Software Development vs. Software Engineering: Career Path Guide

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software developers and engineers working on a team

Are you considering a career path in creating software applications but aren’t sure if you should pursue software development or software engineering? While both career paths have strong demand and growth projections, there are differences between the two roles.

We’ll explain the differences between these two career paths to help you decide which is a better fit for you.

Differences Between Software Development vs. Software Engineering

While both career paths create and develop applications and software systems, there are some differences in skill sets:

Software Development Skills

A software developer is:

  • Proficient in programming languages such as Python, Java, C++, and Scala
  • Writes and tests code
  • Very Creative
  • Can identify steps to achieve the bigger picture
  • Proficient with cross-browser compatibility
  • Designs responsive web and applications
  • Understands data structures and algorithms

Software Engineering Skills

A software engineer generally has more skills like:

  • Proficient in an extensive range of programming languages
  • Designs and develops software across computer operating systems
  • Understands advanced mathematics
  • Applies engineering principles to software development
  • Debugs software and systems
  • Creates scalable domain-specific languages and pipelines
  • Builds tools to develop software
  • Leadership skills

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Necessary Degrees or Certifications

73% of software engineers and developers had a bachelor’s degree in a respected field. Of these engineers and developers, 20% had a master’s degree. Professionals who want to pursue management positions should consider a master’s degree to be more competitive.

Both engineers and developers are encouraged to be certified in specific languages and systems. If you need to certify in specific web programming or data science languages or systems, we offer a six-month boot camp to certify your proficiency.

Can You Be a Software Engineer with a Software Development Degree?

Generally, you need a bachelor’s or master’s degree in software engineering because their focus is different than a developer, where engineers apply more analysis and engineering principles to their software development.

Software developers with extensive, relevant experience or certifications may be able to transition to software engineers. But this depends on the enterprise and the individual.

Career Path of a Software Engineer

This is a typical career path of a software engineer:

  • Entry-level (0-3 years experience): Builds, debugs, and launches new applications or systems as part of a team.
  • Senior Engineer (3-5 years experience): May have a few direct reports while building and launching new projects.
  • Technical Lead or Manager (6-9 years experience): Manages a team of engineers.
  • V.P. of Engineering or CTO (13+ years experience): Leads the department and direction of research and development and technology needs.

Career Path of a Software Developer

This is a typical career path of a software developer:

  • Entry-level (0-3 years experience): Builds, debugs, and launches new applications or systems as part of a team, freelancer, or remote worker.
  • Senior Software Developer (3-5 years experience): May have a few direct reports while building and launching new projects. Could specialize in a specific type of development instead of management.
  • Lead Developer or Technical Architect (6-9 years experience): Creates, implements, and maintains I.T. systems for the enterprise or leads a team of developers.
  • Director, V.P. or CTO (13+ years experience): Leads the department or division, providing direction for research, development, and technology needs.

Who Makes More a Software Engineer or Software Developer?

While there are subtle differences between the positions, software engineers make more money because they generally have a larger skill set than developers. The average software developer makes a salary of $74,210 a year with an earning potential of up to $108,000. Software engineers make an average salary of $89,168 a year with an earning potential of up to $131,000.

The software engineer and developer position should to grow by 22% from 2020 to 2030 because of the increased demand for technology across market sectors. So regardless of which career path you choose, the career will be high paying and in high demand.

Is it Better to Be a Software Engineer or a Software Developer?

That depends on your career goals and work preferences. A software developer may be a better fit if you prefer more flexibility and the opportunity to specialize in a specific language or system. You can freelance or work more on your own in a developer role.

For professionals who are interested in having a deeper skill set with management potential and collaborating with other teams, then a software engineer may be more your style. Engineers tend to make more money, which may be a motivator.

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Related Link: Frequently Asked Questions