Software engineer vs. developer: a career comparison guide

Updated 11 May 2023

When making a career choice, there are many different options to choose from. For those interested in working with computers, two of the most popular choices are software engineering and software development. Before deciding on one or the other, job seekers often ask what the differences between these two careers are. In this article, we compare software engineer vs. developer, including how the careers differ, what they entail, salary information and why job seekers interested in these two careers may pick one over the other.

Software engineer vs. developer

Understanding the differences between a software engineer vs. developer is important for those with a background in programming, or a degree in a computer-related discipline, to consider when thinking about their careers. The similarities between the two can make this difficult to decide, but some distinct differences help some jobseekers to differentiate the two. These include:

How are they similar?

Software engineering and software development are two areas that share a lot of similarities. Both roles typically require working with software code and both positions usually involve developing and testing software applications. Additionally, both jobs may require their employees to work with customers or clients to understand their needs and develop an appropriate software solution. Finally, both roles typically offer opportunities for career growth and advancement. For example, both can become specialists, which comes with higher pay. In some cases, software engineers and software developers can work together.

How do they differ?

Software engineering and software development involve creating software, but there are some key differences between them. For example, software engineering focuses on the structure and design of software, while software development is responsible for creating products from these designs. To support this, software engineers typically have a stronger technical background while software developers are more likely to have experience in specific programming languages. This means their responsibilities differ. Software engineers are more involved in the early stages of a project, while software developers are more likely to work in later stages, ensuring that the software works.

What is a software engineer?

A software engineer is a professional who applies the principles of engineering to the design, development, maintenance, testing and evaluation of computer software and systems. This means that they're responsible for the creation and upkeep of several kinds of software, from the applications on our phones to the large systems keeping businesses running. Software engineering is a relatively new field, only becoming a distinct profession in the mid-20th century. It has since grown rapidly, with demand for qualified software engineers outpacing supply in many parts of the world as technology continues to become increasingly integral.

What does a software engineer do?

Before choosing a career as a software engineer, some job seekers find it useful to learn more about the responsibilities that characterise their days. This is because they can measure their skills up against certain responsibilities before they decide whether this is the right job for them. For example, a software engineer generally does the following:

Creates software

One of the most important aspects of software engineering is working in a team with other software engineers, project managers and clients so that all three can create a piece of software. This involves discussing the task, dividing up the work and coordinating the work so that it's all completed on time. Within this, a software engineer may be specifically responsible for coding the software.

Tests software

Testing software is a critical step in the software development process. A software engineer usually tests the software to ensure that it meets the requirements in the requirements document. Here they examine the document and compare it against the final product to check for any defects. If there are any, an engineer fixes them. Often this requires communication with other team members, especially for trickier problems.

Maintains software

Maintaining software is an important part of software engineering, though it can be difficult to do properly. Employers often test a job seeker looking for a career in software engineering on their understanding of how the software works and how to maintain it effectively. This means that they need experience troubleshooting errors and finding solutions. One common technique for maintaining software is version control. This keeps track of different versions of their code.

How much does a software engineer earn?

The national average salary of a software engineer is £45,964 per year. This average is prone to fluctuation depending on the city that the software engineer is working within. For example, the highest paying locations include:

  • London: £62,224 per year

  • Reading: £50,278 per year

  • Cambridge: £49,244 per year

  • Manchester: £48,213 per year

  • Leeds: £46,519 per year

What is a software developer?

A software developer is someone who designs and creates computer programs. Developers can work in a variety of different industries, including information technology, engineering and scientific research. The scope of their job means that they can work in traditional office settings, though some may telecommute or decide to work remotely. In most cases, developers work in teams with other developers and programmers to create new software applications. Within such teams, they're generally responsible for the design, testing and software relevant to a new computer program. This makes them essential to the software development process.

What does a software developer do?

When deciding between a career as a software engineer or one as a software developer, it's useful to weigh up the daily responsibilities associated with each. With this information, you can see which day best suits your skill set. For example, a software developer is generally responsible for the following:

Code development

To create code, software developers often use various tools and programming languages. For this, it's essential that they're able to understand complex problems and find efficient solutions. This is important because the code they write directly affects how a software product works, so it has to be accurate. To aid this, they usually spend much of their time communicating with other team members.

Code reviews

A software developer is responsible for coding and reviewing code. To do this, they often work in teams with other developers to ensure that their code is both efficient and meets the requirements of the project. They also work with system administrators and end-users to troubleshoot any issues that they may experience. During this stage, a software developer may also be necessary to present their work or participate in design reviews.

Communication with stakeholders

The main responsibility of a software developer is to develop and create software applications. To do this, they regularly communicate with stakeholders. This is important as such dialogue helps the developers to understand their needs and requirements for certain jobs. A developer's responsibilities also include working with other members of a development team and customers or clients. Other responsibilities may include troubleshooting and debugging software.

Related: What is a software developer CV? (With template and example)

How much does a software developer earn?

The national average salary for a software developer is £37,542 per year. This also varies according to the city that they operate in. For example, the five highest paying cities for a software developer include:

  • Cambridge: £84,787 per year

  • London: £75,885 per year

  • Milton Keynes: £43,083 per year

  • Manchester: £41,132 per year

  • Leeds: £29,166 per year

Why become a software engineer rather than a software developer?

Software engineering generally offers a higher salary than software development. This is because software engineering is typically more focused on the technical aspects of developing software, while software development is more focused on the creative aspects. Another reason for this is that software engineering generally requires a more advanced degree than software development due to its complexity. If you prefer more challenging jobs that offer higher pay, you could consider software engineering.

Why become a software developer rather than a software engineer?

Software developers typically have more freedom to experiment and be creative in their work, which is an important factor for those who like to express themselves via their work. Developers can often design and build new features or products from conceptualisation onwards, while engineers tend to be more focused on maintaining existing systems. Another reason many use to become a software developer is that this profession has more involvement with the latest technology trends.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.


  • How to become a software developer in 5 steps (plus tips)


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