Software Developers vs. Software Engineers. What are Their Differences, and How They Work Towards the Same Goal

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When people gather together to build complex software, some roles and responsibilities may be unclear at first sight. For an untrained eye, tricky naming is one of the main reasons. For example, it may be unclear whether or not a web designer must take care of UX design. After all, both terms have "design" in them and are related to web development. Terms that are used interchangeably don't make the situation more transparent.

"Software developer" and "software engineer" are good examples of how two concepts can merge to the degree of indistinguishability. These two jobs require the use of overlapping skills, and working conditions have a lot in common. However, there are some essential differences between them worthy of mentioning.

Focusing on the Big Picture. Software Engineer’s Responsibilities

In general, when we speak of software engineers, these specialists are more collaborative regarding the work on the project. This discipline involves software design, development, testing, and maintenance. Software engineers must have various computer science, engineering, mathematics, and project management skills.

One of the primary goals to pursue here is to ensure that the final product is high-quality and fully corresponds to the customer's needs. Therefore, software engineers are responsible for designing and implementing software architecture, developing algorithms, and ensuring that the software passes all testing phases and meets quality standards.

Additionally, software engineers are involved in the planning and managing of software projects. They communicate with project managers to identify requirements, define project scope, and develop plans. They are responsible for estimating overall costs and timelines and ensuring they are delivered on time and within budget.

It's not so easy to outline a specific set of skills an average software engineer should have since it largely depends on the features of a given project. However, we can easily name some of them without which it's barely possible to call yourself a software engineer:

  • Coding and testing are what unite software engineers with developers. The ability to write and debug code determines how well a specialist understands what happens under the application surface;
  • Understanding user needs. Since software engineers take care of the entire system, they must not only understand which feature must be implemented but also how it’ll affect the bigger picture and address users’ requirements;
  • Project management skills are essential to smoothen the path from the initial idea to the final product;
  • Object-Oriented Design provides a structured and modular approach to designing systems and helps software engineers to build solutions that are scalable, maintainable, and easy to understand;
  • Collaborative skills are often underestimated in tech companies. However, soft skills must be addressed since software engineers' list of people to interact with during the project is pretty long.

Read also The Importance of Soft Skills for Software Development Team Members

Making the Gears Turn. Software Developers and Their Major Duties

Whereas software engineers outline the overall system architecture, software developers focus more on implementing different parts of it. Major tasks for a software developer include coding, testing, and maintaining software.

Such specifics result in a more narrow and specialized skill set than software engineers. The most potent tools that developers operate are, of course, programming languages, libraries, and frameworks. Having these tools in their possession, plus some testing scripts, developers write code to ensure it meets project requirements and adheres to coding standards.

Software developers work closely with software engineers to implement software architecture and algorithms. After the product is launched, the software developer's work isn't finished. Even the most profound testing performed by a top-class QA team can't save you from countless bugs that users will find after the launch. Software developers, in this scenario, are maintaining software products. They will fix bugs and implement updates to ensure that software products remain functional and up-to-date.

Let’s discuss some skills a decent software developer must have:

  • Programming languages. The bad news, there are tons of them. The good news is that software developers can focus only on a couple of them, depending on what they want to build. For example, JavaScript can cover all the requirements for building the client-side part of the app. Node.js development, in its turn, unlocks the possibility of using the same language for the back-end part as well;
  • Dev tools. It's not enough just to write the code. Testing and debugging it and keeping the codebase up to date are also essential software developers' responsibilities. Chrome DevTools, Augury, WebStorm, or GitHub are only the tip of the iceberg representing tools for building, debugging, testing, and tracing apps;
  • Following the current trends. Continuous learning is essential considering the pace of web dev tools' evolution and the speed with which new ones appear on the horizon. Mastering new technologies and testing them in practice is essential, even if it goes beyond the requirements of current projects. Programmers can always become a part of a dedicated development team to enlarge the customer's team and discover challenges beyond their casual day-to-day duties.

What Types of Software Developers Are Out There?

There's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to software development and testing. Different systems have unique purposes, run on different hardware, and have different technologies under the hood. All these variations have given rise to different types of developers, some of which we will discuss in this chapter.

Front-end developers specialize in creating the user interface of web applications. They use HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and TypeScript to create visually appealing and responsive web apps. They work closely with designers to ensure the web-based software is user-friendly and intuitive. Front-end developers must be familiar with modern frameworks like React, Webix, or Vue.js.

Back-end developers write the code that runs on servers. They’re responsible for creating and maintaining the application's server-side logic, database integration, and APIs. They work with programming languages and technologies such as Python, Ruby, Java, PHP, .NET, Golang, and Node.js. Back-end developers must be familiar with database management systems such as MySQL, MongoDB, and PostgreSQL.

Full-stack developers can take care of both front-end and back-end. They have a broad range of skills and can work on all aspects of web applications. These specialists are familiar with front-end frameworks such as React and Angular, as well as back-end technologies such as Node.js and Ruby on Rails. Full-stack developers have a good understanding of software architecture, database design, and server infrastructure.

Read Also Front-End vs. Back-End vs. Full-Stack Developers: Who Do You Need for Your Project?

Middle-tier developers build the middleware of a software system. They work with software components that provide services to a web application's front-end and back-end. They need to be familiar with technologies such as web servers, message queues, and caching systems.

Mobile developers specialize in creating and testing applications for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. They work with mobile development technologies like React Native, Xamarin, and Ionic. Mobile developers rely on such programming languages as Java, Kotlin, Swift, and Objective-C. Mobile developers need to have a good understanding of mobile user interface design and development and mobile device compatibility.

Cloud developers create and deploy applications on cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. They need to know cloud computing concepts such as virtualization, scalability, and high availability. Cloud developers must understand software architecture, serverless computing, and cloud security.

DevOps developers specialize in the intersection between development and operations. They work to automate the deployment and management of software applications. DevOps specialists need to be familiar with continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) tools such as Jenkins, GitLab, and Travis CI and understand software testing principles.

AI developers create and deploy artificial intelligence and machine learning applications. They work with programming languages such as Python, R, and Java. AI engineers also utilize machine learning algorithms, natural language processing, and computer vision. They work with AI frameworks such as TensorFlow, Keras, and PyTorch.


The software takes many forms, and specialists involved in building it can take on many different roles. Everything, from our smartwatches to data centers making ChatGPT up and running, relies on the software created by dozens of people. Sometimes, drawing a line between their areas of responsibility following job titles is difficult. In these cases, a closer look at what everybody does may clarify more than dry words.