Programmer vs. Developer: Job Roles, Differences, Salaries

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn the difference between a computer programmer and a software developer, two technical jobs with different focuses. Explore programmer vs. developer jobs.

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If you're interested in working with computers, you have an array of careers to choose from, including a computer programmer or a software developer. While both involve technical knowledge and work together on similar projects, these positions differ in several ways. In the following article, you can learn more about the skills and responsibilities required for each of these professions, their salaries, and how to gain the skills you need to enter the field.

Programmer vs. developer: What's the difference?

Both software developers and programmers write, test, and debug code. Often, these job titles are used interchangeably. However, there are a few key differences between them. Developers often contribute to the design and planning portions of the software development life cycle (SDLC). They might meet with other departments, users, or stakeholders to discuss business goals and help translate those requirements into technical specifications. Programmers tend to focus on interpreting those plans and writing the code to accomplish the outlined tasks. 

What does a programmer do on a daily basis?

A programmer is a technically skilled individual who takes the developer’s “blueprints” and directs the computer to carry out one or more aspects of them. The instructions the programmer writes in computer language are called “code.” Different computer systems “understand” different languages, so as a programmer, you will want to be proficient in the language(s) necessary for each job. After coding, the programmer carefully tests the code to ensure the computer does what it is expected to do in that particular realm.

As a skilled technician who writes instructions for computers in coding languages, the programmer does not need to decide what the computer will do. Instead, as a programmer, you will figure out how to get the computer to do what is needed. Programming is like translation. It includes testing to ensure the translation is effective: the computer reading the instructions translated into its language does what the instructions ask it to do.

As a programmer, you will unlikely be expected to manage the overall project, as a developer does, although there can be some overlap between the two jobs at times. You will focus primarily on writing and testing the coded computer instructions.

Programmer skills and education

As a computer programmer, you will need strong analytical skills and the capacity to communicate clearly and work effectively in teams. Sixty percent of computer programmers have a bachelor's degree, 22 percent have an associate degree, 10 percent have a master's degree, and 3 percent have a high school diploma [1]. Relevant areas of study include computer science, computer programming, business, and computer information systems

Programmers obtain continuing education to keep up with technological advancements and relevant coding languages. This might involve acquiring certifications specific to tools or technologies in your industry. A programmer with business experience might become a computer systems analyst and possibly earn a promotion to a managerial position.

Read more: How to Become a Computer Programmer

What does a developer do on a daily basis?

A developer has broad conceptual responsibility. As a developer, you will begin by communicating with the user to understand the user’s needs. How can computers help the user accomplish the stated goal or solve the stated problem? This is the question for which you will create a solution. 

In a larger company, a developer might delegate most or all of the computer instruction writing (coding) to one or more computer programmers. In this case, you would primarily act as a project manager. In a smaller company, you might both conceptualize a solution and do quite some coding necessary to get the computer to carry out the solution.

As a developer, you will user your problem-solving skills to steer the computer project throughout the entire development process: learning the user's needs, devising a plan to get the computer to meet those needs, delegating coding tasks within that plan to one or more programmers, and verifying that the entire system works.

Along the way, you might write and test code as a subset of managing the entire computer project, especially in a smaller company, but your primary job will be to guide the project.

Software developer skills and education

As a software developer, you will create applications from conception to completion, meet with users, and direct others. Therefore, you need to have skills that include analytical capabilities, problem-solving aptitude, interpersonal competence, and the capacity to convey instructions well. 

Seventy-two percent of software developers have a bachelor's degree, 20 percent have a master's degree, 5 percent have an associate degree, and 2 percent have a high school diploma [2].

With experience, a software developer might become a computer and information systems analyst with greater responsibility in overseeing the software development process.

Coding languages used in each role

Computer programmers and software developers often work on the same team. The knowledge required for each role differs, with some overlap. Both job titles require a strong background in computer science, excellent coding skills, and critical thinking. 

As a programmer, you will focus entirely on writing computer code. Your knowledge of computer languages will be more extensive than that of a software developer. The developer will take a project that a client requests and let you know what the computer needs to do to get the desired outcome. 

Each language you learn is a tool for a different purpose. An artisan must master a set of tools that suits their purpose: a cabinet maker, for example, will use a different set of tools than a potter. Think about what types of projects interest you. Are you more interested in elements of design, statistical analysis, game and app development, storage and the cloud, the internet of things, or something else?  

Strayer University recommends mastering the following languages to become an adept computer programmer:

  • HTML and CSS

  • Python

  • Java

  • JavaScript

  • Swift

  • C++

  • C#

  • R

  • Golang (Go)

Each of these languages has its advantages. Python is one of the world’s most popular languages, adaptable to numerous settings with solid community support. R supports data analysis.

As a developer, you will oversee the entirety of a project, find creative ways of accomplishing what the user wants, and act as a go-between among users and programmers. Your job will be a broader, more conceptual one than a programmer—although you need competence in some computer languages. 

According to Maryville University, you will want to know four core languages as a software developer: Java, Python, C++, and Scala. The language you use will depend on the type of project you are overseeing. C++ is a popular choice for working with an operating system. Java, Python, and C++ all support app development.

Job outlook for software developers and computer programmers

The job outlook for both programmers and developers is currently quite promising. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in this field are expected to grow by 25 percent between 2022 and 2032. The median salary for these roles is $124,200 per year [3].

Where do programmers and developers work?

Nearly every modern business employs software developers and programmers. You may find work as a computer programmer or developer within an information technology (IT) company, but you are not limited to this field. You can seek work in a wide array of industries, including:

  • Finance: Banks, credit processing, and lending companies hire programmers.

  • Health care: Programmers write and test code for health data processing software.

  • Agriculture: Computer programmers write code to discern the best methods for farming techniques, such as increasing crop yield.

  • Design: Computer programmers can be a vital part of a design team, translating design elements into language the computer can apply.

  • Retail: Companies rely heavily on online sales; computer programmers make these sales websites run efficiently.

  • Gaming: Computer programmers code games so that the designers achieve what they plan and the users have a positive experience. 

Read more: Computer Programmer Salary: Your 2022 Guide

How to start a career in the IT industry

To explore a career in IT, first, get a sense of the landscape. You can find YouTube videos, podcasts, and internet forums to investigate what kinds of IT jobs exist and what might be a good fit for you. 

Next, polish your skills through education and experience. This can involve coursework to gain relevant certification, volunteer work, and personal projects. Consider a course like the Google IT Support Professional Certificate.

Alert your network of friends, family, and colleagues that you’re seeking an IT career. They might have direct links to jobs or connect you with others who do. Remember to publish your skills and interest on job network sites such as LinkedIn. 

Finally, polish your interview skills, and apply for entry-level positions. If you think you can do the job, go ahead and apply, even if your qualifications on paper are not a perfect fit. A potential employer might see your capabilities during an interview that are difficult to capture on paper.

Getting into programming roles

If computer programming is the type of IT job that interests you, first evaluate your current skills and experience. Through the kind of exploration described above, narrow down the specific aspect of programming that interests you. That will empower you to set a goal for a specific type of programming job in a particular industry. Knowing your goal will lead you to discover what kind of education you will need to get there: a certification or an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree. Remain connected with your network, and seek entry-level jobs in your desired area. Plan to continue to update your knowledge and skills throughout your career. 

Getting into developer roles

To be a software developer, begin by learning a programming language. Developers know and use languages such as Java, Python, C++, and Scala.

Next, consider your goals: Does a specific industry appeal to you, such as health care or gaming? You might need background knowledge in that industry to help you get started. 

Evaluate courses, certificates, and degrees relevant to your area of interest. If seeking a bachelor’s degree, you might want to major in computer science or information technology and minor in a subject relevant to the industry that interests you. 

Consider choosing a personal project related to the type of development work you want. Find project opportunities through Coursera’s project network and elsewhere on the internet. 

Stay connected to your network and if they are not hiring software developers, they might know others who are. 

Take the next step in your IT career with Coursera

To take the next step on your journey toward becoming a computer programmer, software developer, or other IT professional, think about taking a course or earning a certificate.

The get started on your journey, consider taking Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python) offered through the University of Michigan. If becoming a developer is your goal, you can earn a certificate from IBM by completing the IBM Full Stack Software Developer Professional Certificate program through Coursera.

Article sources


Zippia. "Education Requirements for Computer Programmers," Accessed August 21, 2023.

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