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 man works on a laptop computer in an office.

Pursuing a software engineer or developer career 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 organisation—software development is a subset of software engineering. 

Understanding each role in the workplace 

Software engineers tend to be more collaborative in the workplace, while software developers may work in a more independent environment. Either of these careers may take place in an office workplace or remotely. People in these roles may work as company employees or independent contractors. 

A software engineer may work with many team members, 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. A lot of a developer's work involves working with applications or operating systems more than other people. 

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 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 optimise for learning and experiences. Once I feel more sure about the work I'm interested in and my strengths, I'll double down on that.”


Discover the skill set differences

You find numerous crossovers when looking at the skill sets of software developers compared to software engineers since both jobs involve creating and developing systems and applications. Software developers and 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. 

Learn the skills of a software developer 

  • 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 

Learn the skills of a software engineer 

  • 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 

Explore the differences in career paths

The main difference in career paths for software engineers compared to software developers is that software developers tend to have more flexibility and variety. Software developers can work remotely or freelance more easily than software engineers. Career paths for software engineers could result in overseeing a team of people within a company and requiring more teamwork than software development positions. 

Developers who don’t want to manage others may stay in this role and pursue a specific type of development like 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 likely be as a development team lead or software development manager, director, vice president, or chief technology officer. 

Opportunities for software engineers

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 organisation's research and development (R&D) and oversee an entire organisation’s technological needs.


The job outlook for each field

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. 

McKinsey Digital reports India is “one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing bases of digital consumers and is digitising faster than many mature and emerging economies” [1]. The report notes that as of September 2018,  India had 560 million internet subscribers, and users downloaded 12.3 billion apps. Indians spent an average of 17 hours per week on social media  [1].

The salary range for each field 

The average annual base salary for software developers in India is ₹6,03,393 [2].  

The median annual base salary for software engineers in India is ₹6,94,911 [3].

Location, industry, and company can all play a role in salary. For example, a software engineer in Bangalore earns an average annual salary of ₹8,72,981 [4], while in Mangalore, the average yearly wage for a software engineer is ₹4,25,000 [5].

Pursuing certification or degrees

An associate degree in industrial IT or computer science can provide access to some entry-level jobs. Still, a bachelor's degree is often the standard minimum education requirement for software engineers. A master’s degree allows you to pursue research, management, and information security careers.

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 that you know enough about the software to work with it. 

Common certifications offered to software engineers and software developers are: 

  • Oracle 

  • Microsoft 

  • IBM 

  • Cloud computing 

  • Cyber security 

How Coursera can help 

On Coursera, you’ll find certifications, Specialisations, 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, leading to greater job satisfaction as you grow into a highly sought-after professional. On Coursera, you can find these popular Professional Certificates and Specialisations: Data Structures and Algorithms Specialisation, Python for Everybody Specialisation, and Google IT Automation with Python Professional Certificate

Article sources


McKinsey Digital. “Digital India: Technology to transform a connected nation,” Accessed March 28, 2024.

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