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Software Engineer or Software Developer: Which Path Should You Choose?

Software developers and engineers have different job responsibilities and required skills. Both are in-demand and high-paying, with salaries influenced by factors such as experience and location. Software development is easier to start, but software engineering involves more technical and non-technical expertise. Individuals should weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each path before choosing one.

Written by
Kai Yuan Neo
Last updated
August 18, 2023
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Software Engineer or Software Developer: Which Path Should You Choose?

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Navigating the World of Programming: Should You Choose Software Engineering or Software Development?

Source: Freepik

Information Technology or IT guys - as they like to call it, is not a single profession as one might think. Two roles in this industry, often considered the same, are software developers and engineers.

Due to their overlapping job responsibilities, “software developer” and “software engineer” are often used interchangeably or reversed despite vastly different functions.

Note: Software programmers and software coders are also used interchangeably, but both differ from software engineers and developers and warrant a separate discussion.

This article will dive deep into everything one needs to know about two high-tech professions, including what it takes to be one.

What is a Software Engineer, and What Do They Do?

A software engineer is a professional who applies engineering principles and concepts to develop, design, test, maintain, integrate and evaluate entire computer systems and application software on a large scale for businesses and organisations.

They can be referred to as an “architect” of a project where they are responsible for the master plan of its entire structure. Software engineers must master SDLC or the Software Development Life Cycle, a methodology or framework that provides an organised flow of software development phases that produces high-quality software as fast and efficiently as possible.


A software engineer job title is a lucrative profession sought by many in this era, with high demand from various industries.

What is a Software Developer, and What Do They Do?

A software developer is a professional responsible for creating system software or application software, like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, that can run on various devices. Their approach is hands-on in their work, where they write code themselves and define parameters, design, encrypt, and test software based on the user’s needs. 

They can be referred to as the “contractor” of a project. Although software developers can be involved in the planning and designing of smaller-scale software, they are typically not involved in planning large enterprise software systems.

A career as a software developer might be an excellent choice that is not only high-paying but comes with its perks, as this article will soon cover along with software engineering.

Software Engineer vs Software Developer

Software Engineers vs Software Developers: How Are They Different?

Despite being in similar working environments, what differentiates software engineers and software developers are the requirements to be one, day-to-day responsibilities, and their expected outcomes.

Software engineers and developers are responsible for developing software but differ in their focus areas. Software engineers focus on the big picture and consider the entire development process of a system, whereas software developers typically specialise in a single area of software development.

In simple terms, software development is a subset or a part of software engineering.

Who Earns More? Software Developers or Software Engineers?

While it is commonly believed that software engineers earn more than software developers, the reality is that salaries for both professions may vary and be influenced by various factors such as experience, geographical location, industry and skill set.

Both software engineers and developers can be high-earning professions, especially as the individual gains more expertise and experience over time. 

Source: Payscale

The average base salary for a Software Engineer in Singapore

Source: Payscale

The average base salary for a Software Developer in Singapore

Do note that individual wages can vary widely based on several factors, In the end, the pay for both professions can be highly profitable. Each individual should weigh the advantages and disadvantages of either path based on their skills, interests and goals before making a choice.

Can a Software Developer Work as a Software Engineer?

A software developer has the potential to become a software engineer. However, certain software engineering positions require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in software engineering, while others may just need a specific amount of practical experience.

However, the current reality is that these two professions stand interchangeably nowadays; therefore, it is crucial to carefully examine the job description to know if the role is primarily focused on development or includes broader engineering responsibilities.

Is Software Development more complex than Software Engineering?

Software development is generally easier to start as software engineering requires more technical and non-technical expertise.

Software engineering also involves considering factors such as scalability, maintainability, and reliability which add to the complexity of the development process.

Ultimately, whether either is harder depends on several factors, such as the developers’ level of expertise and the tools and technologies utilised.

Source: Screenshot from Google Trends

Key Differences between Software Developer and Software Engineer

Here are some key differences between a software engineer and a software developer:

Icons source: Freepik.
Parameter Software Engineer Software Developer
Job role &
- Oversee the entire software project building process.

- Analyze, design, and develop systems software to meet users’ requirements.

- Craft different diagrams, models, and flowcharts to demonstrate the type of code programmers need.

- Test, de-bug, and identify any bugs or errors needing repair.

- Ensure that the program remains functional while conducting software maintenance and testing.

- Apply engineering principles when providing suggestions to upgrade existing systems and programs

- Ensure that comprehensive documentation of a system or application is present for future reference during maintenance and upgrades.

- Review the entire software systems development process to resolve bugs or address concerns raised by consumers or clients.

- Collaborate effectively with the development team and other team members, such as project managers and stakeholders.

- Adapting to emerging technologies and the latest trends to ensure system or software development and maintenance effectiveness.
- Analyze, design, and develop software to meet users’ requirements.

- Maintain, improve, troubleshoot and debug software.

- Writing code based on requirements.

- Test and deploy computer programs and applications.

- Design flowcharts and algorithms to develop new software programs.

- Observing, gathering and assessing user input to enhance existing software functionality.

- Create comprehensive technical documentation for future software projects.
A bachelor’s or a master’s degree in software engineering, computer science or a related field is the minimum degree employers prefer. A bachelor’s degree benefits software engineers more than software developers. Most software developers typically have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or related fields. The study of software development is one of the specialisations within information technology or computer programming degrees.
Software building
Software engineers work with other engineers to build an entire system and are involved in the software-building process. Software developer tends to focus on a single aspect of the software-building process.
Nature of activity: Collaborative Solitary
Tools used in
Software engineer creates the tools used to develop software and improve work processes and internal productivity. Software developer uses a variety of readymade software tools that will help them in designing, developing, testing and maintaining software applications
Career Path - Junior or Senior Software Engineer
- Tech Lead
- Team Manager
- Technical Architect
- Director, Vice President, Chief Technology Officer
- Principal Software Engineer
- Lead Development Engineer
- Junior or Senior Software Developer
- Front-end or Back-end Developer
- Full Stack Developer
- Lead Software Developer
- Software Developer Manager
- Director, Vice President, Chief Technology Officer
- Software Architect
Skills &
- Mastery of SDLC to ensure effective planning and development of high-quality systems and
software products.

- Strong background in programming with proficiency in languages such as Ruby, Python, C#
and others.

- Utilizing excellent analytical skills to determine user needs and create software that fulfils
those requirements.

- Apply outstanding communication skills to give precise instructions to the project team, educate
users on software functions and address any concerns.

- Ability to work on multiple parts of a system or application simultaneously with accuracy and

- Collaborate with team members of designers, developers and programmers with excellent
interpersonal skills.

- Exhibiting proficiency and efficiency in identifying and resolving problems that may arise during
the design, testing and maintenance process using strong problem-solving skills.

- Deep knowledge of cloud-based infrastructure will be a plus point for many employers.
- Ability to provide technical guidance throughout every stage of SDLC.

- Highly experienced in the software, mobile apps and game development.

- Familiar with basic data structures.

- Capable of creating responsive web designs.

- Proficient in commonly used programming languages such as Java and Python.
PHP, C++ and Ruby.

- Proficient in front-end frameworks such as Angular, jQuery, Ruby and Vue.js or
back-end frameworks such as ASP.NET Core, Django, Express, Laravel, Node.js and Spring.

- Knowledgeable in Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) and
Object-Relatinal Mapping Frameworks.

- Excellent problem-solving and communication skills.

- Adept and adaptable in various working environments, whether as a part of a team or independently.

- Competent in Agile and Scrum development methodologies.

- Ability to develop creative solutions to face service and development issues.

- Deep knowledge of cloud computing infrastructure will be a plus point for many employers.
Approach to
work & problems
A software engineer applies engineering concepts to the entire software or system development process as a whole. They also provide suggestions and collaborate with the team to improve existing systems or software and resolve technical problems. They must be more systematic as they tend to solve issues on a large scale. Software developers are hands-on in their approach and focus on one aspect of the software-building process. They work with a team or individually and apply technical proficiency in programming languages, frameworks, and systems to develop software and resolve problems. They are required to be capable of providing creative solutions as they tend to solve issues on a smaller scale compared to software engineers.
with clients
Software engineer interacts with clients not only to understand their requirements and provide expertise but also to gain a deeper understanding of the client’s business requirements and how the system or software will fit into the overall business architecture. They might also need to return the information to stakeholders, such as project managers and engineers, to ensure the system or software is developed according to the client’s requirements. A Software developer may still interact with clients to understand software requirements and provide expertise. Still, they are more likely to focus on building specific software features or on writing code and other technical development activities. They must be ready to receive. instructions from stakeholders and collaborate with other designers and developers to ensure the software meets the client’s needs.

The Best Practice for Software Engineers and Software Developers

Software Engineers Best Practices: 

Here are some best practices for software engineers:

  • Software engineers must aim to act in a way that benefits both the employer and client.
  • Software engineers must ensure that all software developed and additional modifications meet the highest professional standards according to engineering principles.
  • Reliable and supportive of their stakeholders and colleagues.
  • Use of formal verification and validation techniques to ensure that software meets specified requirements and is error-free
  • Emphasis on software quality assurance, including testing, debugging, and performance analysis, to ensure software reliability and usability
  • Use of configuration management tools and techniques to manage changes to the software throughout the development lifecycle, ensuring version control and traceability.

Software Developer Best Practices:

Here are some best practices for software developers:

  • Create a daily goal for technical activities such as coding. 
  • Exercising user experience and usability testing to ensure accessibility and user-friendliness.
  • Effective use and understanding of the code written and how it adds value to the overall project.
  • Increase speed and flexibility in the development process by adopting agile methodologies.
  • Increase speed on feedback and iteration cycles by using incremental development techniques and rapid prototyping.
  • Emphasis on teamwork, collaboration, and communication between developers and other stakeholders for better software quality and faster development cycles.
  • Create innovation solutions by maximising the use of cloud computing that will offer benefits such as cost efficiency, scalability, flexibility, reliability, and integration with various tools and services.

The Challenges for Software Engineers and Software Developers

Challenges of Software Engineers

Here are some challenges software engineers might face:

  • Managing complex systems that have multiple components and dependencies
  • Dealing with increasingly complex and diverse systems.
  • Keeping up with rapidly changing tools and technologies.
  • Software failure can mean lives lost in safety-critical industries.
  • Balancing competing expectations of speed, scalability, and quality.
  • Collaborating with stakeholders or team members that are scattered across different locations and time zones.
  • Unclear or ambiguous expectations from stakeholders or clients.
  • Ensuring the project adheres to timelines and budgets while balancing other priorities.
  • Bringing up a technical issue with non-technical stakeholders clearly and understandably.

Challenges of Software Developers

Here are some challenges software developers might face:

  • Misunderstood requirements communicated by users or clients.
  • Dealing with the pressure of developing high-quality software on schedule and within budget.
  • Dealing with changing requirements when it is already deep in the development process.
  • Work on models that are incompatible with each other
  • Working on poor quality computer software in low-cost projects that is hard to maintain.
  • Difficulty in writing functional code that adheres that is efficient and scalable.

Software Developer vs Software Engineer: Which Career is the Right Fit?

Choosing between being a software engineer vs software developer depends entirely on an individual’s career aspirations, skills, and interests. Both does involve software development but differ in scale, focus and role.

The software developer profession is more suitable for those who enjoy coding and working on a smaller scale, specific applications, or computer software features that allow room for creativity. However, if they are interested in the bigger picture and enjoy analysing and designing software systems and solutions, being a software engineer might be a better choice.

It is possible to be a software professional with dedication and the right steps; see how our Bootcamp graduates, became software engineers after picking up their skills at Rocket Academy.

Find out Which Course is for you - Rocket Academy.

To have a successful career path in programming-related jobs like software development, and software engineering, one must have a deep knowledge of programming languages and strong developer skills. One way to start learning some essential programming languages for a career in software is by completing a coding boot camp. 

To learn more, check out this guide on how to get into a coding boot camp.

Singapore’s Rocket Academy is an online coding boot camp that offers Coding Fundamentals and Coding Bootcamp courses that provide students with the best support to launch their programming careers. Determine the best course for you by taking this test.

This article was contributed by Rocket Academy’s founder and CEO, Kai Yuan Neo. He completed his Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science at Stanford University. He started Rocket Academy because the world still lacks software engineering talent, and people that had not studied Computer Science but wish to become software engineers have few good ways to do so.

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