

  • Proactively seeking areas requiring improvement, offering recommendations for applications and designing and implementing new or enhanced systems

  • Collaborating with colleagues to implement new or enhanced technical designs

  • Researching the benefits of new technology and installing updates where appropriate

Related: How Much Does a Software Engineer Make? (With Common Duties)

What does a software developer do?

Software developers are responsible for providing coding for software development. They use their knowledge and skills to write, modify and debug software. Developers also analyse concepts and develop documents. Some can be responsible for designing, testing and optimising software to ensure it works as expected. Software developers may work closely with a broad team of colleagues, from product managers to customer service operators, to ensure they develop software that best suits the requirements of both the customers and stakeholders. Servicing multiple stakeholders can mean they respond to various types of feedback and changes from different users and team members.

Most developers rely on their knowledge of various types of program languages and codes to complete their tasks. They're typically involved in the entire product development cycle, including research, testing, development and launch. Software developers usually work on a specific function or are responsible for developing a particular aspect of a project rather than an entire system. Many software developers specialise in a particular development framework, usually obtaining their qualifications via a formal degree or diploma course, specialising in computer systems or software engineering.

Related: How to Become a Software Developer

Skills of a software developer

Software developers also typically possess a degree in software engineering or computer science, tailoring their coursework to focus on software development. Here are some of the basic skills and qualifications typically necessary to become a software developer:

  • Experience writing clean code that's easy to maintain

  • Up-to-date working knowledge of basic frameworks and programs that relate to web development

  • Experience designing and building responsive web designs

  • Familiarity with cross-browser compatibility

  • Front-end development experience with various programs, using different tools and workflows

  • Strong communication and collaboration skills

  • An understanding of agile development practices and test-driven development

  • Comfortable receiving and analysing feedback

  • Experience with various databases and data structures

  • Open to ongoing learning, for example learning new languages or technologies

  • Excellent attention to detail

  • Resourceful and able to troubleshoot and problem solve

  • Creative thinking skills

Responsibilities of a software developer

Some of the typical responsibilities a software developer may include the following:

  • Focusing on ensuring a quality user experience (UX) by collaborating with product managers, front-end and QA engineers and designers

  • Producing clean and efficient code based on detailed specifications

  • Improving productivity by reviewing, assessing and developing new or enhanced systems and tools

  • Using new front-end technology to create innovative and cutting-edge features

  • Assessing opportunities to improve the user interface architecture

  • Participating in rapid prototyping as outlined by the project's specific requirements

  • Understanding software runs and testing the quality and consistency of specific software

  • Working with other developers to design algorithms

  • Gathering and evaluating user feedback to fix and improve existing software and systems

  • Integrating various software components and creating technical documents for reporting

  • Running regular tests and verifying and deploying systems and programs

  • Troubleshooting, debugging and upgrading exciting software

  • Making recommendations and executive improvements to the software

Related: A Guide to Software Developer Skills and How to Improve Them

Key differences between a software engineer and a software developer

Although there's some overlap, there are distinct differences between the responsibilities and skills of software engineers and software developers. Software engineers usually apply software engineering principles when ‌designing, developing, maintaining, testing and evaluating software. While software engineers can get involved with software development, software developers are rarely engineers. Some other key differences include the following:

Client interaction

Software engineers use systematic processes and engineering concepts to connect their client's requirements to specific technological solutions. Then, a software developer collaborates closely with the client to work out the functional design. This means developers are typically the creative driving force behind innovation and development for various types of software.

Related: Relationship Management Skills: Definition and Examples

Focus

Software developers typically focus on creating functional programs. They can do this using art and creativity. In contrast, a software engineer draws on the knowledge and experience from formal study, using scientific methods and engineering principles to create reliable solutions.

Related: Creative Thinking: How to Start Thinking Creatively

Problem-solving

It can be helpful to think of a software engineer as a project architect and a software developer as a carpenter. While engineers rely on knowledge gained through education and specific processes and protocols, developers usually take a different approach. They often use practices gained through external sources or self-discovery rather than relying purely on formal educational learning.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

Overall role

When considering a software engineer a project architect, a software developer does the execution portion. An engineering designer oversees and coordinates the project. The developer uses the plans by the engineer to write the code that brings the project to life.

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