Differences Between Programmer, Software Developer, and Software Engineer Roles

In software development outside of corporate coding the terms programming, software developer, and software engineering are sometimes used simultaneously. This universal idea, however, is wrong. While they may belong to the same niche of work and have several other similarities, they are entirely different and independent professions.

The reason why some people think these professions are the same is that there is no textbook difference. People involved in all three of these professions write software to earn money. They have similar skills in algorithms and IT and go through syllabi that generally look alike. The skills and requirements of these professions are quite similar and so are their salaries.

Both software engineering and software developers have a good reputation in the IT market and so does a programmer. Software engineering jobs in the US have witnessed a massive increase in the last few years. Similarly, the employment rate of software developers has also been promising since 2016. Job opportunities for this profession have been growing much faster than all other occupations. Plus, neither of the two has more downsides than the other.

However, despite these similarities, these professions are individual bodies in the software industry. Their differences may not be as noticeable, but they lie in several different aspects of their jobs.

Let us look at these aspects and discuss them in detail.

Programmer, Software Developer and Software Engineer definitions

The first significant difference lies in the definitions of programming, software engineering, and software development. The primary concepts behind these professions are unique and have their separate focal points.

A programmer creates or develops computer software and applications by entering instructions into the computer. He may or may not specialize in more than one field of computing expertise lie in the structured query language, extensible markup language, HTML, C, C++, Java, etc.

A software engineer applies scientific and quantitative approaches to the operation as well as maintenance of software. Basically, it involves the combination of engineering and software.

On the other hand, a software developer writes codes similar to coders and programmers. These professionals also have the skills and opportunities to work in a variety of environments in terms of work type. All these tasks are included, however, in the process of software development. They have expertise in systems as well as coding languages to create a merge and fulfill requirements.

Job type

Programmers can work as freelancers and have the opportunity to work with smaller businesses and platforms. They create web pages for these clients and pick up tasks where the work is pretty much scoped.

The job function of a software engineer involves the application of engineering principles to create software. Their job is to formulate and develop technologically advanced solutions to help their clients. These clients are mostly international and high-end companies working on a larger scale. Thus, a software engineer’s job revolves around maintaining quality, reliability, and safety.

The solutions proposed by these engineers are supposed to be backed up and proven by substantial evidence, along with being practical and realistic. Other tasks in their niche involve consultancy and management of developmental tasks. They must make sure that the entire process is cohesive, coordinated, and thoroughly planned.

In contrast, a software developer’s job is to take solutions and convert them into reality. They focus on the developmental part of this solution. These professionals can work in medium to large scale companies and localized applications. Their work is medium in terms of complexity but they can convert to being a software engineer after 2 to 5 years of experience and a good work record. The bright side of their job is that they do not have to provide any evidence to prove the efficiency of their work. Their only job is to work on pre-made solutions. This way, they have more leniency and freedom in terms of developing the said product.

Thus, the principal responsibility of the entire project lies on the shoulders of a software engineer. He is the one who sees the bigger picture and is responsible for the proposals, development, and implementation.


Even though the central concept and niche of work remain the same throughout their school, some small details here and there make a significant impact on the individuality of these professions.

Programmers have ease in these particular criteria. They can do very well in self-education and courses to develop enough knowledge and skill. A small portfolio and some genuine certificates can do great for a good startup.

However, software engineers have a tough time since they have more qualification requirements. Because of their many job responsibilities, their education is lengthier and more robust. So, it is necessary to train and educate them enough to handle that amount of work and responsibility.

One must have a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in being an eligible software engineer. These subjects include software engineering, mathematics, computer science, or other related fields.

An engineering degree is a must for these professionals.

On the other hand, a software developer has several options when it comes to a degree. The most popular ones include computer science, software programming development, software engineering, electronics, mathematics, or physics.

You can opt for a development degree course at a bachelor’s or associate’s level. Their educational background involves theoretical as well as mathematical classes of professional level.

Skills and Qualities

Because of their different educational backgrounds and job functions, programming, software engineering, and software development have different requirements when it comes to skills and qualities.

To become a programmer, the basic skill sets that you need include mathematical, communication, and writing skills. Others include:

  • Confidence and experience with the computer.
  • Being resourceful.
  • The ability and willingness to learn new concepts.
  • The skill of applying knowledge to practical problems.
  • A passionate drive towards computers and problem-solving.
  • An inquisitive mindset
  • Ability to take directions

Employees and clients sift through software engineers looking for a passion for solving problems and enough knowledge to provide solutions. They must also know a great deal about algorithms as well as data structures. Basic education is a must. Having strong skills in terms of analysis and reasoning are also necessary to be eligible for good jobs. Apart from this, other skills and qualities are the following:

  • Be able to work on very large scale applications with millions of users with little downtime
  • They should have the ability to navigate through processes and predict outcomes.
  • They should know how to debug and troubleshoot software issues with large distributed applications
  • The professional should have excellent communication skills.
  • Have fast and useful skills in terms of problem-solving.
  • They must have enough knowledge about multiple programming languages and core software development principles to be able to learn new languages quickly
  • They should know how to take advantage of multi-core CPUs to parallelize resource intensive algorithms
  • They should be diligent to find ways to simplify and optimize complicated pieces of code
  • Able to advise managers on estimates and project status

For a software developer, however, things are a bit different. Their primary focus is on communication and efficiency over provided work-tasks. They should have a good knowledge of computer systems, and their interest should lie in the latest technologies. This curiosity is essential to keep the motivation healthy. Other example skills for a software developer can be the following:

  • They should have familiarity in either desktop, web application, or mobile development at a small to medium scale
  • A software developer should have the ability to write clean code that is easy to maintain.
  • Have good skills in creating software with being provided the design where the business requirements are defined
  • Be able to ask good follow up questions and be responsible for delegating smaller tasks to programmers or designers

Individual Responsibilities and Duties

The difference in job functions and requirements leads to different duties of a programmer, a software engineer, and software developer.

A programmer’s responsibilities revolve around coding, debugging, designing, and testing computer structures. Their job is to edit source codes and maintain operating systems for maximum usability. Apart from this, they manage database systems, write computer instructions, and troubleshoot system errors. Profiling as well as analyzing algorithms is also a part of their job.

A software engineer is supposed to identify the problems and repetitive patterns of issues. By doing this, they are to enhance the quality of a system and make processes more efficient.

  • They must work on the existing applications and improve them by fixing whatever needs to be fixed and identifying areas to optimize.
  • They are also supposed to make further recommendations and give suggestions to avoid future problems.
  • Apart from this, they are to provide continuous maintenance as well as support for software development tasks.
  • They collaborate with colleagues and work as a team to implement efficient and advanced technical plans.
  • Software engineers are expected to investigate and replace technology when it is cost effective and produces greater long term value
  • Provide knowledge transfer material in written form.

Let’s move on to the duties of a software developer.

  • They are supposed to work with other developers, analysts, and UX designers to maintain the quality of work and develop better solutions to problems.
  • A part of their job is to work on the operational feasibility and produce high-quality, authentic versions of what was merely an idea.
  • They must identify parts of the program that need modification and then develop them to improve the quality.
  • Afterward, we should test as well as evaluate the new programs to see if they are up to the mark.
  • However, the primary task remains researching, designing, and implementing a software program. They also have to maintain and manage it.


Although the general range remains similar, there is a slight difference in what is expected to come. Analysts are making speculations that software engineering will lead in terms of salaries and job opportunities in the next few years. The reason behind this is that their knowledge and skills are more significant in terms of usefulness.

In terms of their current salaries in the US, a software engineer can earn about 83,681 dollars. On the other hand, a software developer makes as much as 70,000 dollars per year. A successful programmer can earn up to 63,000$. As you can see, the difference is not significant, but it is still noticeable.

However, the pay scale also depends on the experience of the professional. For an experience of 1 to 4 years, software engineers earn an average of $80,000. For the same amount of experience, a software developer receives $67,000.

As the experience increases from 5 to 9 years, this ratio becomes $91,000 to $80,000.

No matter what, the pay rate remains slightly higher for software engineers when compared to software developers and programmers.

Another essential point to consider here is that this pay scale also depends on where you live and the client you work for. For example, the average salary of a software engineer at Facebook is about $162,000 a year, while that of a software developer is $151,000. Similarly, at Google, programmers get paid an average of $84, 000, while a software engineer working for the same company makes $131, 000.

While these average amounts and calculations are relevant in the US, they may be slightly higher or lower in other parts of the world.

Hence, we have successfully established that the three professions are quite different. If you are still wondering about which is better, consider your own interests and feasibility. Each has its separate difficulty levels and requirements, but each has its distinct perks as well. The whole point of mentioning these similarities and differences was to help you become well-informed.

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