Software engineer vs software developer: what is “better”?

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Has many ears, software developer and software engineer may look like interchangeable terms. In some contexts and to a certain extent, they are. But there are also some important differences between these two terms. Depending on your goals and priorities, calling yourself a software engineer or developer (or vice versa) can make a difference.

Here’s why.

Software Engineer vs. Software Developer: A Brief History of Two Terms

To understand how we speak of a software engineer today compared to a software developer, it helps to look at the surprising historical differences between the two terms.

from google Ngram Viewer, which records the frequency of occurrence of the given terms in books published each year (in particular, books indexed by Google), shows that the term software engineer has been in use since the 1960s. Its popularity continued to grow until about the year 2000, when it declined somewhat. (The data here likely reflects the bursting of the dot-com bubble, which presumably reduced the total number of books dealing with programming in any way.)

On the other hand, software developer did not enter service until around 1980, although its popularity rapidly increased by that time. It peaked in the 1990s, then declined rapidly – more than software engineer did – back when the dot-com bubble burst.

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If you look closely enough, you will also see that software engineer is used about three times more often than software developer in books published in recent years today.

This is far from perfect data, of course. It only represents appearances of terms in books indexed by Google, and it does not take into account contexts in which authors might use the term. developer all alone instead of software developer.

Nevertheless, we can draw the high level conclusion that the term software engineer is significantly older – and, overall, probably more popular – than software developer.

For what it’s worth, Google Trends – another very flawed but still useful measure of term popularity – asserts the idea that software engineer is the most popular term. Here is the relative trend of the two terms from 2004 to today:

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Software engineer versus developer today

The above data is anecdotal examples of how people are currently discussing the differences between software engineering and software developer. In many cases, these discussions place the greatest prestige and value on software engineers.

For example, Cogiant writes that software engineers are the “real deal” and “supervisors,” responsible for integrating code written by software developers together.

Software engineer vs developer salary

The fact that software engineers are better paid than software developers is another indicator of a popular belief that software engineering is the most complex and valuable type of coding job.

If you are a coder, then the point to remember here should be clear: you are likely to earn more money and get more interesting work if you present yourself as a software engineer rather than a software developer.

Become a software engineer vs software developer

This lesson may seem fairly straightforward. But things get complicated when you think about what it really takes to become a software engineer, as opposed to a developer.

From a preparation standpoint, both terms or job titles appear to be the same. Most colleges and universities that teach programming give their students degrees in “computer science” (which is another very complicated term, but I digress). Graduates with these degrees can call themselves either software developers or software engineers, as they wish. In other words, it’s not like you need a software engineering degree specifically to be a software engineer.

There is also no obvious difference between the skills you really need to be a software engineer and a developer. A programmer working under the aegis of one or the other title should have a thorough knowledge of programming languages, application architectures, DevOps Concepts etc.

This means that, to a large extent, coders can call themselves whatever they want, regardless of their specific experience or skills. So if you want to be a software engineer because it can improve your career path, start describing yourself as such.

And if you’re already a software developer but want to upgrade to software engineer status, there’s nothing stopping you from doing that either, other than having to explain in a job interview how your experience as a that developer prepares you to be. an engineer. But it shouldn’t be too difficult: if you focus on your experience with software architectures and larger-scale programming tasks, you’ll look like an engineer quite easily.

Software engineer vs software developer: a difference that only matters if you allow it

In short, there is a distinct difference in the popular mind between software development and software engineering. The latter is held in somewhat higher esteem.

But the good news is, when it comes to the actual skills and work associated with each role, there’s arguably not much of a significant difference. If you want to be a software engineer, go ahead and be a software engineer.


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