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Software engineer vs software developer - what is the difference?

There is a notion that these two terms have the the same meaning. First, for a complete outsider, there won’t be much of a difference between the titles. Then, for those who are related to the IT world, the jobs might be similar but not equal. So do you want to figure out what is what?

Someone can say that software engineer is just a software developer with college or university degree. Someone may say that developer is just a less expereinced engineer. Let’s get things under way with a real-world example so both the tech geeks and housekeepers can enjoy reading our post.


According to Wikipedia engineering is the creative application of science, mathematical methods, and empirical evidence to the innovation, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of structures, machines, materials, devices, systems, processes, and organizations. In simple words, its full of inspiration, innovation, and attempts to solve the problem bunch of people struggle with in some absolutely new way using some very basic things.

On the other hand, development is the systematic use of different knowledge to meet specific objectives or requirements in a constantly changing environment. In terms of software development, the meaning of the word "development" means that usage and combination of well-known technics and knowledge to achieve some specific goal.

To make it simpler, let's imagine we decide to build up a custom-tailored chair similar to famous The Swan of Danes but even better. So let’s take a closer look at how each of the roles would approach the task.


Software Developer

Software developer would speak to a non-technical customer who has a bold idea but limited knowledge on how to implement it. This is the reason the customer would be on the look for somebody who, based on his particular vision of an end product and precise requirements, create the chair from ground zero.

This makes a software developer a key team member that knows how to create a custom application in accordance with a customer’s requirements. Since he is responsible for software development and knows nuts and bolts of it, he surely can drop a suggestion here and there to correct the technical part of the process if he thinks the customer’s idea might be better that way. However, he needs to stick to majority requirements set before to comply with the scope of work defined earlier.

Software Engineer

In this case, software engineer is more like an entrepreneur that probably has his own business creating and producing chairs for mass market.
The main alteration in such a scenario is there is no necessity to cater to the needs of just one single client but to target a larger audience of consumers instead.

This is a completely different software development technique that aims at scaling a business taking assumptions about what chair majority of people might be comfortable sitting on. Further, those guesses are refined and tested before the idea translates into hundreds of units built in a factory.
And do you know what? In order to have this job accomplished you’d require a guru whose super power goes further than just coding as per initial plan.

Along with pure custom software development like in the first scenario, industry best practices including software design patterns and principles should come into play. An engineer needs to have not only his eyes on what’s going on right now in the moment but foresee the challenges the future might hold.

If you’re on a mission to tap into lives of millions of fellow-citizens solving real problems, you need to work hard to create an exceptional product that will not only make one customer content but change the perceptions of families and friends and friends of their friends about how a good chair should feel like.

Unlike software developer, an engineer would consult multiple sources and subject matter experts on what materials would be the best to use to make a product not only nice to touch but reliable and durable.
Therefore, the true engineer is the person that designs and develops software that will be sold to not only one person but many.


For the first time, when you hear these positions it seems that software developer and engineer roles are synonyms that you can use interchangeably, but when you dig a bit deeper into specifics, you’ll discover that one is slightly broader term that another one. Can an engineer step into the shoes of a software developer? Yes, he can. Can it be done vice versa though? I doubt, for it requires more knowledge and hands-on experience to deal with the job role and circumstance it imposes.

Finally, a software developer is usually engaged in several projects or he has multiple different tasks and his attention is spread across numerous ideas with priorities changing during the day, on the one hand.

On the other hand, his colleague, a software engineer, ideally has one problem to solve and it’s his one and only focus during the billable hours he spends at work. Moreover, engineering as a term is more about bridging the lab or office space with a reality beyond this ecosystem and current time.

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