So - you've chosen to enter the semantics thunderdome
In the industry, the terms ‘software developer’ and ‘software engineer’ get used interchangeably. This doesn't mean that there isn't value in distinguishing between them. We’ll go over the key differences between the two terms and why we think you should care!
Let's take this from the top:
Engineer vs Developer
What is an Engineer
"A professional engineer is competent by virtue of his/her fundamental education and training to apply the scientific method and outlook to the analysis and solution of engineering problems."
What is a Developer
"A person or company that creates new products, especially computer products such as software."
Source: Cambridge Dictionary
Developers get a much less well-defined definition. This is a function of the variety of tasks “developers” can apply to.
The fundamental difference between these two roles is outlined here. Engineers apply the scientific method to solve problems, developers develop things. Both positions are involved in the creation of things - the scope of involvement changes.
A ubiquitous internet quote has this to say:
"A software engineer is involved in software development. Not all software developers are engineers."
Another key distinction you can draw is one of the specific job’s function. Engineers are architects and creators of solutions. They can tie together functional parts to a system with a more clearly defined purpose. In a by-the-book system, software engineers take part in requirements gathering and requirements analysis. This allows them to architect a system that solves all aspects of a problem. Developers perform singular tasks and develop with a singular purpose. These activities are specific to individual development goals and only involve coding.
Engineer vs Developer
Architecture vs implementation
Many existing resources describe software engineers as architects and software developers as contractors. When you look at the SDLC, you can see exactly where these roles fit in. The first three stages [Requirements Gathering, Analysis, Design] all fit into "Architecture." Coding is the task most often identified as a responsibility of developers. It is the only task specific to the role of "developer" as we have defined it. Applying the roles of software engineering and software development to the life cycle helps us see how the roles have evolved and where the confusion stems from.
Scope and Scalability
Software developers’ tasks are narrow in scope and focus on developing specific functionality. The code that they write that accomplishes this is not explicitly scalable. It is the job of the software engineer to ensure that individual functionality can work with a larger system. A software engineer is applying engineering principles to the creation of software. This focuses on the creation of a system of parts that function as a unit. In the simplest terms - a developer solves the problem of one user or a set of users. An engineer solves a problem for all users.
Education Requirements for Software Engineering and Software Development
The technology industry uses the terms "Engineer" and "Developer" interchangeably. You may find that job listings for either position has similar or identical requirements. Almost all of them require a bachelor's degree or equivalent experience. There are still some key differences. These differences stem from the requirements to be an engineer in any discipline. This stands in contrast to a position as general as "developer." While the industry may use the terms software engineering and software development interchangeably, the implication of a specific degree with one of these titles exists and is important to keep in mind depending on where you live.
Education Requirements for Software Engineers
The education requirements and certifications vary from country to country. Within the United States - there are even differences from state to state. In the US There are no broad certification or education requirements to call yourself a software engineer. This is not the case everywhere. Many countries attribute specific certifications and degrees to any title that contains "Engineer." There is a strong implication of at least a bachelor's degree in Software Engineering. There are states pushing for more strict certification requirements for all engineering positions.
Education Requirements for Software Developers
The implication of a four-year degree is much lower with a development position. There are many two-year associate programs for computer science and software development. There are many certifications available in individual programming disciplines and frameworks. Many of them may very well help you get a job, but none of them are viewed as universal requirements.
It's clear there is a totally different range of responsibilities implied by the words “Engineer” than “Developer”, and yet - we continue to use them interchangeably. While you could accuse anyone who picks up the torch and continues this debate pedantic, there is definitely value in distinguishing between the two titles. Many organizations distinguish between these roles at high levels, instead opting for different ‘levels’ of developers, where senior developers are more involved in architecting solutions, and junior developers undertake extremely specific coding projects. The differences between software engineering and software development are much clearer than most people think and could become increasingly important as requirements for titles that contain the word “engineer” change.
Interested in working with fivestar*?
If you decide that it is valuable and profitable for your business to have custom software, fivestar* can develop solutions that centralize workflows, optimize processes, and enable decision-making through real-time data and business intelligence.
About the Author: Cameron Avrigean
Cameron Avrigean is a Marketing Coordinator at fivestar*. Cameron is an analytics fanatic with a penchant for copywriting and social media. He works with the marketing team to create engaging content, and is looking for the next big thing. Cameron holds a B.S. in Business Management from Point Park University.