Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: What Are the Differences in These Roles

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

How do software developer duties differ from those of software engineers? Explore which career path is best suited for your interests and learn how to get started.

[Featured Image] A software developer works on a laptop computer in an office.

Pursuing a career as a software engineer or software developer can be exciting and rewarding. While the jobs are similar, the skills and interests that make them a good fit for the roles differ significantly.

Software developers design specific computer systems and application software. Software engineers work on a larger scale to design, develop, and test entire computer systems and application software for a company or organization. Software development is a subset of software engineering. 

Software developer vs. software engineer: What's the difference?

Software engineers tend to work more collaboratively, while software developers often work more independently. Both careers may involve working in an office or remotely. People in these roles may be company employees or independent contractors. 

A software engineer may work with many different people on a team, including other engineers and developers. Individuals in this role may also work with users to determine software needs. 

Software developers work with other developers and programmers on a limited basis. Much of a developer's daily activity involves working with applications or operating systems more than others.

Both roles are critical to a company’s infrastructure, and their work affects the performance of software systems, applications, and network systems.

Insight from an engineer

As you continue to grow in your field, your interests may shift over time. "Managing projects and driving product direction is what I find to be most engaging now, but that was definitely different from early on in my career where I really liked just heads-down grinding on code," says Julie Luo, a software engineer at Meta with four years of experience.

Luo recommends exploring various areas of the field early in your career to learn more about your work preferences before settling into a specific line of work. "I aim to shift to different projects or teams when I feel myself stagnating," she adds. "My goal this early on in my career is to really optimize for learning and experiences. Once I feel more sure about the work I'm interested in and what my strengths are, I'll double down on that."


Skill sets

There’s a lot of crossover between the skill sets of software developers and software engineers since both jobs involve creating and developing systems and applications. 

Software developers and software engineers should be analytical, strong problem solvers, able to troubleshoot, and good communicators. However, some differences are important to note if you’re trying to decide which career path is best for you. 

Software developer skills

  • Proficiency in popular programming languages like Python, Java, C++, and Scala

  • Ability to write and test code

  • Creativity 

  • Ability to look at the big picture and small steps along the way 

  • Presentation skills

  • Familiarity with cross-browser compatibility

  • Proficient in developing responsive web designs

  • Ability to work on front-end application development 

  • Knowledge of algorithms and data structures 

  • Time-management skills 

Software engineer skills

  • Extensive knowledge of a wide range of programming languages 

  • Proficient in software development and computer operating systems 

  • Proficient in advanced mathematics 

  • Ability to apply engineering principles to software creation 

  • Leadership skills 

  • Ability to debug software and systems

  • Ability to create scalable domain-specific pipelines and languages

  • Ability to create the tools needed to develop software

  • Project management skills 

Career paths

The main difference between the career paths of software engineers and software developers is that software developers tend to have more flexibility and variety. They may also be able to work remotely or in a freelance position more easily than software engineers. 

A software engineer’s career path could lead them to oversee a team of people within a company and require more teamwork than software development positions. 

Software developers can choose a few less linear career trajectories than engineers. Developers who want to work in a managerial position may become junior developers before becoming senior software developers. 

Developers who don’t want to manage others may stay in this role and pursue a specific type of development, such as front-end, back-end, full-stack, or mobile development. 

If you’re interested in management positions, you can pursue a career as a lead developer, technical architect, or information technology (IT) systems architect who creates, maintains, and implements IT systems for a business. If following this path, the next step could be as a development team lead or software development manager. Later, you could also reach director, vice president, or chief technology officer. 

Opportunities for software engineers—what and when

Up to three years—software engineers just entering the profession might spend up to three years building, launching, and debugging systems or applications as entry-level software engineers. 

Three to five years—the next step is senior software engineer, where you might branch out into overseeing other engineers. 

Six to nine years—from here, you may want to move into a tech lead position, which requires between six and nine years of experience. This is a managerial role, so you’ll likely have a team of people to manage. 

13+ years—at this point, as an engineering manager or VP of engineering you may have ownership over processes or products. Individuals in these roles usually have upwards of 13+ years of experience in the industry. They can potentially have the opportunity to become a chief technology officer (CTO)—the highest technology executive position in a company. These individuals are in charge of an organization's research and development (R&D) and oversee an entire organization’s technological needs.


Job outlook

The Government of Canada Job Bank places software designers and software engineers in the same category when assessing the job outlook for each field. 

According to Canada Job Bank [1], job growth for software developers and engineers is “Good” to “Very Good” through 2025 in most provinces and territories. 

The future looks promising for these career paths as demand builds for software developers' and engineers' skills and knowledge. As technology advances and the need for innovative software grows, so does the need for people who can design, create, build, and implement computer systems and applications software. 

Salary range

The average annual base salary for software developers working in Canada is $80,564, but it can range from $63,000 to $91,000, depending on many variables [2]. 

The average annual base salary for software engineers working in Canada is $99,477. Depending on variables, the yearly salary can fall between $71,000 and $110,000 [3]. 

Location, industry, and company can all affect salary. For example, software developers in Ontario have an average salary of $106,000 [4], while developers in Quebec have an average salary of $94,500 [5]. Experience level is another important factor in salary. 

Certifications and degrees

According to a 2017 Brookfield Institute study, 95 percent of professional developers in Canada had a college or university education [6]. Over 50 percent earned a bachelor’s degree, and approximately 15 percent had a master’s degree. 

A college certificate in information technology (IT) or computer science can provide access to some entry-level jobs. However, software engineers typically need at least a bachelor's degree. A master’s degree allows you to pursue careers in research, management, and information security.

For software developers, most employers may require a degree in software development or other areas, such as computer science, computer programming, and related disciplines. As with software engineering, a master’s degree in software development might improve your chances of pursuing management positions. 

Pursuing certifications effectively allows working professionals to expand their knowledge base. Many software development and engineering careers require certifications before working on certain software projects. These certifications verify you know enough about the software to work with it. 

Common certifications skills offered to software engineers and software developers are: 

  • Oracle 

  • Microsoft 

  • IBM 

  • Cloud computing 

  • Cyber security 

Also, remember that all provinces regulate software engineers and require them to receive certification from a regulatory authority before they can start working. 

How Coursera can help 

On Coursera, you’ll find certifications, specializations, and guided projects specifically designed for software developers and engineers seeking to further their knowledge and advance their careers. 

Certifications can build your reputation within your field, possibly leading to greater job satisfaction as you grow into a highly sought-after professional. Look for these popular certifications and specializations: Data Structures and Algorithms Specialization, Python for Everybody Specialization, and Google IT Automation with Python Professional Certificate

Article sources


Job Bank. “Job Prospects Computer Software Engineer in Canada,” Accessed May 22, 2024.

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