The difference between software development and software engineering

engineer vs developer

Let’s talk about one of those things that even tech geeks get confused about. Is there any difference between a software developer and a software engineer? In most cases, these are used interchangeably — everywhere, from tech articles to job descriptions. So even the companies that intend to hire a specialist are not sure whether they are hiring a developer or an engineer. The confusion is primarily caused by the fact that, in both cases, the person deals with the creation of software. There’s one significant difference, though. In this article, we’ll tell you how to tell a developer from an engineer and why it matters. 

Software engineer vs software developer

software engineer vs software developer

To understand the difference between a programmer/developer and an engineer, you should first get to the roots of a software development process. Although many think development is about coding, the full journey is way more extensive. Here are the basic Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) steps: 

 

  • Planning and analysis: All the data you need to process and collect before creating the scope of work for the project. 
  • Implementation: The coding part. The process of writing a program, based on client requirements and a prepared scope. 
  • Testing: Analyzing the code on the subject of bugs, inconsistencies, and potential risks. 
  • Project documenting: Recording the process of software development — serves as a reference for future deployment and improvements. 
  • Deployment and maintenance: Once the code is approved, the deployment stage — implementing software — starts. Some references for maintenance have to be documented. 

 

If we look at SDLC, it’s very easy to define software programmer vs software engineer, based on the steps they are responsible for. Thus, a software developer is the one who takes up implementation, testing, and deployment, while an engineer can be involved with every activity — but is majorly responsible for planning and analysis. 

Let’s dive a little deeper into the knowledge you need to work as a web developer vs software engineer. 

Software developer role

Execution is the main responsibility of a software developer. So, basically, it’s a person who turns ready-to-use project specifications into code. Here are the main expertise areas you need to master to become a professional developer: 

  • The ability to cooperate closely with both engineers and product teams — including designers, product managers, and analysts. 
  • Impeccable knowledge of specific programming language/languages and frameworks. 
  • Understanding and analyzing project specifications. 
  • Accurately applying specifications in code. 
  • Creative work in terms of applying new development and testing practices. 
  • Testing the newly created software. 
  • Running software product maintenance upon the release. 

Software engineer role

Software engineer can be the person responsible for the tasks of a software developer plus planning of the complete development cycle. In other words, an engineer should be able to not only create a piece of software, but also tell why and how it should be done. If you have a team of developers working on an extensive development project, you’ll most likely need to separate the responsibilities for more efficiency. Here are the core engineering competencies: 

  • The ability to analyze, plan, and oversee complex software development systems. 
  • The basic understanding of software development architecture — with a focus on system design. 
  • Cooperating with a huge number of people and the ability to work with different/specific tech stacks. 
  • Design and development of software. 
  • Knowledge of programming languages/frameworks. 
  • Planning and delegating development tasks to software programmers and designers. 

So, basically, an engineer is the one who plans and leads development projects, while a developer is the one implementing a project. In most cases, the share of responsibilities depends on the type and size of a project — for instance, startups tend to hire an engineer with a good knowledge of simplified development frameworks versus a team of developers. 

As an example, for the US market, we can see the average software developer salary is $70,618 versus $76,746 for an engineer. 

Choosing the right expertise

If you’re just starting a company and have that brilliant “better-than-Apple” idea, focusing on whom to choose — a developer or an engineer — is the last thing that will come to your mind. However, having the right expertise from the very beginning can save you lots of trouble. 

We’ve collected the most important guidelines for hiring a software developer versus a software engineer, which should help you avoid the expertise pitfall. 

How to hire a software engineer for your project

how to hire software engineer

There’s another distinction that you should be aware of — software engineers versus architects. The latter are usually engineers with very advanced technical skills, who plan and accommodate complex software development systems. In most cases, an architect has a computer science degree and extensive development experience. So if you need a person with a good understanding of software architecture, he’s the one. 

The truth be told, experienced engineers and architects are a rare find. If you’re sure you need a big development team, we recommend to focus on the 80:20 ratio — 80% of developers and 20% of highly skilled engineers and/or architects. While engineers can delegate tasks to multiple developers, the ratio will help you drive the project. 

Here are some tips on how to hunt down a great software engineer: 

  • Design and architecture skills go first. A software engineer should have tech expertise, but the knowledge of frameworks and languages is not the priority for this job. Focus on how passionate a person is about designing software lifecycles, rather than implementing software. 
  • Understanding a wide array of development practices. The difference between a project manager and software engineer is that the latter can code — or fix the code — whenever something goes wrong. Ideally, an engineer knows a range of frameworks and methods, from agile development to waterfall, and from object oriented to procedural paradigms. 
  • Expertise tied to a specific area. Don’t expect your software engineer to be a superhero, though. Understanding different practices shouldn’t mean a person is proficient in both web development and mobile app development. These are entirely different directions, which cover different engineering approaches. So it’s better if a person has worked with the projects in the same area before. 
  • If you can, get someone with a degree. There’s lots of debate in terms of whether you should be looking into a person’s education or not. As the practice shows, it’s not always the best indicator of development expertise. Yet, when it comes to software engineering we encourage you to consider computer science degree as a significant perk. The thing is, even though computer science is not specifically focused on software building, it helps understand the key concepts related to programming. It kind of gives an engineer a broad vision of things — so it’s easier to fill the gaps when it comes to actual software engineering. 

In case you’re looking for good computer science study opportunities, check out the guide here. Along with advising you the programs, it will tell you more about the practical value of computer science as a discipline. 

To sum it up, you want a person who can lead your project across all technical processes as well as delegate tasks to developers. Your ideal candidate understands diverse development methods, but is specialized in one specific area — like web development or mobile app development. Computer science degree is preferable. 

How to hire a software developer for your project

how to hire a software developer

If you go on LinkedIn, you’ll see a huge competition among… IT recruiters. Most of the battles relate to hunting down the best software developers. Unlike engineers, developers are easier to replace — so an average recruitment period is much lower. This works both ways, though. While the demand for software developers is not going down, the specialists tend to swap jobs very often. There are some tips we can give you to hire a developer who will stick with you through the entire project: 

  • If possible, focus on rare programming languages. This is, probably. not the advice you have expected. Yet, in the highly competitive world of developers, the most demanded programming language — which is Python — can be too risky to embrace. There are lots of people who are proficient in Python, but most of them are on the constant outlook for better opportunities. So you might want to think about more rare languages or frameworks — like React Native and Rust. You won’t believe how underrated most of them are. 
  • Not by code alone. The common mistake while hiring developers is asking for the links to their Github accounts. For sure, coding skills are the core. Still, especially in startup environments, developers are required to think creatively and find the best ways to write software — in addition to actually writing it. It’s a good idea to ask a developer provide a solution to a real-life tech problem at the interview. This way, you can check whether a person can be an active part of your development team. 
  • Check the portfolio. This can even be a replacement of a tech test. You want to see what types of projects a developer has previously engaged with, what types of frameworks he/she used, and how successful the result was. A person who is passionate about work will definitely have no problem sharing the portfolio with you. 

The main rule with recruiting professional developers is look at the creative mindset, rather than the ability to lead a project. Coding skills are super important, too — but there’s space for exceptions in case a person is passionate about learning. 

Get a dedicated team from an outsource company

The biggest challenge with hiring a professional software engineer and a developer is that most company owners (and even recruiters) can’t tell the difference between the two. The others are trying to save the cost and hire one person for both roles. Unless this person is a genius, you’ll end up with delayed releases, or worse — completely failed projects. 

Therefore, we recommend to partner with a professional outsourcing company that will bring the right people into your project. MWDN is one of such. Due to its extensive expertise with both web development and mobile app development, the company can align projects and processes like no other. Through a single agreement, you’ll get software engineering and development specialists catering for your work. 

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