Which Career Path Is Right for You?

When beginning your professional programming journey, two career paths probably stood out to you—software engineering and development. Several programming courses, books, online educators, and even job postings use the terms “software engineer” and “software developer” interchangeably. This leaves beginners and mid-level programmers often confused about which career path to pursue.

As most rightfully guess, software engineering encompasses software development, but what else differentiates both careers? Keep reading as we study the debate: software engineering vs. software development, their job roles, and what these popular careers entail.

1. Educational Background

Woman wearing an academic cap and a dress

Traditional education is usually the launchpad for success in most careers. But what distinguishes the educational background of a software developer from a software engineer? Let’s discuss it below.

Software Developer

Aspiring software developers usually opt for associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degrees in computer science, computer programming, or other relevant fields to acquire the necessary training.

Alternatively, you can develop your skills by attending career-training programs and coding bootcamps. And utilizing unique coding bootcamp tips like networking and specializing in a domain will make you an outstanding developer in no time.

Furthermore, some may supplement their training with self-taught skills. It’s not rare to encounter individuals who have largely or completely taught themselves the skills required for this profession.

Software Engineer

Conversely, you’ll require much more than a few months in coding bootcamps to become a skilled software engineer. A successful software engineering career requires a strong educational background, extensive training, and at least minimal knowledge of every part of the development process.

To qualify for entry-level or junior positions here, you must have a bachelor’s degree in software engineering, computer science, or a related field.

Like software development, self-learning is also an option in software engineering, though it’s significantly harder. Occasionally, you may encounter some software developers who became software engineers through years of difficult hands-on experience and hard work.

A computer screen showing code

While there’s a large intersection of skills and tools in both careers, there are still distinct abilities that differentiate a developer from an engineer.

Software Developer

The overlap in the required skills for both professions involves creating systems and applications. Depending on your chosen domain, the skills you’ll need for software development will vary, but knowledge of programming languages are generally necessary.

For example, while app developers may focus on Flutter and Dart, Java or C++ is more crucial to game developers.

In addition, software developers and engineers must possess strong problem-solving and analytical skills. As a software developer, it’s important to be creative in your solutions to draw the attention of employers and hiring managers.

Finally, a strong understanding of one or more cloud services, such as AWS, is necessary for creating well-developed, functional software. Additionally, you’ll need to understand using GitHub on Windows or macOS, as most companies use it for source code management.

Software Engineer

Software engineers must know and apply engineering principles to their work by methodically providing software solutions. While most software developers focus on the programming languages specific to their field, software engineers are well-versed in multiple languages and development tools. This allows them to solve complex industry challenges effectively.

Software engineers typically work in teams, while software developers may have more flexibility to work independently. Therefore, software engineers need to have excellent interpersonal and communication skills for effective collaboration with other engineers, programmers, and cybersecurity specialists.

3. Roles and Responsibilities

Two people facing each other, working with computer

The respective job description of software developers and engineers forms the bedrock for choosing a career path between the two. Thus, understanding what they do helps you identify what aligns with your passion.

Software Developer

The title “developer” implies their primary role in overseeing the creation phase of a product’s life cycle. This means that your primary responsibilities will involve building and assessing web, mobile, and desktop applications.

Furthermore, you have the freedom to work independently when creating a product. This allows for flexibility in how you approach a task. For instance, you can use the Tkinter module, Flask framework, or PySimpleGUI module to build a to-do application using Python.

In contrast, a software engineer would follow a more structured process that adheres to engineering principles.

Software Engineer

These engineers have a broader scope of work than software developers. They manage the entire product life cycle and ensure the system’s usability and stability. As such, it ensures that all components, computers, networks, and servers work together seamlessly.

To work in this role, you’ll need a solid knowledge of system operation and the implications of how problems in one area impact another. You’ll also need a breakdown of high-level and low-level system design differences to understand the planning process better. Software engineers may also work more closely with hardware engineers to integrate software and hardware components.

Finally, they work alongside professionals in tech teams, such as designers, cybersecurity experts, and quality assurance experts. This ensures the smooth integration of guidelines and techniques from these team members into the software to guarantee the user’s satisfaction.

4. Salary and Career Prospects

A person stacking coins on top of a table

As the world embraces digitalization, it’s no secret that both careers are in high demand and have a promising career outlook. According to ZipRecruiter, software developers earn around $105,047 a year. On the other hand, software engineers earn about $139,952 annually in the US, also stated by ZipRecruiter.

However, these numbers can vary depending on experience, location, skill set, and employer. Still, software developers and engineers are on an upward trajectory. In the US, both careers fall under a wide category of computer developer professions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Furthermore, the Bureau of Labour Statistics projects a minimum job growth of 15%—25% for software developers—between 2021 and 2031 in the industry, potentially adding over 350,000 jobs. This growth rate is significantly faster than the average for all occupations.

But on a general scale, software engineers usually earn more than software developers due to their extensive workload and greater responsibilities.

5. Work Environment

Group of people using laptop computers

The work environment may be the middle ground between both professions. However, many factors determine what it looks like and how conducive it will be for you.

Software Developer

The work environment for software developers can differ based on the organization’s type, size, location, and the projects they work on. Most employers offer flexible or remote work options based on project needs and company policies.

Also, meeting deadlines, fixing bugs, and responding to user feedback usually translate into long work hours or overtime.

Software Engineer

A software engineer’s work environment resembles a developer’s, as both roles involve creating, analyzing, and maintaining software systems. Thus, software engineers typically are involved with software planning and designing, creation, maintenance, and all associated tasks.

As a professional in this field, you can expect to work longer hours and take on greater responsibilities than a software developer. It is also more common for individuals in this role to work as full-time employees rather than freelancers. Working remotely is typical for this career, but you may have more meetings than a developer.

Choose the Right Software Career for You

While software engineering and development appear similar on the surface, a closer look reveals distinct requirements and responsibilities. Carefully study each job role, description, and how you can become either, then choose the career that best resonates with you.